We frequently hear from readers who aren't satisfied with the real-life stories they read in our pages. They want to see some hard numbers. One such skeptic is Rachel of Lexington MA, who wrote:

I am concerned that there appears to be no attempt to adjust for size of firm. Very large firms (e.g., Dell) with many customers may generate many complaints but still have only a small percentage of dissatisfied customers. It's the percentage that really matters, since that's the best predictor of the experience a reader may have. Readers may not be aware of this bias and just look at the number or frequency of complaints. Even if aware of the bias, they have no "overall size" number to use in judging whether the number of complaints is high or low.

OK, but we'd say the fallacy here is in assuming that those who complain to us and to similar sites are a representative sample. They very obviously are not and therefore anything numerical is of no more value than the anecdotal consumer complaints that we publish.

Obviously, not everyone will encounter the same problems as those who write to us, but it's worthwhile for consumers to see what could happen so that they can plan accordingly.

The Numbers

Last we heard, Dell was #1, with 17.9 percent of the world P.C. market in 2004 according to market-research firm IDC. It did considerably better in piling up complaints from our readers -- a whopping 633, or 58 percent of 1,087 computer complaints -- in the last 12 months.

Company

Gripes

Pct

Mkt Share

Dell

633

58%

17.9%

Gateway

159

15%

-

eMachine

89

8%

-

Apple

77

7%

3.6%

HP

53

5%

15.8%

Sony

37

3%

-

Toshiba

22

2%

-

Compaq

15

1%

-

IBM

2

-

5.9%

Dell, up a full percentage point from the year before, is obviously doing something right. On the other hand, with 55% of the complaints it must also be doing something wrong.

However, the downside of direct marketing and low prices is minimal service. We'd suggest those who require hand-holding buy an Apple or an IBM from a local computer shop that provides personal support. Apple complaints have been rising but their machines are still the simplest for those who could care less about what goes on inside the box. IBM machines are targeted to business clients and priced accordingly.

There are so many different kinds of consumers using computers for so many different things that, interesting though these numbers may be, we don't think they're all that useful. We recommend browsing sites like ours, finding consumers who seem to mirror your general state of geekiness and taking their experiences to heart. If they had trouble with Dell or eMachine, maybe you will too.