TV-PGJune 28, 2000: Getting lousy service from Apple technical support? Maybe you just haven't bought enough gear lately. Meanwhile, Intel announces that its new chip will be called, astonishingly enough, the Pentium 4, and word gets out that Larry Ellison hired a detective agency to dig up dirt on Microsoft during the "Redmond Justice" trial...
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Get What You Pay For (6/28/00)

Have you ever wondered why there seem to be such wildly differing opinions of the quality of Apple's technical support these days? Some people rave about it like it's free cable or something, while others consider a call to Apple's support center tantamount to self-performed oral surgery without benefit of painkillers or a cyanide capsule. If we had to guess, we'd posit that most of the folks of the former opinion are used to what typically passes for tech support on the Wintel side of the fence-- which, while there are certainly exceptions, often makes Apple's efforts seem saintlike by comparison. Most of those in the latter camp, on the other hand, are probably longtime Mac users who remember how good Apple's phone support used to be.

But even that doesn't fully explain what seem to be some incredibly contrasting experiences noted by people who call the AppleCare support line. Suddenly, though, it all comes clear; AppleInsider claims that Apple's been stacking the deck, and the level of service you get will depend on what pops up on the call-taker's screen when he or she enters your ID number into iCustomer, the company's homegrown profiling system. Reportedly, "customers are ranked automatically by the database... grouping them as 'Silver,' 'Gold,' or 'Platinum' customers, depending on how much money they've spent in the last month." If you're lucky enough to have a spending profile that slaps you with the Platinum label, the support center will stop at nothing to resolve your problem quickly and courteously. If you're a Gold customer, at least a service rep will call you "if the issue involves troubleshooting." You poor Silver shmoes, however, don't even rate a call-back. Holy Classless Society, Batman!

What's worse, our own shadowy sources behind the Silicon Curtain inform us that iCustomer can now actually assign several classifications below Silver. If you haven't spent any money on Apple equipment in over a year, you're stamped as a "Bronze" caller, and your call is forwarded to the Crank Call department, where trained professionals pretend to be answering the phone at a pizza joint in Moline. The ensuing hilarity is recorded and played back over the PA system in the Support Center commissary for the amusement of the employees. If you've gone two years without buying new Apple equipment, you're a "Tin" caller and you are immediately forwarded to the department of verbal abuse. There, other trained professionals will proceed to say several not-at-all-nice things about your financial situation, your ancestors, and the sound of your voice. They will then cast aspersions on your sexuality until you hang up-- at which point, the recorded conversation is once again broadcast in the commissary, much to the delight of all workers present.

Worst of all, if Apple's records show that you haven't spent a dime on Mac equipment in over three years and you still have the sheer audacity to call asking for help, your customer record is marked as "Toast" and two local pipe-wielding goons are immediately dispatched to your workplace or dwelling. When they arrive, you will be subjected to a savage beatdown, after which one of the goons will stand on your head, while the other will proceed to order as much equipment from the Apple Store as the credit limit on your blood-stained MasterCard will allow. On the plus side, if you then call AppleCare again and toothlessly beg for medical help, you'll be a Platinum customer and Apple will dispatch an ambulance and a "Get Well Soon!" bouquet post-haste. So we suppose it all works out in the end.

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Is Anyone Surprised? (6/28/00)

Ladies and gentlemen, brace yourselves: Intel, the company who brought you such memorable and evocative (hey, at least they evoke a gag reflex) product names as "Celeron" and "Itanium," has officially bestowed a moniker on its upcoming processor code-named "Willamette." As of this point forward, Willamette will henceforth be known as: (trumpet fanfare) The Pentium 4! It's official; so sayeth ZDNet News. (We assume Intel's migrated to arabic numerals because they couldn't decide whether "IIII" or "IV" was correct.) Now, don't trip all over yourselves in your mad, foaming dash to ask the company how they managed to come up with such a groundbreaking title-- we're assured that it's a trade secret.

However, with a little thought, it's not too tough to figure out. The Pentium was a huge smash, right? Both because the chip was, at its introduction, tons faster than its 486 predecessor, and because the name "Pentium" has a cool Latin kind of ring to it. Note also that the Celeron and Itanium product names attracted so much laughter and ridicule when unveiled, you'd think Intel had just taken the wraps off a clown car instead of a processor or two. At some point, some bright soul in the marketing department figured the company should take a cue from Hollywood: sequels to hit films make money. Period. That brought the world the Pentium II (x86's Revenge), and then the Pentium III (Son Of MMX). So why mess with a good thing? Why, ten years down the line, we'll probably all be seeing commercials for the Pentium VII: Return Of The Bunnymen.

Now, believe it or not, not everyone out there in TV Land is a slavering AtAT fan. (No, really, it's true!) And we're sure we're going to hear from those critics out there who will note that, while the designations "G3," "G4," "G5," etc. aren't actual product names, they're just as unimaginative as Intel's sequel-happy nomenclature-- and AIM's real chip names (601, 604, 750, and so on) aren't winning any creativity awards, either. And others will point out that our feeble attempts to mock the Pentium 4's name is merely an obvious and childish throwback to schoolyard behavior because we can't intelligently deride the chip's technology-- this latest addition to the Pentium family will reportedly ship later this year at clock speeds of up to 1.4 GHz, just when our own G4 will (hopefully) reach half that. So let us stem the avalanche of mail by issuing a preemptive official response to all those points: "Oh yeah? Well, so's your mother!"

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Rich Dogs, Dirty Tricks (6/28/00)

If you haven't been just waiting for something like this to happen, you simply haven't been paying attention. While we viewers suffer a drama drought as Microsoft and the government prepare their respective arguments for the Supreme Court, recurring "Redmond Justice" special guest star Larry Ellison has wormed his way back on the show to take up the slack. Faithful viewer Unanimous Howard was the first to point out a simply enthralling New York Times article about how Larry's company Oracle hired a detective agency to dig up dirt on Microsoft to be used as evidence during the trial.

Now, in and of itself, that might not be so compelling. But here's where things get interesting: the detective firm, Investigative Group International, is now accused of attempting various dirty tricks to get its info. Allegedly agents of the firm tried to bribe a couple of cleaning workers at the Association for Competitive Technology in order to get access to the organization's garbage. Sneaky? Sure. But ACT is supposedly an "independent advocacy group" who took out full-page ads in major newspapers supporting Microsoft during the trial; Oracle's investigation, however sketchy, revealed the group to be little more than a Microsoft-funded puppet organization established for the "express purpose of influencing public opinion" while Microsoft fought its case. So which side is sleazier?

Don't answer yet-- there's more. Oracle claims that when it enlisted the help of IGI to investigate "numerous Microsoft front organizations," it insisted that "whatever methods IGI employed must be legal." But now a member of one of those "front organizations" says that "documents that later showed up in the press were on two laptops stolen from the group last June." So on the one hand we've got the alleged establishment of fake "independent" organizations paid to dupe the public into thinking the industry supports Microsoft more than it does. On the other, we've got alleged bribery and theft. Anyone care to pick the lesser of two evils? In any case, isn't it interesting that the two men at the top of both scandals-- Bill Gates and Larry Ellison-- also just happen to be the two richest people in the world? But we're sure that's merely a coincidence...

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