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2004 Guide to Wireless Phone Plans

Monday, November 1, 2004;

Another year, another guide to wireless-phone services. What have I learned? For starters, wireless phone companies still aren't very good at offering clear, simple price plans that customers can easily grasp.

For example, why does Nextel still charge extra for caller ID and voicemail on most of its plans? Why does Verizon Wireless still offer a set of regional plans when they offer zero savings over its nationwide plans?

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I almost went blind making sense of the fine print on these plans (having to do this the same week the Red Sox won it all was no help whatsoever!). But I think the results were worth the trouble. I hope you agree. But even if you don't, show up at 2 p.m. ET today for my Web chat and tell me how we could do this better next year.

You can access the complete cell-phone guide here. Or drill down to specific providers: Cingular (includes AT&T Wireless), Nextel, Sprint PCS, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless. Also, check you my Fast Forward column on how to shop for a cell-phone plan, and read Yuki Noguchi's article on what to do with a broken wireless phone.

And if you can't make it for the Web chat, submit a question or comment early on any personal tech issue on your mind.

A Mac OS X Trojan?

Since I've talked so often about the different degrees of security provided by Windows and Mac OS X, it's interesting to see how far a well-designed piece of "malware" might spread on OS X. There seems to be one such creation out there, a worm or Trojan called "Opener." As postings on the MacInTouch Web site have revealed, it consists of a bundle of nasty programs that attempt to collect your passwords while hiding their presence. The strange thing is that some of the people who have found this thing on their Macs can't explain how it got there.

That's unsettling. From the discussion so far, it seems that Apple has one flaw to fix in the way file permissions are granted in one obscure system folder; otherwise, nothing much is clear. Opener, whatever it is, does not seem to be spreading with any speed at all, to judge by the limited number of posts -- which to me suggests that it's a Trojan horse (or, a program that a user has to be duped into installing) and not a worm (one that can spread itself without a user's consent). I hope this picture clears up soon.

Broadband Box Office

Last Tuesday, we ran a piece about Verizon's new fiber-to-the-home broadband service, offered in a new subdivision south of Dulles Airport. One paragraph in it caught my eye:

"Instead of changing channels and getting stuck with whatever is on, viewers in the future may search for shows in the same way they find Web sites. Rather than buying programming packages, television in the future may be available on an a la carte basis, said Robert Ingalls, president of Verizon Retail Markets."

Two next day, new Motion Picture Association of America president Dan Glickman came to The Post for a discussion over coffee. I asked him about the perpetually limited supply of movies available for purchase or rental as digital downloads -- is the movie industry ever going to get behind this as the record labels have (finally) done with stores like iTunes? Glickman's reply: "It's been slow." He added that he saw the studios finally showing real willingness to license their content for distribution in a way that might make Verizon's wish come true. But how soon? That's still hard to say.


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