Dell, Users Scramble to Cope With Battery Recall

Apple issues similar notice because of fire danger in older laptop models

Dell Inc. has devised several ways to help corporate customers replace the defective laptop PC batteries it's recalling because of the risk that they may overheat and cause fires. But many companies are expected to take the path of least resistance: leaving it up to end users to figure out whether their batteries are affected.

Dell is scrambling to implement a worldwide recall of 4.1 million batteries that were included with laptops made between July 1, 2004, and July 18 of this year. The computer maker announced the recall on Aug. 15 in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which last week disclosed a similar recall by Apple Computer Inc. of 1.8 million batteries sold with older models of its iBook G4 and PowerBook G4 systems. Both Dell's and Apple's suspect batteries were made by Sony Energy Devices Corp.

Personal Assistance

In some cases, Dell may set up and staff kiosks at the facilities of corporate users to handle the recall process for them, according to a spokeswoman for the vendor. She said Dell also will offer assistance to companies that have large, dedicated IT staffs that are assigned to track down the affected laptops within their operations, order the replacement batteries and install them after delivery. But other businesses "may just leave it to the end user," the spokeswoman said.

That's the approach being taken by Electronic Data Systems Corp. The outsourcing and IT services firm sells and maintains Dell computers for military, government and corporate customers, and it also uses Dell systems within its own organization, said EDS spokesman Travis Jacobsen.

If a company has workers in various locations, the simplest thing to do is have individual employees go to the Web site that Dell set up for the recall program to determine whether their batteries are subject to the recall and then apply online for replacements to be sent to the facilities where they work, Jacobsen said.

Stephen Kriegish, director of legislative information services for Tennessee's General Assembly in Nashville, said that only two of the legislature's 280 or so laptop batteries had been found to be affected by the Dell recall.

But that number could rise because the General Assembly isn't in session now, and some of its 132 members may have their laptops with them in their home districts, according to Kriegish. He said he sent a memo to notify the legislators about the battery recall and tell them that he will handle any recall procedures for them.

Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT Inc. in Hayward, Calif., said there may have been an overreaction to the Dell recall, because only a small number of users have reported any overheating problems with their batteries. But the company "did the right thing, which was to issue a blanket recall," King added. "I'm not really sure what else they could have done."

Mullins writes for the IDG News Service.

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