Jewish World Review March 21, 2003 / 17 Adar II 5763

Long distance tech support does trick

By Mark Kellner | Mary -- a tech support person at the other end of a long distance phone line -- and I were having a lovely chat the other day. We were resolving a problem with my wireless broadband router/access point; it turns out that re-cycling (stet) the power to both the cable modem and the wireless device did the trick, clearing out whatever problem had ground my little home network to a halt.

Then, I thought I'd ask her if it had stopped raining where she was.

You see, Linksys, the company that makes the router I'm using, is headquartered in Irvine, California, and over the past couple of days that part of the world had been getting, well, soaked by some very heavy precipitation. Having lived in that part of the world not too long ago, I was naturally curious.

Mary, however, didn't have a clue.

"It's not raining here," she told me. When asked where "here" was, she informed me that it was in Manila, capital city of the Philippines.

Talk about a long distance tech support call!

While surprising, it's nothing unusual these days: companies offering tech support on a 24/7 basis often route and re-route calls from one "call center" to another as the sun makes its trek across the face of the planet. Daytime workers, after all, are generally "fresher" than those pulling the so-called "lobster shift," and putting call centers in places such as Manila, Guam (a favorite, I believe, of AOL), and India, reduce overhead costs. As long as the person on the other end of the line speaks the customer's language (Linksys' telephone menu offers to connect callers to French- and/or Spanish-speaking technicians with announcements that are flawless in their pronunciation), and as long as questions are answered, there seems to be little harm done.

There are other aspects to tech support calls, though. One of the long-running jokes was about someone who called tech support to complain that his computer's cup holder was broken. In reality, or perhaps urban legend, the user had mistaken the CD-ROM drive tray for the alleged cup holder.

A $19 WORD PROCESSOR: Yes, you can get one, and it's pretty good, although for now it's just for Macs running OS X. The program is called Mellel, and details are online at

Why would you want to get it? For one, this is a program that has the "Aqua" look and feel of the most Mac-like of Mac applications, such as Apple's Safari browser, iTunes and others. The look is, frankly, super cool.

For another, it offers almost every major feature a word processing user would desire, including, now, the ability to create and format tables of data. What's more, tables can extend over an unlimited number of pages, with automatic table breaks over page margins. More "mundane" features - and I use that term advisedly - such as spell checking and word count are standard here.

Perhaps most exciting of all is, publisher Redlex (stet) of Tel Aviv, Israel notes, that Mellel is the only word processor for the Mac to support both left-to-right (English, Spanish, German, Latin, etc.) and right-to-left (Hebrew and Arabic, among others) typing. In fact, you can mix both styles on the same page.

Then again, the price is a killer: just under $20 now, soon to be $24.95, when the next revision is released, a price which isn't bad either, considering that Microsoft Word v.X (stet) is many times those prices.

Of course, this begs the question of whether or not Mellel is "file compatible," as they say, with Microsoft Word. It is - and it isn't. If you use the "RTF," or "rich text format," file format, you can exchange files with Word and its peers; the Redlex people say that eventually, they may offer direct compatibility with Microsoft Word files. Meanwhile, to go to and from RTF, you can use Word or MacLink Plus from DataViz (

For now, though, it's enough for many of us that there's another word processor for the latest Mac operating system. Others may not be far behind: fabled Mac software firm Nisus Inc. is expected to have a public Beta of its Nisus Writer for OS X soon, at which time whoops of joy may well be heard from coast to coast; details at

Find this column useful? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

Tablet Planner software a hit
Up and down the road with Joyride
Clarion's "AutoPC" is no "Joyride"
Apple's Keynote is PowerPoint for less
Moving adventures
Traveling companions
HP's Compaq Tablet PC a winner
The war on spam continues
Browser for Mac users has good start
New Adobe software organizes photos
The year the PC grew up
PC meets philately: one hit, one miss
Digital Nikon camera a winner, at a price
Honey, they shrunk the COMDEX
Last-minute ideas
Microsoft's Tablet PC has promise, problems
Upgrade with a plan
Palm's New Tungsten PDA Shows Its Mettle
Nobody asked me, but ...
Love, in Quicktime
T-Mobile's sidekick a good partner
Put on a (happy, unwrinkled, tanned, whatever) face
Apple software upgrade very useful
I came, I saw, iPod
How's that? A tech critic reflects, briefly
Satellite radio gets favorable reception
HP's desktop printing marve
Mac satisfaction --- and some really good software
Off to college ... with eMachines
Have PC, must travel
After Shot manages your digital camera images
X200: Mobile worker's fantasy
Beware: Consumers face a fee for printing own checks

© 2002 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at