APCUG April Articles
1. My Favorite E-Mail Program by Sigrid Foreman, Tyler Computer Club email firstname.lastname@example.org
2. As Bold As Seybold, by Ron Feiertag. This one is a bit long. Ron is an interesting writer.
3. The Plain Truth about Casual Software Piracy, by Matt Slot, Ambrosia Software. Here's a fascinating article about piracy and how it affects a small software firm.
4. Shopping Tips for Internet Shopaholics Byline: By Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group
1. My Favorite E-Mail Program by Sigrid Foreman, Tyler Computer Club email email@example.com
Many of us use e-mail on a daily basis and we use different e-mail programs depending on what we want from it. Here are a few that are available.
Free Programs...such as Juno do not require you to have an internet account with anyone. They simply let you send and receive e-mail (including attachments) without any internet surfing. This means that you have no monthly or hourly charge to worry about.
E-mail programs that require an Internet account. this is what most of use, be it thru providors like AOL, Prodigy, MSN or an independent internet providor such as Gower, Ballistic, Flashnet, Cox-Internet etc.. where you would use programs such as Outlook Express, Netscape Messenger, Eudora or my favorite Incredimail.
http://www.incredimail.com/ Many of you have not heard of it, and I would like to take this opportunity to speak a little about it. Incredimail is provided to you free of charge...unless you choose to get the full program ($29), which basically provides support (which I have used and is pretty good) and allows you to preview your messages on the server prior to you downloading them. It comes with a demo program of Letter Creators (you're allowed to make 1-3 letters before you have to purchase the full version at $39...or get both for the price of $49). IM offers you e-cards, letter backgrounds, sounds and animation that you can add to personalize your e-mail. It also come with an mail notifier (of your choice) which will tell you when you have new mail. You can even make your own handwritten signature to add to your mail.
The thing I like about Incredimail (IM) is that I have such a large variety of letter backgrounds to choose from that I can add to personalize my e-mails. Besides the basic ones that come standard in the program, there are many more backgrounds, e-cards, animation and sounds that can be added (all free of charge) without having to make your own...if you're not talented enough like me...by going to Incredimails's multimedia web gallery, or to one of the many IM websites where you can find a variety of all of these plus help with problems you may encounter. These sites also list other sites where you can learn how to make your own backgrounds using either Letter Creator or using a different program such as Paint Shop Pro.
One of the IM letter sites I went to (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/A_S-A-F-E_Place/) offers a link to tutorial classes at http://enchanted1designs.com/abcs/about.html that have at least 2 tutorial links every week for the following subjects: psp (paint shop pro), eye candy (plug-in for psp), blade pro (plug-in for psp), sig tags, making letters for LC/Incredimail & 20/20. Classes last for 8 weeks & have a top limit of 30 "students" per class. The owners of this tutorial site, Becky & Candy, said, "We have had great success with the classes so far & have high hopes of it's continuous success!" Hey... If I'm in the class, they can't be bad.right??? So check it out!!
Ok, some people (I won't mention any names Wayne) don't like me to use this program because it takes a little longer to download than a standard e-mail, but at least I don't use sound which DOES take a long time to due to the midi or wav file attachment... All you have to remember is that the more you add to an e-mail, the longer it will take to download. If someone does not like receiving these "stationary" e-mails, ask them to let you know and you can then select a "no background" and they will receive a standard e-mail with a white background. Most people do not mind that it takes a little longer since there are so many neat backgrounds or sidebars (including your own pictures) that can be seen and that they can "snag" or add to their own collection just by viewing yours.
One thing about e-mail programs, you **do** have a few choices. you do not have to stay with the default selection that is given you. Use your imagination. use it in color. use it with pictures...it's all up to you!!
There is no restriction against any non-profit group using the article as long as it is kept in context, with proper credit given to the author. This article is brought to you by the Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an International organization to which this user group belongs.
2. As Bold As Seybold, by Ron Feiertag
Holding a major computer show in
Someone from the management team at the Seybold
Summit said "We really
didn't know what to expect this week. We were really
pleased with the
turnout, given the circumstances." Then he began a
discussion of how
publishers and their production teams covered the tragedy in
Seybold showed its heart with one
final gesture in remembrance of the recent traumatic events on the east
coast: it displayed two huge postcards
addressed to the people of
Adobe Systems is a good friend of computer user groups. Its President and CEO, Bruce Chizen, made an impressive keynote speech where he observed that the events of the last couple of weeks made the need for global communities across borders more important than ever. He and his staff showed us how Adobe products, such as Adobe Illustrator 10, continue to improve. He mentioned that more than one million copies of the Acrobat Reader for the Palm operating system have been downloaded. He also discussed how we can be inspired once and publish many times by repurposing content.
Months before their event, Seybold's boldness could be seen in the futuristic images of cartoon-like icons that illustrated everything that they printed about this conference. People attending Seybold could choose to attend any one of three or more sessions that took place at the same time during the five days of this conference. They ranged from topics as bold as "Learning from Pornography" to "Integrating Flash and Fireworks with Dreamweaver", "Design Convergence in the Multiple-Media World" and "Putting the 'Eye' in Interface: Effective and Beautiful Interface Design".
The session titled "How to Find Where You're Bleeding Money" began with the moderator asking us to "speak with and introduce yourself to someone next to you." That proved to be a good way to begin a lecture. The answer to the session topic was to map the steps in your company's process, identify the costs of each step, standardize when possible, and look for improvements that could be made at each stage to reduce costs and prevent problems. Then the speaker went into greater detail to explain and illustrate what each of these steps involves. Another interesting session had the title "There's No 'You' in 'User': Tools and Tactics for User Centered Design". The speaker suggested that web designers try to occupy their user's mind and ask themselves "what's my motivation?" Describe your typical user including his or her name, appearance, and background. Interview some of your users in a focus group to find out what they are looking for. Their wants could be wizards, lots of icons, Boolean searches, a command line interface, large typefaces, floating tool palettes, or other useful features. Document your research. See people in their working context: are they fully focused or do they get interrupted often? Interviewers asked a beautician how many different ways does she hold a brush. She said two, but a videotape showed that she held it five different ways. Then tell a story to your clients with images. And realize that what motivates a purchase decision is often different from what results in end user satisfaction.
I also attended the session titled "Selecting the Right Content for Your Audience". We were urged to be customer-centric and ask "What does my customer want or need?" A customer wants you to improve his life by satisfying some of his needs, and respect his time by providing an experience that is faster, simpler, and more convenient, and save him money. If you show a potential customer that you can do these things, you will move him from awareness to evangelism. Then there is the problem of how to "monetize your customer". An online encyclopedia could allow microtransactions where you could look up an article after you pay for it with a micropayment, but they said that the technology to allow this to happen is not here yet. Napster provided music and enjoyment to millions of people, but a judge put Napster out of business because not enough money changed hands. When they saw the "Napsterization of music", movie companies were afraid that the same thing could happen to films. Considering that a single movie, "Titanic", earned more than two billion dollars worldwide, movie studios have a lot at stake. Their solution for now is to use a DVD (digital video disk) with encryption and copy protection. The studios are working on solutions that would allow them to provide video on demand without their risking unauthorized copying of their content.
Here are highlights of some of the many companies that participated in the Expo. Corel demoed some of its products, including the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite. This Suite provides vector illustration, layout, bitmap creation, image-editing, painting and animation software all in one package. It includes Corel R.A.V.E., which stands for real animated vector effects. In a class that they gave us, we used it to create graphic effects that changed over time. Different cool things happened on screen at different times, based on what we did with this software's timelines.
Cannon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, and Ricoh were some of the companies whose booths featured their own printers. Cannon had a selection of samples that were being printed from its wide format printer. ContentGuard is a digital rights management system supported by Xerox, Microsoft and Accenture. It provides a way to design, manage and deliver content while protecting intellectual property from piracy. It is promoting XrML as a digital rights language that will allow interoperability between systems. I guess you could call this hardware: Mercedes Benz had eight models of cars in the expo hall. They were there to call attention to the computers inside their cars. We were told that if your Mercedes is stolen from you, call them and they will locate the vehicle for you using the car's global positioning system and other technology. Connectix had crossplatform solutions. Its Virtual PC software allows the Mac to run software that was designed to be run on the Windows operating system.
Microsoft promoted Publisher, its desktop publishing solution.
People attending this conference enjoyed the pleasures of
Club Seybold, a special area that included computers
that we could use to access our e-mail
accounts, sofas, music, an air hockey game, a pool table, and a free massage. During the massage we
could reflect on what we learned at this conference and contemplate
SeyboldSF2002, which is scheduled for
September 9 through
3. The Plain Truth about Casual Software Piracy Byline: by Matt Slot, Ambrosia Software Subhead: Here's a fascinating article about piracy and how it affects a small software firm.
It's a rare day when a shareware programmer gets firm statistics on the extent of software piracy, but just recently, I got that chance.
You see, the company I work for--Ambrosia Software--writes and publishes shareware--software that encourages users to make lots of copies and share them with friends. It works like this: we write a game or utility and make it available for download and on low-cost CD, so you can install it and try it out for a while-- kick the tires and drive it around the block a few times, so to speak. If you like it, you can buy the product; if not, just delete it or pass the CD on to someone else. http://www.ambrosiasw.com
We make money, and stay in business, by selling software that competes with commercial products for quality and entertainment value, while remaining priced so that it doesn't stretch the pizza-and-beer budget of the average college student. There's no bait-and-switch going on: you get a fair chance to try out the product and decide if your $25 could be better spent elsewhere. We think our software is competitive--$25 will cover a burger run and movie ticket for about three hours entertainment, but a good game can entertain you for days or weeks--and we won't make you watch Jar Jar Binks.
A few years back, Ambrosia's software was distributed on the honor system. You could download the software and use it forever, scot- free except for the friendly reminders that you had the software for 1,500 days and still hadn't beaten level 6. This was obviously a big leap of faith on our part, but it built up an almost cult following among Mac users. What we lost in sales, we made up in good will. As a business model, the honor system wasn't ideal, but it certainly was idealistic, and it helped put Ambrosia's founder, Andrew Welch, through college and kept Ambrosia's employees supplied with pizza and beer. (I think there's a law of conservation at work there.)
This was all fine and good--except that eventually Andrew graduated and everyone else got sick of pizza and beer. Ambrosia grew from an interesting sideline into a full time place of employment. The company became an entity with its own purpose, its own office space, and its own gravitational pull. It also developed an insatiable appetite for cash, because as any MBA will tell you, the lifeblood of business is green.
This period of growth and rampant consumption was constrained only by the limited diet afforded by the generosity and honesty of others. Basically, money was tight. One way we encouraged users to pay for the game Escape Velocity was to introduce the character of Captain Hector, who would remind (and eventually harass) players who were still unregistered after an extended period of play. When we compared sales of Escape Velocity to those our previous products, it became apparent that either pizza and beer had become a lot more expensive or that some people needed an extra nudge--such as from Captain Hector--to do the right thing and pay up.
Locking the Front Door Shortly after I joined the Ambrosia team, Andrew forwarded me an article that illustrated the benefits of crippling software. In short, the author of a shareware program found that people were five times more likely to register and unlock a crippled version of his software than they were to register software that came fully functional from the outset. It was the final straw in our camel-breaking, decision-making process. We would still make shareware, but we would no longer stand there waiting for handouts on the street--we'd charge admission. http://hackvan.com/pub/stig/articles/why -do-people-register-shareware.html
Let me tell you, we heard about it. Many who had praised us for our idealism were now calling us sellouts. It didn't matter that little changed for our paying customers--they still got their codes quickly, and had unlimited access to the game--it was the principle of the thing. Okay, it was a little inconvenient if you'd lost your code or wanted to install it on your new Power Mac 7500, but we could resolve that quickly in response to a phone call or an email.
I mean, we like being cool and fair, but even a cult following can get tiresome (cultists don't shower, they track in mud, and they leave you to pick up the check). Besides, the mantra kept repeating in our heads: five times as many registrations, five times, five times. I don't think it ever was quite that good for us, but we definitely saw an increase in sales that helped Ambrosia weather some tough times. (No, we never actually ran out of pizza, but there were times when we had to mop up spilled beer with borrowed rolls of toilet paper.) It was a hard decision, but it was a business decision, and it turned out to be the right one.
Time passed. Our staff continued to grow and evolve, and my wife and I begat our son Luke. Nothing brings home how untenable your professional and financial situation is like having a family. When it was just my wife and I, we could fool ourselves into thinking that we were just coed roommates living on a college budget--but no more. Pizza and beer had given way to diapers and life insurance. Diapers and Life Insurance
So I'm working for this shareware company, and I want to make sure that my job is secure. You have to understand that even a 10 percent variance in Ambrosia's registrations means that someone may need to start checking the employment classifieds. At the same time, it's becoming more evident that people aren't just not paying for our software--they're actually going out of their way to share license codes with others over the Internet. Some ingenious folks have even reverse-engineered our software and figured out how to generate their own license codes.
We don't live with our heads in the sand. We knew what was happening. The Internet was the great facilitator of homework assignments and world peace, but it had also become a way for people to get registration codes for any software they wanted. We felt action was required, but we remembered the trauma of our last change in policy when we required people to register the software instead of just asking nicely.
So over the course of numerous lunches (many of which didn't
or beer, but did involve some yummy sandwiches from Arby's),
we discussed various ways for improving
the whole registration system from our
standpoint without making the process onerous for our loyal customers. Simplicity was the keyword. The
final piece of the technical
puzzle fell into place one weekend as I drove through
When I finally contacted Andrew, I said to him one word: polynomials. The blank look on his face continued for a long time as I explained how we could factor the serial numbers, secure our products, and even distribute codes that would expire and stop working when exposed to prolonged sunlight. With his grudging consent, we sketched out and implemented the first pass at the "new Ambrosia registration system." The fundamental change we made was to build the current date into the license code itself. That timestamp is then used at just one point in the process: it forces the user to activate the product within 30 days, or the code expires and won't activate anything, Now, and this is important, the timestamp has absolutely no effect on the operation of the software after the code has been entered. Once personalized for the user's computer, it remains fully functional forever (unless someone wipes the system clean).
Snapz Pro X The first product to use the new registration system was the latest version of our flagship utility, Snapz Pro X, which started shipping in June of 2001. Over the course of the summer, the system silently and steadfastly worked as intended. Most people didn't care that the license codes were now 12 digits instead of 8, and registrations continued apace. It wasn't until September that we received any negative feedback. http://www.snapzpro.com
You see, in September Apple upgraded Mac OS X to version 10.1, and many people were paranoid enough to reformat and perform a clean install. That meant the data file containing the software registration was lost, forcing most people to reenter their license codes. It also meant that anyone whose serial number was generated before August needed to contact us by phone or email to get an updated code. Of course, these people had paid already, so we renewed their codes quickly and free of charge.
It's been our experience that people are often too busy or forgetful to store their license codes in a safe place, so it's inevitable that every major system release is followed by a barrage of requests for missing codes. To handle the tremendous load of people who had misplaced their codes (as well as those who saved them only to find they had expired), we created an email firstname.lastname@example.org ated to generating new codes. When Joe User entered the expired code, he was prompted to send us an email (it required only a click), and someone would respond to the request as soon as possible. Yet we were constrained by the laws of time, space, and the New York State Department of Labor, so our staff was available to answer requests only during regular business hours.
After several customer complaints, we decided to remedy this problem by automating the process of renewing an expired code. When an expired code is entered for Snapz Pro X, the user is encouraged to request a new license code from our automated server--right then and there! Renewing the code takes only two extra clicks, maybe an extra 30 seconds overall, but it puts the power back in the hands of the user. He can decide when to update his system, install software, and renew his license code at his leisure. Even at just before a four-day weekend.
So you are probably curious about the benefits of expiring codes--why would anyone want this hassle? Let's look at the three categories. For paying customers with an Internet connection, the extra work is minimal: an email sent to Ambrosia that's answered within one business day. For those organized enough to save their original codes, there isn't even a wait: they get the code on the spot. The only inconvenience comes to those people trying to enter a pirated code.
Which brings us back to the question, "How many people are using pirated codes?" The plain fact is that most people are honest unless given a chance to be dishonest. If they stumble across a working license code for software, or do a quick Internet search, then they can quickly enter the code and cover their self-loathing with the adrenaline rush of blasting aliens and squishing fish. Only the most hard-core computer user will try to reverse-engineer the software and crack the copy protection--and I'll be honest, there's isn't much we could do to stop them. Crackers enjoy the challenge itself--the tougher the better--so if they want it badly enough, they'll find a way.
Historically it's been difficult to measure software piracy, but our experience is that the vast majority of users lack the time or inclination to modify software to bypass license checks. Here's the rub: these users might actually buy the software if it weren't so easy to find pirated codes. Thus, expiring codes are a good way to defeat (or at least hamper) this kind of casual piracy--the serial numbers stored in databases and posted to the Internet are viable only for a short while before they must be renewed. Ironically, it's these casual pirates who are helping me measure the impact of piracy on our sales.
You see, to renew a stolen code, Joe User must contact a computer in our office. There's nothing nefarious about it--he sends us the user name and expired code and gets back a new license code or a suitable error message. We don't encrypt the data, we don't grab any personal information, and we don't even open a connection without explicit permission. But when Joe User clicks that bright shiny Renew button, our server records the product, user name, and the Internet address he came from.
For the first two days after we posted the latest update to Snapz Pro X, our server was busy. Of the 194 different hosts that tried to renew a license code, 107 of them sent in pirated codes (click the URL below to view a screenshot of an actual server log file; the entries highlighted in red are attempts to authenticate pirated license codes). Incredibly, more than 50 percent of the people installing the update entered one or both of the pirated codes we've known about for months.
Some of these people even tried several different variants on the names when the server refused them access ("maybe I misspelled it"), and one guy got so frustrated he pounded the Renew button over and over every four seconds ("WHY _click_ IS _click_ THIS _click_ NOT _click_ WORKING???") until our server blacklisted him for flooding. http://www.tidbits.com/resources/620/pir ate_log_red.gif
You don't have to remind us that the sample isn't statistically valid. Nevertheless we think it's a reasonable approximation of reality--if not a little conservative. It certainly reinforces our perception that casual piracy is both significant and widespread.
Hopes for the Future Maybe I didn't look these people in the eye, but they know I'm watching them. They indicated a real interest in our software when they thought they could use it for free, and this gives me hope that some may yet decide that registering is easier and more satisfying than stealing our hard work. If not, then either they were forced to stop using the software or they'll likely encounter me again, somewhere down the road. Next time, I'll bring Captain Hector.
I also hope this article explains to our customers (and other computer users out there) the impact that piracy has on small software firms like ours. I hope they can appreciate our decisions regarding the registration system and agree that the extra 30 seconds and two clicks are a minor inconvenience. If everyone pays for the products they like and use, companies like Ambrosia can stay in business and continue making cool products for everyone to enjoy.
Finally, I hope that these changes give me a little more job security, so I can continue doing what I love with some of the coolest folks I've ever met. Because I plan on working here as long as I possibly can, making great software and saving enough money so my kids can eventually go to college, where they can enjoy their share of beer and pizza.
Reprinted with permission of the author. Matt Slot has worked for Ambrosia for nearly five years, but life isn't just fun and games for the Bitwise Operator. When he's not calculating polynomials and fighting off pirates, Matt enjoys reading a good book (Terry Pratchett), watching a little television (24), and playing with his two kids (Luke and Kaleigh). You can reach Matt at email@example.com or visit the Ambrosia Software site at www.AmbrosiaSW.com. This article originally appeared in TidBits, a Mac newsletter. (www.tidbits.com/tb-issues)
4. Shopping Tips for Internet Shopaholics Byline: By Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group
Last month I described my experience spending over $150 to save about $4 on vitamins I bought on the Internet. This column takes care of the other side of the story: Tips on tackling the problems of Internet buying.
Fighting the Free Syndrome How much do you make an hour? If you're clocking more than, say, $5 an hour, don't waste your time hunting for discounts that come and go. The worst ones to try finding are free shipping or $10 off with your first order. A better strategy? If you bump into an offer from Half.com, say, and you're in the market for a bunch of used books, it's a slam-dunk. Otherwise, don't bother tracking them down.
Factor in Shipping Paying attention to shipping costs may seem obvious, but there are variables to consider. You might think you'll save on shipping by choosing a site that charges a flat fee for shipping no matter how many items you purchase. That's likely true unless the site's products are inflated to cover the shipping costs. With some items--vitamins, for instance--that's not such a big deal as most sites charge a flat $4.95 for standard shipping. (One exception, though, is AdvanceRX; they charge a flat fee of $3 for the entire order, and the product pricing is lower than other drug sites.)
Listen to Users The wealth of opinions on the Net is overwhelming and you need to tap into it before making any major purchase. There are two spots I listen in on, are useful in its own way. First try the newsgroups and do it using the Google.com search engine. When I was interested in a camcorder, I typed "Panasonic Camcorder" into the Google search field and clicked on Groups. Google will provide a list of groups that contain the two words. It's a little daunting from here because you'll face at least 10 groups. Choose the one that's closest to your search. For instance, "Humanities" (Fine art, literature, philosophy) and "Misc" (Employment, health) won't fit while "Comp" (Hardware, software, consumer info) sure will.
You'll then see a dozen or more sub-groups belonging to Comp, each with a green bar showing the likely hits in the groups. Type "Panasonic Camcorder" into the field again and choose "Search only in comp."
The dilemma, as you'll soon find out, is there's a lot to sort through in order to find the recommendations and discussion you're looking to read.
The other spot I really like is Epinions.com. It's filled with people like us providing their observations and experiences with products. Don't be put off by thinking these are just willy-nilly opinions. Granted, some are, but most people are careful and thorough in their reports, few seem to have an ulterior motive, and those that do are easy to spot.
Try Epionions by typing, "Choosing an Air Conditioner" into the search field. Scroll down to "Member Advice" and you'll get a sense of what Epionions offers. Better, search for an item you're very familiar with and see what others have to say.
Make those Comparisons You're crazy if you shop on the Internet without using a price comparison site. There are many available, and here's a sampling:
If you're wondering which sites I use regularly, take a gander at some of my favorites:
** Pricescan.com: A neat site with an assortment of ways to search for products and spots to purchase the item. The site does an exemplary job at digging up pricing for a myriad of products including for books, computers, office equipment, home and garden, and other categories.
** DestinationRX.com: Does a remarkable job at neatly displaying a grid with product, vendor, price, estimated shipping, and total cost. Great: Sorting by column-cost or price-is easy, and getting details about the vendor is a click away. Not so hot: "Total Cost field" doesn't take into account price per unit, so comparing a bottle of 100 60milligram vitamins with the same bottle of 100mg vitamins isn't accurate.
Canada.rx: A member of another user group told me about Canada.rx. She said, "I thought you might be interested in this solution for prescription drugs. A friend is diabetic and has who knows what else. His doctor faxes his prescriptions and he receives a package a few days later with no hassle from the post office. (His only real difficulty lay in convincing his doctor to send the fax and that only had to be done once.) His credit card is charged approximately one-third the price he'd pay locally. I asked him for the URL and this is his response:
`It's CanadaRx. No www, no .com, nothing but CanadaRx. They keep changing the entry screens, making it sometimes difficult to find the screen one wants. But it's all there. All that's needed in patience. Persistence helps some too.'"
I checked and the prices really are substantial lower than most discount pharmacies.
** Pricewatch.com: This site has been around the longest and provides a fast, convenient way to find the best prices on computing hardware.
** Addall.com: Think Amazon has the best prices in town? Nope. Half.com, BooksAMillion.com, and others often beat Amazon. The saving are enough that it makes using Addall.com a must every time you shop for books.
** PCworld.pricegrabber.com: I'm a little biased here, so pardon my conflict-of-interest for a minute, and try PCWorld's Product Finder. Primarily hardware, software, and electronics, it gives you a way to find products, and check and compare their prices. Three things I like better here than the other sites: I can easily track a product, watching for price changes, just by supplying my e-mail address. Next, if the product's been reviewed by PC World, one click gets me to the article. Finally, the site gives me access to the full spec sheet of the product, something I find invaluable.
** Cnet's shopper.cnet.com: Does a decent job with hardware and software but only so-so for consumer electronics. It's sometimes difficult separating ads from product reviews.
Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and runs the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG Write to him at Steve_bass@pcworld.com. Check PCW's current edition at http://www.pcworld.com/resource/toc/index.asp and sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at www.pcworld.com/bass_letter.