Saturday, November 13, 2010

Prodigy vs. Quantum: an on-line contrast. (on-line consumer services onthe Macintosh) (MacInTouch).

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Consumer's report. Rarely have we seen such a perfect contrast in style and philosophy in the Mac market as that created by two new on-line services aimed at the Macintosh consumer market.

Prodigy, the service from Sears and IBM, was developed for the massive IBM PC market, but the company is now pitching its product to Mac owners.

Meanwhile, Quantum Computer Services Inc. has finally put America Online into production. Quantum developed its service in a partnership with Apple, although it was recently renamed and Apple's logo and distribution system are not being used.

Both services offer standard on-line fare like electronic mail, news, weather and databases, but they couldn't be less alike in their approaches to customers.

America Online represents all that is Mac: the elegant, finely detailed interface; powerful information processing; ease of use; and attention to the individual. The software even features digitized sounds, which can be turned off.

Prodigy on the Macintosh represents the lowest common denominator of a PC mass market. Its cloned IBM PC interface lacks even the most simplistic of Mac objects -- no Mac menus, windows, desk accessories or MultiFinder support. Prodigy's mutant "buttons" even require a double click for activation. The graphics are crude compared with any normal Mac application, and the screen is cluttered by advertising.

Just getting access to each of the services demonstrates sharp differences. Prodigy gives you an on-line name like "CGFV39A," and there's no option for obtaining a more humanistic name. America Online lets you define a "screen name" as part of a smooth sign-up procedure -- something like "ricford."

We are also disappointed with the functionality of Prodigy. It lacks such a basic feature as the ability to transmit files, and you can forget about such Mac standards as cut and paste.

America Online, on the other hand, has full, Apple-tuned Mac features, including electronic mail with file enclosures, address book and receipts. You can cut, copy, paste, save or print in almost any situation, and desk accessories are fully supported. Uploading and downloading files is easy, and you get credited with extra time in return for uploads. An instant message feature and real-time, multi-user "chat rooms" provide channels for conversation with other users or support personnel.

Price wars. As consumer-oriented services, Prodigy and America Online compete on price. Prodigy has the most-attractive price in the industry, a flat $9.95 per month (supported by on-line advertisers) with no connect-time limit, a 30-day free trial period and no fee for the software.

America Online also sets new standards for low price, but it retains the traditional approach of charging by the hour. The software is free, and people who sign up before Jan. 31 will get two hours of free time and a 20 percent lifetime discount. Under this plan, usage for all parts of the service is $4 per hour off-peak or $8 per hour in prime time. One free hour is included in a $5.95 monthly maintenance fee.

Prodigy is not a bad service; it just blindly ignores the Macintosh way. America Online is targeting the same audience with a much more sophisticated platform -- one which is in tune with everything Apple has done on the Mac.

We will watch the market's judgment with interest, as people evaluate the services' developing content and compare them with other, less-consumer-oriented offerings.

Source Citation
Ford, Ric, and Rick LePage. "Prodigy vs. Quantum: an on-line contrast." MacWEEK 3.43 (1989): 50. General OneFile. Web. 13 Nov. 2010.
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