Bugged by visions of out-of-focus jaggies and drunken crickets: David Hewson buys a new monitor and considers the attractions of wallpaper

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The Independent Online
Of all the computer industry's weasel words none is so sly as 'compatibility'. The Oxford English Dictionary defines this as 'the quality of being compatible; mutual tolerance, consistency, congruity'. If you want the computer version, just add the prefix 'in' and you are there.

I recently bought a bright, new Apple Macintosh Centris 610 and then decided it was time to upgrade the screen too.

Once Mac users had little choice; you bought Apple equipment or you looked at the wallpaper. Now there are Macs everywhere and famous PC names like Philips advertise their monitors in the Mac magazines as wonderfully Apple-compatible.

I sent for their brochure which emphasised how truly wonderfully Apple- compatible they were - and they came with stereo speakers too. So I rang someone in the mail order adverts and started to order one. Now a sure sign of maturity in an Apple Macintosh user is an ingrained neurotic suspicion that companies more used to dealing with PC users are out to get you. Just before revealing the expiry date on my credit card, I asked: 'It is compatible with an Apple Macintosh, isn't it?'

In genteel, sarf London tones, the lady at the other end of the telephone said: 'Issa computer, innit? If issa computer, sure it's compatible.' I gagged on my Horlicks then telephoned three other dealers. One took the 'issa computer, innit?' line; the second clearly thought Apple Macintosh users were sexual deviants best avoided; the third said I needed an extra interface which they did not have, but they could get real soon. What sort of interface, I asked? Well, sort of an interface interface.

I telephoned the Philips freephone customer line where a man read me the brochure he had sent me earlier and then said if I wanted more details I should telephone their technical people. The technical people appeared to be having difficulty with the clingwrap on their sarnies. I was gruffly told they could not remember the configuration of every monitor they sold and what it worked with and suggested I telephone Apple. But it's your monitor, I said, to no avail.

At this stage sensible people would have given up and gone out and bought an Apple screen instead. But for some of us there is no greater sales come-on than to have people try so resolutely to stop you possessing something. So shortly after, the monitor arrived for a total price of pounds 365. It had the wrong audio leads, the brief instructions for the pounds 30 interface - a two-quid socket converter - were printed incorrectly. The outer parts of the screen were out of focus, a grid of horizontal lines ran up and down the image whenever I scrolled and a noise rather like the song of a drunken cricket rose from the back when I switched it on.

The noise went away; everything else stayed. Like a mug I bought the right audio leads, deconstructed the incorrect details on the interface, then I rang the dealer. Ah, he said, you have on-site maintenance for a year, Philips will come and fix it. I rang Philips.

Sounds like a problem with the computer, the man said, but he promised to send me a new monitor anyway. It turned up the next day, I plugged it in, there was a squeaking noise and the screen went blank. Next day another monitor arrived. It was incredibly sharp at the edges and totally out of focus in the middle. And I still got horizontal jaggies whenever I scrolled. Philips got their 'Mac expert' to telephone me who said they had never come across anything like it. Which is odd indeed.

By chance I happened to get to the root of the problem. Unknown to the highly Apple-compatible Philips, the latest line of Centris and Quadra Macs have a 'bug' - an error in the system software that controls the screen. If you run a 16-inch monitor with these machines, the software throws up jaggy lines. Apple released a 'fix' - a piece of software to correct the error - at the beginning of October, a week or so after I bought my Centris.

My Apple dealer confirmed all this for me and, with customary kindness, said all I had to do was give him ten quid, plus VAT, plus postage, and three weeks after buying my machine I could get it working right after all.

When I had reassembled the telephone - you cannot throw this new stuff at the wall like you could the old Bakelite ones - I called Apple and talked an update disk out of them for free. Now the jaggies have gone and Philips knows why, so perhaps the company could send me my research and development fee. I might just start saving up for a PC; at least the damned monitor ought to work first time with that.

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