I installed a computer system in my office with a server and 10 workstations in March last year. The vendor is now ripping me off each time somebody comes over when a computer is down. They charge me $800 per hour. I don't want to go to some of the people who advertise daily via junk fax. Can you introduce me to a reputable company with whom I can enter a contract for annual service of my systems? NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED Complaints such as yours are common these days and will increase as the cost of computers drops. Computer companies large and small have seen profit margins squeezed by falling prices. To remain competitive, they have to slash unit prices every time a competitor does or when a more powerful system is rolled out. About six years ago, when this trend began to take off, computer companies started setting up levels of support and fees. This varied from basic telephone support hotline services free, or almost, to on-site maintenance deals that cost an arm and a leg. From the vendor's perspective, this is fair. Indeed, it is the only way they can continue to do business. Of course, from your side, you are getting ripped off. In the interests of being fair, and being aware of the 'buyer beware' mentality of businesses in general, I would call foolish any company or individual who bought a computer system and expected to get unlimited free - or even cheap - support for it. Having said that, it is equally true that you may not really need all the support for which you might be billed. In any company, it is always a good idea to hire or train someone who can administer the computers. Networks for small companies are not difficult to set up and maintain, and for about $20,000 worth of training, a bright individual will be able to administer a system of your size on a basic level. In the long run, this would be an investment well made if it ensured you did not have to make as many support calls to your vendor as you do now. I'm no fan of junk fax, but some of the stuff that comes through on the technology side can point to reputable outfits. Even public IT companies such as SiS International and Automated Systems send out fax advertisements. Yet they are well-respected technology distributors, systems integrators and support providers. I do not want to come out in favour of a single company in this column. I suggest you call a number of the outfits who send you faxes, ask them questions about their support and service systems, price structures, staffing, etc., and negotiate a good deal with one. And the next time you invest in a computer system, bite the bullet and budget for on-going system support, either external or from an internal IT department. A reasonable starting point for such a budget would be $800 an hour.