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What's afoot with AppleCare? Read on for Adam's look into Apple's AppleCare extended warranty program, how it has changed recently, what products could use AppleCare, and what alternatives exist. Also this week, we follow up on Jeff Hecht's recent article about fax software. In the news, Apple releases a firmware update for blue and white Power Mac G3s, Microsoft releases a FileMaker Pro importer for Office 98, and a QuickTime 4 preview appears.
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Update Firms Performance for Blue G3 Macs -- Apple is recommending that all owners of blue and white Power Mac G3 computers install the Power Macintosh G3 Firmware Update 1.0.2. The update improves performance of PCI devices and the built-in FireWire ports, plus includes enhanced support for NetBoot and minor changes to the Open Firmware for Mac OS X Server. Be sure to follow the installation instructions; the updater resets your Parameter RAM (PRAM) and requires that you hold down the programmer's button (located on the front of the case) while starting up the machine to verify that the firmware is up to date. The Firmware Update 1.0.2 is an 870K download that works on all worldwide systems. [JLC]
Free Office 98-FileMaker Pro Importer from Microsoft -- Microsoft has released a free Office 98-FileMaker Pro Importer that enables users of Word 98 or Excel 98 to integrate information from FileMaker Pro databases directly into Word and Excel documents. (See Matt Neuburg's reviews of Word 98 and Excel 98 in TidBITS.) The importer, written in Office's Visual Basic for Applications and communicating with FileMaker via AppleScript, adds new commands to Word's and Excel's menus. These commands enable Office 98 users to access data from FileMaker databases to perform mail merges in Word 98 or to use Excel 98's PivotTable or charting capabilities. The importer is geared toward smaller databases; users with large amounts of data will still be better off exporting from FileMaker in a text-only format, then opening and manipulating the exported files directly in Office 98. To use the Office 98-FileMaker Pro Importer, users need FileMaker Pro 3.x or 4.x, Microsoft Office 98, and enough memory to run both FileMaker and the appropriate Office 98 applications simultaneously. Microsoft also recommends using the importer with Mac OS 8.5 or higher, since the Mac OS 8.5's PowerPC-native AppleScript significantly improves the importer's performance. The Office 98-FileMaker Pro Importer is a 475K download. [GD]
QuickTime 4 Preview with Open Source & Final Cut -- Sporting enhanced features and a radically revised brushed-metal facade, a public preview of Apple's QuickTime 4 has appeared, along with the completed version of Apple's $1,000 video editing application Final Cut Pro. QuickTime 4's main attraction is its capability to stream live video and audio over the Internet, but it also features an improved suite of readable file formats, including Macromedia Flash and MPEG-1 layer 3 (MP3) data. Apple also announced a new open source project, Darwin Streaming Server, intended to let third-party developers create media servers for QuickTime content. The QuickTime 4 preview is available for Macintosh and Windows 95/98/NT; on the Mac, it requires System 7.1 and a 68020 processor or better with at least 8 MB of RAM, although many features are available only for PowerPC-based systems. The preview release uses a 375K installer which then downloads additional components based on your choice of QuickTime functionality (Basic Playback, Deluxe Playback, QuickTime Authoring, or a custom set). Completed installations weigh in anywhere between 5 MB and 15 MB. [JLC]
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The number and variety of responses to Jeff Hecht's article "FaxSTF Echoes Sad State of Fax Software" in TidBITS-476 surprised us, in large part because with the exception of contributing editor Mark Anbinder, who's been a fan of Global Village's GlobalFax forever, we simply don't like fax software enough to use it for anything. Informal discussions with other Mac users over the years have turned up opinions similar to ours, with the norm being a grudging admittance that whatever fax software was bundled with the person's modem was just barely acceptable for occasional use. Several people said they were fond of earlier versions of FaxSTF but found the current FaxSTF Pro 5.0 problematic.
Judging from the email we and Jeff received, many people still maintain that opinion, but it's not as universal as we previously thought. GlobalFax and FaxExpress garnered numerous recommendations, a variety of other packages were mentioned, and proponents of Internet faxing spoke up in favor of the proliferating Internet fax services.
GlobalFax Defended -- By far the most common comment on the article was that anyone interested in faxing from a Mac should buy a copy of Global Village's GlobalFax software. As noted in the article, the current GlobalFax 2.6.5 works only on the internal modems in recent Macs, so, unless you see the need to buy a new computer with a new internal modem, it's not an option. Global Village even provides this somewhat ominous warning on the GlobalFax Web page:
"GlobalFax 2.6.5 will not work with external modems or modems which were NOT included with or purchased directly from Apple Computer for the iMac, G3 PowerBook Series, G3 Desktop/Minitower Series, or the Power Mac 6500."
However, as several readers pointed out, previous versions of GlobalFax work fine with external Global Village modems. Compatibility with Mac OS 8.5.1 is debatable, but since used external 14.4 Kbps Global Village modems are extremely cheap and since you can theoretically download the appropriate software from Global Village, there isn't a large financial liability to trying out older versions. Of course, you may not have a serial port free, but an older Mac could operate as a fax Mac. Another possibility, if you lack a free serial port, would be to buy an old Global Village ADB-based modem just for faxing.
FaxExpress Recommended -- A program we hadn't heard of before garnered almost as many recommendations as GlobalFax. FaxExpress, from the British company Glenwarne, isn't well known in the United States since Glenwarne is still looking for a U.S. distributor, but Mac users in other countries appear to like it, calling FaxExpress "rock solid" and noting that it has the low system requirements of a Macintosh SE running System 7.1. FaxExpress comes in both single-user and network versions, making it a solution for the network fax software issue raised below. It also offers database extensions that enable you to fax directly from within a database.
Other Programs Mentioned -- Although GlobalFax and FaxExpress took awards for most recommendations, other programs - most obsolete - were featured in individual messages.
MacComCenter Plus, though it sounds like merely an update to the MacComCenter program that was bundled with Jeff's modem and that worked poorly, is reportedly essentially a different program, with features like fax-on-demand. MacComCenter's future is unclear now that Smith Micro Software has purchased STF Technologies (see below).
FAXcilitate, which was bundled with Supra (now Diamond Multimedia) modems, reportedly still works with Mac OS 8.5.1, though it hasn't been updated in some time. It's still bundled with Supra modems, though I can't see any way of buying it separately or finding more information about modem compatibility.
Apple Telecom, which is free from Apple, works with the Apple Express Modem, GeoPort Telephone Adapter Pod, or GeoPort Internal Comm Slot Modem (and reportedly Global Village external modems, though I haven't been able to verify that assertion). It hasn't been modified since the release of Mac OS 7.5, but Apple has tested it for compatibility with Mac OS 8.5. If you have an appropriate modem, you can download the latest version.
ValueFax, the one shareware entrant in this field, hasn't been updated in almost two years but reportedly still works for basic faxing. Its ReadMe claims that it was commercially available under different names before being released as shareware.
Several people asked about Macintosh versions of the multi-function fax/scanner/copier/printer machines that are available for Windows. Although you may be able to print to these devices using Infowave's PowerPrint drivers, there's no way to access the fax or scanner functionality from a Mac. Don't feel left out - some people who have used them under Windows have commented that these devices may pack a lot of functionality into a single machine, but none of the functions work well in comparison with stand-alone scanners, printers, or fax machines.
Network Fax Software -- The issue of network fax software arose on TidBITS Talk shortly after Jeff Hecht's original article appeared in TidBITS. The concept is simple - you don't want to buy a fax modem for every Mac on your network, you just want everyone to be able to fax to a single network-savvy fax modem. The most commonly suggested solutions were 4-Sight FAX from 4-Sight and the fax module for the highly modular messaging software CommuniGate from Stalker Software.
It turns out that FAXstf also comes in a network version, the FAXstf Network Edition. Also mentioned were the OneWorld servers, which are hardware boxes that provide network fax support, along with a variety of other features, including Internet access. Finally, some of Apple's LaserWriters could take optional fax cards, although the software is unfortunately no longer supported. Use LaserWriter 8.2.3f for those printers, but note that it may not work all that well under Mac OS 8.0 and later.
Opinions about these products varied, so I recommend you read the relevant posts in TidBITS Talk if you're interested in this topic.
Improving Fax Quality -- One factor cited as a reason to use a fax modem over a fax machine is that fax modems never have trouble with straight lines, something that fax machines often screw up. Also, although fax modems won't fax at a higher resolution than fax machines, the fact that the original doesn't go through another generation (printing, then scanning) means that the quality is often quite a bit higher. However, as photojournalist Curtis Corlew <email@example.com> pointed out, you do have to use the highest quality settings, which significantly increase transmission time.
There are several other techniques for improving the quality of faxes sent via fax modem.
Make sure to use a scalable font, either TrueType or PostScript (with ATM installed) for the best scaling.
Increase the font size slightly from what you'd use normally, again to eliminate characters running together when viewed at low resolution.
Send test pages with different fonts and graphics (and using different quality levels) to a friend's fax machine so you can see what works the best before you need to fax an important document. You might also try sending these to one of the Internet fax receiving services to see how they look in that form.
Smith Micro Buys STF Technologies -- It's always awkward when facts in an article change at the last minute, but we were chagrined to find out that the day after the article appeared, Smith Micro Software (makers of MacComCenter) acquired STF Technologies (makers of FAXstf Pro). Although I saw no mention of this on the Smith Micro Web site, it would stand to reason that either MacComCenter and FAXstf Pro will disappear in favor of the other, or the two will be merged into a single product. My suspicion is that MacComCenter is slated for the heap, since FAXstf is STF's primary product, and I can't see why Smith Micro would have bothered buying STF if they didn't want the FAXstf code.
Internet Faxing -- For many people, Internet faxing is the way of the future, since it eliminates the need for even a modem (assuming you have another way of accessing the Internet). We'll delve more into that topic in a future issue of TidBITS.
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
About a year after you purchase Apple hardware, if you returned your registration card, you may receive a sales pitch from Apple for an extended warranty, called AppleCare. The sales pitches usually go on about peace of mind, nominal fees, and quick repair of your precious Macintosh.
Should you ante up the money for AppleCare? Or perhaps consider a different form of insurance? The answer depends on your situation, and a recent discussion on TidBITS Talk covered most of the bases. Since that time, though, AppleCare seems to be changing, most recently with the elimination of availability on equipment that's out of warranty. Even if you've purchased AppleCare in the past, you should read on for the details of how it works now. First off, though, let's take a closer look at AppleCare and who might want it.
What Is AppleCare? Formally known as AppleCare Extended Service, AppleCare is, according to Apple, "an extended service plan similar to the one-year limited warranty coverage that came with your Apple product when you purchased it." AppleCare kicks in when your original warranty expires, and offers the following:
Some clarification is necessary. Despite the first two bullet points above, AppleCare does not cover accidents like soda spills or dropped PowerBooks. It won't reimburse you for repairs done by non-authorized dealers, nor will it pay for lost data or time. Insurance policies (discussed later in this article) may cover accidents. Service by Apple-certified technicians means that the technicians have access to genuine Apple parts and are less likely to use bits cannibalized from other dead Macs.
Your authorized Apple dealer or Apple itself (at 800/247-5545) is happy to sell AppleCare on just about anything Apple makes, including Macs, PowerBooks, printers, monitors, and so on. Eligible products must have a valid Apple serial number (cutting out some gray market machines) and must either be in warranty (purchased within the last year) or currently covered by AppleCare. A while back, Apple eliminated coverage on machines as old as the Macintosh SE, and in the last few weeks, Apple changed the AppleCare policy to eliminate all hardware that's no longer covered by its original warranty or an existing AppleCare policy. Note that Apple hasn't yet updated the AppleCare Web page to reflect this fact - I confirmed it with an AppleCare sales representative. Finally, AppleCare isn't available to Florida residents due to state regulations.
Costs for AppleCare vary by product and the length of the policy. Also keep in mind that costs don't necessarily reflect the original purchase price of the hardware but instead the likely cost of repairs Apple might have to cover. A PowerBook, with its active-matrix screen and hazardous life-style, will tend to have a higher AppleCare cost than a comparable desktop Macintosh. Refer to the chart below for a few sample prices. The AppleCare sales person asked when warranties were due to expire on several of these items, leading me to believe that you may encounter different prices. In the past, dealers have also sometimes charged different prices for AppleCare policies, so it can be worth checking with both Apple and an Apple dealer.
Product One Year Two Years ----------------------------------------- iMac $117 $174 Power Mac G3 (b&w) $133 $204 17" Studio Display $72 $144 PowerBook G3 (250 MHz) $210 N/A
To take advantage of an AppleCare policy, visit your dealer or call Apple at 888/275-8258. On-site service is available for some products, and for PowerBooks, Apple offers express mail-in service.
Which Products Need AppleCare? Some products are more likely to need AppleCare than others. Statistically, if electronic circuitry in a device is going to fail, it will do so within the first 90 days of intensive use. Standard Apple warranties are a full year, which covers those first three months and plenty more. So why spend extra money on products that are unlikely to need warranty service after a year?
The answer for many people is simple: PowerBooks. As much as we love the little critters, because we drag them around with us, their parts are more likely to fail in normal usage than are the parts in Macs that sit quietly on desks all day.
My experience (and that of a number of people on TidBITS Talk) is that it's often worth buying a year of AppleCare coverage on PowerBooks because you're just as likely experience a failure in the second year as the first. Whether you continue to cover the machine after that second year relates to your dependence on it and the level of lust you have for a newer PowerBook. After two years, I'd probably use a serious failure as an excuse to upgrade.
Also, consider the differences between electronic circuitry and mechanical devices. Although electronics are unlikely to fail if they survive the first 90 days, mechanical devices like floppy drives, laser marking engines, paper feed systems, and even hard disks become more likely to fail as they age. It's basic wear and tear - if you run tens of thousands of pages through a laser printer, you're relatively likely to wear out mechanical parts of the printer. Similarly, although solder joint problems are less common than in the past, equipment that you turn on and off frequently and that runs fairly hot is more likely to suffer from solder joint problems over time.
Despite this basic difference between electronics and mechanical devices, it's worth evaluating costs. For instance, it's less useful to buy AppleCare for a few hundred dollars a year if you're concerned primarily about the hard disk. Hard disk prices drop frequently, so you could probably replace a hard disk in any year-old Mac with a newer and larger one for the same price as AppleCare. And although floppy drives are mechanical, you can often do without one, especially if you have multiple Macs.
Who Needs AppleCare? Certain types of people are more likely to want AppleCare than others. For instance, for some people, a few hundred dollars a year for AppleCare might be easier to budget than a few thousand dollars for a new Mac.
If you move your equipment frequently or otherwise expose it to dangerous situations on a regular basis, you may be a good candidate for AppleCare. For example, Matthew Barr <email@example.com>, a student at Cornell University, wrote, "I move my computer via UPS about twice a year so my machine and monitor are more likely to fail."
People who cannot perform small repairs on their own may also be more interested in AppleCare. For instance, if you had the skills and knowledge to remove a dead hard disk from a Mac and replace it with a new one, there's less reason to spend the money on AppleCare that you could instead use to buy a new hard disk.
The extent to which you rely on your computer may also play into the question. If your time is valuable, lost work time due to hardware failure may significantly exceed the cost of paying for AppleCare on-site service.
Finally, it comes down to how well you tolerate risk. For many people, AppleCare essentially buys peace of mind - they sleep better at night knowing that a few hundred dollars of AppleCare would fix any problem that might crop up with their machines. As always, though, I must caution such people that being able to fix the hardware for "free" is only part of the equation. If you've stored hundreds of hours of work on a hard disk that dies and you don't have a recent full backup, you might save a few hundred dollars replacing the hard disk, but nothing will replace your lost work.
Other Options -- In essence, AppleCare is an insurance policy, and like all insurance policies, it is a game of chance. Apple is gambling that your equipment won't die, and you're gambling that it will. But Apple has no monopoly on computer insurance, and unlike many other policies, AppleCare doesn't cover accidents or theft, which, as I learned last year, is all too likely with easily grabbed PowerBooks. You can often find less expensive methods of protecting against common disasters.
See if you already have an extended warranty. Many credit cards come with extended warranty insurance that doubles the warranty on items purchased with that credit card. Terms undoubtedly vary from card to card, but it's worth investigating. The doubled warranty may also be incentive to use a certain credit card for computer purchases.
Many consumer electronics stores try hard to sell extended warranties or service contracts, which are generally a source of significant profits, especially considering the razor-thin margins on consumer electronics. Plus, I've heard that at CompUSA, salespeople get half of every service contract they sell, which makes them significantly unbiased in their opinions (sources who have worked in CompUSA comment that it's difficult to sell service contracts on Macs, since people are aware that they tend to have fewer hardware problems than PCs). I'm always suspicious when a salesperson pushes an extended warranty or service contract, especially if you must buy it on the spot, but it might be worthwhile in some cases, especially if you have a lot of confidence in the store. Consider the possibility that the store may go out of business before the end of the extended warranty or service contract, thus making it a waste of money.
Read your homeowner or renter insurance policy carefully. Some cover computer equipment; others exclude it explicitly. Even when computer equipment is covered, be sure you understand any limitations, since, for instance, theft from an unattended vehicle may not be covered.
Even if your homeowner or renter insurance policy explicitly excludes computer equipment, talk to your insurance agent about adding an inexpensive rider to the policy to cover your equipment. For instance, Phil Lefebvre <firstname.lastname@example.org> of Northwestern University commented, "The rider for my PowerBook is $8 per month (a total of $192 for 2 years) with no deductible, since the cost is based on replacing it with a new one. I've already collected once ($2,500) when my son fried my previous PowerBook, and I may file another claim, as I dropped the new one and cracked the case and IR port."
If your equipment isn't covered in any other fashion, consider a computer-specific insurance policy from a company like Safeware Insurance. Before getting our current homeowner insurance policy, with which we explicitly included full replacement value on our computers, we had a Safeware policy. We never had occasion to use it, but it seemed like worthwhile protection at the time.
Finally, consider insuring yourself by saving a certain amount of money each month toward repairs or a new system. In the unlikely event that something goes wrong, you may have to pay for an expensive repair or buy a new computer sooner than you wanted. But if nothing goes wrong, you can slowly save enough money to buy a better Mac before your old one is obsolete, at which point you can sell the old computer to reduce the cost of the new one even further. Another advantage of this option is that there's no worry about the company offering the extended warranty or service contract going out of business or changing the terms radically.
In the end, of course, the decision is entirely yours. If you move your equipment frequently, or rely heavily on a PowerBook or a particularly mechanical device like a LaserWriter, AppleCare may make sense for you. But if your equipment sits quietly on a desk most of the time, your money might be better off earning interest and waiting to buy new hardware.
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.
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