• MSN for Mac, We Hardly Knew Ye!

    March 19th, 2005

    No doubt you’ve read the story that Microsoft is ditching its Mac OS X MSN client. MSN? Yes, it’s Microsoft’s online service, the one once touted as a potential AOL killer. Yeah, that one. But does it mean that the few Mac subscribers to MSN will have to look for another ISP, as some reports suggest?

    Not quite, as you’ll see shortly.

    But there’s the general perception that Mac users are shut out of some ISP options, and it’s perfectly true. Have you seen all those TV commercials for People PC, the low-cost dial-up service from EarthLink? Yes, pay $10.95 and get everything you need, including a Smart Dialer that’s supposed to automatically select the best available numbers to get connected.

    But when you read the fine print at the Web site, and it’s not easy to find, you discover that it’s only available for Windows users. Why should this be? Well, I suppose the dialing software, but I can’t imagine not being able to produce a similar application for the Mac in a few weeks, if you put a full-time programmer to the task.

    All right, but aren’t there other choices for low-priced Internet service? Well, have you seen those TV ads for Netscape? It beats NetZero, so they say, except that it’s not available for Mac users either, and you have to do a little sleuthing to realize that. Will that ever change? Do you care?

    Oh, yes, there are low-priced supports that support the Mac, such as FasterMac.net. And, here’s where NetZero beats Netscape hands down . Like the other online services provided by United Online, NetZero does have Mac software. By the way, FasterMac.net doesn’t require any special software, unless you want to use its Web accelerator feature.

    Now about Microsoft’s decision about MSN for Mac OS X. Well, if you’re a member of this service, don’t despair. You won’t have to use Windows to get connected. In fact, you’ll still be able to access your MSN account via your Web browser when support ends on May 31, and your email via Entourage. Actually, the MSN software was, itself, no more than a glorified browser, rather a buggy one in fact, so there’s not much lost here.

    Now about everyone’s favorite whipping boy (or girl), AOL. Yes, it still comes in Mac form, but the software has, once again, lagged behind the Windows version. In addition, Windows AOL users also get free virus protection software and spyware detection. Of course you don’t really need the former, at least for now, and spyware issues are irrelevant on the Mac platform, but those ubiquitous TV ads simply don’t make clear that Mac users are shut out. I suppose it may smack of false advertising, though I suppose if you look closely enough, maybe there’s a tiny disclaimer somewhere. I didn’t see it, however, and my eyesight isn’t that bad.

    Of course, more and more of you have gone broadband, and there you have plenty of choices, if you live in a reasonably densely populated area, that is. Your local cable TV provider, your local phone company, some independent providers and even a satellite service can set you up and place you on the fast lane. You generally don’t need any special software, just some basic information on configuring your Mac to access the service and retrieve email. This can take all of five minutes, tops.

    So in the scheme of things, not having Mac compatible versions of Netscape and People PC might not be such a great loss. What is strange, however, is the fact that EarthLink, which is, as I said, the parent company of People PC, happens to be Apple’s default ISP. The company supposedly has superior Mac support. In fact, it says at EarthLink’s Web site: “According to the J.D. Power and Associates 2004 Internet Service Provider Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, EarthLink is ranked highest in customer satisfaction among high-speed and dial up Internet Service Providers.”

    I suppose that could be true. On the other hand, I’ve had encounters with EarthLink over the years that weren’t quite so favorable, and some of my clients have quit them in disgust. Maybe it’s like the cell phone industry. There are lots of bad apples, and you just pick the one that has the smallest number of blemishes. That being said, though, the tiny ISPs that cater to a single city, or have a custom orientation, say primarily for Mac users, tend to deliver more personal and knowledgeable customer support.

    Oh and by the way, I’ll still keep my MSN membership, at least for now. It has some interesting content, even though most of it is available to non-members too. And Microsoft pledges continued Mac support, but obviously it’ll concentrate on products that deliver a profit. That clearly puts MSN out of the picture.

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