Most people have standard methods of figuring out what's wrong with their Macs. For some, it involves painstaking testing to test numerous INITs and applications in tandem; for others, like my parents and clients, it involves calling me. Most of the time when people call, I go through exactly the same process of eliminating as many variables as possible and then trying to remember if I've heard of any specific conflicts. With the amount of time I spend reading the nets and the magazines, I'm pretty good at it, but it's a pain to repeat the same process over and over again.
Technosys, the people who created HyperBasic for programming XCMDs and XFCNs in BASIC, now have a tool that might help users eliminate many problems on their own, and possibly even before the problems crop up. Appropriately named Help!, the application creates a profile of your Mac, much like Now Software's Profiler, and then compares the results to a list of rules in its knowledge base. It then notifies the user of the problem and offers information on how to fix it, although it does no fixing on its own.
I talked to Brian, the tech support manager at Technosys, and he said that they're looking at a late July/early August release. The program itself will probably be priced at around $149 retail, and a yearly subscription for updates to the program and to the knowledge base will be an addition $75 per year, which is extremely reasonable. In the initial versions of the program, you won't be able to add your own information because of the complexity of the knowledge base language, although the company is considering adding that ability later on. One of the problems with allowing users to modify the knowledge base is that putting incorrect information into the knowledge base renders it unreliable. Perhaps a system in which Technosys gathers suggestions from users and tests them would be safer?
Help! will not attempt to fix any problems on its own, although that's something which Technosys certainly could build in. Ideally, using Apple Events, Help! could communicate with disk and file utilities such as Norton (once Norton 2.0 is out) and Disinfectant. Brian emphasized that they tried to avoid any favoritism in the recommendations, so if there are several competing products that can all fix a problem, they try to mention all of them. Of course, Help! will not help with any problems people have with completing tasks, although future versions will have application specific information. The problems that Help! can find and report include INIT conflicts, System 7 hardware and software problems, inappropriate hardware for certain applications, files in the wrong places due to incorrect installations, duplicate files (and importantly, multiple System folders, which can cause the strangest crashes), insufficient memory, and damaged files.
Although Help! is perfect for most users, some people will still not want to mess with fixing anything themselves. Those people can run the application to create a profile of their Macs and send the profiles to the system administrator or consultant, who will then run them through the knowledge base and act on the recommendations. For large organizations, Technosys will have a site license available, although they haven't decided on the price.
Help! sounds good to me - I just wish my parents had a Mac instead of a PC clone so I could give them Help!. I suppose I'm doomed to another few years of modifying CONFIG.SYS files and AUTOEXEC.BATs until I can convince them to buy a nice Macintosh. If Technosys really wanted to make a mint, they should port Help! over the PC world. I just got a call from someone having speed troubles with PageMaker 3.01 under Windows 3.0 running on a 4 MB 386 machine that also operates as a non-dedicated Novell server. That's the sort of thing for which Help! for the PC would be great (and no, I couldn't solve that problem over the phone :-)).
Technosys -- 813/620-3494
MacWEEK -- 07-May-91, Vol. 5, #18, pg. 12