Fast Forward's Help File

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By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, May 6, 2007

Q When I picked up a DVD player the other day, the clerk at the store offered an extended warranty for free -- he took $10 off the price of the player, then added $10 for the service plan. Why would a store want to do that?

AThis kind of transaction used to be more common, back when most stores ran on commission, but it still crops up. Understanding how it works can shed some useful light on the electronics-retail business.

First, bear in mind that both the DVD player and the warranty are third-party products that the store sells -- in other words, if you exercise the warranty, the store doesn't have to pay to fix the player.

Second, the profit margins on extended warranties are far higher than those on electronics hardware, noted NPD Group analyst Stephen Baker. Extended warranties yield extra sales incentives to stores, and in particular commissioned salespeople: "They're probably getting a much better commission out of the warranty company," said industry consultant Gary Arlen.

Extended warranties are usually a waste of money with electronics, but if the store's willing to pay for one with its own money -- by giving you a discount on your primary purchase that it would not otherwise offer -- they can be a fair deal. Should you accept this offer, remember to keep the receipt, just in case you do need the warranty later on.

I deleted the "Show Desktop" icon from the taskbar in Windows XP. How can I get it back?

To restore that icon, visit http://support.microsoft.com/kb/190355 and run the "Guided Help" software offered at that page.

Guided Help, a program that automates some Windows fixes, is a welcome addition to Microsoft's support site. It's also built into Windows Vista. It's only available with 28 tech-support articles, but hopefully will cover more soon.

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 orrobp@washpost.com.


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