Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 2 NO. 3 / WINTER 1987


In regard to your very self-serving article "How Not to Run a Computer Store," ostensibly by "Frank Kofsky" in the Summer 1987 START:

If a customer comes in the store with some oddball computer and wants to buy a printer I would do the same thing as the salesman in the article. If the printer does not work with his oddball computer he will bring it back and expect a refund. The printer will in general not be in "as new" condition because he damaged the packing material at the least and damaged the printer itself or threw away the box it came in at the worst. Even if the printer worked with his hardware it might not work with who knows what kind of program that I may know nothing about. I am not willing to take that risk. Let him find a computer store that does sell his brand of computer

Thanks to rags like yours that exist primarily as a vehicle to provide an advertising outlet for fly-by-night mail order outfits, the street price of printers and computers has been forced down to the point where a computer store is unable to provide the service this particular type of customer needs.

Of course you can't get your money back on a software package that has been copied and the manual Xeroxed. Try stopping payment on a check in my store and I will easily win in small claims court. For those of you that are legally inclined, a check is called "another level of contract" and as such it is legally binding.

If you do force me to take you to small-claims court you will never buy another thing in my store again nor will you get support on what you bought with that "stopped payment" check the judge forced you to pay me, nor anything else you ever bought in my store.

The problem of sales people who don't know about the products they sell can be partially attributed to the magazines for not doing a good job of reviewing, testing, benchmarking and criticizing software packages. Computer stores are victimized by junk software just like anyone else. Unfortunately the Atari ST has more than its share of junk software.

This article was primarily an attempt on your part to justify your existence as primarily a mail-order software house and secondarily to justify the questionable practice of carrying mail-order computer hardware advertising.

I don't think Frank Kofsky exists. I think this article was written by someone on your staff. If he does exist I would not want a Communist like him teaching my children history.

Computers are not the same as hi-fi sets. Even Atari Corp. now realizes this and has taken steps to stop the practice. I can see how the loss of this advertising revenue has upset you.

Few customers in their right minds will buy any product without having seen and felt it in a store. Therefore mail order outfits are parasites. Any manufacturers will eventually go broke selling strictly mail order.

You guys ought to be ashamed of yourself. Come to think about it you probably are and this article is an attempt to ease your conscience. Nevertheless my customers will never see your magazine nor any of your products in my store.

Paul Lamar
Lamar Micro
Redondo Beach, CA

As a retail merchant, I can certainly agree with the majority of Mr. Kofsky's comments about the need of service and knowledgable staff on the part of retail merchants, if they wish to be successful. But several of Mr. Kofsky's comments were at best way off base, if not completely ludicrous.

Mr. Koisky's largest error was in his completely ridiculous belief that if he purchased a product that did not function as he anticipated, he should be allowed to return it for a refund. When a customer requests a program and purchases it, it is his responsibility to know what he wants of a product before he buys it. We will not refund a customer or let him exchange merchandise because it wouldn't do what he thought it would.

We will allow a customer to boot up a program in our store and look at it and the documentation. If we can answer any questions the customer has, we are glad to do so, but we carry about 200 programs in stock, and don't know the answer to all the questions he might ask. There are thousands of programs available for the ST. It would be impossible for any clerk, in any type of store, to be familiar with more than a few programs.

We will also allow a customer to return a program if he has asked if it will work on an XXX printer, and if it won't can he return it. But we will not allow a customer to return a program that will not print in living color on a black printer ribbon because the customer thought it should.

Mr. Kofsky says toward the end of his article, "Perhaps if enough computer purchasers take advantage of these facts to avoid being stuck with hardware and software they can't use, computer store owners will wise up and begin insisting that their employees know what they're selling." Very few retailers would misrepresent their products to make a sale. But, in fairness, we can't know everything about all the programs we sell. That's why we have open packages on our shelves, so that you can look at the documentation, and plug in the disk and look at the program.

If Mr. Kofsky needs the handholding that he implies in his article, I would suggest that he purchase his merchandise from a dealer that can answer his questions. Sure it may cost more there, but you have to pay for the services you desire. If you want to save money and buy a printer from mail order or from an unknowledgeable clerk, do so - but don't expect a great deal of sympathy or help from me if you won't buy from me.

In conclusion, let me say this: Dear Customer, when you come into our store to look at software, feel free to ask us questions. If we don't know the answer, we will open the package and try to find it. We will be glad to let you boot up the program and take a look. We will be glad to let you take the program home, try it on the XXX printer, the XXX modem, or the XXX monitor to make sure it will work, and refund your money if it doesn't if you bring it back tomorrow.

On the other hand, we will not refund your money if you bring it back in two weeks because it won't XXX instead of YYY. It is your responsibility to know the product and if it meets your needs. We can't know your needs, and shouldn't be expected to pamper unreasonable customers.

Leo H. KordsmeierJr.
Baker Valu-Rite Drugs
Little Rock, AR

Mr Kofsky replies:

"The letter of Paul Lamar does not deserve to be dignified with a detailed response. I'm sure, however, the students whom I teach in my classes on critical-thinking will enjoy it when I assign it as an exercise, inasmuch as it exhibits virtually every illogical fallacy known to mankind. To this I will merely add that there is no reason to be intimidated by the bluff and bluster about small claims court. I have been to small claims court many times and have never yet lost a case. Based on that experience, it is inconceivable to me that any judge in the country would rule against a customer who returns an undamaged piece of software in a reasonable amount of time with a clear explanation of how the software failed to perform as advertised.

"Leo Kordsmeier's letter at least observes the rules of civilized discourse, but it is by no means immune to fallacious logic. In particular, its author first attributes to me a contention I did not advance, rebuts, this contention, then claims he has refuted my entire argument- the classic straw-man ploy, in other words. Even though my article was edited, I believe the position I took therein was sufficiently clear and simple for all to understand: a customer has a right to a refund when an article he has purchased either 1.) fails to perform properly (i.e., is defective), or 2.) fails to live up to the claims made for it (in advertising, on the package, by a salesperson, etc.). Mr. Kordsmeier evidently considers this a 'completely ridiculous belief' but he provides no reason why. The burden of proof is on him.

"Two further comments of a general nature are in order. Every software merchant I have spoken to goes through the same ritual, and Mr. Kordsmeier is no exception. The standard lament runs something like this: We sell so many programs, we can't possibly know what each one does.' To begin with, the conclusion does not follow from the premise. Few if any software stores carry more items than a well-stocked camera store. Palmer's in Berkeley; California stocks cameras, lenses and accessories, to say nothing of telescopes, binoculars and the like. Yet I can walk into Palmer's and get an informed answer to a question about any item in stock from virtually any clerk. If camera stores can manage this, why can't software stores do likewise?

"The main point, however, is this: Software merchants strive to have it both ways. Thus they argue that the customer obtains better service at a local store-yet simultaneously they contend there are so many products that their sales people can't be knowledgeable about them all. How can an uninformed sales staff provide good service? To ask the question is to answer it. Local software merchants also seek to have the cake they eat by being quick to protect themselves against the patrons-refusing them refunds, for instance. At the same time they' remain obstinately unwilling to recognize that their patrons need at least as much protection against defective merchandise, and storeowners won't stand behind the products they sell. In critical-thinking classes, we term this 'the fallacy of provincialism. 'If self-protection makes good sense for the merchant, likewise for the customer I continue to advocate paying by check and/or credit card.

"Finally, it may help to understand what is actually involved here by' viewing the matter in historical perspective. The conflict between local merchants on the one hand and large mail-order houses on the other is anything but a new phenomenon in US. history. On the contrary, this conflict has been raging for at least a century, over railroad rates, so-called fair-trade laws,' appointments to and policies pursued by the Federal Trade Commission and countless other issues as well. With the great increase in mail-order shopping during the last decade, competition has grown that much more intense. Local merchants are feeling the squeeze, but are relatively impotent to do anything about it. And, of course, we all know what tends to happen when the real foe cannot be defeated: The losing side searches for a scapegoat upon which to pin the blame. Need one say more?"

I have just looked over the Fall issue of START and am quite pleased. Although I cannot run the programs that require a color monitor, I found the usefulness and quality of the function plotter by Delmar Searles to be outstanding! In fact, I haven't run any other monochrome compatible program in the magazine yet because of my fascination with this useful and fun program. By the way, a useful addition to this program would be the option of printing out the equation along with the graph. The pairing of the equation and resulting graph would make the hardcopy even more useful for educational purposes.

Perhaps with more (higher) educational programs such as 3-D Grapher, the ST will have a stronger foothold in the university market. If ST developers want to penetrate this market, they can look at the level of mathematical, scientific and statistical software that has made the Macintosh the darling of college students.

I also enjoyed Frank Kofsky's article on the woes of purchasing a computer. Computer retailers like the Federated Group (recently acquired by Atari Corp.) should see the writing on the wall and take heed. If Atari is going to gain wider acceptance. it must be distributed at the retail level by competent salesmen.

The general flavor of the Fall issue is better than the preceding STARTs. The review section was very good. I especially enjoyed the Clipboard section. Overall, the issue was very good.

Barry M. Barnhill
Laguna Beach, CA

I am another one of the thousands who do need "hand holding tutorials on how to open the Desktop."

We cannot all be as clever as Steve Rehrauer who just wants to know what makes our ST tick. Indeed, it took me several hours just to "nut" out how to get COLORPR.ST in the Spring 1987 issue running. I am aware I am not incredibly bright but there are thousands more like me out here and in the future there are likely to be hundreds of thousands. Please give a thought to us less gifted readers and let's have a little hand holding.

Neil Rouse
Auckland, New Zealand

I would certainly love programs in BASIC but I would also love a section that would teach me to make the transition from BASIC to C and to assembler in such a manner that even I, dumb as I am, would understand. I'd like a section that would have a small program, like getting the area of a triangle or outputting a message, written in BASIC, C, Pascal and assembler

Such a program in different languages would not take much disk space and it would be interesting to that set of ST owners that are newcomers to computers and programs (we seem to be a large percentage).

You are doing beautifully except for the quarterly status. I do exist in a vacuum, surrounded by Commodores, IBMs, Apples, etc. For all I know, my ST is the only one for many many miles around, and my only source of information is magazines.

Vicente 0. Zanatta Tress.
Cordoba, Mexico

In the Fall .1987 issue of START. The ST Quarterly, the phone number for VIP Technologies was incorrectly listed at the end of a review of VIP Professional. The phone number listed is for VIP Enterprises, which does not market the VI P program.

For any questions about VIP Professional direct all calls or correspondence to ISD Marketing Inc P.O. Box 3070, Markham Industrial Park, Markham, Ontario. Canada L3R 6G4 (416) 479-1880

1 read every issue of START from cover to cover as soon as I receive it. The problem I am writing to you to express concern about is the infrequency of publication. As START is a quarterly magazine, I wait 21/2 months between reading issues for the next issue to arrive. As I know that the only way for you to justify a more frequent printing is to hear from your subscribers, here's my plea. Please go monthly!

R. Hunley
Pontiac, MI

The idea of releasing START without a disk was brilliant. I was able to thumb through the Summer 1987 issue prior to purchase. This provided my first look at START.

The review of Timeworks' business software caught my eye first-nice job. Secondly being a sometime stargazer, "The aSTronomer" was truly delightful. I may still order the disk for this program alone. The next item of positive attraction was your review of Publishing Partner My daughter's recent responsibility for an Explorers newsletter was perfect timing for this information.

Unfortunately, I was completely turned off by your response to Thorarinn Jonsson about running color programs on a monochrome system. The idea of someone purchasing a second monitor to run the diversity of available programs is nonsense. Everyone who owns a Macintosh or Amiga, given appropriate memory, can run any program written for that particular machine.

I chose the monochrome ST because of resolution. Although I do a lot of word processing, I would like to access programs such as DEGAS and CAD-3D in high resolution. It can be done. It should be done. Not everyone wants to draw pretty color pictures. Some of us have serious graphics applications for our computers. Professional programmers and the magazines that publish subsequent enhancements to their work must support all modes of screen resolution.

One last suggestion. Please consider printing a list of all available ST software and indicating color, monochrome and/or memory capacity required. No other magazine has done it yet.

Thomas P. Becker
Kenosha, WI

As you probably know, STs from different countries have different sets of ROMs, to configure the system to French, German, etc. I thought the programs on these ROMs were the same everywhere (at least for the pointers and addresses of subroutines). But recently I had a problem when I was trying to use your Icon Editor: It couldn't find the string DESKTOP.RSC, as it should. This makes me think that programs specifically designed to work with TOS in ROM may not work on my machine (AZERTY keyboard with ROMs). For example, your Summer 1987 review of Publishing Partner says that this program needs TOS in ROM; will it work for us, in Belgium, France or Germany? It shouldn't be difficult for the software firm to say whether or not it is possible to use the program with another set of ROMs. Could you print that information, together with the price and other information? In any case, thank you for this wonderful magazine!

Philippe Mathieu

I just received the Spring 1987 START, and it's a great value. I'd like to share some information with you about the ST in France.

Although they still don't have the leadership they have in Germany, ST computers are now widespread in France. Their price and 16-bit technology have accelerated the disappearance of a lot of 8-bit computers (including Ataris). The principal rivals are IBM PC clones, Amstrad CPC6128 and, to a lesser extent, Apple II avatars. The Amiga is not very widespread because of its higher price and its keyboard, which is of the QWERTY type and not the AZERTY one (A word about this problem: ST computers here have an AZERTY keyboard. This facilitated their introduction in the French market, although it caused difficulties with some software coming from the USA and UK. Developers should think about that. On the other hand, Atari's 8-bit computers were never modified; this diminished their sales here.)

We can get a fairly high variety of third-party hardware, like floppy disk drives from Cumana (31/2 and 51/4 inches), video digitizers (Print-Teknik) or the Freeboot, which lets you choose what side of what drive will be the one to boot from.

For uploading or downloading programs, we can connect a Minitel to the ST. This is a telecomminications terminal that's extremely popular here: There are more than 3.5 million in use (in a population of about 55 million people) and it is used for personal and professional uses. The reason for its popularity is the great variety of online services of all kinds, and because it is freely distributed-but the online time is definitely not free! Nevertheless, it runs at 300, 1200 or 4800 baud, and its use with an ST is a good way to avoid the purchase of a modem.

As for software, we can get most of the games and the majority of applications and programming languages produced in the USA or UK. Their amount of success depends not only on their intrinsic quality but also on their degree of user friendliness for people who are not necessarily good English readers.

We can also get some translated programs from Germany and we have more and more French developers who work on the ST. For example Memsoft (or Mindsoft) sells vertical applications for professional use. Another company Ere informatique, sells games such as the excellent Macadam Bumper, which gives you the opportunity to choose the language to use (French, English, German or Spanish). Good marketing practice, isn't it?

By the way GFA BASIC is believed to be the best BASIC available in Europe. It is quicker than GW-BASIC on the IBM PC AT, except for text display and floppy disk operations. and is becoming the standard.

Jean-Charles Boutonnet
Paris, France

Spectrum 512, the 512-color paint program, works on all Atari ST computers (including the Megas) sold after 1985. STs manufactured before then can still run Spectrum 512 with a $30 MMU chip upgrade from authorized Atari service centers.