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Don't let the Road Runner installer take away your choice of software
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

Don't let the Road Runner installer take away your choice of software 

Bit Player for June 21, 1998

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

Two friendly guys from Time Warner came over and installed the Road Runner high-speed Internet system the other day. I've been hotrodding happily around the Web ever since.

My judgment so far: Road Runner is great. It's very fast and easy to use. I'd like to see a change in the way Time Warner installs Road Runner, but everything else about the service is first class.

Road Runner uses a cable-TV connection to hook your PC or Mac to the Internet. (It does not use your telephone line.) You can still use your TV the same way as always, because the cable does double duty. If you already subscribe to Time Warner's cable-TV service, the Internet connection is $40 a month. If you're not already a subscriber and get just the Internet connection, you'll pay a little more.

The Road Runner system uses a cable modem made by Motorola. It's an ugly beige box, much bigger than normal modems, although a newer, sleeker model is on the way later this year. The cable modem hooks up to your PC through a network cable that plugs into a network adaptor card in your PC or Mac. Time Warner supplies both the cable modem and the network card as part of the hookup fee of about $100. If you already have a network card, yours probably will work fine. (You'll still have to pay the $100 setup fee even if you don't have to pay for the card.)

The two PCs here at Countless Pines were already networked and had an Ethernet hub, a device that allows other computers to be added to the network by plugging their cables into the hub. A hub is a big help in hooking up Road Runner to a network, too, because the cable modem can be plugged right into the "uplink" port on the hub.

That's how Time Warner's installers did it for me. That part worked fine, after a couple of changes in my network card's setup. The Road Runner connection software worked perfectly right from the start. Downloads from sites on the Internet went much faster than they did through my dialup connection—more than 100 times faster in some cases—and pages snapped open very quickly. I was also able to grab thousands of postings from Road Runner's news server in a couple of minutes.

I'm running Windows 98, which works very well with Road Runner. (In fact, one of the installers praised Windows 98 for being easier for Road Runner installations than earlier versions of Windows.) That also means I'm using the latest version of Internet Explorer, the Microsoft Web browser.

But the first thing the installer did after the connection worked was-—you guessed it-—install the latest version of Internet Explorer. So now I have two identical versions, in different places on my hard drive. That was dumb. Time Warner should simply check to make sure the user has a browser that works with Road Runner. Recent versions of both major browsers from Netscape and Microsoft will work fine.

I was too slow to stop the installer from redoing my browser setup, but I was a lot faster on the draw when he told me he was going to switch my mail program. No way, I said. The installer made it clear that Road Runner officially supported only the software he wanted to install—Outlook Express, a light duty e-mail program that has almost none of the features of the mail program I use, Outlook 98.

There's nothing wrong with Outlook Express if the mail program you're used to is an old-fashioned program such as Eudora or Microsoft Internet Mail. But there's something screwy about telling users who prefer more powerful e-mail programs that they have to switch. A downgrade is not my idea of customer service.

The crazy part about this is that Outlook 98 works beautifully with Road Runner's multi-account e-mail service, but Outlook Express does not. (You need to hang upside down and chant a few times to get OE to do this.) You can set up four extra e-mail accounts in Road Runner, and , if you want, Outlook 98 will get and send mail for all five accounts every few minutes, automatically.

I understand why Time Warner would want to keep its support options simple and easy—support one browser and one e-mail program and you head off a lot of questions. But support at an Internet Service Provider is never simple and it's seldom easy. The hardest support problems come from users who are upset, and the easiest way to make them upset is to force them to use software they don't want and don't need.

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