Software Assessment for CompuServe v.3 for Macintosh (Excerpts)

Reproduced below is a document I submitted to CompuServe upon receipt, installation, and a period of reasonable use of, what was then their brand-new, long-awaited upgrade to their CompuServe for Macintosh software. There is a hint of informality to the composition, as well as a passion and urgency appropriate to the subject matter and context.

Please note that my present computing platform is Windows XP Professional.


Dear CompuServe,

My name is Vincent De Benedetto. I am an Authorized Apple Product Representative, and a CompuServe subscriber of about five years. Below is my assessment of CSi v3.0 for Macintosh, which I just downloaded, installed, and used for the first time. This was a release for which I eagerly awaited, and upon learning that the upgrade was finally available I was very excited. However, I am unhappy to report that I am profoundly disappointed in the new version.

I thank and congratulate Stacy Herron, the Macintosh technical support team, the Mac development team that put together the new version, and everyone else at Compuserve who has worked to insure a larger role for Macintosh in the world of CompuServe.

Even though I have been a CS subscriber for about five years, it was about three months ago that I permanently switched to CompuServe as my main information service provider. I rely on CS for all my mission critical functions, such as email and the downloading of files. I formerly relied on AOL for such functions, as AOL does have great strengths, but AOL has also developed tremendous weaknessess over the last year or two, including technical unreliability, customer unresponsivess, poor technical support, and a rampant commercial atmosphere.

In contrast, I viewed CompuServe, as expressed in v2.4.4, as the more mature, professional, and technically reliable service, even though its breadth of content seems more limited for my purposes, and the service is harder to use and navigate than AOL.

This brings me to the reason for this letter. Unfortunately, CSi v3.0 for Macintosh chips away at this desirable image I had of CompuServe. As mentioned above, after putting CSi v3.0 through its preliminary paces, I must report that I am very disappointed in the software, with good reason. Below is my initial assessment of this software. I offer this report in a spirit of good faith, and in the strong hope that some of these observations (along with the many complaints from other users, as chronicled recently in the MacCIM Support Forum), will resonate enough to warrant a very speedy point increase (v.3.1) to address them.

Overall, the software seems glitchy, idiosyncratic, and palpably more limited in its functions and flexibility than was v.2.4.4. It is also a disappointment in view of the length of time Macintosh users had to wait for its release.

I have invested a good deal of time and mental energy in the composition of this assessment report, so I hope and trust that it will be read fully, attentively, and will be taken seriously. I am a CompuServe subscriber that is committed to your service, and I care. I would hope that you consider such subscribers the lifeblood of CompuServe, especially now, as it tries to get back on its feet.

Some of the observations and complaints delineated below have also been put forth by other users in the MacCIM Support Forum, primarily from the "CS3 - General" topic area. I have reprinted several of these posts throughout this assessment, as needed.

There are elements of the new version that I do like, including the clean, modern new look, the "easy-on-the-eyes" color schema, no more manual insertion of "Internet" into mail addresses, etc., but this letter focuses on those elements I don't like, because they keep jumping out at me, one after another. I am therefore naturally forming a general impression based on those.

Poor or Incomplete Design

  • The "What's New" and "Favorite Places" windows can only be sized larger, not smaller. I used to find it useful and enjoyable to keep one or both of those windows on my screen all the time, but no longer. If you do, they now cover your entire CSi desktop! Someone posting to the MacCIM Forum, Topic CSi 3.0 Solutions, wrote:

    >>>BTW, *why* oh *why* can't I horizontally resize the "Favorite Places" Window? I like to keep it open, but now it just hogs screen real estate.

    Appreciate the help.


    (Hong Kong)<<<
  • When the Address Book window in v.2.4.4 is open it shows us a few words of the comments we have stored for each listing--very handy for a quick refesher on a given person or group. Version 3.0, however, does not do this; it simply gives us a bare-bones amount of information in the Address Book window: name and address. If we want to view our comments about a particular Address Book listing, we have to actually open the window for that person.
  • Version 2.4.4 has a Preferences option that allows the user to decide exactly what items will appear on his "Initial Desktop," including the "Favorite Places" and "What's New" windows. In contrast, V.3.0 causes the "What's New" window to appear each time the user signs on whether they want it or not--the user no longer has control.
  • The "Go To Favorite Places" window in v2.4.4 supports the following keys on the Apple Extended Keyboard II: Home, End, Page Up, Page Down, and first-letter access, whereby merely entering the first letter of your desired service jumps control right to the service name(s) that begin with that letter--very, very convenient; also supported are the Up and Down arrow keys, which tab you into the list, without needing to touch the mouse.
  • In contrast, Favorite Places and the Address Book, when chosen from within the Home Desktop only, do support PG UP, PG DN, HOME, END, but only while online! And even while online they don't support first-letter access. The Address Book, when chosen from the File menu, supports no keyboard commands. Favorite Places, when chosen from the Access menu, or the toolbar icon, supports no keyboard commands.)
  • The Filing Cabinet window in v2.4.4 supports the following keys on the Apple Extended Keyboard II: Home, End, Page Up, Page Down, and first-letter access, whereby merely entering the first letter of the desired service name jumps control right to the service name(s) in the list--very, very convenient. Further, when the window is first opened, the first entry in the list is already highlighted.
  • Again, by contrast, the Filing Cabinet, when chosen from within the Home Desktop, supports PG UP, PG DN, HOME, & END. However, when Filing Cabinet is chosen from the toolbar or the File menu, it supports no keyboard commands at all!
  • A user wrote in the MacCIM Support Forum:

    In MacCIM 2.4.4, when a list window is on the screen (such as Favorite Places or the Who's Here window in Chat), you can jump around the list by typing the first letter of the list item you want to jump to. In the new version, you can only scroll... which is much slower.

  • It's bad enough that we can no longer jump right to a desired file, service, or member name (in the Address Book, File Cabinet, or Favorite Places list), by typing in its first letter, but now that we are forced to resort to the less convenient mechanism of scrolling, the 3.0 scroll bars do not even operate smoothly!

  • The "Services Recently Visited" list in the Go side button desktop does not support Page Up and Page Down keys.

  • Neither is there support for keyboard commands for topic lists within Forums.

  • The "Address Book" list within the "Define Mailing List" window is poorly and unacceptably designed, because the former window is only large enough to allow the user to see a few letters of any Internet email address listed there. So, if the user has several Internet addresses that are similar, such as "INTERNET: RobertN@aol.com" and "INTERNET: RobertL.@aol.com" and "INTERNET: Robbie@aol.com," the user cannot tell the addresses apart from each other by looking at them in the Address Book list! So, for example, if I wanted to select several of those names to put them in a Group Mailing List, I cannot do so, because I don't know who is who! Other windows that bring up the Address Book have the same problem, such as the "Message Recipients" window.

  • As another person posting recently to the MacCIM Forum has noted, the lower right-hand corner in certain windows, such as Forum message windows, is enabled with a sizing function, even though those windows have their proper Size box elsewhere! In other words, you can resize those windows by dragging the lower right hand corner, where the Size box is not located! Who in the heck designed this program!?

  • Another problem: after composing an email, the user wants to file a copy, so they click "File It." However, this removes the mail window before the mail has been sent! Using the "Always save outgoing mail to..." preference is unacceptable because then the user is forced to save every mail in the same folder!

  • Relatedly, and incredibly, in one of the best examples of the rigidity of the new version: CSi will allow the user to file a piece of mail in *one* location only--the Filing Cabinet. If you want to save mail anywhere else on your system--you cannot, in contrast to version. 2.4.4, which allowed the user to navigate to whatever folder on his system he wanted to, when choosing where to save an email. This is ridiculous and unacceptable. Computing is supposed to be liberating and empowering, which certainly implies customizability, not restrictive and constraining.

  • What was wrong with having an icon for the Address Book on the toolbar? Isn't the address book arguably an important and often-used component of CSi? If CompuServe was going to remove the Address Book from the Toolbar, how about at least including an Address Book icon in the Toolbar Prefs window, so we can put it back if we wish? What a glaring omission.

  • Furthermore, after adding a new address to the Address Book in v.2.4.4, the program automatically places the name in its proper alphabetical position in the list of Address Book names, and then leaves it highlighted--a nice touch. By contrast, version 3.0 simply leaves the new addition at the very bottom of the list, and the user then has to manually re-sort the list for the name to appear in its proper place. Why does this program repeatedly turn the convenient and modern automation of version 2.4.4 into manual labor?

  • I sorely wish that the program had supplied us with Toolbar icons befitting an adult. Those icons look like they belong on the Kindergarten version of CompuServe, for children. They are juvenile and cartoonish. And aren't such juvenile-looking icons particularly inappropriate, given that CompuServe's current target market is business users, professionals, and technical people? Relatedly, a user wrote in the MacCIM Support Forum:

    >>>I can't help thinking tho', the toolbar at the top of the screen looks like it belongs in Windoze rather than on a Mac<<

  • Further, why are there two *identical* icons on the Home Desktop (a globe on the Toolbar, and a globe on the bottom strip), each having a *DIFFERENT* function? Is this good interface design? (There is also a third globe on the Home Desktop Side menu, and two more in the desktop area itself there).

  • And--in the Toolbar Prefs window, we learn that the "Add to Favorite Places" button can't be removed, thereby giving us two almost identical icons side by side, which is awkward visually, as well as a waste of an icon. (Wouldn't it have made more sense to put a different icon on the Toolbar instead of the "Add to Fav Places," and when the user wants to add a Fav Place, they could just hold down Option while selecting the "Favorite Places" icon? Then, that icon space could have been used for some other icon, for example, "Create Mail.")

  • Furthermore, we find that there are no other Toolbar buttons available to add...every button available is already on the toolbar!

  • A user posted this further point:

    >>>Last, but not least, the "Home Desktop" is very nice, has interesting graphics, and a warm/fuzzy feel to it. But it's not intuitive. For instance the "Mail Center" should have "Outgoing Items" as well as "Incoming Messages".

    Thank You,

    Steve Ball<<<

  • I feel that the choice of two hands as the Connect/Disconnect icon is counterintuitive. I thought this was the Chat icon! The Connect/Disconnect icon in v2.4.4 has this beat hands down, in my opinion, as do all the icons on the Toolbar of v2.4.4, which are generally intuitive, and drawn for adult users, not children.
  • I would argue that the toolbar in v.2.4.4 was perfect; it contained every essential button:

    - Go
    - Favorite places
    - Get mail
    - Filing cabinet
    - In basket (many complaints about the removal of the in and out baskets)
    - Out basket
    - Address book
    - Find
    - Exit
    - Quit
    - Weather
    - Stock quotes (many complaints about this not working satisfactorily)
    - Leave

    This inclusion of and arrangement of key buttons, however, has been purged from 3.0.

  • Relatedly, I consider "pop-up labeling" (where a description appears when your pointer passes over a button), such as has been used for the new Toolbar, a "cop-out" on the part of interface designers. The meaning of icons that are thoughtfully designed will be apparent and not need a pop-up label. Why isn't there an option to disable this sometimes annoying feature?
  • There is no drag-n-drop reordering of the icons on the Toolbar. Yet, the five custom buttons each have a number imprinted on them, making it essential (for users desiring an orderly toolbar) that the icons be in the proper order when placed on the toolbar. So, for example, after the user has set up his five custom buttons, if he or she later decides to replace custom button #2 and still have the custom buttons appear in proper number order when done, the user must first delete numbers 3,4, and 5, then create button #2, then recreate buttons #3,4, and 5! Do you realize how much work this is? It is unacceptable.
  • I was also mystified for a time about the meaning of the two small arrows flanking the globe on the bottom strip. I assume now that they represent SD and RD, but they are not labeled as to which is RD and which is SD! Without labeling, where is their utility?! Nor does a pop-up label for them appear when the pointer is passed over them! The SD and RD lights in v2.4.4 were properly and clearly labeled.
  • Furthermore, there is so much that is glaringly absent from this version, both in terms of interface and function, yet the designers saw fit to spend their time creating an undulating gold ring around the globe on the bottom strip.
  • In view of all of this, one is compelled to inquire:  do the powers-that-be behind this project think we Mac users are impressed only by meaningless flashing lights and whizzy buttons? Is CSi 3.0 for Mac supposed to be a control panel on the fictional starship Enterprise, or a piece of usable, real-life 20th Century software?

  • Version 2.4.4 clearly indicated "connected" and "disconnected," right at the top of the screen, which I found very useful. With 3.0, trying to ascertain the status of one's connection is less straightforward. One has to look either at the "Hands" button on the toolbar (which I can't help but associate with Chat, the 4H Club, or a prayer meeting), or one must see if the lower globe is present or not. Not very intuitive or convenient for me, personally.
  • The user can no longer decide if they want the "News Flash" window to appear when they enter a forum--it now always appears by default! More "Big Brother" software design.
  • The name "To-Do List" is confusing, as it makes the user think CompuServe now supports PIMs, or has something to do with a PIM, or the setting of reminders. Given the ubiquity of PIMs today, this was a poor labeling choice for that feature.
  • Another problem, as outlined by someone posting recently to the MacCIM support Forum:

    >>>In 2.4.4, you could, while offline, type up all of your forum messages and mail. You would then connect and send it all at once to save on online charges.

    You can still do this in 3.0.

    The *big* difference is that in 2.4.4, you could put stuff into the Outbasket and then shut down MacCIM, and the Outbasket contents would still be there waiting for you the next time you start the software. This is another feature that has been lost in the transition to 3.0, which (first warns you and then) deletes everything in the Outgoing Messages/To-Do List when you close the application.<<<

  • Scrolling is slow in most windows, and maddeningly slow in some windows.
  • Entering information into a list or window does not seem smooth in many windows.


I have also encountered a number of overt glitches:

  1. I transferred to the MacWEEK Forum, and the Host Message read: "Accessing Service: MacWEEK, Please Wait..." However, once I had arrived in the Forum, that message did not change or disappear.

  2. Then, right after I had left MacWEEK, the Host Message was "Do you want to leave MacWEEK?"!!

So, having written all this, I am now left with a dilemma. Do I use:

  1. The old version of CompuServe, v.2.4.4., which is functionally superior in many key respects, and features more adult-looking and intuitive icons, but is now somewhat dated and will grow more so as time goes on, and also does lack whatever actual improvements 3.0 does offer, or do I use...

  2. The new version, v.3.0, which features a snazzier interface, slightly crisper responsiveness, and selected features that are modernized, while at the same time severely and unacceptably limiting navigability and customizability in many key respects, and featuring a toolbar with cartoon icons on it; or...

  3. If I ultimately can't choose, and the dilemma itself becomes too disconcerting and frustrating, do I simply go back to AOL as my main service? (At least America Online is highly customizable, flexible, and navigable.)

I will shed a silent tear if CompuServe proves to now be joining the rest of the software world in:

  • Poor Mac support.

  • Releasing products that are not fully ready, because of perceived market pressures.

  • Engaging in what I call the "dumbing-down" of software, whereby icons are cartoonish, and text in dialog boxes, windows, and menus is written for people with a fifth-grade education.

This new version of CompuServe is a shame, especially compared to version 2.4.4, which I now realize to be a flexible, full-featured, mature, professional, and usable version.

Someone posting to the MacCIM Support Forum wrote:

>>>I have made the decision to switch back to MacCIM 2.4.4 until CS3 demonstrates the same utility as the earlier version. CS3 is pretty to look at, offers some enhancements but in the final analysis too many of the features of 2.4.4 were left out of the 'supposed' upgrade.<<<

Perhaps the situation can best be summed up by the post in the MacCIM support Forum of Sunday, February 09, 1997, which read:

>>>I have just tried my first few hours with CIM 3.0 and am rather shocked by its shortcomings. It appears to me to be one of those infamous 'upgrades' which winds up being a downgrade for the end user.

In just a few hours, I noted the following:

  • You ship no manual and only minimal documentation with the installation disks.

  • In MacCIM 2.4.4, when a list window is on the screen (such as Favorite Places or the Who's Here window in Chat), you can jump around the list by typing the first letter of the list item you want to jump to. In the new version, you can only scroll... which is much slower.

  • CIM 3.0 would disconnect frequenly for no clear reason. I found that when I went into the Travel Forum, I'd get the terminal emulator window for the newsflash... but when I closed the terminal window I'd get three system beeps and CIM would disconnect. This happened repeatedly in several different forums.

  • The 'set message date' interface in forums is much more difficult to use than before. In 2.4.4, 'set date' calls up a calendar in which the oldest date for available messages is instantly apparent. The new interface makes the user guess how far back to go... and if we go back to far, CIM takes a *very* long pause (if it doesn't freeze altogether).

  • The new Chat interface is awful. The multiple chat windows available in 2.4.4 were much better than the single window approach 3.0 uses.

  • When entering text in the chat windows in 2.4.4, each time you 'send' text with a hard return it appears on screen starting on a new line. In 3.0, it's as likely to appear on the same line as the last text you sent, without even a space between the old and new text. It looks ugly.

  • The strip at the bottom of the screen can't be hidden - but is mostly blank. On the whole the new software is rather impractical if you're working on a laptop with a relatively small screen - as I do *all* the time. There are too many windows and some can't be closed.

On the plus side, 3.O looks very impressive. That counts for something, as we Mac users will attest, but it seems like a facade hiding buggy, poorly-thought-out software.

It's also nice that when you highlight message text in a forum and then hit the 'reply' button the highlighted text is pasted into the reply automatically. Very useful feature. How long has WinCIM had that feature now? Months? Years?

CIM 3.0 also seems to solve the problem I've had for months getting my modem to hang up properly after disconnecting in 2.4.4... but I'm so bored with the runaround I've been getting from Tech Support over this (since October; I've an appalling file of ridiculous messages from Feedback and this forum on the subject) that I'm not even going to bother to get into it.

I am *very* disappointed with CIM 3.0. It looks good, and of course it's free, but functionally it's a step backward. I hope you will consider restoring some of the lost features from 2.4.4, including multiple chat windows and keyboard shortcuts for lists. In the meantime, one afternoon wrestling with CIM 3 was plenty for me. I am eagerly returning to 2.4.4, which works *better* than 3.0 for what I need to do.

And I'm getting ready to find another ISP, too.

David C.
Los Angeles<<<


In conclusion, then, I respectfully, but with deadly earnest, exhort your Macintosh programmers, interface engineers, project managers, and other powers-that-be to read every message of the last sixty days in the MacCIM Support Forum. Then, compile a list of the twenty most common and grevious complaints, and get to work immediately on a *major* maintenance release, to be issued no later than sixty days from now.


Vincent Christopher De Benedetto
Authorized Apple Product Representative