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Editor’s Note: “Practical Nerd” columnist Frank Catalano spent three hours this Independence Day weekend struggling under the oppression of one technology company’s failed accessory support. The only positive result: This open letter to Léo Apotheker, president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

Frank Catalano

In August 2009, I purchased an HP Mini 1151NR through Verizon Wireless. This was a new netbook through a new HP partner, and I was slightly wary but excited, since I know Verizon stands behind its service and I thought, as a corollary, HP would stand behind the Mini as well.

That does not appear to be the case when it comes to HP-proprietary accessories for the Mini. And I think it indicates HP needs to change a business practice. Specifically, when a proprietary HP accessory is required to use a promoted function of a product, the accessory should actually be available for purchase for the lifetime of the product and a reasonable period thereafter.

I’m giving the opening keynote at the EDVentures conference in San Francisco in two weeks. Rather than bring my large laptop for the presentation, I thought I’d use my Mini, and I recalled it had a VGA-out port. Doing some further research, it turns out the port is HP-proprietary — and that the only cable that allows the port to be used for VGA video (HP Mini VGA Cable, part FY828AA) is not only not available from HP, it’s not available from any U.S. third-party reseller. It IS available on eBay from sellers who are taking what apparently had been a $29 part and are selling it for $70 and up.

An HP Mini 1151NR

How do I know this? Because I spent three hours Sunday morning: a) determining the part is proprietary, b) determining that HP has removed all references to it from its website (except the Community site), c) and that it’s not available from NewEgg, Amazon, Tiger, and many, many other resellers. As a matter of fact, based on postings in HP’s support community, it appears it was only available for a short amount of time, mostly outside of the U.S., and in limited quantities.

This would be acceptable if the connection wasn’t proprietary and any other cable would do. But it’s not the case. From what I’ve read, the only way to use the listed VGA output functionality on the HP Mini 1151NR is with the HP-brand cable, period. And it’s not as though the Mini is a dinosaur — as a matter of fact, it’s still within the two-year Verizon purchase contract.

It’s bad business practice for HP to list a capability for its Minis, requires its proprietary cable to use it, and then not make it possible to buy the cable. Based on my experience, Lenovo and Dell make their branded, required accessories available for a longer period — and I’d hoped HP would have done the same, if it wants repeat customers.

As it is, I have a Mini with a VGA port, but no way to use it, because the only seller of the required cable — HP — no longer apparently makes it or even acknowledges it. That’s bad.

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