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This issue marks our fifth year – where has the time gone? Apple made some interesting announcements today of official next-day support on eWorld (finally!) and price drops on the PowerBook 150. Power Computing and Now Software announce a bundling deal, Tonya reviews ProPhone – a CD-ROM database that fails to replace a phone book but serves as a bad marketing tool – and finally, we have another installment of good and bad customer service stories.

Geoff Duncan No comments

Apple Announces Next-Day Support on eWorld

Apple Announces Next-Day Support on eWorld — Ten months after introducing eWorld as its own online service, Apple is finally rolling out official forum-based online support. "Ask Apple" promises official responses from Apple support professionals by the next business day at no cost (other than normal eWorld subscription fees), and is being rolled into Apple’s existing eWorld forum and support offerings. Online support is certainly cheaper for Apple than telephone support and is in many ways a more efficient means of dealing with customer support issues. We applaud Apple for making this move but have only one question: why did this take so long? [GD]

Mark H. Anbinder No comments

The PowerBook 150

The PowerBook 150 is the orphaned cousin of Apple’s laptop computer family, but with today’s price drops, it becomes an affordable alternative for those who don’t need fancier PowerBooks. The PowerBook 150 sports the original 100-series PowerBook case design, with a 33 MHz 68030 processor and a greyscale display, but weighs only 5.5 pounds. The new ApplePrice in the U.S. for the original 4/120 configuration is $1,069, and a new 4/250 configuration has been announced with an ApplePrice of $1,229. If you don’t need much more than word processing and email, or don’t need to run the latest and greatest top-heavy applications, this machine is a great bargain. [MHA]

Adam Engst No comments

The Third GVU World-Wide Web User Survey

The Third GVU World-Wide Web User Survey has started, and we encourage TidBITS readers to go and be counted. One of the problems that has stymied people trying to figure out who uses the Internet is that there isn’t much hard research. I can’t speak to the validity of this study over others, but it appears to be fairly complete. And (I’ll come clean here) one of the questions asks what computer you use, so we Macintosh users should make sure we’re counted. The complete survey takes about ten minutes to complete. [ACE]

Geoff Duncan No comments

Power Computing to Bundle Now Software

Power Computing to Bundle Now Software — Now Software announced last week that they plan to bundle Now Up-to-Date, Now Contact, and Now Utilities with their upcoming Macintosh clones. This deal should make Power Computing’s machines more attractive in business settings, where built-in calendar, scheduling, and contact management are significant issues; however, Now Utilities should be attractive to individual Mac users as well. [GD]

Now Software — 503-274-2800 — <[email protected]>

Geoff Duncan No comments

Kick Your Epson into Gear

Kick Your Epson into Gear — If you have an Epson Color Stylus printer (see TidBITS-266), you might be interested in two handy Photoshop utilities to improve the color accuracy and the quality of high-resolution images. The first utility, KS Labs Epson Ink 2.52, comes from Guy Kuo <[email protected]>, and it improves color saturation and accuracy when printing from Photoshop 3.0 by letting Photoshop separate colors using custom ink settings for the Epson Color Stylus. The second utility, called Better Epson, is a fat binary Photoshop plug-in from Thomas Keller <[email protected]>. Better Epson prints RGB, bitmapped images with better speed and/or better print quality. The Macintosh drivers Epson ships with the printer apparently don’t produce true 720-dpi output; Better Epson provides a better dithering methods that can (theoretically) give true 720-dpi output, though results vary depending on the type of image being printed. [GD]

Adam Engst No comments

TidBITS 5.0

This issue marks the fifth year of TidBITS, making it one of the oldest edited electronic publications on the Internet. We have survived 273 issues, a format change from HyperCard to setext at TidBITS-100, the rise of the World-Wide Web, and the inevitable burnout that Tonya and Geoff have helped eliminate from what is no longer a one-person job. If you’re wondering about the history behind TidBITS, check out the article I wrote about it for our fourth anniversary in TidBITS-222. TidBITS-222.html

I think our five years and 273 issues, along with the estimated 150,000 people who read TidBITS, show that what we’re doing is valid (despite paper publication naysayers), valuable (to our readers), and viable (Macs, modems, and managing editors don’t grow on trees, you know). Although we, unlike many publications, refrain from publishing the self-serving congratulatory letters we receive that compare TidBITS to sliced bread, every now and then it feels good to revel in public for a moment.

There’s no telling how many people have read our first issue by now (and it’s suitably embarrassing whenever I go back and look it), but I think it’s safe to say that only a few hundred read it that fateful week in 1990. Our circulation has grown with the Internet, and the TidBITS mailing list ranks as the third largest LISTSERV-based list with (as of today) 20,237 readers (thanks to Rice University!). When you add the estimated 110,000 people who read <comp.sys.mac.digest>, the several thousand who read TidBITS on the Web at Dartmouth and the thousands who get TidBITS from BBSs and the various commercial services (oddly enough, download counts on the commercial services remain relatively constant), you end up with a large group of people. Readership_report_for_Jan_95.Z

Along with our burgeoning readership, TidBITS has received recognition in a number of more traditional ways, included extremely nice mentions in recent issues of MacUser and Macworld, thanks to Andy Ihnatko and David Pogue. TidBITS has also received several BMUG Choice Product awards in the Online Magazine category – awards that are very complimentary given BMUG’s overall high standards. We even made the mainstream press with a small mention in Newsweek in August of 1994.

Sometimes, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and although numerous electronic publications have come and gone (it’s not as easy as it looks), a number of publications (see the URL below) seem to have arrived for good. One such publication, Mac*Chat, even comes out weekly and uses the setext format.

All I can say is, thank you, everyone.

What are our plans for the future? That’s a good question, and not one for which we have a ready answer. The overall idea is to make TidBITS available to an ever-increasing number of people – we joke that our goal is world domination by the year 2000, our tenth anniversary. So, TidBITS will be appearing in an increasing number of places both on and off the Web. Who knows, maybe we can get Power Computing to bundle a free subscription to TidBITS with all of their Macintosh clones.

We also have plans to use what clout we have due to our large readership to do cool things for readers. Nothing’s official yet, but we think we can continue to create situations, as with our sponsorship program, where everyone wins. And, of course, in the process we hope to promote some of our basic philosophies about how customers should be treated no matter where they live, how online support can improve service and cut costs, and how the Internet can break down barriers between people. Everyone has an agenda, and you should always keep that in mind. We hope that ours is sufficiently out in the open that you can judge for yourself whether or not you approve of our actions both in the past and in the future.

Geoff Duncan No comments

Hits and Misses of Customer Service

Back in TidBITS-262, we said that we don’t make a habit of passing along the many and varied tales of customer service TidBITS readers send to us. However, lots of people wrote in to say that they liked the article, and we can occasionally be accused of playing to the masses. So, we’re doing it again.

When you read these notes, please bear a few things in mind. First, even the best customer service department stumbles occasionally. Maybe a representative is coming down with the flu, or maybe the company’s phone system has been hit by a power failure – these things happen. Conversely, even the worst department can sometimes do the right thing by their customers, thanks perhaps to a lone dedicated individual. In short, these comments should not be taken as representative of a company’s customer service in general; rather, they should be seen as what they are, individual experiences of individual people.

Kathryn Cramer <[email protected]> writes:

Computer Era advertised a PowerBook 520c 4/160 for under $2,000 in the New York Times Science section (March 28th, 1995). Over the phone, Computer Era assured me that they had five of the models in stock. I met with their salesman the next morning. He spent 35 minutes trying to sell me a memory upgrade for the 520c at twice the price listed in any of the major catalogs, with an installation fee a full nine times the amount I paid to have the same upgrade done on my current PowerBook. The total, with sales tax would easily have come to in excess of $3,200 for a 520c with 12 MB of internal memory and a 160 MB hard drive!

The salesman said many things that were not true, most interesting among them his claim that RAM Doubler damages the logic board of PowerBooks. When I told him it worked great on my 145B, he said that this was a special problem for the 500 series and that they had people coming in all the time to have their logic boards replaced at a cost of $2,000, and that this repair was not covered by the warranty. In the end, I left with my certified check still in my purse and without a new PowerBook for the simple reason that they did not actually have it in stock.

I called Connectix tech support as soon as I got home. They assured me that there was no such problem with RAM Doubler, but said that they had heard this rumor once before but had not previously been aware of its origins. They were most grateful to be told.

Nitya Nadesan <[email protected]> writes:

I recently called the 800 number for my Word 6.0.1 update. The operator was courteous and took my information in about three minutes. I was told to expect the update in four to six weeks. It arrived in a little over a week by Airborne Express overnight service. When I opened the box I was further pleasantly surprised by a letter apologizing for any inconvenience plus a $25 coupon good toward the purchase of any Microsoft product.

Blair Barret <[email protected]> writes:

I have an antique Mac Plus (which I should replace, but I just can’t bring myself to buy that Power Mac) for which I ordered an accelerator card (yes, they still make them) from Micro Mac Technologies. It took three phone calls to finally get the card (they lost the order twice). The board they sent was a basic accelerator that clips to the 68000 chip in the machine. I thought it was pretty nifty at the time, and was also under the impression that there were no other accelerator cards available for the Plus.

I also ordered Connectix’s Compact Virtual from Micro Mac and tried to install it on my system. I immediately had problems, as it told me my system software (7.1.1 with the update) was corrupted. Panic-stricken, I ran to my local computer emporium and purchased System 7.5 (the version of System 7.0.1 I downloaded from Apple wouldn’t install properly for some strange reason) but still no luck. I then called Connectix and was informed I would just have to find 7.0.1 because the version of Compact Virtual would not work with 7.5, and the upgrade version would not work with my accelerator. After installing 7.0.1 on my hard drive (I now had three versions of System software installed!), I tried to boot the system only to get an "unimplemented trap" error which corrected itself when I disabled the accelerator.

During troubleshooting, I found in the supplemental manual that my accelerator was not compatible with 7.0.1. (The accelerator worked great under 7.5, but had no memory left.) After spending about 30 minutes on the phone with the manager of the sales department at Micro Mac, then another 15 minutes with tech support, I was told I had the wrong accelerator for what I wanted to do (run PageMaker). They said I needed to order a different one, which was not offered to me in my initial order! Furthermore, I was told they would "credit" me less than what I had paid for my original accelerator to upgrade! I ordered the upgraded accelerator, but I am not happy with the terms, since they did not give me enough information on my initial order for me to make a proper buying decision. I’m a customer service rep myself, would have lost my job on the spot if I treated any of my customers the way I was treated by Micro Mac.

Rob Reiter <[email protected]> writes:

I bought a 2 GB hard disk from Spin Peripherals and thought they sent the wrong mounting bracket for my Quadra 950. I called, explained, and had a new bracket air freighted to me the next day at no charge. However, the new bracket was the same as the old one – the error had been mine. But then, when I hooked up the drive it didn’t work. Another call this time, on a Friday. From my description, they agreed it sounded like a bad drive. I received a new one the following Tuesday. When it didn’t work either, I began to suspect the trouble was, again, me. It was, but the drive’s manual (from DEC) wasn’t too clear, so I felt halfway off the hook. My second call to Spin Tech support cleared up the problem and I got the drive working.

All in all, I thought Spin’s service and speediness was outstanding and I wrote them to let them know (and to thank them for not putting me through voice-mail hell to get that help!).

Alun Severn <[email protected]> writes:

At Christmas 1994 I bought an Internet package through Demon Internet, a U.K. service provider. Part of the package was the Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh. After two weeks of use, the spine split and pages started falling out. Having worked for twenty years in the book trade, I handle books reasonably carefully: I knew this was poor and told Hayden Books so via email message to a U.S. address. I had a very apologetic reply the following day and – less than seven working days later – a replacement copy was delivered to my door.

Jack Machiela <[email protected]> writes:

I can confirm the user-friendliness at Hayden Books – recently I received from a friend a copy of one of their books, the Mac-3D Workshop, but unfortunately my dog got to the accompanying CD-ROM before I did. I mailed them regarding purchasing another copy of the CD, and instead received the latest version (a complete revision) of the book including the new CD, with an email message saying "No payment required, just tell all your friends how wonderful we are." Needless to say, I have been doing nothing else since…

[We’re including this note not just because Hayden did the right thing in this case, but to point out an interesting problem with book-and-disk products. Many book companies – Hayden included – don’t track their disks separately from their books due to accounting problems with tracking not only a book, but also the one or sometimes more disks that come with it. Thus, if someone gets a bad disk and needs a replacement, the book companies often send the customer an entire new book along with it. – Geoff]

Rob Mincey <[email protected]> writes:

As a Christmas gift in 1993, I received Symantec’s Think C 6.0. A good bit of time passed, and I began to see mentions of Think C 7.0 in the MACDEV echo on FidoNet. Out of curiosity, I looked on America Online and discovered the 6.0 to 7.0 upgrade. I found it strange that I had not received notice from Symantec about a major version update. I downloaded the files and attempted to update the software on my drive. Everything upgraded correctly except the Project Manager. After several clean installs of Think C 6.0, I called Symantec’s support BBS. I received a message from tech support to the effect of "we’ve already discussed how to fix your problem." No solution, though. Luckily, someone on the FidoNet MACDEV echo pointed me in the right direction.

I received similar treatment concerning the release of Norton Utilities for Macintosh 3.0. I did not receive an upgrade notice until well after it had shipped. Had I not noticed it in mail order catalogs, I never would have known about it.

Enter Metrowerks. I received the Bronze edition of CodeWarrior 4.0 in December of 1994 as a Christmas gift. Two weeks later, I saw an ad for 5.0 in a mail-order catalog. Curious, I sent an email message to the Metrowerks support staff. They assured me I would receive my upgrade soon. Within a week, the upgrade was at my door. This was not an upgrade notice, but a full-fledged upgrade CD-ROM. Metrowerks updates their software three times yearly, and every customer is entitled to one year’s worth of upgrades. Additional upgrades may be purchased at a nominal fee. I find it a joy to support companies who value their customers, and I refuse to support those firms who ignore their greatest assets – their customers.

[Metrowerks handles updates to its CodeWarrior development environment as a subscription service: purchasing CodeWarrior also buys you a one-year subscription to updates released in January, May, and September of each year. Several readers have also written to praise Metrowerks’ responsiveness and support via the Internet and Usenet newsgroups. -Geoff]

James W. Gruener <[email protected]> writes:

I purchased a SyQuest 270 MB drive from APS in mid-January. Though it was their policy not to send drives without cartridges (they didn’t have any in stock), I twisted the salesman’s arm and I received my drive in two days via UPS ground. Two weeks later, when I hadn’t heard from APS and still didn’t have the cartridge that was promised to me, I called their customer service number. "I’m sorry, but our records show that the drive was shipped with a cartridge." I expected that. What I didn’t expect was the friendly offer to investigate the matter and return my call with the result. By 10:00 A.M. the next day, a cartridge was delivered to me by Airborne Express. Although APS failed to initially send me the cartridge, the resolution was fast and complete.

[The more cynical among you may have noticed that several of the stories above relate to our sponsors – rest assured that we aren’t stacking the deck. We tend to hear more about the companies that sponsor TidBITS for obvious reasons, and frankly, although we never pretend that our sponsors are perfect, we do feel that they are good companies who try to provide excellent customer service. -Adam]

Tonya Engst No comments

ProPhone: For When a ZIP Code is Not Enough

If searching for ZIP codes and the like is too general for your needs (see my article about ZIP code programs in TidBITS-267), Pro CD’s ProPhone might initially sound like an attractive alternative. Once you install the base ProPhone software (which comes with any ProPhone title) you can use any ProPhone title, which include:

  • CanadaPHONE – Canadian residential and business listings.
  • EUROPAGES – European business listings.
  • selectPHONE – U.S. residential and business listings on five CDs, which can be retrieved by name, address (or part of an address), city, state, ZIP code, telephone number, or business type (based on a SIC code, and there are many).
  • directPHONE – U.S. residential and business listings on two CDs, which can be retrieved by name only.
  • freePHONE – AT&T’s 800 number listings, which AT&T also now has on the Web.

ProPhone has good uses, but to best understand what ProPhone offers, think marketing slime. Have you ever received a one-time offer – in the form of a form letter – inviting you to send no money now, but to get ready to explore your family tree and learn that you descend directly from King Weasel the Second? The people who create such offers could have easily used a ProPhone product to identify you as a potential customer.

ProPhone titles work under DOS, Windows, or MacOS, and based on the looks of the Mac program, ProPhone did not get its start on the Mac side of the house. According to Pro CD’s literature, a major feature of ProPhone, called Jericho, lets ProPhone search across multiple CDs. To use Jericho, you need more than one CD drive; it only works on mounted CDs, which can be mounted locally or over a network. The Macintosh version requires a color monitor, System 7, and at least 8 MB RAM. The native version isn’t out yet, but Pro CD is working on it.

I was excited to receive a review copy of selectPHONE. SelectPHONE lists for $299 and comes with a coupon for one free update. Updates come out quarterly, and a year’s subscription costs $399. SelectPHONE enables you to use somewhat complex search criteria to search a directory of U.S. business and residential listings. I detest using paper phone books because I always look in the wrong one, or forget that P comes before Q, or confuse the white page business listings with the white page residential listings. I hoped that selectPHONE would prove an enabling experience. I’m sorry to report that it was not enabling, nor enlightening, since although I did find God, it turns out God lives in L.A. Sigh.

Searching — The ProPhone interface consists of a wide set of columns that would do well on a Pivot monitor in a landscape rotation. The top row of each column has a title (Name, Address, Phone, and so on) and the second row has a data entry area where you enter search criteria. For example, for State, you might enter OH to find entries in Ohio. The remaining rows display search results.

A few of the data entry areas are also pop-up menus, and clicking the down-pointing arrow for the menu brings up a dialog box of options. The dialog box for the SIC (Standard Industrial Codes) field offers codes for every business I’d ever heard of and some new ones that must have sprung forth from the fevered imaginations of high school guidance counselors (abdominal supports wholesale, buttonhole & eyelet machine manufacturer, helicopter charter & rental services, highway sign installation). The searching capabilities include ANDs, ORs, NOTs, and wildcards, so you can do fairly specific searching. The manual offers an example of searching for everyone in an area who is a dentist or a doctor. If you can figure out the SIC codes, you can do this with ease.

To search, you enter the criteria and then press Return or click the Retrieve button on the floating toolbar. As the manual puts it, "Meet Max, our retriever. Type your search criteria, then click on Max with your mouse. Max will retrieve all matching listings. For those of you non-dog-lovers out there, you may press the Return key instead." On my Power Mac 7100 ProPhone rapidly responded to search queries while running in emulation mode. Unfortunately, I’m unimpressed with the quality of the results.

Results — Using the Pacific CD, I searched for Engst, and – though I did find Adam’s aunt and also an Engst in Bellingham, I didn’t find Adam or myself, despite the fact that we have lived in the same place for well over a year and in the area for almost four years. Further searching on seven close friends who have lived in the same place for at least a year – and sometimes quite a number of years – resulted in seven failures.

I switched to the North East CD and searched on my maiden name (Byard) but failed to turn up my grandparents who have lived at the same address for years. Less surprisingly, I failed to turn up my sister who is a grad student at Yale – she moves about twice a year. I did find Adam’s uncle and grandparents who live in Queens, and Adam’s parents in Richford showed up. Moving along to the Great Lakes CD, I tried to find my parents in Yellow Springs, Ohio (they moved there about three years ago) but they were not listed.

My CDs were labeled "3rd Quarter 1994," so this level of failure seems inexcusable. [I originally wrote this review in late 1994.] The manual claims that "our new data supplier, based in China, is providing us with 100 percent of the listings contained in every telephone directory published in North America." Clearly, the CDs will not substitute for keeping a personal address book (or database) nor for having a paper phone book.

If you do get results worth using for some sort of marketing purpose (which, after all, is clearly what ProPhone intends you to do), you can select any one found individual and then click the Neighbors button to find neighbors (on the same street) of the selected person. You can also search for phone numbers close to the number of the selected person.

You can double-click to tag an entry as worthy of being contacted. Tagged items turn color and appear in the Global Tag Manager window, which you can switch to in order to only view tagged entries. Once you tag entries, you can print out mailing labels (in a few different formats, and with first name first, last name second or vice-versa), export them (in a variety of formats), or have your modem dial them up for you.

Nausea, or Sickness Unto Death — Frankly, I’m feeling nauseous, because selectPHONE is just the sort of mediocre marketing tool that has unleashed tons of unsolicited mail and millions of unwanted phone calls. The problem with junk mail and junk phone solicitations is that they are too poorly targeted to reach the people who want the services offered. They waste my time, your time, and the time of the people who have to sit in cubicles making those awful calls in an attempt to eke out a living. They tie up our phone lines and contribute to our land fills. They are a blight.

Pro CD, Inc. — 800/99CDROM — 617/631-0900
<[email protected]>