Online With START
Finding Customer Support Online
by Gregg Pearlman
START Assistant Editor
It's 1 a.m. You've spent the last several hours alone with your ST, writing your screenplay. 1ST WordUpPerfectWriter Elite is your word processor of choice but when you click on Save, your ST makes a coughing noise--just before the flames from your hard drive start licking at your monitor, accompanied by the inevitable repeated form feeds from your printer. What will you do? What will you do?
And at one o'clock in the morning, what can you do? Well, as luck would have it, several manufacturers and software publishers have online support, either through commercial services such as CompuServe and GEnie or through company bulletin board systems. These companies know that you're not likely to have problems with your home equipment during regular business hours--because you're at work too--so they make themselves available during the off-hours.
Forums, RTs and Bulletin Board Systems
The first place to look for online support is on a commercial service. The Atari Vendors Forum on CompuServe has software libraries for the following companies: ICD, Intersect Software, MichTron, Drafix, QMI, Regent Software, Magic Sac, Atari Explorer, Avant-Garde, Navarone, PageStream/Publishing Partner, Practical Solutions and A.N.A.L.O.G./ST-Log. You can also communicate with such developers as START Contributing Editors Tom Hudson (DEGAS Elite, Cyber VCR) and Dave Small (Spectre 128).
To reach a vendor on CompuServe, type GO ATARIVEN at any "!" prompt. If you explore the message base, you might find that someone else has already asked a question pertaining to your problem and, if you're lucky, the vendor has already answered it. If you choose one of the software libraries, the vendor may have previously uploaded a program or documentation file that would take care of your problem.
GEnie is the official online "home" of Atari Corp. In addition to its Atari 8-bit and ST areas, GEnie has the following RoundTables (RTs): MichTron Products, Atari Developers, Data Pacific and Gadgets by Small. All four RTs feature bulletin boards, conference areas and software libraries. On GEnie, type ATARI at any "?" prompt. Then choose the appropriate Atari RoundTable and visit either the bulletin board or software libraries.
The MichTron RT has demo software support files, press releases, BBS software GFA BASIC, GFA Draft and GFA CAD files, MIDI files and more. Data Pacific and Gadgets by Small both feature files in the areas of telecommunications, word processing, desktop publishing, utilities, graphics and HyperCard. Also present are some all-important help files.
You can find help in the Atari ST RoundTable, but you must be a registered developer to access the Atari Developers RT (and you must send a message to any Atari Corp. representative on GEnie to request access).
BIX (BYTE Information eXchange) provides especially good product support for programmers, largely because many BIX users are Atari developers. Helpful Atari-related areas on BIX include Application, Documentation, Leisure, Utility and Word Processing. To get to the ST area, just type "atari.st" at any ":" prompt.
On BIX, Dave Small makes himself available once again--he obviously doesn't want to limit his help to CompuServe and GEnie--as do the United States, United- Kingdom and Benelux branches of Atari Corp.
On Their Own
Many vendors, even some that already have special areas on CompuServe or GEnie, have their own bulletin board systems, most notably Beckemeyer Development Tools, MichTron, ICD and Hybrid Arts. Atari itself has its own BBS also. (More accurately, it has five boards--actually, five phone lines, each of which connects to a different board.)
Even if the vendor you need to reach doesn't have it's own BBS or a special section on a commercial service, it might have an online representative, especially in message base areas. For example, Antic Software representatives show up on CompuServe all the time, as do reps for Double Click Software, Practical Solutions, Navarone, Intersect Software and even Electronic Arts Customer Service. Sometimes these people are there just to see what people are saying about their products, but leave messages for them anyway, especially if you know that they check the message base often.
The online service PAN, the Professional Artists' Network, has such illustrious members as Herbie Hancock, Jean-Michel Jarre, Branford Marsalis, Daryl Dragon and Jan Hammer (and even Hitchhiker's Guide author Douglas Adams). However, you'll also find representatives of such companies as Akai, Kurzweil, Mark of the Unicorn, Digidesign, Dr. T's Music Software, Intelligent Music and Hybrid Arts. If they can't help you online, they may at least give you an idea of who to contact. And if you're still not getting anywhere, you can always leave a message for START MIDI veterans Jim Pierson-Perry and Rick Davies.
(Editor's Note: Be sure to check the next issue of START for a special PAN discount offer--only for START readers.)
You're Not Alone
No matter what pops, pings or devastating explosions your ST system has experienced during the wee hours of the morning, someone else has been there first. Most vendors that offer online support are very good about coming through, and it's not unusual for a company representative to go online at night or over the weekend just to see who has the newest problem.
So if part or all of your system goes "boom" when the rest of the world is asleep, it'll never hurt to seek online support--unless it's your modem that's causing the problems.
CompuServe, CompuServe, Inc., 5000 Arlington Centre Blvd., P.O. Box 20212, Columbus, OH 43320, (614) 457-0802; (800) 848-8190
GEnie, General Electric Netvvork for Informotion Exchange, General Electric Information Services Co., 401 N. Washington Street Rockville, MD 20850, (800) 638-9636.
Atari Corp., 1196 Borregas Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94086, (408) 745-2000 (voice); BBS numbers (408) 745-5308, (408) 745-5970, (408) 745-2642, (408) 745-4758, (408) 745-5664.
Beckemeyer Development Tools, 478 Santa Clara Avenue, Oakland, CA 94610 (415)452-1129 (voice); (415) 452-4792 (BBS) .
Hybrid Arts, 11920 West Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064, (213) 826-3777 (voice); (213) 826-4288 (BBS).
ICD Inc., 1220 Rock Street, Rockford, IL 61101-1437 (815) 968-2228 (voice); (815) 968-2229 (BBS).
MichTron, 576 South Telegraph, Pontiac, MI 48053, (313) 334-5700 (voice); (313) 332-5452 (BBS).
BIX (BYTE Information eXchange), 1 Phoenix Mill Lane, Peterborough, NH 03458, (800) 227-BYTE, (603) 924-7681 in New Hampshire (voice); available on Tymnet.