Price should no longer be the factor that drives your technology purchases.

Technology is cheap. Printers are best described as disposable cartridge holders – for many, many models the printer’s cost is roughly identical to the cost of replacement ink cartridges for it. Much software is literally free, given away with computers or cameras or printers or scanners. The cost of retail programs is dropping as well – take a look at Buy.com’s price on the McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 which is free after a couple of rebates.

But all too often, a cheap product is poorly designed or flawed or buggy or just plain cheap crap. I see far too many printers that break after a few months; software that slows a computer to the point that it’s unusable or causes crashes; computers with cases made out of tin foil or keyboards that look like toys (Dell’s new low-end keyboards are embarrassing); programs that conflict with each other; support that is aggressively ineffective; hardware and software that are so poorly designed that trying to use them for their intended purpose is an exercise in frustration.

We are accustomed to believing that products with similar functions at similar prices will be similar quality and will be similarly useful. It’s no longer true. The best software in the world costs the same as the ten crappy products on the shelf next to it from companies that will be out of business next year. We depend on our computers for too much to buy the wrong things based on a price spread of a few dollars.

Forget the price. It’s all cheap.

Research. Read reviews – CNet Reviews is a good place to start. Read the comments on Amazon – don’t believe them all, but you can frequently get a sense of the overall mood. Talk to people. Talk to me. Buy carefully. Install programs conservatively – always choose a “Custom” install and look for things to leave out. Don’t get the “free” McAfee suite – it’s bloated and confusing. Its cost is measured in frustration, not dollars. Don’t get the cheap all-in-one printers at Costco – all too often their software overwhelms computers, leaving them helpless and crashing. (Tip – leave out the fax machine. The software to support the connection between the computer and the fax machine is the troublesome part, and there’s no good way to omit it from the software that gets installed.) Buy Quickbooks – it’s still the best choice for many small businesses – but don’t be surprised when you find out how unbelievably slow it is to start. The list of cautionary notes seems never-ending.

There was a time when Windows XP was new and manufacturers were working diligently to make things work right, as penance after the Windows 98 years. Those days are gone. Manufacturers are churning their product lines so frequently that they have no interest in your long-term experience. If you’re frustrated and angry in a year, they’ll have another product to sell you, another promise for you to believe.

Caveat emptor.