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Level-headed Help from LEVEL 6 Computing

Do you support Macs for a living? If you do, you probably spend too much of your valuable time keeping track of software updates, time that otherwise could be spent using the updates or playing around with HTML. Kevin Garrett once supported Macs for a living, and he became so frustrated with trying to keep up with software updates that he started the Macintosh Software Update Report. The Update Report is a subscription-based, bimonthly newsletter published by LEVEL 6 Computing, and it uses a variety of media to cover the latest on updates from over 800 companies.

The Update Report narrowly focuses on updates – you won’t find any advertising, humor columns, or vaporware announcements here. Instead, you’ll find tightly written text explaining what products have been updated, when each update came out, and what each update changed. Each "issue" includes a paper newsletter, plus a disk of setext files that you can index and a HyperCard stack of vendor information.

Each printed newsletter lists updates from the past few months and gives information about the changes. For instance, by randomly flipping through the October 1995 issue, I learned that: Astrobyte updated BeyondPress, a QuarkXPress to HTML converter; Connectix released Speed Doubler 1.0.2; and Natural Intelligence released DragStrip 2.0.1.

Subscribers also receive a disk that contains one setext file for each update listed in the newsletter. (A setext file is a normal text file in a specific "structure enhanced" format. TidBITS also uses the setext format – send email to <[email protected]> for more information.) The setext files contain the same information as the newsletter, but sometimes go into more depth. Setext files lend themselves to being read in a viewer that lets you easily jump between topics and sub-topics within all setext files stored in a particular Macintosh folder (you might put them in a folder called "Update Report"). A viewer also enables you to search among the setext files stored in a folder.

The Update Report comes with Easy View, a popular viewer from Akif Eyler (see TidBITS-194 for more on Easy View). When a new issue arrives, you can add the new setext documents to your Update Report folder, and view the new documents along with older ones that you’ve kept around. As more and more issues arrive, you squirrel away the setext files and slowly develop a large, searchable database that records changes in software versions.

Easy View was the cat’s pajamas for text distribution back in 1992, and although it’s excellent for what it does, electronic publications these days need a Web presence. The Update Report is on the Web, with samples for anyone to browse, and with a special section for subscribers. The special section is updated frequently (recent updates have been weekly), so subscribers need not wait for the bi-monthly issues. Although the subscribers’ section is nicely organized by date, it would be nice to see it also offer a searching capability.

Each issue’s disk also comes with an updated HyperCard stack listing vendor contact information, including how to find vendor BBSs and sites on online services such as AOL and the Internet. The stack currently has about 700 entries. The contact information is also available to everyone on LEVEL 6’s Web site, complete with lots of live links. Large contact databases on the Web are nothing new, and I think it’s good to have more than one entity maintaining a Macintosh-oriented contact database. My favorite contact database is still at The Well Connected Mac, a Web site devoted to "everything Macintosh."

That said, do note that LEVEL 6 checks their contact information to make sure it’s accurate; The Well Connected Mac doesn’t do any such checking.

Although the Update Report has a friendly feel to it, new users won’t understand much of the terminology. That’s okay, because the publication is designed for savvy support people who need to know technical details. The Update Report’s pricing reflects its intended audience. Casual Macintosh users won’t pay $150 per year for such a resource, but businesses who offer technical support or consulting services may find their $150 well spent. Subscriptions cost an additional $25 for readers outside the United States. LEVEL 6 also offers "special pricing" to self-employed consultants, offers Web-only pricing, and can arrange site or volume discounts.

The Macintosh Software Update Report is just over a year old, and its strengths lie in its technical content and mix of paper and electronic media. Although the publication may be most useful to those who have fast Web access, people without much Internet access will still find it a useful tool. Also, people who want (or require) paper get paper, but the text also comes on disk and can be searched.

LEVEL 6 Computing — 818/888-0675 — 818/888-5635 (fax)
<[email protected]>

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