You can be singing the Beatles' Apple Corp. song to Apple Computer with their new toll-free helpline. However, you can't call them to complain that your Mac insists that your favorite floppy disk is damaged when it looks fine to you. Questions like that, along with all others, must be first directed to your dealer or company support department or whoever you are officially supposed to ask. If your local guru cannot answer your question, then the fun begins. You call the number and give them the name, address, and phone number of your support person. Then tell them the reason your support person couldn't help you and provide a complete description of your problem, including your complete hardware and software setup. And then, in its infinite wisdom, Apple answers your question immediately. :-)
It's that first bit that sounds a little odd. Yup, you're right. It's a computer support tattletale line. Apple hasn't said what they intend to do after they find out which dealer was incapable of solving your problem, but it's our guess that they write the dealer's name down and check up on the situation at some point. They might wait until they've had several calls that should have been handled by the same dealer, but it's unlikely that Apple will just throw out such incriminating evidence.
Overall, Apple's toll-free support line sounds like a great idea. After all, most companies provide some sort of user support, if only because if the company can't get it right, dealers are even less likely to do so. Large companies like Apple and IBM have restricted support to dealers in the past because it is cheaper and easier. However, support is an excellent way to gain customer loyalty, as evidenced by WordPerfect's excellent support and large market share. Dealers may not like the tattletale aspect, though, since some customers are never happy with the support they get no matter how correct or complete it is. Given the privileged position that Apple dealers sit in, I feel that there should be some system of checks and balances so the dealers can't get away with charging for terrible support. Over the last five years, I've heard more complaints about local dealers all over the country than I have glowing stories about their competence. If incompetence really is more the rule than the exception, this new support line could help weed out the dealers who abuse their positions from those who try to help the customer at every turn.
So if you have a complaint about your local source of official support, make sure your gripe is legitimate and if it is, call Apple. At worst, you won't get any better help. At best, your problem will be solved and your support people will be chewed out (or merely informed better) by Apple. Note that we don't currently know what the policy will be for international customers, but we gather 800 numbers don't work overseas so it might be a moot point. If you're interested, send mail and we'll check into it further.
Oh yeah, the number is 800/776-2333 and you can call Monday through Friday between 6am and 5pm Pacific Standard Time.
Adam C. Engst -- TidBITS Editor
Tonya Byard -- TidBITS Editor