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  • Is Your Computer Broken Again?

    September 10th, 2009

    So this plaintive refrain is repeated over and over again in two radio ads I heard this morning, while driving to the local convenience store for a cup of java. In each case, the announcer assured us that the company they were hawking would fix all that ails those boxes for modest hourly rates.

    Now these two computer shops are local. There are thousands and thousands more littering the landscape, and it certainly makes sense. After all, there are hundreds of millions of personal computers across the planet that are not located in larger businesses, where you can usually depend on your network administrators to make the necessary repairs.

    Indeed, the repair shops aren’t all for Windows PCs. Macs need repairs as well after the warranty is up, since they use the same hard drives that you find on a PC, and power supply failures occur on occasion as well.

    All well and good.

    But the resemblance between the Mac and the PC pretty much ends there. Yes, your Mac OS can get messed up too, but Apple has worked hard to clean up the installer, so upgrading to the latest and greatest version of Mac OS X only rarely gets you into trouble. When it does, absent a hardware problem (particularly defective RAM), it’s because you got a little too enthusiastic about customizing the inner workings of your system.

    However, the Windows PC, with thousands upon thousands of possible system variations, can develop far more trouble, and require far more maintenance to sort things out. This is part of Microsoft’s dilemma. Apple operates in a closed ecosystem, with only a limited number of models and possible ways to customize them at the factory. Besides, most Mac users rarely stray beyond a simple RAM upgrade, though some will tackle hard drive replacements.

    When it comes to system issues, just reinstalling ought to set things right. In fact, with Snow Leopard, Apple has pretty much given up on the Archive & Install process. If things are totally out of whack, you can wipe the drive and start with scratch, with a little help from Apple’s Migration Assistant, Time Machine or a third-party backup app. But the process, while somewhat daunting to the novice, isn’t so involved that you can’t get from start to finish all by yourself, but allow a few hours for the process.

    With Macs, there is also Apple’s Genius Bar or perhaps a third-party shop with a great service department to set things right, but I doubt that they are overworked when it comes to routine software fixes.

    With the Windows shop, considerations of simplicity may go out the window. So after the routine hardware replacements, a typical home PC is apt to require malware removal or just a general cleanup. More often than not, it’s just as simple — if that’s what you call simple — to wipe the drive and start over. It may actually cost you less to have the PC repair person restore everything rather than attempt to sort things out, although the hourly fees for the latter can be mighty tempting.

    So I can well understand why those PC repair shops are investing heavily in advertising. Indeed, the precarious state of the economy has forced more and more people to put off purchases of a new computer. They struggle to keep the old one running as long as possible, and that only creates a greater climate for things to go wrong. That’s particularly true if preventive maintenance — and that especially includes keeping malware protection software up to date under Windows — has been lackadaisical. It’s not as if you can set and forget the PC.

    Indeed, a PC shop just opened adjacent to the neighborhood UPS Store. The person advertises low-cost tuneups, and is apparently also building his own PCs that he not only sells direct, but finances himself. So you pay him weekly or monthly, and you get a brand, spanking new Windows box, along with a local place to take it if things go wrong.

    Now I don’t begrudge anyone trying to make an honest living, and if he does good work, he deserves the patronage of local PC users. On the other hand, I haven’t gone in there to see if he knows anything about Macs, or how he might feel about the matter. Certainly repairing old Macs can also deliver some solid profits too.

    Maybe I should suggest the Mac equation, in order to help him expand the business. Sure, there’s an Apple Store in the area, along with a Best Buy and third-party Apple reseller, but maybe he can undercut their repair prices. It would be good business for everyone.

    Indeed, the fact that the PC usually costs more to maintain than the Mac over the long haul is great news for these shops. But not necessarily for the end-user.

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