Technical Support Coordinator, BAKA Computers
In TidBITS #191, I casually commented that readers asking local dealers to download DarkStar from AppleLink might consider making a purchase at the same time, to help defray the dealer's cost of accessing Apple's expensive online service. The resulting controversy amazes me.
One reader sent a message expressing his fear that to defray the dealer's cost was tantamount to supporting and approving of Apple's "ridiculous charges for their own dealer support." He feels that retail Apple customers ("as opposed to drop-ins who buy mail-order") should expect support from any Apple dealer, regardless of where they bought their Apple products. This, he says, is an "elementary part of what 'dealer network' means."
In fact, such an expectation could be considered a key difference between what a "dealer network" means, and what a "chain" of company-owned outlets means. When you're dealing with an authorized Apple dealer, you're dealing with an independent business, not with Apple. That business has salaries, rent, and other expenses to pay. In the current climate in which hardware sales carry much less profit than in the past, and in which software and peripheral sales often go to mail-order businesses whose volumes permit lower prices, many dealers have become more service and support oriented. Such a company cannot and should not be expected to devote time and other resources to non-paying customers.
That I work for an authorized Apple dealer undoubtedly colors my opinion on the matter somewhat. It also gives me a clear perspective of how a dealer operates and stays in business. I can state that, when we have a piece of free software or shareware readily available, we give it happily to anyone who asks. When an Apple update is likely to be of wide interest and use, we download it, keep a copy at the store, and give it happily to anyone who asks. On the rare occasion when a customer requests something unusual that we don't have, we do our best to help the customer. It's hard to justify doing so without recouping some of the spent resources, though.
Luckily, users have an alternative when it comes to obtaining Apple software updates. AppleLink accounts are available to everyone now, rather than just to dealers and developers. In fact, PowerBook owners may take advantage of a special offer for lower AppleLink costs by calling 800/877-8221. Apple also generally places updates and utilities on America Online and other commercial online services [and sometimes on <ftp.apple.com> -Adam], so users aren't stuck if they don't use AppleLink.
In an ideal world, Apple would send all such updates, free of charge, to all dealers, or even to all customers. However, this is an industry whose market pressures have driven down margins, so Apple must share its distribution expenses with others. Given the choice, would I have preferred to pay more for my new computer, but expect more support free of charge down the road? I don't know, but it's not a decision I'll have to make. The market has made it for us all.
My suggestion was intended not to bring Apple's software distribution policy, or AppleLink's astronomical charges, into question. It was intended to make our readers aware of the fact that dealers shoulder certain costs. If you can help with those costs by patronizing these establishments, you'll be justifying the dealers' willingness to help.