Six monkeys sitting in front of six DOS machines could randomly type out a TWAIN driver in about 10 days. And that includes the time it would take them to become proficient in WordStar. So there's no reason I shouldn't be able to download a driver for my scanner from a company's site.

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OPINION JUNE 4 , 2001
Talkin' Smack: Would Somebody Please Service Me?

Hardware makers need better driver support

by David Nagel
Executive Producer
[email protected]

We all have our gripes about customer service in the computer business. As Mac users, we probably have it a bit easier than those poor, unfortunate, pathetic creatures on the Windows side, since, on the whole, our problems are rather minor and can be fixed with a bit of educated troubleshooting, whereas their problems are rooted in their childhoods and are usually only fixed through hug therapy.

That said, we Mac folk do encounter frustrating problems every now and again. For me and for many of you, these problems creep up in the area of customer service. Let me give you an example or two.

Extension underload
I won't name names, but I once purchased a retail add-on graphics card for my Mac. It was about two years ago. I liked the card, but one of the first things I noticed was that certain components related to the card were failing to load at startup.

I went to the company's Web site and saw that I needed to fill out a very specific and time-consuming report form before the company would even talk to me. So I did, but I heard nothing back for quite some time, until I got an e-mail telling me that I needed to fill out the proper form before the company would talk to me about my problem. Of course, I already had filled it out. But I did it one more time, and, once again, I didn't hear back from them for a long time. When I did, it was to tell me once again that I needed to fill out that stupid report. This time I didn't bother, since I had worked out a fix in the meantime.

However, I did go ahead and send my fix in to the company so that they could incorporate it into their downloadable driver for that particular card. Know what it was? You just had to add a space in front of the name of one of the extensions so that it would load in the proper order. How much time would a fix like this take to incorporate into the driver? A couple seconds? Nevertheless, the driver to that card remains unchanged to this day and not a hint from the company about how users can fix it themselves.

And that's why I never recommend ATI cards to my readers.

Now, are all customer service gripes so straightforward and one-sided? Certainly not. We've been spoiled by having things our way from the beginning, even when it hasn't been economically sound for companies to provide all the resources they have been providing to us. "Bread and circuses." If you get everything you demand, the system collapses.

One software developer whose work I respect (and whose service is excellent) told me, "People just have no idea what the actual costs associated with physical product, marketing, service and support are.... Somebody could pay $200 for two meals out on the town and not think twice about it, yet when they spend that for a piece of software they expect you to throw in a glossy color printed manual, unlimited phone support and free upgrades for all time."

Very true. But there are times when just the smallest effort can make the difference between a satisfied customer with the potential for lots of future sales and a one-time customer who later becomes a writer for a fairly popular computer publication and winds up dissing that company forever.

Driving me nuts
This isn't just graphic cards. I had a reader recently who was frustrated with a certain peripheral maker because he couldn't find the Mac driver for his scanner on the company's Web site. Oh, there were plenty of driver updates available, but, since he didn't have the original Mac CD, he would have to order a new one. How much effort would it have taken for this company to post the driver on its FTP support site? One mouse click.

But this company claims that its drivers are developed by an outside provider that won't allow the drivers to be distributed in such a way. What? A TWAIN driver outsourced? Six monkeys sitting in front of six DOS machines could randomly type out a TWAIN driver in about 10 days. And that includes the time it would take them to become proficient in WordStar. I don't buy it. There's no reason he shouldn't have been able to download a complete driver for his scanner or any other TWAIN-compliant device.

Now, I like this particular company because they manufactured some excellent laser printers and provided them with Mac support back in the days when they really didn't need to. And they still make some pretty good stuff for the Mac, so I can't come down too hard on them. But this is just another example of the decline of customer service in even the smallest areas.

I've cited as examples just two companies here. But this problem pervades the peripheral market. If you ever lose the CD that came with your scanner or digital camera, you can just forget about it unless you bought one from the rare manufacturer that has it support act together or you're willing to pay for a new installation CD. This kind of foolishness wastes my time and yours, and there's no justification for it.

Competition in the scanner, printer and digital camera market is pretty fierce. I recommend that all of you thinking about buying a new peripheral go to the manufacturer's site and try to download a driver before you ever spend your money. If you can't find it on the site, call up customer service and find out how you can get a hold of such a driver. The answer will tell you everything you need to know.

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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications.

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