Mac Lab Report

Three Domains, Two Buyouts, One Frustrated Customer

- 2003.05.01

For a while - a short while - I had the coolest email address in amateur astronomy. "astronomer@home.com" (no longer mine) told it all: I was an astronomer, and I got mail at home, thus I was an amateur astronomer. In the world of astronomy, the term "amateur" doesn't carry the same negative baggage as it does in many other settings. Amateur astronomers include everyone from casual observers to near-professionals who publish photographs and even research results.

Well, last year AT&T bought out portions of Excite@home, which included customers in my area. When one company buys out another in a situation like this, one of the things they get are customer accounts. Which, one would assume, includes the email addresses and web space reserved for each customer. Unfortunately, it also carries with it an email server domain name change - and one that didn't roll off the tongue as elegantly. Now I became "astronomer@attbi.com," which, while short, is not nearly as memorable.

Given the nature of email servers and domain name registration and such, it is probably not reasonable to expect to retain your email address and web server account during such a transition. Nevertheless, faced with such a switch, I considered DSL briefly before deciding to stick with AT&T.

As an individual user, it didn't hurt that AT&T increased the number of email accounts and allocated web server space to each one, greatly increasing my web server space. It seemed like a good idea at the time. There was no perceptible difference in connection speed, and the AT&T service promised friendlier Mac support than the @home folks ever had.

@Home's service technician could not connect my Beige G3/300 to the Internet despite two visits and three hours of effort - it took some research at work for me to discover I had to make sure cookies were on during configuration of the browser - and they had draconian policies against setting up additional machines without purchasing additional fixed IP addresses.

I had my suspicions that AT&T, once a sustaining partner of @home, had actually engineered the collapse of the service in order to buy out the customer base on the cheap, behavior which is commonly referred to as "consolidating your monopoly." Nevertheless, I stuck with AT&T because it did provide better service than I had before for the same monthly access fee.

That is not what is happening with the ongoing transition of AT&T customers to Comcast. Less than a year after buying @home, AT&T sold out to Comcast, the #1 cable TV company in the United States.

This time the deal's not so sweet, although the Mac support is strong. We're getting new cable modems (I'm not exactly sure why, probably a consistency in management issue or software incompatibility - after all, a cable modem isn't really a modem; it's kind of like a converter to connect coax cable to a router on one end and ethernet on the other). Also on the downside, we're getting a drastic cut in web server space - from 10 MB per email address (up to 5 addresses = 50 MB total) down to 15 MB total for all users. All of my former email addresses are being involuntarily consolidated into one address, which I have to manually reset for each sub-account. Plus we get spam every three days that says

"You're going to see some exciting changes as a Comcast High-Speed Internet customer!" and "We hope you'll give us a chance. Because in the end, we know we can change the way you think about your cable company. And we're not just saying that. We're going to prove it."

That underlined blue text isn't a link; it's just underlined blue text. Annoying. [Editor's note: Sorry, but the unserlined blue text didn't survive as underlined or blue in my plain text email client.]

The part of the transition being played correctly is that, unlike the previous "change in leadership," we're getting several months notice that our old accounts will be changing from attbi.com to comcast.net (including all the links inside all of our personal web pages), email will be forwarded to the new accounts for about a year, and Mac support seems solid, though I haven't actually made the transition yet.

We are getting 7 email accounts, but for the life of me I just can't see what all those exciting changes might be. Oh, look, another portal.

Traditionally, when you move from one location to another, your phone number changes when you move. Recently, telephone companies have started figuring out that the customers would like to keep the same phone number even when they move, and, as much as possible, they try to accomodate.

Email addresses and home page addresses are a strong part of our online identities. From the early days of the Internet, long email addresses showed you were using what was given to you at work; short email addresses meant you had some level of control over what choice you make for a username or domain.

Many people (myself included) buy domain names and redirect them to a server, which can change. Others buy hosting services or own their own servers and provide the email and web server themselves.

For most folks, however, whatever the ISP says is what you use.

That means for many of us, including several people I know, we're facing the second domain name change and web server switch in two years, meaning our business contacts, friends, and acquaintences are all going to face bad email addresses and missing links to home pages soon. This isn't a good way to endear us to the new company, and once again I'm going to start looking at DSL and other alternatives. I'll also be rebuilding my home pages on a .Mac account, more than likely, rather than face another buyout or selloff in six months.

The good news is that this is an excellent opportunity for me to lose spammers, because when I rebuild my home pages I'll use the "jeff 'at' domain.com" format for embedded email addresses to help prevent crawlers from pulling my email addresses off of my web pages.

Talk about making lemons into lemonade....

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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