Friday, August 20, 2010

Macs Do Not Age Well; How Come I Still Have One?

Macintosh products continue to disappoint me. Maybe this is because I expect the things I purchase to hold together for more than a couple of years. Ever notice how Apple's products are all shiny, smooth, and sleek in the showroom, but after you use them for a few months they get scratched up, grimy, and gross?

The shiny white finish on my Macbook was designed to accumulate damage. They used the softest plastic I've ever seen on a computer. Meanwhile the rubberized, matte coating around the keyboard started to chip away within a year, peeling off in strips where I rest my palms.

The keyboard absorbs fingerprints like a napkin, but I can't clean it for fear that water's going to get in the tiny cracks beneath the keys.

I run Linux on it, of course, ever since Snow Leopard came along and the Mac software I'd already paid for started asking for more money just to stay up-to-date.  It's a shame Linux didn't have this level of sophistication four years ago when I bought the thing, because I would never have bought the thing.

Recently I tried putting the Mac OS X operating system back on the Mac, though. There's a couple free-but-commercial programs I've been wanting to run that just don't function on Linux: Netflix movie streaming, for one, and the Adobe Digital Editions software which lets me borrow books from the library and read them on my Nook. I've got other (even older) computers now, so putting the Mac OS back on the Mac that I don't really use that often seemed like a logical solution.

You would think that the system-restore disk that comes with a Mac would, well, restore it to factory settings without a hitch.  It did put the operating system back on there. Then it asked me to register a bunch of personal information with Apple. I wasn't really happy about sharing it, but what the hell; it wouldn't hand over control of the system until I filled in an address, phone number, and email address. That's the price of playing with Apple, I guess.

About an hour later I booted into the shiny blue of a virgin OS X install. None of my networking hardware worked. No wireless, no ethernet, not even my bluetooth mouse would function. I had successfully turned my perfectly functional laptop into Jonathan Franzen's distraction-free isolation machine. That's pretty handy in it's way, just not what I was looking for.

So I spent a couple of hours trolling the internet for solutions to this problem. The consensus from boards and forums was that the airport card had probably gone bad, and that a trip to the Apple "Genius Bar" was the only solution. "Or," they said, "try re-installing again."  So I spent another hour repeating myself.

Strangely enough, all the networking hardware worked fine during the installs. It recognized my wifi connection and sent all my information to Apple, after all. But once I rebooted for my first proper use of the computer, all of it went wrong. Strangely, the diagnostics provided by the Apple's "System Profiler" listed all of the stuff that should be working with "failed" written beneath it, and the menu where I should have been able to enable the airport card was grayed out, stubbornly refusing to accept my clicks.

So where did this leave me? Putting Ubuntu back on the machine. This took half as long as the Mac install did, and Ubuntu detected all of my hardware by default.

I don't understand why I can get a free third party operating system to run better on this overdesigned piece of junk than the native Mac operating system, but oh well.  There were good reasons I switched away from the Mac OS last year.  And those grapes were probably sour anyway.

(And then today I realized I should be able to run Netflix through a Virtualbox install of Windows XP. Which may make this the only Macbook in Massachusetts running Windows and Linux, but not OS X.)

Further evidence of Mac Crapitude: we ended up with a secondhand iPod Touch. (It's not so much that I like gadgets, as that I can't resist getting extra use out of other people's garbage.) This thing isn't even three years old yet. Still, it wouldn't download or run any "apps" without a $5 update to its operating system, which required downloading iTunes onto a Windows PC, registering the device, and typing a bunch more personal and banking information into web-forms. This seriously took a couple of hours.

Then, two months after we got it, the touchscreen stopped responding. This thing is an iPod Touch.  Without a touchscreen, it sort of fails at its primary function.  What's next, Apple?  Cell phones that won't make calls?

At first we were able to bring the screen back by squeezing the lower right hand corner, but this only worked intermittently until it stopped working at all. Now, the screen is dead to the world.  The internet tells us it's a known problem with first generation iPod Touches; best advice is to bring it in for repair if you bought the AppleCare warrantee.

Um, not happening.  At least we can still use it as a 16GB flash drive.  Given what we paid for it, we have no right to complain.

Why this animosity towards Apple?  Two crappy devices out of two is certainly not a representative sample.  And they must be doing something right.  People buy enough of their products.

I think it's the designed-to-wear-out aspect that really pisses me off.  That one year life cycle, where their crap starts to look like crap just in time for the slightly newer crap to come to market.  They've kicked planned obsolescence to a new level, at a time when our country is less and less able to afford it.  I have co-workers who are pissed because the iPhone 4 came out, and they just bought an iPhone 3 six months ago.  They talk as if they don't have a choice about upgrading.  The Apple product cycle is something they just accept, up there with Death and Taxes.

And then there's the whole infantalism of their culture.  The cuteness of the products.  The little "i" in front of everything, as if branding should be allowed to trump grammar.  The "Genius Bars" in the Mac stores where hard working debt-saddled graduate student computer technicians are trained to be pricks.  The fact that none of their products come with a manual, but then you can go back to the Mac store and buy "The book that should have been in the box."

I mean, honestly, it's like people can't wait to line up and get slapped in the face.