Did anyone else catch the opening of the new season of 24? Did you think that 24 would have been better as a DVD rental? I watched Kiefer Sutherland's finest hours in the first two series on DVD, and I clocked an average of 43 minutes of plot twists per episode. On TV, to pad up each episode to the full hour, Fox split each episode into four or five thick slices of ads.
Analyzing those figures like an electrical engineer instead of a broadcast executive, I find a pretty poor ratio of signal to noise. Roughly three-quarters of the show's hour is substance, or "signal," but a big old chunk falls into the waste-of-time "noise" category.
I found myself looking similarly at the sudden and radical changes Verizon made last month to my DSL Internet access service by urging me to "upgrade" to the new Verizon Yahoo package. I signed up for DSL a few years ago through Verizon MSN, and I never touched the MSN portion of the deal. (I like to pick my own browser, and who needs an msn.com e-mail address?) But ever the optimist, this time I thought I'd give everything that Verizon Yahoo had to offer a spin. Many of the features turned out to be great improvements, but some were pure hype, or noise.
The twin banes of the always-on broadband experience are viruses and spyware. I have personal preferences for handling these, a couple of solid alternatives are available in the Verizon Yahoo Online Protection suite. Sure, it's a branded Computer Associates solution, not any of the commercial big names, but if someone's going to throw in protection as a perk for your monthly Internet access fee, take it and run.
Verdict: This offering is all signal, no waste or interference or noise. It's all good.
Oddly, when you make the upgrade to Verizon Yahoo, you switch to Yahoo's mail servers. If you use an offline e-mail program, such as Outlook Express, you'll need to change your incoming and outgoing POP mail servers to pick up new mail. That's a little disconcerting, but it does have dividends.
For one thing, if you happen to have a Yahoo Mail account of old (guilty as charged), you can merge the two so that you can click between your Verizon and Yahoo mailboxes when you log on to Web mail. The new offering also provides a robust Web-mail reader, including address books and a vigorous spam filtering package.
Verdict: Mostly a strong signal. A little bit of noise, but not enough to warrant earplugs.
Parental controls, mail protection, pop-up blocker
Yahoo's Mail Protection is a mixed blessing. Anyone who has a Yahoo Mail account knows that it has (and needs) an aggressive spam filtering program. But when I turned on this protection, I found that a lot of valuable mail was tagged falsely as spam. The filters even committed the cardinal sin of spam-canning messages from a domain registrar, so I lost important reminders about domain registration, earning Yahoo's spam filter a serious demerit.
Verizon Yahoo's spam blocker began introducing problems with legit pop-ups at Web sites such as the stationery designer at VistaPrint. This blocking is a nuisance, especially since I already have pop-ups blocked as a feature of Windows XP SP2.
There are some goodies in the bag, but I suspect a shrieking cat may be in there somewhere.
As for parental controls, I'm ambivalent about them--even as a parent, a former grade school teacher, and an ALA-supporting, free-speechifying library trustee. But people pay premium prices for tools that they hope will protect their children from unwanted content. If someone wants give away parental controls and you want the controls, the freebie is good thing. If you don't want them, it's nice that they aren't turned on by default.
Verdict: This set of security offerings is mixed. There are some goodies in the bag, but I suspect a shrieking cat may be in there somewhere.
One of the reasons most people who didn't grow up with AOL despise it is that AOL attempts to redefine your entire online experience as an AOL experience. I had a similar problem with the default installation of the total Verizon Yahoo package: The Verizon browser and e-mail application replace your regular programs by default. Your apps still exist but not in pride of place on Windows XP's Start menu.
Where's the uninstall button?
To add insult to injury, the Verizon Yahoo installation routine slapped a Yahoo toolbar onto Internet Explorer and ate up horizontal screen real estate by inserting a sidebar down the left edge of the window. Pfft. Where's the uninstall button?
Verdict: Noise, noise, noise. Insert earplugs.
A smattering of little extras are neither objectionable nor necessary. A Yahoo Music application offers to take over from your default media player. (The radio stations are OK, but no thanks.) There's the Yahoo Messenger with Voice chat application. (Again, no thanks. I've got Trillian.) All told, these extras aren't much to write home about.
In fact, Google Pack knocks the whole Verizon Yahoo package right off its perch. At least Google's little freeware-and-shareware collection includes a halfway decent graphics program in Picasa, along with a fun little slide-show-and-screensaver program, the global eye-candy Google Earth, and a useful tool for desktop and Internet search--not to forget a chat client for Yahoo, AOL, ICQ, and MSN Messenger services. If it weren't for Google Pack's time-limited antivirus program, I'd be reviewing that instead of Verizon Yahoo.
Verdict: In the extras department, there's blissfully little noise, but there's not much signal, either.
The changes to Verizon's DSL service from adding all these Yahoo features are skin deep. The real signal--the electronic one that carries data to and from the Net--has undergone no change at all: If you happen to be some distance from the phone company switching station, you won't get a boost to your throughput. But you will get a few welcome advantages and a few tedious setbacks.
On balance, Verizon Yahoo's enhancements aren't a runaway hit. On the "Kiefer Sutherland is Jack Bauer" scale, the online user experience doesn't earn a full 24 out of 24 points. Then again, the show 24 doesn't offer a full 24 hours of pure "signal," either. Luckily for Verizon customers now dealing with the Yahoo Verizon upgrade, overall, the noise doesn't drown out the signal.
Is Matt Lake's personal signal getting too much interference? If you think he's more noise than signal, let him have it in the feedback section below.