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Mac users get more ISP choices

United Online, which sells low-cost Net access via the NetZero, Juno and BlueLight brands, announces its first Mac software, and broadband provider Covad expands its support.

Although Mac users have often been treated as second-class citizens by Internet service providers, they are about to have a few more choices.

United Online, which sells low-cost Internet access under the NetZero, Juno and BlueLight brands, this week announced its first software for Mac owners, a Mac OS X version of its Juno Platinum software. Meanwhile, broadband provider Covad on Wednesday announced expanded support for the Mac, with software supporting Mac OS X as well as the older Mac OS 8 and Mac OS 9 operating systems.

The moves come as Microsoft is preparing to enter the Mac market with MSN for Mac OS X, expected to be unveiled sometime in the first half of this year. Microsoft has been testing the software and said it expects the service to be comparable in features and pricing to the Windows version, with Mac-specific technical support touted as one of the key benefits.

For United Online, the Mac market represents an untapped source of potential dial-up customers. Although Macs make up only about 3 percent of computer sales, United Online CEO Mark Goldston says some estimates show that as many as 8 percent or 9 percent of home computers are Macs. The company had considered a Mac version of its software for a couple of years, but Goldston said the project had remained on the back burner until recently.

"It's just something we decided we need to get on and do," Goldston said. "The Mac people always seem to get neglected. Very few people write software for the Mac; the machines are expensive, but...we think the Mac is great."

Plus, Goldston figures Mac users should be receptive to a little value since they have to pay more for their machines. By his calculation, Mac customers could more than make up for the added cost of a Mac by using United Online's $10 a month service as compared to AOL's $23.99 offering over 36 months.

"You're saving almost $600 over the three years, which probably more than covers the premium you are paying for the Mac," Goldston said.

Covad on the other hand has had Mac-compatible service for a while, but the company did not offer specially tailored installation software or have Mac-specific support.

"In the past for Mac users, it was like a lot of what they have to do in the rest of life: They had to go out and find (the proper) software," said Eden Godsoe, director of product management for Covad.

In addition to bolstered software for the Mac, Covad is promising Mac knowledgeable tech support 24 hours a day.

Pat Hurley, a Mac user who covers the DSL market for San Diego-based consultancy TeleChoice, said there have been a fair number of Internet service providers for Mac users to choose from, but the support has often been second-rate.

"I don't think Mac users were really hurting for access before," Hurley said. But "it's good that some of these providers are coming out and offering explicit support for the Mac."

Microsoft inched into the market last year when it released a dialer program that provided limited Internet service to Mac users in 14 states where Qwest Communications provides telephone service.

America Online, which has long offered Mac support, has had a Mac OS X version of its software for some time.