TV-PGOctober 24, 1999: It's as official as it's likely to get: a high-ranking Apple suit admits that Blue Blocker was an intentional anti-upgrade campaign. Meanwhile, Apple unveils a new support plan that looks as good or better than the service of years past (at a price), and Bill Gates surpasses Steve Jobs in the crucial field of cult leadership techniques...
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Who Stood To Gain? (10/24/99)

Skepticism. Doubt. Unwillingness to accept "unlikely" explanations. Sure, these may not exactly be common afflictions among the majority of AtAT's faithful viewers, but there are definitely those who tune in without a healthy "willing suspension of disbelief." Every once in a while we'll reveal a diabolical web of intrigue uniting Microsoft, Scott Adams of "Dilbert" fame, and the National Dairy Council in a particularly intricate and chilling conspiracy to seize control of the world's candy corn reserves, and all we get are letters from "concerned" viewers advising us to get more sleep. Here we go to all this trouble to warn our beloved viewers that only lead shielding can protect your precious candy corn from the dreaded "Trick or Treat Ray" this Halloween, and that's the thanks we get. You poor, poor fools.

Hmmm, we seem to have digressed a bit. Anyway, our original point was this: just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean that everyone isn't out to get you. For instance, to those of us in tune to the whole conspiracy vibe, it didn't take a degree in Shifty Business Practices to figure that the "Blue Blocker" scandal was obviously an intentional move on Apple's part. For those of you whose subscriptions to "The Lone Gunman" have lapsed, we're talking about the discovery that Apple's firmware update for blue and white G3 Power Macs effectively disabled any G4 upgrades that a user might later install. Beige G3s worked fine with prototype G4 upgrades. Blue models without the firmware update also seemed to hum along happily with a G4 under the hood. But install the update, and that same blue G3 wouldn't boot with the G4 in place. Just a coincidence, or was it an Apple Trojan Horse designed to encourage purchases of new Power Mac G4s? (Upgrade vendors have since figured out ways to make G4s work even in Blue-blocked systems, but the question of intent still stands.)

Well, for those of you who thought the theory of an Apple-intended Blue Blocker was simply the product of paranoid, sleep-deprived minds, we can only point cautiously to a Computer Times article which confirms what's been whispered in the shadows and shouted from the rooftops: yes, Apple crippled the G3s on purpose. The article claims that Apple's senior director of worldwide product marketing, David Moody, admitted that the firmware update was designed to "deter processor upgraders." The motive? Not to boost G4 sales, he says, but rather to protect the user base: "G3 computers were never meant to be fitted with G4 processors." You can decide for yourself whether or not to accept Apple's stated reasoning for the move; personally, we think a simple "we caution our customers that G3 systems aren't built to handle G4 chips" might have been more effective and less of a PR nightmare than the whole Blue Blocker scenario, but hey, we're not running the company. The lesson here is this: they are all out to get you, so wake up and stop being so darn Scully on us. The candy corn you save may be your own.

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The Support You Crave (10/24/99)

One thing that Apple still takes a lot of heat for is cutting back support services. Remember the good old days when you could call (800) SOS-APPL for free at any time and talk to knowledgable, friendly support staff who could walk you through a nasty extension conflict? A little later, Apple apparently tried to skimp a bit, because the quality of the staff answering the phones really seemed to degrade. It never inspires confidence when the person you're calling seems to know significantly less about Macs than you do; for example, we're fairly sure that the first step to troubleshooting a Mac with smoke coming out the top is not to "boot without extensions." And then came further cost-cutting moves-- the elimination of SOS-APPL and the enforcement of only 90 days of free phone support for new Macs. When you add that in with a standard one-year warranty (which, these days, is starting to look pretty skimpy), Apple's support is no longer a reason for Mac users to crow. Not that it's bad, by any means, and Macs are still a lot less likely to need technical support, but Apple's service used to be a big reason to buy a Mac, and now it's almost a checkbox in the "con" column.

So what's the solution? Now you can upgrade your Mac's anemic basic support package by purchasing a new AppleCare Protection Plan! You get not one, not two, but three years of top-notch service and support for one low price. That includes toll-free "direct telephone access to Apple's own Technical Support group"-- no more paying per call after ninety days like the rest of the rabble. You also get the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your whole Mac-- hardware and software alike-- is protected, and will be repaired by "certified Apple technicians using genuine Apple parts" in the event of calamity. Can you put a price on that sense of security? But wait, there's more! You also get access to Apple's "special AppleCare Protection Plan web site," which they swear is not Apple Club. Now how much would you pay? Well, don't answer yet, because you also get a free CD containing TechTool Deluxe, which can "help you diagnose and fix many software conflicts yourself" instead of bothering the very Apple support personnel you're paying to help you. You get all this for just pennies a day-- it's $149 for iMacs, $249 for G3/G4 desktop systems, and $229 for iBooks. (Strangely, PowerBooks aren't listed on the ordering page.)

So there you have it-- the new way to get service comparable to that of the good ol' days. Just make sure you buy in before your system is out of warranty, because by then, you're out of luck. By the way, is it just us, or does anyone else find it a little unsettling that Apple Support appears to have adopted a translucent red Apple logo as its sigil? Apple doesn't have any red computers in its product lines, so it took us a minute to figure out where we'd seen it before-- it's the Apple logo that appeared at the end of the HAL 9000 Super Bowl commercial, reminiscent of HAL's glowing red eye. So is this a subtle reminder that Macs are Y2K-compliant, or a harbinger of the twisted doom we'll encounter when our Macs rise up and rebel?

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Bill is One, Bill is All (10/24/99)

We hear a lot of talk about how Apple used to have a solid lead in the innovation department, but pride and corporate missteps let Microsoft catch up and even surpass the company. The classic example is the computer's human interface. Yeah, Apple had a GUI with folders and point-and-click back when Microsoft was still peddling DOS as the way to talk to a computer, but these days Apple's interface hasn't improved all that much and some people think Windows is even better. (Not that we share that opinion-- we think it's largely held by people taking advantage of Windows bundle deals that include Microsoft Crack 99™.)

But whether or not you happen to think that Microsoft's stolen the GUI crown, we have to admit, albeit grudgingly, that Bill Gates has definitely surpassed Steve Jobs in one crucial area: corporate brainwashing and mind control. Back in the day, Steve was a much more effective cult leader. C'mon, you saw Pirates of Silicon Valley-- his workers were kept sleepless and subdued, while Steve doled out project t-shirts to eliminate any sense of identity outside Apple's walls. The man was a cult-leading genius. These days, though, Steve's a little more enlightened, a bit more open, and just a hair less prone to violent fits of rage (so we're told). Sadly, that's left the door open for Bill Gates to take the lead in the Cult Race.

Yup, according to The Globe Daily, "Microsoft is using techniques favored by religious cults to get its employees to tow [sic] the company line." Dave Arnott's new book, Corporate Cults: The Insidious Lure Of The All-Consuming Corporation, claims that Microsoft employees refer to themselves as "Softies" and are told that they've been "chosen to help liberate the world through software code." Microsoft also gives its employees "exercise facilities, errand boys and plenty of job-related parties to ensure they have no life outside of work." (Hmm, wonder if Microsoft's got a Joy Division?) Going even further, Arnott insists that Bill Gates wields his charisma "in the same way as Heaven's Gate guru Marshall Applewhite: by inspiring both fear and devotion in his underlings." Now who's drinking the Kool-Aid? Oh, it's sad to see that Apple's fallen so far behind... Memo to Steve: institute a white-robes-only dress code and implement mandatory weekly electroshock "oneness" treatments, stat!

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