Newsletter #354 Preview: The Mac is Not a Toaster Oven

September 11th, 2006

They sometimes say that the best salesperson believes their own pitch, so maybe it is true that when Steve Jobs first touted the Mac as a computing appliance, he believed it too. Alas, the first time a Mac crashed, the famed “reality distortion field” was breeched. Everything went downhill from there.

For me, the most dreadful dose of reality happened when I finally moved my Mac universe from office to home, and installed a brand new system. Fifteen minutes later, the computer crashed. A few days later, it was infected by a virus. Yes, there have been Mac viruses over the years, and anyone who takes the statements that imply otherwise in those Mac Versus PC ads too literally may one day face an unfortunate reality check.

Indeed, despite the impression Apple wants to convey that the Mac “just works,” it’s seldom true in the real world.

In fact, I’m quite convinced that it’ll be years before personal computers reach the point of simplicity and reliability that you can just set and forget them. Of course, I can hear some of you complain now, that your Macs work just beautifully. You do all the chores you want, and nothing bad ever happens, and I’m inclined to believe that is true most of the time.

Story continued in this week’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter.

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7 Responses to “Newsletter #354 Preview: The Mac is Not a Toaster Oven”

  1. sqbate says:

    The software industry should take a time out to stabilize operating systems, applications, and hardware drivers.
    Of course, in the name of making more $$$ and the ever increasing greed of consumers, they won’t do it.

    Consider this… as we replace old technology, we introduce new problems (ex: exploding laptop).

  2. larra says:

    As soon as systems get stabalized, someone comes up with a new operating system. Then the cycle starts all over again. If these cycles are too close together, everybody suffers. So, it’s actually good thing that Vista was delayed so many times.

  3. flyingtigers says:

    It’s a big trade off. Simple systems (like a toaster) are less likely to fail. However, simple systems arent useful for solving complex problems. Compare calculator with spreadsheet application (which requires computer + operating system). Compare the old Pong video game with the video games you see today.

    Thankfully, the general reliability of subsystems within a computer keep us from experiencing crashes every hour. Just image the thousands of subsystems in your computer.

  4. Andrew says:

    The biggest cultprit of instability for both Mac and Windows platforms, in my opinion anyway, is device drivers. Whether that driver was writeen by the device manufacturer and provided on their CD or website, or was included in the operating system (sometimes written by Apple or Microsoft, sometimes still by the device manufacturer), the quality of drivers varies immensely.

    I’ll use a wireless PC card as an example. I bought a Belkin wifi PC card a year or two ago to use in both a PC laptop running Windows 2000 and a Lombard PowerBook running Panther (10.3). On the PC I had to download a newer driver from Belkin’s website because the one on the CD just wouldn’t work. With the new driver the card did exactly what it was supposed to wtihout any fuss. On the Mac, I plugged in the card and it showed up as though it was a standard built-in AirPort card, something that was never an option on the Lombard.

    From the above description you would think that the Apple experience was better, and you would be correct. Apple’s drivers were actually written by Apple for the chipset that was used in that Belkin card, which is the same one used in Apple’s own Airport Extrene cards.

    After about 8 months I lost that PC card, and still have no idea where or how, but I thought it would be a simple matter of ordering another from Belkin’s website and just picking up where I left off. WRONG!

    The new card arrived and looked exactly the same as the old one, with the same model number (though different serial number). Turns out, Belkin switched chipsets and now the tables were turned vis-a-vis the PC.

    On the PC, installation was the same as the other card. Download the driver, run the utility, connect to the internet. On the Mac, I had to hunt through Belkin’s website for the OS X driver, which was not as easy to find as the Windows driver, and when I did, I still had a very hard time getting it to work. I had to spend 20 minutes on the phone with Belkin’s tech support, something I haven’t had to do in years, and have them talk me through creating an ethernet port and then mucking around in the terminal to enable it. To make matters worse, no longer can I use Apple’s terrific Airport software to connect, I have to use a third-party wireless configuration utility that looks like something from a 4-year-old Linux distro instead of friendly and simple Mac OS X.

    Compared to the ugly interface of the OS X utility, the Windows utility (not even required on XP, needed on 2000) is a simple system tray icon that is actually more “Mac-Like” than the Mac utility I’m forced to use on the Lombard.

    Oh, one more thing, that Lombard never used to crash, but when I lose a wireless connection due to range or interference, sometimes the whole OS locks with it.

    If that was a persons first Mac experience they would likely think that the Mac was less stable than Windows, when in fact it is a badly written driver and nothing to do with Apple or OS X. There are more devices out there for Windows, and therefore likely to be more poorly written drivers. Laptops are even worse with all of their strange components. I have an old Toshiba Portege 4000 laptop that was very unstable under Windows XP when that OS first came out, but became extremely stable once Toshiba posted an update to the logicboard chipset driver. It brought to mind the old PowerBook 5300, which was so buggy as to almost be useless with its original System 7.5.2, but under 7.5.3 because very stable. The “PowerBook 5300 System Enabler” under System 7.5.2 was really nothing more than a device driver to allow the new system to work with the existing OS, and that driver was very poorly written indeed.

  5. John Fallon says:

    What kind of viruses are there for OS X? I knew there were trojans, but I’d not heard there were actual OS X viruses? And how did you get one?

  6. What kind of viruses are there for OS X? I knew there were trojans, but I’d not heard there were actual OS X viruses? And how did you get one?

    This was in 1989 🙂


  7. Andrew says:

    Don’t forget worms. I lost tons of files back in 1987 or so to the “Autostart Worm” that I still have no idea how I got.

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