Opening The Loop

Like many people these days, I am a SOHO operator, and generally speaking, this works well. I say generally because there are those rare occasions when the whole concept is threatened by forces way out of our control.

It all started with my computer telling me I couldn't send emails because I now had to have SMTP authentication. This had suddenly become a requirement from BT Yahoo. No problem, I naively thought at the time. Into Outlook Express I go, straight to the Accounts box, open the drop-down window to tick SMTP authentication required and, guess what, no such window came into view. It just wasn't where it was supposed to be. OK, no worries, I'll phone BT's helpline.

After a long long wait, during which I heard on numerous occasions that the Helpline was experiencing high usage (I bet it was), I finally get through to a person in BT's technical support department. I start to explain that I am running Outlook on an Apple Mac and I'm having problems

"You can't run Outlook on Apples," interrupts the technical support person. "Strange," I reply, "I've managed to for the past five years!" "No you can't, you must be mistaken." "OK, OK," I conceded, "this could go on forever. How about putting me through to somebody with broader technical experience?" "You can speak to me," came the reply. "Thanks but no thanks."

I hang-up,redial, and get through after another interminably long wait to another BT tech support person. "This is a Mac thing," they assure me, "you need to call Apple." I do this."No, it's a Microsoft thing," says Apple, "you need to call them." I do this. "Sorry," says Microsoft, "but Outlook Express is a free download for Apples, therefore we don't offer technical support." It had only taken four hours, six coffees, and ears that felt like a couple of braised lamb chops to go the full fruitless circle. Cracking the Hampton Court maze was easier than this.

OK, so I am now left to my own SOHO devices. I decide to try one more thing before disappearing to the sanctuary of the pub. I download the latest version of Outlook Express for Macs (I have to say it's precisely the same as the version I was already running, but by this stage I was ready to try anything). Download complete and I go into the Accounts section, open the drop-down for SMTP settings and glory hallelujah there was the elusive drop-down box....a quick tick and the problem was solved, and after only four hours of pressing a phone to my ears.

So was it a Mac thing or a Microsoft/Mac thing? I'll never know. What I do know is that despite the laudable ambition of BT Yahoo to cut spam mail reaching customers—which is why it wanted SMTP authentication implemented—the process of compliance took way longer than deleting my spam mail. Now that wasn't necessarily BT's fault, but it would help if service providers like BT considered Mac users more when it came to training technical support staff.

After all, none of us Mac/SOHO types wants to work in splendid isolation all the time.

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