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Fears over Omega refund saga

By Ian Chamberlain and Chris Williams. Published: 15th Jul 2005, 23:35:05 | Permalink | Printable

Meanwhile another Omega owner says he took MicroDigital to court in 2004 and was eventually refunded

Where did my money go?An Omega owner who recently took MicroDigital to court to obtain a refund fears he may never be paid the money he is owed. Despite winning a case after receiving a broken machine, he has yet to be paid back by the hardware manufacturer, which is currently sought by bailiffs.

Whilst some MicroDigital customers say they have received a good level of after sales support from the company and various Omega users are happy with their kit, the user waiting for his refund says he can only cross his fingers.

He added, "Unfortunately if anything my case highlights that there's no point taking legal action against Microdigital as although you'll almost certainly win, they can just ignore any requirement to pay."

Despite this, Drobe has learnt that another Omega owner successfully took MicroDigital to court in April 2004 and was later refunded by the hardware manufacturer after it lost an appeal. The user, who wishes to be referred to as "Fred", says he put down a deposit on an Omega in December 2000 and later paid the full amount in April 2003 when requested to do so by a letter sent from MicroDigital. In September 2003, an Omega arrived at Fred's home despite his attempts to cancel his order after the Wakefield 2003 show in May. The machine was, however, shipped with an external modem, when advertised as having an internal modem, and also without a manual.

On powering up the computer, the Omega would crash during boot up, according to Fred, leaving a frozen display and buzzing noise from the audio output. Fred says he once managed to reach the desktop and load up familiar applications, such as Draw and Maestro, although the computer froze again minutes later. Fred wrote to MicroDigital to inform them of the hardware faults but, he claims, received no response. Requests for a refund were similarly ignored, leaving Fred to pursue legal action in December that year to force a refund.

A fortnight before the court hearing in April 2004, Fred claims he sent both his county court and MicroDigital copies of paperwork outlining his case against the company. MicroDigital acknowledged that they believed they had received this, although during the proceedings it was discovered that in fact they hadn't. After the court decided in Fred's favour, it's claimed that MicroDigital did not pay up and later appealed on the grounds that they had not been sent the paperwork that they initially said they had received. Also, during the proceedings, Fred claims MicroDigital telephoned him saying that they would collect and repair the faulty Omega. Fred turned down the offer, preferring a full refund.

The appeal court dismissed the company's argument and found again in Fred's favour. Three months later, Fred returned from a holiday to find a cheque in the post from MicroDigital for the money owed to him. The broken Omega was later collected in person by MicroDigital's managing director. Fred, a RiscPC user, describes the whole episode as stressful and says it has made him wary of buying products from other RISC OS companies.

A Dutch dealer has told us this week that he has removed MicroDigital products from his online catalogue as he has been unable to contact the Yorkshire based company to order kit. MicroDigital's website has also disappeared from the Internet, after hosting company Co-Comp suspended MicroDigital's account.

Although we were told that they are still trading from Titus Street, MicroDigital were unavailable for further comment. It's believed that the company's outspoken managing director, David Atkins, is away from the office for personal reasons.


MicroDigital coverage on drobe.co.uk Archive magazine contributed to this article.

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Oh dear - this sounds depressingly familiar.

I put down a deposit, but as it became clear that the machine was never going to be finished I eventually had to threaten court action to get my money back. All my recorded delivery letters were returned, and only a barrage of letters, e-mails and faxes threatening court action won the day.

Fortunately, you can use the on-line county court these days.

 is a RISC OS UserEddie on 16/7/05 7:05AM
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Why should the behaviour of one RISC OS company put someone off buying from others? It's depressing that people can be that illogical.

 is a RISC OS UserSimonC on 16/7/05 12:29PM
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To try and answer, in part, SimonC's question: because, in the absence of more detailed information, lots of people may suspect that the very enthusiasm for the platform may have tempted MicroDigital to bite off more than they could chew, and that the same syndrome might appear among other parties. I do not myself subscribe to this opinion. If the principals in this affair have not the decency to explain their actions, then it seems reasonable to brand them as crooks.

 is a RISC OS UserGavinWraith on 16/7/05 12:51PM
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It's depressing that people cannot empathise with what has clearly been a very stressful experience for a customer of Microdigital.

Besides, the article said that he would be wary, not that he wouldn't buy anything. In fact, when I interviewed Fred, he made it clear that he'd be quite happy to buy 'up front' from companies at the Wakefield show.

 is a RISC OS Userfylfot on 16/7/05 12:52PM
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SimonC: Initially I thought that same thing, but now I tend to understand better. The RISC OS market is a whole (even though a certain devide still exists) and different manufacturers / producers do have to deal with each other and their actions. In this sense, when one manufacturer chooses to hurt a customer, it affects the whole market.

In the end it all depends on point of view and I can understand 'Fred' losing trust, because it only demonstrates a 'breakline' within the RISC OS community. Remember this has been a stressful episode for Fred and it has damaged the image of RISC OS, because MicroDigital was / is part of it.

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 16/7/05 12:59PM
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In reply to SimonC

My experience with Microdigital followed by my experience with Vantage has made me very wary of buying in the RiscOS market.

 is a RISC OS UserEddie on 16/7/05 3:07PM
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I totally understand your caution. Unfortunately a lot of RISC OS projects seem to be based on the idea of the promise of improvements in the future, which is always going to be a risk. To be fair, many of these projects do ultimately deliver, and it can't be easy when expectations in the RISC OS market from users appears to be very high.

I suppose the answer is to either go only to companies with a good track record, or as Fred suggested, only buy products that are available and that you're willing to accept as they are.

 is a RISC OS Userflypig on 16/7/05 4:27PM
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Oddly there were good reasons to be wary from the very start.

The "announcement" at Epson in 2000 (Posters only with no person to answer questions).

Here's an exchange between Rich and me on Iconbar back in late *2000* :

rich (message #1904 - posted at 09:41, 30/11/2000; see [link]) "I gave MD a gentle prod and they say their answers are "almost finished". So, depending on how much they can give away, the answers might be just around the corner..."

ams (part of message #1905 - posted at 15:31, 3/12/2000) "But it is somewhat worrying that they themselves have not yet given definitive answers to simple questions. In order for the machine to be available in December then (at least) a prototype should have been seen outside their offices by some independant third party. Bear in mind the photo on their web site seems to an Omega displaying an ROS desktop, surely if that's the case why not let someone else see the machine in action ?"

As it happens I actually don't believe it was MD's intent to defraud anyone. I do believe they *genuinely* intended to provide a new RISC OS machine. But that having been said I do not believe for one minute that a machine *existed* in anything approaching a demonstratable state in 2000 when deposits were being taken. I figure that they probably thought getting enough money to pay for the development (or its completion) was the way to go, and that's what they did. Thing is it appears that the development was more complex and took longer than expected. In short the intention was good - but the implementation got a bit unstuck.

I believe great damage was done both to purchasers and to other RISC OS companies and to the credibility of the platform as a whole on foot of this.

Chris Williams, Ian Chamberlain and Paul Beverley deserve full credit for pursuing this story rather than as some have done and turned a blind eye.

There is no need for people to "give up" on buying RISC OS products. A little more caution is required that is all; perhaps the simple rule of thumb to be applied is *don't* take things on face value, *only* buy machines that are complete [and if not complete wait until they are, or buy a different one that *is complete*], and if someone is unprepared to show you (or independent observers) their wares - **don't buy**.

 is a RISC OS UserAMS on 16/7/05 5:13PM
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Yes, i have to confess, that the Dutch dealer mentioned in here, has done it very well to do this. I do NOT want anything to do anymore with MICRODIGITAL at all.

 is a RISC OS Userdatawave on 16/7/05 7:43PM
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AMS: I'm afraid you have a point. The platform was in a delicate state back then and although some (like you ;)) were wary of certain suspicious circumstances, most were very happy a known developer had taken the bold step in designing a totally new machine.

I agree MD genuinely intended in bringing the Omega as specced, but their ways of bringing it to market has been definitely questionable and controversial, like their dealings with the press and inquisitive customers.

"I do not believe for one minute that a machine existed in anything approaching a demonstratable state in 2000 when deposits were taken. I figure that they probably thought getting enough money to pay for the development (or its completion) was the way to go, and that's what they did."

If that turns out to be true ... At least I suspect they did manipulate the market in the interest of their own sinister needs, but in the end to no avail, as their ways provoked sufficient caution in potential customers to refrain from purchasing. Deposits were revoked and enthusiasm for the Omega calmed down, while MD themselves gradually retreated back to the shadows from whence they emerged...

"Chris Williams, Ian Chamberlain and Paul Beverley deserve full credit for pursuing this story rather than as some have done and turned a blind eye."

Agreed. Though the story isn't finished just yet...

In the mean time - roll on A9home!

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 16/7/05 9:04PM
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Unfortunately I have to agree with the negative comments with regards to MD, I paid a deposit, then sometime later was asked to pay for the machine in full as it was about to be manufactured, I paid for the machine in full and waited......

When the machine did not arrive on the agreed date I phoned MD and spoke to them asking for a delivery date they said that they could not commit them selves to a date , and it could be some months, at this point I asked for a full refund which they agree to.

After this conversation I tried phoning MD many many times and also recorded letters were returned un-opened , one of my last attempts at contacting MD I left my work telephone number and MD did leave a message on the answer phone that I would receive a refund as requested.

I dont know if the official sounding message on the answer phone at work or the idea that MD was not dealing with an individual, very quickly after that I did finally receive a full refund.

The fact the omega worked at all was quite a technical achievement it may have never delivered the fabled arm twister but it is a shame to loose someone of this technical ability from the RISC OS world.

I must admit that if MD came out with an Iyonix (which I now own) beater I would be very wary to purchase it because of the level of customer support that MD has shown.

 is a RISC OS Usertel on 17/7/05 9:35AM
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I would hate for the reputable companies in the RISC OS world to suffer because of this situation.

The Iyonix launch was a model of professionalism: Prototypes revealed to developers, then a "preview" at the Guildford show of a machine that was clearly almost finished followed by sales at the following Birmingham show from stock.

Personally I have also had nothing but impeccable service from R-Comp, Icon and Martin Wurthner (to name but three) who work to a similar policy of 'here it is, do you want to buy it?'. In fact R-Comp are not very good at taking money for their software upgrades, with many being free.

So they're not all bad, and we should support those who give good service.

 is a RISC OS UserTonyStill on 17/7/05 6:51PM
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Does anyone else see similarities between this and the PC card for the Archimedes that never was produced - from memory, the company involved (name escapes me), too, tried to do something that they weren't (in the end) able to do, and didn't intend to defraud people.

The market recovered; I'm confident it will again here.

 is a RISC OS Usertribbles2 on 17/7/05 11:13PM
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Wasn't that Mach Technology? Lots of nice looking software and hardware and a nice advert in the magazines of the day. They did produce some things, but nothing like the range of products advertised, apparently.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 18/7/05 12:43AM
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When MD first proposed the Omega at the RISC OS 2000 show, it was a Pheobe class machine (Strong ARM without restriction of slow memory, better graphics and PCI), which sounded feasible, but I treated it with caution due to the difficulties they had had getting most of the funcationilty to work with the much simpiler A7000 clone, the Mico. I had a pretty good idea that when orders were taken the hardware was still at the design state, which turned out to be correct as even a very flakey prototype wasn't seen for another 19 months until Wakefiled 2001. The early announcement was designed to styme the market for any other players and taking peoples full money ensured tided up for the years it took to get the machine out.

But what made me decide never to even contemplate the machine, was the nonsence over the ARM twister. It was obvious a Strong ARM class machine had past its day and anyone making an XScale machine with a (suitable OS) would wipe the floor with it. So this mythical ARM Twister upgrade was suddenly invented to again try to styme the market against other players, and convice people to keep their money with MD where it couldn't be spent on anything else. All the best minds in ARM hardware and software development tore holes in MDs initial explaination of how it would manage to run a 26bit OS, so they hurried announced they'd changed to to something else, but wouldn't say what - they kept sending me JC style emails "you're wrong but we can't tell you why".

The final straw was when the Iyonix was launched and after months of silince on the progress of their own machine, MD suddenly issued a flood of news postings rubbishing the Iyonix as no more than a souped up A7000, and how their Omega/ARMTwister was superior, before dissapearing again when asked when they'd deliver. It was a desperate and sickening last ditch attempt to stop their customers jumping ship. Well, we all know how it turned out, with the Omega being years late and offering less working functionality than a Risc PC with Kinetic and ViewFinder, and nowhere near the Iyonix. The ARM Twister remains a complete fantasy, although it seems there are people that still beleive, depite it being rendered unnecessary by the availability of Adjust 32 meaning an XScale upgrade could run the OS natively, if MD were ever to deliver one.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 18/7/05 10:13AM
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This is criminal isn't it? Well reported. i hope ever dealer or individual whose ever tried to make a fast buck, fobbed off a customer, exaggerated, been less than honest or told less than the necessary information takes a long hard look at themselves in light of this.

 is a RISC OS UserAW on 18/7/05 1:19PM
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Not that I want to defend microdigital per se, but just for a little balance, remember that there are some satisfied customers and that the Omega does work ;)


 is a RISC OS UserMENTAT on 18/7/05 11:38PM
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mentat Although again to be fair, the Omega as shipped did not include many of the features detailled on the MD website (USB anyone?).

However now that the MD website has disappeared it is all a bit of a moot point.

As for the general point about the Omega killing the RISC OS market for hardware upgrades it was certainly the case for me.

I stopped upgrading our Risc PC's whilst waiting for my Omega to appear. This meant I didn't buy a second Viewfinder, 2 Blitz IDE cards and larger hard drives, more RAM, USB cards maybe a Turbo CPU upgrade or two, and gave no thought to upgrading our network cards. I also delayed upgrading software (MessPro SE to name one).

I am sure the market as a whole would have benefitted if I (and others) had carried on investing in upgrades for our RiscPCs instead of waiting for years for a faster computer that was always 'weeks away' from full production.

At least it seems to have brought a bit of realism back into the market; 'show us the debugged marketable product and we'll show you our money......' seems to be the order of the day now.

 is a RISC OS Userblahsnr on 19/7/05 9:30AM
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"However now that the MD website has disappeared it is all a bit of a moot point."

Not true: you *can* relive the exciting story in fast-forward by going to the Internet Archive and starting from February 1st 2001. The signal cuts out on October 22nd 2004.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 19/7/05 10:46AM
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@blahsnr: The website is still available on the the official MD domains: www.microdigital.info and www.microdigital.biz (the second linking to the first and to MDE).

 is a RISC OS UserJGZimmerle on 19/7/05 10:53PM
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