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  • A Warning to Apple Computer: First Impressions Count

    August 20th, 2005

    Imagine you heard lots of hype about a certain new product, you were tempted, and finally you took the plunge. You brought one into your home or office, or perhaps both. And then you sat back, satisfied that you’d made the right decision, at least for a short while. Then things changed. You encountered unexpected troubles, and some were not amenable to easy solution. Within a short time, you came to regret your decision.

    Sound familiar? Well, if you’re a dedicated Mac user, no doubt you’ve told your friends and family members about your enlightenment. Every time you hear about a new Windows virus, such as the worms that have affected many Windows 2000 users in recent days, you may feel emboldened that you don’t have to put up with such grief. That assumes, of course, that your office isn’t still using Windows 2000 and, if they are, failed to install a recent Microsoft patch to protect against the problem simply because such updates sometimes create more problems than they solve.

    But aren’t Macs the most reliable personal computers on the planet? Isn’t Apple’s tech support first rate? At least that’s what the reader surveys in recent years by Consumer Reports magazine show. But being the best doesn’t mean perfection has been achieved or can be achieved. And when troubles arise, you feel just as tempted to toss your Mac into the trash as the frustrated Windows user inundated with festering malware.

    So what am I getting at here?

    Well, in recent days, I’ve read troubling reports about the most recent Mac OS X security update. Now the intent of the update is certainly laudable. No operating system is perfect, and you want to make sure holes in the system are closed before they can be exploited by Internet vandals. But something appears to be wrong with this particular update. There are reports of startup problems, and 64-bit applications, such as Wolfram’s Mathematica 5.2, won’t work on a Power Mac G5. There is, fortunately, a newly released version 1.1 of the update that addresses this problem. Oh well, better late than never.

    No doubt Apple will get it right the second time out, but how could it miss such obvious problems? Mathematica is a showpiece Mac application. Apple used it to demonstrate to developers the ease of converting applications into Universal Binaries, to run on both PowerPC and Intel processors. Surely they tested the this application when they prepared that security update. How could it be otherwise?

    All right, Apple can be forgiven for one transgression of this sort. In recent years, though, there have been other problems, some more troubling than a malformed software update. Take that extended repair program involving a large number if iBooks manufactured between May 2001 and October 2003. If you experience a number of bizarre video symptoms, you are eligible for free logic board replacement. Now maybe you can understand a few week’s production of defective logic boards, but over two years worth?

    Update: And there’s more. A survey of readers of Ric Ford’s Macintouch site reveals a surprisingly large number of hardware failures involving first generation iMac G5’s. In fact, the original 20-inch iMac G5 had a 31% failure rate. Most problems involved the power supply and the CPU. This is, of course, a random survey, and it’s also true that people with problems are more apt to tell about them than people who have flawless experiences. But imagine how many first timers are among the owners of those iMacs? Sure, the problems aren’t hard to fix. Unlike most other Macs out there, this particular product line is relatively easy to repair. In fact, you can do it yourself if you are handy with a screwdriver, and obtain the proper replacement kit from Apple. It’s also true that the second generation iMac G5 seems far more reliable, so Apple clearly made some changes along the way. At the same time, a warranty extension program for the original generation product line is now in place to address video and power supply issues.

    I don’t want to be an alarmist. Sometimes it takes months for failure-prone components to actually malfunction. Last minute changes from a supplier or on a production line could cause unexpected consequences, even if the designers test everything thoroughly. All of the hardware failures were covered under warranty, but that’s a poor substitute for the inconvenience you suffer from such a failure. What happens if your Mac goes down for the count while you’re finishing a crucial project for a client? Even if you back up your data religiously, that failure might happen before you had time to generate a copy on an external drive or server.

    Yes, a Mac may be far more reliable than the competition. But Apple is at a highly critical juncture these days. Market share, for the first time in years, is on the rise. Mac switchers may not be as tolerant as you and I about buggy software updates and malfunctioning computers. Apple needs to work harder to keep those new customers. There won’t be a second chance.



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