Open source challenge for Simply Computers

Open source challenge for Simply Computers

Tony and Vicki Houlbrooke are Linux evangelists, but it seems the Whakatane couple’s customers are far from sold on the platform.

The company claims to use Linux more extensively than other businesses by using it on desktops and servers. “Our heart is very much in open source software,” says Tony, adding he also promotes Gentoo for servers and Ubuntu for desktops.

However, he says “customer inertia” presents a challenge because customers are more used to paying for Windows or Mac operating systems.

Although the Houlbrookes continue to tout Linux when regular customers have repeated problems with viruses, the platform still comprises only a small part of its business.

The bulk of the work comes from repairing problems associated with Windows, but Tony is optimistic about the prospects for Linux growth alongside cloud computing; saying the cloud could free customers from being chained to particular operating systems.

The company is five years old and serves clients from Kawerau and Edgecumbe to Murupara in the eastern Bay of Plenty.

Tony says as the only computer business based in Whakatane’s central business district, it provides a useful service for tourists and customers who visit the nearby information centre.

“Offering extra things is important - the ability to print quality laser (black and colour documents), the ability to scan, upload photos, use USB ports for various plug-in devices, use Skype and also get assistance if needed,” Tony says.

For the past four years, Simply Computers has also built its own desktop computers, saying it has a reputation for reliable and enduring machines.

“The only computers that we have had back of these, are customers who have had power or electrical storm problems.”

The company also has a flexibile approach in dealing with a variety of devices such as printers, USB peripherals, speakers and cameras, along with many connectivity issues with the internet and networks. As well as Linux, the company works on Mac-based machines.

The company also aims to provide a point of difference by turning repairs around quickly - in under two days - unless there are delays waiting for parts.

Businesses comprise a third of the customer base, with home users making up two thirds. The firm has three staff, but when needed it calls on a fourth person with experience of large networks.

Tony has certifications as a general technician (CompTIA A plus) and in networking and Linux. Prior to starting Simply Computers, he taught electronics for 10 years. He says he has had an interest in IT for more than 30 years, and became focused on Linux and open source technologies after 2000.

He says a good reputation is vital because Whakatane is a relatively small town. Tony belongs to Business Networking International and says the organisation helps promote trust among clients.

“Referring trusted businesses to other businesses is proving very effective and strengthens our reputation in the area,” he says.

The company performed strongly in 2009 and Tony expects 2010 will be a good year, driven by interest in upgrading and replacing machines and improving networks.

“So far we have we have picked up several businesses who have been charged exorbitant contract fees from ‘out of town’ companies. We are positive that there will be plenty for Simply Computers to do,” he says.

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