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  • Why Do Others Have Problems and Not Me?

    January 1st, 2005

    Maybe it’s age, but it’s been a long time since I actually tweaked my system beyond basic setups, except when writing a book or article. While some might regard me as a perfectionist, I dislike monkeying with the system unless it’s necessary to make things work properly. I prefer to just set it and forget it.

    Among my faults, however, is the habit of seizing upon a defect and having it overwhelm other considerations. In the days when I used a CRT display, for example, I’d always notice the defects, such as a tilted picture or some geometric distortion at one part of the screen or another. Perfection was impossible, especially with a larger screen, but I’d adjust whatever I could with the on-screen menus. I’d sit back, but my eyes would constantly focus on the problem, even when I was heavily involved in more productive forms of work.

    But through it all, my Macs, printers, scanners and all the rest have given me remarkably little trouble over the years. Where others report that system upgrades through their Macs into a tizzy, I seldom encounter any trouble. Things just seem to work properly, unless there’s really a serious defect. How serious? Well, let’s take a trip back through time to the mid-1990s. I remember setting up a 9500 for the first time. After enduring the painful process of installing a memory upgrade, I turned it on for the first time, and began to get a feel for this oversized visitor to my home office. At first, it kept losing its printer settings. I traced that to a loose battery, but the other problems weren’t so simple to resolve.

    The computer constantly crashed. Several times a day, more than any other Mac I’d ever used. The culprit was the infamous System 7.5.2, one of the buggiest Mac OS versions on record. What a mess! Fortunately for Apple, I didn’t have The Mac Night Owl as a soapbox for bashing Apple in those days, or I would have given them a daily dose of venom. Yes, I was active in the AOL Macintosh forums, but I spent my time helping people, not complaining.

    The arrival of System 7.5.3 cured the worst ills, however, so I could get on with my computing life. Of course, there was that PowerBook 5300ce, part of a cursed series of laptops. I should have known things would go wrong when initial shipments were delayed because the original batteries had a tendency to smoke, and I mean literally. Later, Apple recalled these PowerBooks to fix various and sundry defects. I remember one particularly strange symptom. Some sort of substance, perhaps glue, would begin to pour from the bottom of the screen bezel after a period of use. It could make you feel you had visited the Twilight Zone, or that the system was somehow possessed. It took several trips to Apple’s service department to deal with the worst problems. I finally sold that 5300ce, and its new owner reported it made one more service visit before he passed it on to someone else.

    Since then, I have purchased and reviewed almost every model Apple has produced, and they all worked just fine, thank you. All right, there were design irritants, such as the tedious process of replacing memory in a first-generation iMac. But all in all, I was content. Very little to tweak. Things just worked for the most part. Even the initial releases of Mac OS X didn’t bother me all that much, except for the tepid performance and occasional printing glitches.

    I don’t think I have a blessed computing life. I just think that Macs are designed to operate that way, and troubleprone systems are the exceptions. However, if you spend a lot of time reading the online chatter, as I do, you’d come away with a totally different impression. Every single operating system revision, even a minor maintenance update, must be riddled with show-stopping bugs. Despite getting high praise for product reliability, it seems as if every new Apple product is flaky. Noisy fans, weird screen artifacts. You name it, and somebody has encountered it along the way.

    Of course, it’s true that people who don’t experience serious problems with their Macs just aren’t inclined to talk about it. Unless they write about the subject for a living, they prefer to spend their time getting work done, enjoying an IM session, and so on and so forth. If you have a problem, of course, you’ll shout about it from the rooftops, so the blogs are filled with reports about things that have gone wrong.

    When I visit a local client for a troubleshooting session, I usually find a solution to the problem, assuming it’s not defective hardware of course. Once the problem is dealt with, I may not make a return visit for a year or two and maybe not even then. While Windows boxes generally require frequent maintenance to exorcise the systems of virus infections and spyware, Macs usually keep on chugging along, year after year, with very little trouble.

    Yes, I know some of you are quite prepared to demonstrate that I am wrong, that Macs are extremely troubleprone. Maybe I’m just overlooking the obvious, or I’m extraordinarily lucky. But I don’t think so. I just think my Mac experiences are perfectly normal; that trouble, when it happens, is the exception. Of course, if you are encountering regular problems with your Mac, you don’t care. You want a resolution, now, no excuses. Yes, I feel for you, but I know that, in the normal course of events, most of these problems can be solved without a lot of pain. The same can’t be said for those computers that inhabit Microsoft’s “Dark Side.”



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