Goggling VoIP invariably brings up a host of complaints about poor call quality, dropped call and downtime. Often, these complaints center around Vonage. Nowadays, Vonage is just another big phone company. And like most big phone companies, it has a team of sales people who know little to nothing about the technology they are selling. Some will simply just do anything to make a sale.

Up until about 3 months ago, I owned and operated a nationwide ISP/VoIP provider. One of the more dastardly tricks I saw Vonage sales people pull off was selling their service to people who didn’t have Internet service, or to people who had DSL service attached to their telco telephone service, without telling the customer that when they port (transfer) their telephone number to Vonage, the DSL service will go down. Most telephone companies will not allow DSL to ride on a phone line that does not also have dialtone (phone service) on it.

(While the major phone companies have been ordered by FCC to provide standalone DSL service, sometimes called “naked DSL,” out of the 7 or 8 telcos we dealt with, only Verizon allowed DSL service on phone lines that did not have dialtone. So, the would-be Vonage customer gets their Vonage VoIP equipment, has their number ported to Vonage, and all of a sudden they no longer have DSL or phone service.

Invariably, several times a week (and this was especially true in more rural areas, where many users simply didn’t understand Internet service), we would get calls from new Vonage customers needing broadband to make their VoIP phone service work. The conversations would go something like this:

Caller: Do you sell high-speed Internet service?

ISP: Yes, we sell DSL. Do you have a phone line with ___________(insert local phone company name)?

Caller: No.

ISP: Then I can’t get you DSL.

Caller: But I have a phone line.

ISP: With who?

Caller: I have Vonage.

At this point our sales person is stuck trying to explain to the caller that Vonage is not exactly a phone line; it is phone service that works over the Internet. They can’t use it if they don’t have Internet service and they can’t get Internet service if they don’t have a phone line–not DSL, anyway. The call usually ended with the caller mad at us.

I checked with the sales people at my old ISP a few days ago. Vonage is still doing this, and the calls from new Vonage customers who suddenly find themselves with no phone service and no Internet service after making the switch to Vonage have not slowed down a bit.

Why does Vonage continue to do this? I’m guessing that it is either lousy training or sales people striving to achieve quota’s or commissions. In any case, it is wrong and a hell of a way to do business. Perhaps somebody from Vonage can comment, explaining why they do this their customers.

Other Vonage horror stories can be found here :  http://blog.tmcnet.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/33349

Or here: http://voiptelephonyservice.blogspot.com/2006/12/reader-reviews-vonage-and-voipcom.html

Here’s one where Vonage is being sued for scamming customers: http://voiphow2.blogspot.com/2008/11/vonage-scam-or-how-2-receive-free-video.html

Bill Harrel – www.williamharrel.com

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How many times has a Web design client asked you, “Can I edit it myself?” Immediately you cringe, thinking about how hard it will be to train them to make small edits to their Website, and how easy it is for them to ruin your hard work. Well, if you use DreamWeaver and are willing to upgrade to CS4, Adobe has come up with a fairly good solution, Adobe InContext.

Changing text color from inside Internet Explorer

Changing text color from inside Internet Explorer

InContext allows you to define regions on a page within DreamWeaver that endusers and clients can then edit from Explorer or some other Web browser, and then save their edits back to the Web server. InContext is a bit of a hassle to setup-each site has to be registered at adobe.com-but once you’ve gone through all the setup steps, sure enough, the document can be edited from a browser. The best part is that only the regions you define as editable can be changed; the rest of the page is untouchable.

It works like this:

  • You define a region or regions on the page for InContext editing.
  • When you save and upload the page, DreamWeaver automatically creates 3 small files, 2 javascript files and an html file, and saves them in the Includes folder on the server.
  • You then go to the Adobe Website and register the site. If you haven’t registered a site before, you will also have register as an InContext administrator-a relatively quick and easy procedure. And, so far, it is free.
  • After you register the InContext site, you can then add users and send them invitations to edit the site using InContext. An email with instructions for accessing the InContext session from inside their browser is sent via email.
  • Now, when you or a user browse to that site and go to an editable page, all you have to do is hit Ctrl-E (Windows) or Command-E (Mac).
  • This starts the InContext session and the site can now be edited in the browser.

There are two tutorials on the Adobe Website describing this process. One for the DreamWeaver designer, or developer – http://www.adobe.com/devnet/dreamweaver/articles/getting_started_with_ice_dev.html

And one for the enduser, or “content editor” – http://www.adobe.com/devnet/dreamweaver/articles/getting_started_with_ice_eu_03.html

Depending on the role you choose on Adobe’s site for the enduser, they can make various types of edits, including:

  • Text formatting and style (the default)
  • Image insertion and management
  • Insertion and management of hyperlinks.

Pros of InContext
The best thing I can say about this solution is that it works and works fairly well. The enduser doesn’t need to have or know how to use DreamWeaver or any other Webpage design program. Nor do you need to teach your client (or employee) the intricacies of FTP and editing a page in a text editor, all the while praying that they don’t change the wrong things. Once up and running, it is pretty slick and works well.

Oh yeah, and did I mention it is free?

Cons of InContext
The three things I liked least about this solution is that: It is a bit time consuming to setup. It locks you and your client into the Adobe website and Adobe products, no matter what the future brings (I have been using Adobe products for years and don’t really see myself switching. However, I’d bet it would have been just as easy for Adobe to create javascripts that enabled InContext without registering on the Adobe Website. But then this would have made this solution relatively easy to use with any Webpage design program-it’s easy to understand why they wouldn’t want that.); Finally, InContext only works with the latest doctypes (i.e., HTML 4.01). If you have been designing sites as long as I have, you will have plenty with earlier doctypes. If so, you will have to change the doctype on every page you want to setup to use InContext.

You can find a good description of InContext on Adobe’s site at http://www.adobe.com/products/incontextediting/

An ongoing discussion of InContext can be found here: http://www.graphicrating.com/2008/10/27/adobe-incontext-editing/

Bill Harrel – www.williamharrel.com

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William Harrel's review of Aldus PageMaker from 1993

William Harrel's review of Aldus PageMaker from 1993

Anybody who has been into print media design for awhile will remember that Adobe InDesign used to be Aldus PageMaker (I know, technically they are not same, but InDesign was obviously developed with PageMaker code, after Adobe bought Aldus). I started using and writing about PageMaker over 20 years ago. After about Version 6.5, with each new upgrade, before actually seeing the software, I began asking myself,  “Why another release? Everything is already there?” PageMaker and InDesign are, after all, just page layout programs.

With each upgrade, however, Adobe has managed to introduce some pretty handy new features—features that caused me to sit back and ask myself, “Hmmm…  Now why didn’t I think of that?”

InDesign CS4 is no exception. As I usually do after installing newer versions of the software I use in my business, I checked out the new wiz-bang stuff to see how they work and if they can help me be more creative or productive. I found a slew of new things that are definitely going to make my life easier.

(Looking for good info on InDesign? Go here: http://indesignsecrets.com/

InDesign Goes Multimedia
Ever thought you’d be using page layout software to create interactive Flash movies? Me neither. With InDesign CS4 you can save your layouts to Flash XFL files for importing into Flash projects, or you can simply export them to ready-to-go flash SWF movies. The amazing thing is that the text elements you export from InDesign to XFL files remain fully editable in Flash. You can even create interactive buttons and hyperlinks in InDesign, that, when saved to SWF, work in Flash Player, allowing you to create some pretty snazzy interactive movies without ever opening the Flash authoring environment.

InDesign dialog box for creating interativity buttons

InDesign dialog box for creating interativity buttons

For a description of Adobe Flash’s new XFL format, go here: http://www.moock.org/blog/archives/000269.html

InDesign now allows for some fairly simple ActionScript commands, limited mostly to document navigation and hyperlinks—you won’t be making any sophisticated Flash applications in your page layout software. But then again, you don’t have to import all of your layout elements into Flash to make your documents interactive. So now any brochure, datasheet, or whatever you create in InDesign, can easily become an interactive electronic slide show. And let’s face it, laying out pages in InDesign is much easier than messing with the Flash stage, sprites and timelines.

Page Transitions
If you don’t use InDesign for anything but laying out print media, then you could care less about this feature. But nowadays, nearly all documents created for the printing press also wind up on the Web as PDFs. This feature allows you to apply some of the same transitions available in Adobe Premiere and Microsoft PowerPoint—blinds, dissolve, fade,  and so on—for export to both PDF and SWF formats. Transitions add a little more pizazz and polish when navigating from page to page in an electronic document.

Dynamic Index Cross Referencing
I’ve laid out many a booklet and book-length document in both PageMaker and InDesign. The index cross referencing feature has been helpful, but far from perfect. My biggest gripe has been that, once the index is created and placed, if you make any changes to your document, such as delete or move things around, your index is hosed—no longer accurate. You either have to manually update the index references or generate and place the index all over again.

InDesign CS4 to the rescue. The software now has the ability to update index reference page numbers as you edit and move information around in the document.  For those of us who layout long documents, this feature is going to save us a lot of time.

Smart Text Reflow
Most of us who have been doing page layout for awhile usually create and edit our text stories in Word (or some other word processor) and then import and place the story in InDesign. Invariably, though, we wind up adding text and making further edits during the layout process, causing text oversets or empty pages. This handy new feature allows you to set default settings to automatically create new pages when oversets occur and delete pages when your edits remove all the text from an existing page. You can tell InDesign where to create new pages, such as End of Page, End of Story, and End of Section.

Granted, this feature won’t eliminate the need to print composites and check them visibly for layout problems, but it could very well limit the number of composites you print, by automatically correcting problems you might otherwise miss.

Other Notable Features

 A few other handy new features in InDesign CS4 include: Conditional Text, Smart Guides, Spread Rotation and Live PreFlight. Conditional Text allows you to easily create different versions of the same documents based on the same source file. Smart Guides allow you to align, space, rotate, and resize single or multiple objects by manipulating a single guide. Spread rotation allows you to rotate a spread view without physically turning your monitor. Live PreFlight alerts you to potential layout problems, allowing you to navigate to the problem and fix it before printing composites or going to press (I opened several of my pre-CS4 documents, only to discover that my layouts don’t often conform to what InDesign considers good (or standard) layout practices.).

You can get full descriptions and demonstrations of these and other new features on Adobe’s Website at http://www.adobe.com/uk/products/indesign/features/?view=topnew.

Bill Harrel – www.williamharrel.com

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Does Voice over IP (VoIP) save you money on phone service? Absolutely. Sometimes as much as 50 percent over standard plain old telephone service (POTS) phone lines. But having bad VoIP service or excessive downtime (no service at all) will quickly eat up those savings, and could wind up costing dearly in lost business. Still, all too many companies go out and buy VoIP or hosted PBX service, only to run it on a lowly cable or DSL connection with all their other Internet traffic-and then complain and blame the VoIP provider when they have problems with their phones.

Unless your company has upwards of 3Mbps synchronous (same speeds up and down) Internet broadband, it is seldom a good idea to run your Voice over IP (VoIP) or hosted PBX phones over the same connection you use for data. Even then, you are running the risk of poor quality service, or no service at all. Face it, as reliable as Internet service has become, broadband connections still go down. With VoIP or hosted PBX systems, when you’ve got no Internet, you’ve got no phones. Slow or saturated broadband connections turn your phone conversations into jittery garbage, cause dropped calls, and can even stop your phones from working at all.

Phones and data on two separate Internet connections.

Phones and data on two separate Internet connections.

Unless you’ve got only one or a couple of workstations and IP phones, it’s just not a good idea to let your phones compete with your other Internet traffic. Why? Say, for example, that you have an average office with five workstations and five IP phones. During the normal course of business, your people are uploading and downloading email, viewing websites, connecting with a vendor’s server to place orders, and so on. (And this says nothing of the employee or two who are sneaking in a YouTube video or chatting with four or five friends and family members.) 

Your VoIP phones have to compete with all this other traffic. And when the traffic is high, call quality suffers. This is especially critical on uploads, information leaving your facility and going out to the Internet-your half of the conversation. Most broadband connections are asynchronous (different upload and download speeds, with the upload being significantly lower) and have much lower upload speeds than download speeds. Most DSL connections, for instance, cannot upload faster than 768k. This is not much bandwidth-it takes only one or two large outgoing email attachments to gobble it up. And during those email uploads, your VoIP quality can suffer.

Granted, there are routers and other devices you can buy that apply quality of service (QoS) packet prioritizing, allowing VoIP traffic to go out the broadband connection before any other data; however, on a very congested connection, these devices can’t perform miracles, and, frankly, even under the best of circumstances, except for the very best and most expensive products, they don’t really work all that well.

When the Internet connection is saturated, phone quality suffers. If the connection is too saturated, your VoIP devices won’t work at all. This can become a real problem if a server or one of the workstations starts misbehaving. For example, a computer with an email virus that shoves hundreds of emails a minute up your Internet pipe can (and usually does) take out your VoIP phone service.

We all have had our Internet connection go down, sometimes for very long periods of time. Another benefit of having two Internet connections is that, if one goes down, you can easily flop your phones onto the data line, or vice versa.

So, don’t gamble with your company’s telecommunications. Spend the extra $40 to $75 for a second DSL or cable connection to run your VoIP phones. It doesn’t have to be the fastest connection available. Since the phones won’t act up and use huge amounts of bandwidth, as computers frequently do, it is easy to determine how much bandwidth to buy. A properly-operating, 768k-up-DSL line can safely run between 10 and 15 simultaneous VoIP phone calls.

For lots of great info on VoIP, go here: http://www.voip-news.com/blog/

Bill Harrel – http://www.williamharrel.com/

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Bill Harrel coauthored this book in 1993

Bill Harrel coauthored this book in 1993

I have been writing about Adobe products for about 17 years. Adobe has always been anal about protecting their licenses and making sure they get paid for their products, but they seem to have forgotten about customer service. And that’s too bad, because those of us who work in the design field, nowadays, are pretty much relegated to Adobe products.

(BTW: Apparently, this is only one of many Adobe horror stories. The Web is full of them. Checkout the complaints at blog.dearadobe.com)

Recently, I went online to upgrade to Master Collection CS4. To avoid paying taxes and shipping, I chose the Download option. At the end of the process, a message displayed saying “We are reviewing your order. You will will receive an email within 3 hours notifying you of the order status,” or something to that effect.

Ok. Most websites just process your order and let you download your software. But this was a small annoyance. I went back to work and waited a few hours. And a few hours more… The email never came. So I called Customer service, waited on hold for some time, and then was connected with somebody some place offshore. (How do I know this? Well, yes, the accent. But I am not jumping to conclusions. Each time I called I got a different person, but each had the same accent.)

The conversation went something like this: After stating that I had been waiting several hours for an email to download the software I had purchased, and providing the order number, the Adobe rep said, “Website orders take about 24 hours.”

“Hmmm…”, I said. “The Website says within 3 hours.”

The rep responded, “No, it takes about 24 hours.”

“But, mam the Website says within 3 hours.”

“I know what the Web page says, but it takes 24 hours.”

This was getting me nowhere, so I asked that since the next day was a Saturday, would there be anybody available if I don’t get the email. All she said was, “It takes about 24 hours to get the email.”

The next day I got an email saying that my order had been “cancelled,” No explanation, just cancelled. So, I decided to wait until Monday; maybe I would get better service during regular business hours.

A cancelled order is cancelled, right? So on Monday I went back to adobe.com to place a new order. As soon as I started, a chat window came up, a rep asking me if he could help. I told him I was ordering Master Collection CS4. He said, “I can help you with that.”

Now we’re getting somewhere, I thought. I typed, “So now what?” He typed back, “Go ahead and place your order and tell me when you are done.”

So that’s what I did, using the same debit card I used for the first order. Then, in the chat box I typed “done.” He asked me for the order number.

Hey, I thought, This is great, he is gonna process this order for me while I wait. He asked for the order amount, then typed, “Ok, got it. Anything else I can help you with?”

Hmmm… I typed, “Now what?” He responded, “Is there anything else I can help your with?” I said, “When can I download the software?”

“Did you get the email?”, he asked. I checked. Yes, I got another email telling me that I would get the status of my order within 3 hours.

At this point I am wondering why he needed the order number and order amount. Must be for some kind of comission, is all I can guess. I typed, “I did this once a few days ago, and the order was cancelled with no explanation….”

He said, “I can’t help you with that. You need to call Customer Service. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Dumbfounded, I sat there a moment, debating whether going in to chat rant would help. Decided it wouldn’t, and typed, “No.” Then I called Customer Service.

On hold again. Finally the call was connected to somebody offshore. After I gave him the order number, haughtily (as though I were a deadbeat), he responded that the credit card had been declined, to which I responded that I used a debit card, and that there was plenty of money in the account.

He interrupted, “Sir? You used a debit card? We don’t take debit cards.”

Huh? Never heard that one before. I explained to him that it was a VISA debit card and worked the same as a credit card, to which he continued repeating, “We don’t take debit cards. We only take regular credit cards.” I told him that during ordering process, the option I selected was VISA Credit/Debit Card, to which he responded, “I don’t care what the Website says, we don’t take debit cards.”

Finally, giving up, I said, “Ok, so how do I buy the software?” He offered to connect me with Sales, to which I said, “And do they take debit cards?” He said, “No.”

Payment Method page in Adobe Store

Payment Method page in Adobe Store

Speechless, I sat silent for a moment, until he said, “Ok, Sir?”

I said, “No. No, it’s not ok–as far as a merchant is concerned, there is no difference between a VISA credit card and a VISA debit card. I want to speak to somebody else.”

He said he’d be right back. Then after a few minutes, he came back on the line and told me he was transferring me to his supervisor. A moment later I was listening to a voice prompt that went something like this, “There is nobody available to take your call right now. Goodbye.” Click.

I decided that maybe I didn’t really need to upgrade. I went back to work. Several hours later–far beyond the three-hour window, I received an email from the Adobe store with serial numbers and download instructions. Remember the order I placed earlier that day–the one with the same debit card? Adobe store ran the card and delivered my software…. This had nothing to do with my conversation with Customer Service. I hadn’t even told him I placed another order.

The good news is that Adobe Download Manager delivered the software without a hitch, and the serial numbers worked! Adobe made their $2,500 sale and I got my software, no thanks to Customer Service. Master Collection CS4 is very nice, with a bunch of cool new features and steller integration between all the applications. But I was ready to do without it….

Granted, Adobe pretty much has the design market cornered nowadays, but they don’t need to treat their long-time loyal customers this way–even if they are the only game in town.

There are many, many Adobe Customer Service issues posted around the Internet. Here is one from a guy like me–he was just trying to buy some software:

http://blog.digitalbackcountry.com/?p=904

Bill Harrel – www.williamharrel.com

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Did you know the major phone companies, Verizon and AT&T, owe your household and your business in excess of $2,000? It’s true. Once again, the government and big business have taken us to the cleaners.
Back in the early 1990′s, the Clinton-Gore administration made deals with the Bell companies–SBC (now AT&T), Verizon, BellSouth (now AT&T) and Quest–to wire 95 percent of all households, schools, libraries and government agencies, businesses and hospitals with fiber cable capable of at least 45Mb of Internet bandwidth and at least 500 television channels.

 

In exchange for this ambitioius undertaking, the phone companies were to receive “finacial incentives”, in the form of increased rates, decreased taxes, and several other concessions. However, by mid-2006, when 95 percent of homes and establishments in America were supposed to have fiber service, only 5 percent of the network was completed. While Verizon has finally begun in earnest deployment of its FIOS project, 2 years past the deadline, most areas of the country still do not have low-cost fiber optics Internet available.

 

A coil of fiber optics cable

A coil of fiber optics cable

 

Wikipedia has a detailed description of FIOS technology and how it works at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verizon_FiOS#Technology

Besides, Verizon’s FIOS and AT&T’s Lightspeed products are not the technologies promised by the phone company monopolies–they are slower than promised and cannot deliver 500 channels.

By 2006, the phone companies had collected approximately $206 billion in excess profits and tax breaks–over $2,000 per household and business. And this says nothing of the trillions of dollars lost in technological innovation and economic growth squandered as the result of the country not having this technology available. Since these incentatives are still in place, the amount collected and squandered is substantially higher today and climbing.

Cover of book written by Bruce Kushnick, "$200 Billion Broadband Scandal"

Cover of book written by Bruce Kushnick,

Bruce Kushnick, a phone company insider, has written an excellent book on this subject, available at:

http://www.newnetworks.com/broadbandscandals.htm

You can get an excellent synopsys of the book and the scandal on the California Internet Service Providers Association (CISPA) website at:

http://www.cispa.net/index.php?news_id=42&start=0&category_id=2&parent_id=2&arcyear=&arcmonth=

Also, as part of this agreement, the phone companies were supposed to provide open access to their fiber networks–ask the ISPs at CISPA how this is working out.

Where my fiber at!

Bill Harrel – www.williamharrel.com

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A new blog, Communications Technology Watch, was launched today, at www.commtechwatch.com. The focus of the blog is to stimulate lively debates over the state of the industries involved in all facets of communications generated on or by computers, i.e., the Internet, telecommunications and Voice Over IP (VoIP), Web design and hosting, and print media design.

The blog is moderated by William Harrel (www.williamharrel.com). Harrel has over 20 years experience in communications technology disciplines, including writing, editing, design, and as owner/operator of a large Internet service provider with customers around the World, the Internet and Web design and hosting.

Blog contributing authors include:

  • Chuck Galvin, Chief Technology Officer for GSolutionz. Inc. (www.gsolutionz.com), a large telecommunications system and VoIP solution provider based in Southern California.
  • Melissa Vaughn, Owner and Chief Designer at In2Dev (www.in2dev.com) and Honey Bee Graphics (http://www.honeybeegraphics.com). Both companies have many, many years experience designing high-end Websites and Web applications.
  • Michael Chapman, System Administrator for Aerioconnect (www.aerioconnect.com), a large nationwide ISP, and Designer/Web Master for Santa Paula Weather (www.spweather.net).
  • Paul Yoes, Chief Technology Officer for Aerioconnet (www.aerioconnect.com). Aerioconnect provides a variety of Internet access, VoIP, and Web hosting solutions.

Communications Technology Watch provides a forum for IT professionals, their clients and prospective clients, to find and discuss issues pertaining to a wide range subjects, including but not limited to:

  • Communications technology vendors and providers–the good, the bad and the ugly: industry trends, products and services, etc. Discussions includes such topics as: customer service issues, mergers and product acquisitions, must-have gadgets and software, and so on. Though this is not a site for advertising specific goods and services.
  • Internet trends, security, spam, vendors and technologies.
  • Voice Over IP trends, quality of service, vendors and technologies.
  • Web and print media design trends, hosting, prepress, printing, vendors and technologies.

While we are not a software and hardware review site, we do accept and appreciate candid descriptions of products that are useful and make life easier for people working in communications technology fields. For example, as I write this, Adobe’s CS4 versions of the company’s software packages are being released. Since so many of us rely on this suite of products to get our work done, we will be talking over the next few weeks about new features and how this software can can help us be more productive. Or, as is the case with so many new releases, how the software has made our lives miserable.

Discussions of bugs, bug fixes, workarounds and solutions to problems are also welcome.

All contributing authors have 20 years or more in their respective fields. If you are intersted in becoming a contributing author, please submit your CV to bill@williamharrel.com. Anybody can comment on blog posts and comments, after registering with the blog as a user. Your comments are not only welcome, but we encourage them.

All posts and comments will be moderated (daily) before the are posted.

Bill Harrel – www.williamharrel.com

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