- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

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 recycling the power to both the cable modem and the wireless device did the trick.
Then, I asked her if it had stopped raining where she was.
You see, Linksys, the company that makes the router I'm using, has its headquarters in Irvine, Calif., and during the past couple of days that part of the world had been getting soaked.
Mary, however, didn't have a clue.
"It's not raining here," she told me. When asked where "here" was, she said Manila, capital of the Philippines.
Talk about a long-distance tech-support call.
While surprising, it's nothing unusual these days. Companies offering 24-hour tech support often re-route calls from one "call center" to another as the time changes during the day. Daytime workers, after all, are generally "fresher" than those pulling the so-called "lobster shift," and putting call centers in places such as the Philippines, 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), and as long as questions are answered, there's 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 purported 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 www.redlers.com/mellel.html.
Why would you want to get it? For one, this is a program that has the "Aqua" look and feel of most 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 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 such as spell checking and word count are standard.
Perhaps most exciting of all, according to publisher Redlex of Tel Aviv, is 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. You also can mix both styles on the same page.
Then again, the price is a killer: just under $20, soon to be $24.95, when the next revision is released, a price that isn't bad considering that Microsoft Word v.X is many times that cost.
Of course, this raises the question of whether 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 (www.dataviz.com).
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 are at www.nisus.com.

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