A multimedia shambles - the industry has a lot to learn

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser Nov 1989 (guess) - scanned

Oh boy. What a week. Like a fool, I decided to get hold of some multimedia packages for review. Well, they stop short of full multimedia. They use a CD-ROM player for sound and the Macintosh for graphics and text.

The first review was Beethoven's 9th CD Companion from The Voyager Company. It's absolutely brilliant. I saw it at the Boston Macworld Expo last year and, full of anticipation, couldn't wait to get my mitts on it.

Well, it arrived. And, by sheer coincidence, I found myself dashing off to the UK launch of a portable CD-ROM drive from NEC that day. I couldn't believe my luck when NEC offered to lend me one of these brand new machines for a few days, while I wrote the review. So after the rigours of a four-hour press reception - which took forever - I finally managed to lever the player from the NEC sales manager's grasp and rushed home to try it out.

But alas, I spent hours trying to get mine working. NEC spent hours trying to get its one working too. Eventually a telephone call to America revealed the answer. The machines that were sent for the press launch only worked with the IBM PC.

All the UK staff knew was that, in America, these machines were selling like hot cakes on both the PC and the Macintosh. They assumed (always very dangerous) that the drives were therefore identical for each computer.

To compensate me for hours of fruitless experimentation, NEC has promised to lend me the first Mac drive to arrive in the UK. But still it means waiting around for the divine pleasures of Beethoven. Not a happy thought given my anticipation.

Fortunately, I already had a Toshiba on order and that was due to arrive the next week. Meanwhile, I had a sick PC network to contend with. I have a PC in the house and another in the office. Anyway, the network was really misbehaving. And I mean really. It would take anything up to a quarter of an hour to display a disk directory of the remote machine. I'd already replaced the network card at one end and tried replacing the cable. The only thing left to go wrong was the other network card.

At least that's what I thought. The supplier thought otherwise. "These cards never go wrong," he said accusingly. (Anyone who says that to you is lying. Something goes wrong with everything, eventually.) I asked for my money back. This request triggered a site visit. The engineer arrived and completely wrecked my day. After four hours of testing everything he could think of, apart from the card which had to be faulty, he finally replaced this card. Guess what? The network then ran perfectly. What a complete waste of time.

The next day, the Toshiba drive arrived. I told the distributor's sales manager to stay put while I tested the system. It didn't work. "Funny," he said, "it's worked everywhere else." After a lot of messing around and double checking me, my Macintosh, the connections, the drive and the software, he admitted defeat. I then decided to read the software manual and there, in Appendix A, was a little note of the files which had to exist before running the Beethoven CD.

I pointed out to the distributor that some of these files were missing from his disk. "Ah, Voyager should have supplied those," he replied. One file was for recognising audio disks, the others were concerned with remote playing of CDs. Since you only need one copy of each file in order to operate a CD player, I would have thought they should have been supplied by the drive maker. It would be very silly to insist that every piece of software came with a copy.

But there I was, stuck in-between two manufacturers both of whom thought the other was responsible for supplying the missing files. In such situations the options are not vast, so I took the only route available to me - I cheated.

After finding out that I couldn't sort out the problem officially, I blagged a copy of Apple's files from a friend so I could write the review. I put all the Audio and the Remote stuff in and life was indeed wonderful. At least for 60 minutes that is. That's when I discovered the bug in the software that Toshiba did supply.

The Beethoven disk lasts 68 minutes. The Toshiba CD driver cannot jump directly to anything further than 60 minutes into the disk. This meant I could only explore the final stages of the Symphony by stepping through it or by playing it continuously. I couldn't, jump straight to an example of cymbals playing, because Voyager illustrates this with an excerpt from the very final moments of the last movement. The point is that I was deprived of the immediate benefits of the grand finale of the Symphony.

If I had been a regular user without the power of the press at my elbow, I'm sure I'd have gone crazy. For a start, everyone would have blamed me. "Have you read the manuals, sir?" they would say, in that oily voice reserved for complete cretins. "Well we've never encountered this problem before, sir. Are you sure..." And then, "Well, it's probably your Macintosh. Why don't you check with your dealer?" You know the score.

For an individual, the situation is undoubtedly difficult if not a downright disgrace. One way to side-step the problem is use only one dealer and buy everything from them. At least, in this case, it's the dealer's problem and an identifiable dealer who can't blame someone else. Alternatively create merry hell until you get satisfaction. But, if all else fails, why not tell me, c/o MacUser, and we'll see what we can do.