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Editorial: Whatever happened to customer service for Handheld PC owners?

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C:Amie Page Icon Posted 2007-06-12 6:25 PM
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As the developer make-up of the community changes beyond recognition of its former self, John Ottini asks the question: Whatever happened to customer service for Handheld PC owners?

Is waning commitment to customer service an inexorable syndrome of the age of the platform? Is it more a symptom of customer service in the twenty first century? Do you think it is a valid position for developers to take?

Let us know your thoughts on this topic through the discussion links at the end of the article.

View: Whatever happened to customer service for Handheld PC owners?
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Richard Plume Page Icon Posted 2007-06-12 9:25 PM
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A topic close to my heart…

I’ve been through three major small computer systems over the last 20 years or so – the Tandy portables, Newtons and now Windows CE H/PCs. Of these, I’ve only really had problems from developers in the Windows CE arena.

With the Tandy portables (Model 102, 200 and WP-2), I bought in near the beginning, bought software as it came out, subscribed to Portable 100 magazine and used them for both word processing and telecommunications long after Tandy stopped making them (sold the last one only about a year or two ago). I never really had to go back to a developer for help and after developers stopped supporting their software, a lot of it became unsupported shareware or freeware. Perhaps Tandy owners got luck when a guy named Rick Hanson (http://www.club100.org) started a business buying up software rights and then re-selling and supporting said software.

With the Newtons, it a similar experience. I started using them in the mid-90’s. The 120 and 130 that I used at that time could get e-mail, surf the web and do a lot of other useful things. The only thing they couldn’t really do was word processing. For that I had to wait until I got a 2100, released just before Apple cancelled the Newton in the late 90’s. I bought software galore for them and used them as substitute portable computers. One thing that I noticed about the Newton community was its passion. That community passion is still as strong as ever over the last few years. If a person needs some software, say a project manager, and they post on the Newtontalk mailing list, it’s almost guaranteed that community members will track down the developer and get him/her to release the software as unsupported freeware. I’ve seen it happen many times.

There is also still a lot of software being sold by developers in the Newton world. You can still buy software from some major developers, they may not support it, but you can still get it from their web sites (usually it’s hidden in slightly different URLs).

With Windows CE H/PCs it’s been a different story. I came to them first via a Compaq C-Series 810 in a closeout sale and then really developed an interest when I bought my first MobilePro 700 secondhand. My interest was peaked in H/PCs due to my profession – I’m a photo editor. With the advent of higher megapixel digital cameras, the Newton was being maxed out. There was only one photo software program that could handle the cameras I was working with at the time and it was no longer being developed (it was released as unsupported freeware).

H/PCs could handle my needs at the time. I found a software package called Image Expert CE. I tried to buy it but was told it was no longer being sold or supported. That was fine, I e-mailed back to the company asking if I would buy it anyway. I never heard back. The company was sold and I tried e-mailing the new company. They told me they weren’t selling it anymore and I would have to upgrade to another package. That company was then sold and I contacted the new owners. They actually had a look for it on their servers, but couldn’t find it. Outta luck… Well, not really, I found it by other means and the developer did not get paid. I wish it did not have to happen that way, but it did. The same thing happened with another photo program I tried to buy. I contacted the developer (who still sells the package for Pocket PCs) asking to buy it for my H/PC. I tried e-mailing him three times and never received a reply. I now use his package, but unfortunately never paid him. Maybe I should try a fourth time, but the experience of the first three times says how may times will I have to try to contact him.

On the other side of the coin, I remember buying H-Bomb a couple of months before it became freeware and hosted on HPC Factor. Did I mind? Of course not, I was happy to help support the developer and grateful that he thought enough of the community to release it.

I still buy H/PC software whenever I find a program that interests me. Among the more recent ones that I bought are TheSky (astronomy program) and Conversions in Hand. The last one I bought was AstroHTML, a very old (late 90’s) astronomy program that didn’t even work on my MobilePro 780 (I actually had to rewrite parts of it (simple HTML) to get it to function properly under WinCE Pro.

So, what I’m saying, is that if a developer keeps the software on his/her web site and I’m interested in it, I will buy it. I’ll even buy old, out of date software that doesn’t run on my primary H/PC, because I still have a lot of useful and out of date H/PCs.

It’s really a shame that a lot of this software is disappearing. It still functions the same as it did the day it was released and it still does the same job on computers of the era in which it was released. I still use those computers, I don’t need to upgrade to the latest and greatest. In some cases, especially in some of the situations in which I use H/PCs, the newer ones wouldn’t last a week…

Just my two cents…

Rick
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cmonex Page Icon Posted 2007-06-12 10:21 PM
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i will have to agree that all this is so sad. i've been wondering about declaring such software as abandonware and just redistributing them freely. i will admit i'm already doing so privately if someone asks me kindly and i happen to have the software i'm being asked for, because i don't see why we should suffer unnecessarily if it hurts no one's interests even. (i'm not going into more details here, as this is a sensitive matter)

in the end..i think the solution would be to do this publicly maintaining a website for such software and letting everyone access this impossible to buy or even find stuff. especially if the developer no longer bothers to even answer. so they may as well be dead. well, i'm already hearing the objections: this is against the law.. wow really?

oh and yes, there is a good and interesting point... i used one more abandoned platform: psion/epoc. there you can get lots of abandonware that is actually made freeware by their authors. this does happen more frequently than with hpc's. why?!
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CE Geek Page Icon Posted 2007-06-13 5:10 AM
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I remember when several of us wanted to buy the H/PC version of Scrabble over a year ago, and couldn't find it anywhere. We got the same runaround from Hasbro, which originally marketed it, and Atari, which bought the rights to it later. I managed to track down another vendor who had it for sale, after months of Google searches - and as I recall, it didn't remain available there long either. How hard would it be to create an archive database on these companies' (or their successors' ) servers where these old programs could still be downloaded after buying a code through a pay page on the companies' sites? (That's what really gets me - a lot of what is defined as customer service can be - and is - automated, making it even easier for the company. Yet they don't bother. )

Re: abandonware
It still amazes me how Congress has never addressed this issue here in the States. There are federal laws that make it possible for squatters to take ownership of abandoned real estate without having to pay a penny, and yet the same is not possible with abandoned software. Real estate law defines the circumstances where such property can be considered abandoned, as well as defining the circumstances ("open, notorious, and hostile" are the terms used) where ownership can be claimed by a squatter. How hard would it be to draft law defining abandonment of software, and defining reasonable due diligence in attempting to locate the holder of rights to it?
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cmonex Page Icon Posted 2007-06-13 7:51 AM
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i have this scrabble thing somewhere i *think*.. haven't ever played it but would be a good software to start the abandonware archive with.

yeah, i think as soon as the exams are done, i might look into setting up some page for what i have (not much, sadly). anyone care to join?

Edited by cmonex 2007-06-13 7:52 AM
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theoak Page Icon Posted 2007-06-13 8:17 AM
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I wish I could join, but worry that even though the original vendor *seems* to have abandoned their software, the very fact that they choose to "sit on it" instead of releasing it to public domain indicates that they may see it as a source of possible future *major* income (from law suits). What else explains their shelving of a salable or giftable product?
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Hurricane John Page Icon Posted 2007-06-13 8:53 AM
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It's probably just wishful thinking on my part, but it sure would be nice to hear from some of the HPC developers and perhaps, get their perspective on the editorial!
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cmonex Page Icon Posted 2007-06-13 9:17 AM
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theoak - 2007-06-13 2:17 PM

I wish I could join, but worry that even though the original vendor *seems* to have abandoned their software, the very fact that they choose to "sit on it" instead of releasing it to public domain indicates that they may see it as a source of possible future *major* income (from law suits). What else explains their shelving of a salable or giftable product?


interesting thought.. my opinion on this (but who knows) : i dont think they give a damn, they are probably too lazy to try and answer the emails or dig up the software. and maybe they already deleted them off their disks / servers.
in any case i'm not in the US so not afraid.. also, good luck to anyone who hopes they can get some income from *me* i don't have any decent income, so no chance.

a solution could be anonymous contribution though.


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Hurricane John - 2007-06-13 2:53 PM

It's probably just wishful thinking on my part, but it sure would be nice to hear from some of the HPC developers and perhaps, get their perspective on the editorial!


yes, but probably they will never care enough to even look at this site too bad that there is no chance of starting a conversation with them.

or did you mean the active developers?
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Hurricane John Page Icon Posted 2007-06-13 11:55 AM
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cmonex - 2007-06-13 9:17 AM

yes, but probably they will never care enough to even look at this site too bad that there is no chance of starting a conversation with them.

or did you mean the active developers?



Either kind.....it would be interesting to hear how current developers plan on handling the situation, when they discontinue support for the HPC platform? Are they going to archive it, release it as unsupported freeware or have they even thought about it?

I would be nice to generate a conversation with (any) developers on this topic .
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EDSchulte
EDSchulte Page Icon Posted 2007-06-14 3:44 PM
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Interesting discussion...

For those not aware, here's a site that's doing some of that "archiving", albeit for older DOS games... http://www.abandonia.com. Check out their FAQ, too.

As for product purchases and support, It's not like Ford is still obligated to support Model T parts or that anyone cares about the Edsel. However, I'm sure that there's a host of small companies that support them without paying Ford a royalty for use of the specifications or even the names of the models in their advertising.
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PocketDVD Page Icon Posted 2007-06-14 4:36 PM
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As a dev, I only have one comment on this.

I have an old C64 home computer, and would like to buy stuff for it.

this subject has been brought up so many times, and it just doesnt work.


Developer quits, releases software for free

this results in people wanting the sourcecode, because they want to modify it. Since it's free software, the source should be available


Developer releases a new version that does not support older devices anymore

new devices need a new dev enviroment. as a result, code needs to be done twice or more to make it work, but due to the difference in development language or features, stuff needs to be removed/modified etc. This happened with going from ce1 to ce2, nintento NES to nintendo SNES, etc etc.

Developer releases old versions for free, unsupported

this results in questions from paying customers, and complaints/questions from users who have the free version
(in my case, I have a support forum, a manual, and support by email, and still people ask questions that are in the forum, in the manual, and in the readme from the sales websites (handango etc). almost no-one ever reads anything when they are dealing with software)

edit:
developer releases sourcecode
still emails about how to compile how to do this and that, etc etc.


Edited by PocketDVD 2007-06-14 4:38 PM
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theoak Page Icon Posted 2007-06-14 5:48 PM
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Grumble..... This is why the computer field in general is in desperate need of some kind of standardization. Of course that won't fix these issues with existing devices.

How about this:

Developer releases whatever he is willing to release (either binaries, or binaries with source code) and then ignores complaints/questions from those who do not read posted info. Use an email filter that looks for "HPC", "Handheld", etc. Set up email program to route those emails to Junk or Trash folder.

Or maybe this:

Developer strips his contact info from the old software and donates it to the public domain.

Edit: You probably already know about http://sourceforge.net/

Edited by theoak 2007-06-14 5:52 PM
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cmonex Page Icon Posted 2007-06-14 6:41 PM
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yes. anonymous contribution will be best.

hmm, but first step should be emailing all the developers about this first, to give them a chance if they don't reply i.e don't give a damn, then that's their problem.
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theoak Page Icon Posted 2007-06-14 9:09 PM
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By the way PocketDVD, thanks for being kind enough to give your point of view! I certainly don't want to trivialize the plight of devs.
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PocketDVD Page Icon Posted 2007-06-14 9:48 PM
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You are welcome. I didnt mean to burst anyones bubbles, but this subject keeps coming up. From a users view it's certainly nice to get stuff for HPC, either free or pay for it, but for a developer it's just a nightmare.

DVD Catalyst runs on windows computers, and when I first started, I developed using delphi7 on win2000. it worked on windows 2000 and xp, but not on win98. At that time I had people ask for win98 support. This resulted in me having to get a win98 install going for testing and make sure it works (performance for video conversion sucked, but the users wanted it) then with dvd catalyst 1 released a year and a half ago, I gave up win98 support, and it made the code a lot easier and better to work with.
Now there is vista. even a bigger nightmare.

for hpc software, it's mainly microsoft. the old ce sdk's do not run in visual studio. the new device sdk's only run in visual studio. this means that code needs to be written twice. it's no longer a simple recompile for a different device, it's copy-paste code over and back.
Problem is also, same for windows as well as ce that certain features and options do not work the same or are non-existent. for all this code needs to be written differently.

a dev can either go for the minimal set of functions, so that it works on all devices, or use options based on device it's being compiled for.
the problem with the general binary is that it runs crap on all devices. performance sucks, because none of the special features of the device are being used (as in SSE1, sse2, MMX, etc) or the 3d graphics accelerators in devices. toshiba had the e800 with an ati 3d chip, and I believe the only thing ever released for it was a plugin for tcpmp. The x51v from dell a different 3d chip which was not compatible with the ati as well as incompatible with the directx subset of wm5.

the specific options for devices is just as bad, because every device has to have different code to be fully utilized.

Asking dev's for providing an option to allow hpc users get the software is a good thing to do, but I dont think this should come from the users themselves. HPC Factor has been working with some devs to get access to their files. They accomplished quite a bit in this by getting exclusive distribution rights on this site for those programs. If an organization such as HPC Factor handles the communication, arrangements and support (this forum) then it would be more interesting for developers to do something with their older stuff. However, HPC Factor is not setup to handle sales, and it would be quite time intensive to have the admins here deal with purchase stuff and send money to the developers.

But communicating with dev's as a single user, asking for older versions etc, is deenately not going to help. if interest comes through a poll, and someone highup in an organisation contacts the dev's then there might be a good chance to get things rolling, but as stated by theoak

(Developer releases whatever he is willing to release (either binaries, or binaries with source code) and then ignores complaints/questions from those who do not read posted info. Use an email filter that looks for "HPC", "Handheld", etc. Set up email program to route those emails to Junk or Trash folder.)

thats what devs will do if they get too many people asking.
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