Dear Judi and Frank,

I've read your column since its inception. I am a Commodore 64 user but like to keep abreast of what's going on in the world of 86-bit machines.Now I have a problem. There's a very successful disk-operation system named GEOS for Commodores, marketed by Berkeley Softworks. Until recently I got customer support by telephone, letter, or a telecommunications network called Quantum Link. Although support was slow, they managed to keep up with questions and problems.

Last month they shut down all customer support except through Quantum Link. This would be acceptable except that Quantum Link is not free. We GEOS users have little recourse because we are tied to a unique operating system and most of us don't want to change.

Since when is it necessary for a customer to pay for support for any product?

Indignant CBM User

Dear Diggy,

We're afraid you're out of luck. Manufacturers aren't compelled to provide free support - only to produce products that do what's claimed. Many software makers charge fees for support services, just as Sears charges for servicing washers and TVs once the warranty expires.

Dear Frank and Judi,

For years I've been doing optical design on a Compaq Deskpro 286 computer and a program I wrote in the BASICA language. Now I'm expanding my program past the limited capacity of BASICA, so I switched to Turbo BASIC. But I test each section in BASICA prior to compiling it.

I've run into a severe problem. Randomly, the program crashes and the computer displays a message: Parity Check 2 ????. Sometimes it runs fine on the first attempt, then crashes on the second or third. Sometimes it crashes on the first attempt. But it never crashes once the program is compiled.

I talked to Turbo BASIC's maker and found them uncooperative, unhelpful, and misleading. So I switched to Microsoft's Quick BASIC, but ran into the same problem.

Visionary Hacker

Dear V. Hack,

Programmers often use a language like BASICA when they want to write programs quickly. The commands read like the kind of broken English that programmers speak. But every time anyone runs such a program, the computer has to interpret the commands into its language - and that's slow.

When program running speed is important, programmers compile their work. A program known as a compiler translates almost-English words into the hexadecimal number symbols understood only by a computer - or by fanatic programmers known as hex-heads.

Parity is jargon for a way of testing data to see if they're correct. IBM and compatible computers parity-check the data storage chips known as RAM. In English, that is, the big master program (the operating system) constantly checks memory to see if it's working.

Your parity check error shows that a paragraph stored in one memory chip changed since it was stored. This often means there's a problem with the chip.

Your difficulty with Turbo BASIC's customer support people was probably that they didn't know how to translate their technical understanding of the problem into plain English.

The message should display a number instead of the question marks shown in your letter. That number is called the `address' in memory where the error is. From your description of the problem, we can guess approximately where in memory the bad chip is.

Here's our clue: Once program sections are compiled, they occupy less memory. In your case, they're not trying to use the chip where the error occurs. When you test them interpreted, they need more memory and try to put data in your problem area. Then you get that error message.

To fix your problem, you have to replace the problem memory chip. If the computer's under warranty, talk to your dealer. If not, a competent computer servicer should know exactly which chip is bad by looking at that Parity Check number. The job should cost $50-75.

If you want to do it yourself, send us the Parity Check number (with a stamped, self-addressed envelope). Our friends at Compaq will describe the chip's location so you can replace it with a $25 chip.

Dear Judi and Frank,

I've been waiting for prices to drop for a small computer that can be expanded in the future to do CAD (Computer Assisted Design). But I must get a computer now for word processing. What's the best program? WordPerfect?

I also want to put ten-page job agreements on computer. Most of my wording is the same from job to job, but specifications change. Now, I cut and paste changes and copy it on a photocopier. I would like to cut and paste, then put the sheet in some type of optical scanner to have it re-typeset. How can this be done?

Architect

Dear Archy,

The best program for word processing depends on what you want to type. You may need the $400-500 many-featured WordPerfect. But if you don't, it may be unnecessarily expensive and cumbersome to learn.

For under $200, you can buy one of the programs by Software Publishing carried by most computer retailers. Some just word process, and others include extras like basic spreadsheet, database, or desktop publishing.

Even today's skimpiest word processing software can cut and paste (that's jargon for the ability to delete words or move them somewhere else). They all make quick work of revising your old spec sheets and printing out (or `typesetting') new ones on a computer printer. You don't need an optical character scanner for that. Thank heavens; good ones are expensive!

As a service to readers, the columnists answer questions and send a checklist of back issues if you enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope. Comparative facts about features are included in a 5,000-word special report plus chart, `Word Processor Buyer's and User's Guide.' For your copy send a $4.50 check and stamped self-addressed envelope for Report FP09 to, TBC, 4343 W Beltline Hwy, Madison WI 53711. (C) P/K Associates, Inc.