My Turn
My Mac Magazine #22, Feb. ’97

Here in southwest Michigan, as I write this, we’re buried in deep snow. It’s been snowing almost nonstop for two days, and the streets are treacherous. I feel like my computer time and my driving time are now proportionate to one another. When it’s sunny, warm, and no traffic, I can get in my car and drive anywhere I want to in very little time. Now, however, it takes twenty minutes just to drive to the store, which is about half a mile away. This is much like my time on America Online.

Back when AOL cost $10 for five hours, I was a strong proponent for a better pricing plan. I got it. And I was right out there praising AOL for the $20 unlimited time plan. I was so glad to have the “clock monkey” off my back. I could now sign on, do whatever I wanted, and not worry about how many hours I had left before I got into the “expensive time.” But now that the unlimited hours plan is in effect, I begin to see what a bad idea this was.

Busy signals were always somewhat of a problem, but I could always count on getting on within a few minutes. My longest wait was a half hour, and that was many months ago. If I was really impatient, I could always dial in to my ISP, and log on to AOL via the Internet. Ah, the good old days.

AOL is in trouble. They may not admit as much, but the writing is on the wall. I get letters from subscribers all the time complaining about how long the wait is to sign on, and that once on, they get “bumped off” for no reason. I can sympathize, as the wait to dial in via the local AOL numbers in my town is usually a few hours during 12 PM to 11 PM. And while I could always log on via the Internet at one time, that’s not true anymore. I get on AOL perhaps three times as fast via the Internet, but many times the AOL software gives me a “Your TCP/IP connection is not correct” or some such nonsense. What is really happening is that AOL has too many users online and I’m in a holding pattern.

To find out more about these problems, and what AOL is doing to solve them, I decided to call AOL. Unfortunately, after waiting for a half hour, the only answers I got were that AOL doesn’t plan to have any more dial-in numbers in my area anytime soon, and that if I can’t log on via the Internet, then the problem is on my end, not AOL’s. Funny, but I’ve never changed my TCP settings, and I can still browse the Web, get my ISP email, and the like. I simply can’t get log on to AOL. Furthermore, after trying to log on via the Internet, and AOL’s software saying there’s a TCP problem (that is not the fault of AOL! It says that right in the dialog box!) I can usually get on after a few aborted attempts. Without restarting. Without hanging up from my ISP. But by simply waiting a little while, and trying again later. Sure, it can’t be the fault of America Online. Heaven forbid!

I said AOL was in trouble. How so, you ask, if the problem is that there are simply too many people online? How is that a problem for AOL? That must mean they are rolling in the cash, if they have that many users. Well, folks, the problem is simple. If I can’t get online, or it takes me forever to do so, what’s the value of “Unlimited time”? Or if I get bumped off for no reason? Or if AOL treats Mac users like second class users? Don’t believe that? Then why is AOL 3.0 for Mac so late, when the Windows version has been available for six months? And to appease the Mac users, what does AOL do? Release a “Preview” (BETA, folks, and buggy as hell) on a feature-starved core of users? Are AOL programmers so inept that it takes this long to write software? For the Mac?

Please, AOL, if you really don’t care about us Mac users, than just come right out and say so. Stop all these letters from Steve Case saying things like, “We have not forgotten the Mac users, or who got us to where we are today”. I’m sick of it. We all know that the Internet is killing AOL, and that your current problems stem from a lack of customer support. If you really cared about me as a customer, then why can’t I log on when I want to? Why, as a Mac user, do I have to put up with Beta software when the Window users get a final product so far ahead of me?

Am I mad? You bet, and for good reasons. Mad enough to quit my AOL account? To be honest, there’s only one reason I’m still with AOL now. The America Online My Mac subscribers. I get more letters from AOL readers, both with questions and comments, then I do from the Internet. Not sure why that is, but it’s a fact. And I want to be able to help other Mac users out when I can, with question about AOL software, or to simply complain with or listen to fellow Mac users. But perhaps the best way to help AOL Mac users would be to tell them all to quit the service and get an Internet account?

Perhaps, but not yet. See, while I know AOL is in trouble, I can’t stop thinking of the way it used to be, and what it could be again. That perhaps AOL will pull itself out of the mess it’s in, and make the online service great again. It could happen, and I really hope it does. It would be simple, really. They already have a good pricing plan. All they need to do is start treating Mac users as well as they do the Window users, improve access, and make better software. Really, how hard could that be to do? Well, friends, we will find out. And for the time being, I will wait and see. But mark my words, AOL, I will not wait long. And, I’m sure, neither will anyone else.

Tim Robertson (

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