Open Source Alternatives To Geek Squad

Published on: November 1, 2007
Last Updated: November 1, 2007

Open Source Alternatives To Geek Squad

Published on: November 1, 2007
Last Updated: November 1, 2007

Best Buy’s Geek Squad has certainly enjoyed its share of press in recent months. But I found some amusing things about some of their policies — which were recently leaked to the public (thanks to a link found at

The policies demonstrate that the “agents” are expected to make legal judgment calls regarding such applications as P2P options.

So, for instance, if the Geek Squad client was downloading a Linux distribution and happened to be using bittorrent, would this mean that Geek Squad’s policy is then to advise the client that this could be an illegal application? Something is not right here. But wait, it gets worse.

A recent comment found buried in this link was enough to blow my mind as to how little they really understand the world they work in:

As for the Linux argument, Best Buy does not currently have corporate approval to use this tool. Suse and Knoppix, or whatever flavor you like, is free to consumers; it is not for commercial use.

According to the GPL, if you read that, the software is not approved for commercial use without prior permission.

Now let’s start poking some holes in the above statement. First off, nothing in the GPL states that Best Buy or any other company cannot use GPL’d products for commercial reasons.

GNU/Linux (any Linux distribution) can be used commercially. And with that, we come to the subject of today’s article — an open source alternative to the Geek Squad, as it is so painfully obvious that it is needed.

Taking The Geek Squad Vision Forward, Sans Testrictions

Envision if you will, a viable alternative to Geek Squad built upon open source principles.

Not restricted from using proprietary tools, mind you, just not restricted from using those of the open source variety.

Impossible as it may seem, I believe that such a venture could do quite well. Taking this even further, consider what it would be like to maintain well set-up, semi-locked-down Linux boxes for previously frustrated Windows users.

By stopping the cycle of reactive IT damage control for the home and SoHo user, these individuals might finally see average users feeling less intimidated by their computers. It’s sad, and in many cases, completely avoidable.

Buy Once And Forget It

Possibly the best option for those who are just DONE with trips to the repair shop is something like Zonbu.

Their pricing is rather “abrupt” initially. But having a company that can literally disaster proof your email and documents, among other things that are important to the average family, soon becomes something that makes the price seem a lot less important.

Many geeky Linux users dislike Zonbu because they feel that they can do much of what Zonbu has done themselves, without the fee — Zonbu also has these individuals in check.

And, like many Linux enthusiasts, remaining out there in the ozone with how non-geeks think, they fail to accept Zonbu’s success as a good thing.

The value behind Zonbu is from the saved data and the time saved from having to outthink any mistakes that can be made with a traditional PC.

Nothing to install, updates are automatic and thoroughly tested and I have personally tested this device for months — it works as advertised. It’s perfect for the typical family.

So when you figure the cost of that back-up service, which has remote assistance available as well, it comes out to roughly between $11 and $17 per month.

Compare that to a year’s worth of repair bills. Oh, and Zonbu has a three-year replacement promise on the hardware, included in the price. Replace it if needed without any hassle. I don’t recall Geek Squad being able to match that.

Now some people, like myself, prefer a real PC. Some of these same users may even be interested in seeing if Linux is a match for them.

Because as far as I am concerned, there is no reason why someone should ever have to call for a software/malware related incident. And with a pre-installed Linux box, properly locked down, there doesn’t have to be.

Build It, Then Lock It Down

For most people, I highly recommend locking down the Linux box at some level.

Using Pessulus as a sudo (super user do) user, bundled with disabling the update manager (more on this later), you can have the client using a PC that is quite secure, does not present malware challenges and will not be broken by rogue updates either.

And if network control is needed for the younger ones in the home, Ubuntu CE offers a direct download of their tweaked version of Dansguardian — to make sure you have solid web content filtering in place.

Now like with the Zonbu box, there needs to be a resource available that people can call on should distribution updates need to be installed, new hardware added, etc.

This is where that new business model comes in. By charging per incident or even better, an affordable subscription plan, you create a solid customer base while refraining from charging insanely high repair costs.

It should be noted that there is nothing wrong with charging per-incident prices that are true to industry standards, especially with hardware based-repair calls.

However, if you are building and locking down your systems the right way, there will not be a call for software/upgrade related problems whatsoever.

How can this be? Simple: pick a distribution and stick to it. Let’s for the sake of argument say, you choose both Ubuntu.

Then introduce the user to the following media options: Ogg Vorbis, Flash, and Ogg Theroa. Two open and one closed option – all undeniably legal in the U.S.

If the kids insist on using their iPods with iTunes, this is nothing that Parallels cannot resolve on both fronts. And eventually, introduce to the Ubuntu compatible iAudio7.

As for any other hardware issues: For notebooks, use If building your own systems for clients, remember to avoid ATI cards and always test the hardware before demonstrating the new system to the client. Printers and scanners, go with HP printers and their all-in-one options.

Payment And Costs To The Client – Sustaining Your Business Model

Perhaps the biggest myth out there is that you cannot make money from open source, and you are certainly not going to find people interested in using Linux as an alternative to Windows. Guess what, this has been proven untrue thanks to a number of open source consultants out there.

Profiting from such an endeavor, is not all that difficult either. First is the cost to the customer.

Obviously setup and hardware changes need to be per incident as far as cost goes. And that is fine, but let’s offer to plug them into something passive with regard to a payment to you.

For the common household, you provide a cron job (define) backup to an external hard drive weekly, come in every two months to run updates, physically clean the PC and “be on call” with a call-back system should questions arise over the phone. Sounds like a gamble with your time? It’s actually not.

The cron job handles the backups while you can verify them in your bi-monthly visit to run the updates — love to see Microsoft offer this with Vista’s latest service pack.

You would then charge your client a monthly rate on a sliding scale depending on what you felt was reasonable.

And again remember, by and large this is passive income. Hardware issues are really the only things that are going to toss you out of this schedule, and that is a per incident charge.

So let’s say that you charged home users a subscription fee of $X for a bi-monthly visit.

Depending on the rate, it can be seen as quite reasonable to the client, and in reality, you will rarely spend more than a an hour updating their machine while cleaning it.

Now let’s say that you have managed to gain roughly 50 ongoing clients over time. This may sound difficult, but when offering something of real value, it’s not.

Then you have the business side of things. Verifying data backup, cleaning one-to-three machines (additional PCs at an extra charge) and being available for tech support over the phone if needed via a call-back.

Charge the hypothetical amount of $X for bi-monthly service. And we’ll say you have about 15 business clients.

Consider this – 95 percent of the users out there are not going to call you with PC issues.

It’s just not going to happen and with a locked down, properly configured Linux machine. Now I want you to think like an insurance company for a moment.

How in the world do they insure everyone without going bankrupt? Simple, they know the majority of their users will only have minor issues while only a very few will have anything serious.

And then we have the frustrated Windows user who sees you every two or three months, dealing with the latest crisis.

He is going to see the note you keep stapling to their receipt about this “Linux” option. It won’t take a rocket scientist to eventually inquire about this option.

Some Things To Consider

1. Has this type of business been successful? Yes, just not on a national scale of any kind.

2. What about hardware costs and connectivity issues? These remain separate and reflect the normal hourly rate that an IT person might charge.

3. It seems dishonest to charge someone for simply running a cron-job, cleaning their PC, and running updates for them.

Really? Seems to me like they are actually getting a great deal considering what you are doing for them and the hassle they are able to avoid thanks to your efforts.

It’s not the most glamorous aspect of the IT industry, those independent techs out there that keep the SoHo’s running and the home users connected.

They are in a constant need to differentiate themselves. That, and they get to enjoy a freedom from the Dilbert lifestyle without taking that big of a hit to the paycheck, either.

I am not saying this concept is without its flaws, but it does show how one can indeed redefine the Geek Squad model with something a little more reasonable for the customer.

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Written by Bobby

Bobby Lawson is a seasoned technology writer with over a decade of experience in the industry. He has written extensively on topics such as cybersecurity, cloud computing, and data analytics. His articles have been featured in several prominent publications, and he is known for his ability to distill complex technical concepts into easily digestible content.