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Now you pay for Drivers – UMAX pioneers new price gouge

Virtual madness

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Updated A week ago scanner giant UMAX began to charge its US customers for driver updates that were previously free as a web download.

PC users expecting to get XP drivers, and Macintosh users expecting to get upgrades to Mac OS X had a shock in store. Device drivers that were previously available as a free download had been withdrawn, and users were now invited to pay for a CD-ROM version.

And this amounts to a tidy sum. In some cases, the CD package on offer tops $60. The humblest driver update for MacOS 9 is now $32. Plus shipping. Plus your state's sales tax.

Windows XP comes with support for popular UMAX scanner out of the box - but the software doesn't match the fidelity of exiting, in-house UMAX drivers - leaving loyal UMAX customers with the choice of losing functionality or paying for a CD they didn't want.

Even by the standards of today's accelerated capitalism -where everything's outsourced or contracted out - that's quite an innovation in customer relations, we mused. But when we tried to contact UMAX corporate headquarters on Friday, things got really weird. Check this out -

UMAX is based in Dallas, but it's excluded itself from all of the local business directories. It's ex-directory. Don’t look there.

UMAX has a media contacts page , which was last updated in November 2000. We rang the PR company listed, and they confirmed that they'd parted company eighteen months ago.

We rang the contact listed as UMAX's whois entry - a telephone number in Oakland, CA. - but there was no reply.

UMAX itself was getting more elusive by the second.

That left the outsourced UMAX "technical support department" - and remember, none of these folks are UMAX employees, as is the contemporary globalised fashion - but we got some interesting responses. Four calls of our six calls were blanked because we refused to offer name and address details. No one in the technical support was prepared to forward us to UMAX's corporate HQ. Posing as first-time buyers, one support rep explained to us that the policy had changed because "most of our users are on dial-up Internet" and since the drivers themselves were quite big, this was the most cost-efficient way of distributing the code, honestly.

It's hard to imagine a commercial organization as secretive and as elusive as UMAX. And we've been round the block a few times. It's virtualized itself to an extraordinary degree - it doesn't actually make anything, and it outsources everything from manufacturing to distribution to customer support to third parties. So for all intents and purposes, it may as well be a front for 'al-Qaeda. Who knows?

The sanest days are mad. Why don't you find out for yourself? ®

Update: We have made contact with UMAX US, and you can read their explanation of this cranky policy here.

It only applies to the United States: if you're a UMAX owner, look for the European website and follow the links to get your drivers for free. ®

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