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Computers and Software

The Dream is Dead: Macs Don’t Always “Just Work”

05.28.07 | Permalink

Well, my two week journey into the land of Apple was brought to an abrupt end yesterday, after my brand new iMac stopped doing the one thing Macs are always supposed to do: work. I had spent the last two weeks familiarizing myself with OS X and getting the new machine tuned to my liking. I had located all the Mac equivalents to PC applications I used on a regular basis, and even found a few new ones. I had successfully imported my e-mail from an Outlook backup, transferred over my iTunes library and brought my DVD Profiler collection into Delicious Library. I had installed Windows XP using Boot Camp and successfully ran a number of PC games without issue. I was even starting to get used the close buttons being in the top left corner instead of the top right. And then the damn thing just gave out on me.

For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure it was a software issue and not a hardware thing. Here’s what happened: one day, while surfing the web in Firefox, the screen slowly dimmed from top to bottom and a message came up on the screen saying that the computer had to be restarted. Then after restarting, nothing happened, the computer was apparently dead. After unplugging it and leaving it for 10 or 15 minutes, the computer would start up again, only to have the same message come up shortly thereafter. After doing some research, I found out that I was experiencing a “kernel panic“, which is basically the Mac version of a Windows blue screen of death. Apparently kernel panics are almost never supposed to happen on a Mac; I read forum posts from people saying they had never seen one in years of using a Mac. And yet, here I was, after my first two weeks, consistently seeing one happen every 5 minutes.

I did some more reading and came up with a theory that the problem was being caused by a Logitech mouse driver. So I ripped that software out and plugged in a different mouse. The system ran smoothly for a couple hours afterwards and it seemed like the issue was gone. But then the next morning, the computer had frozen up again and simply would not boot no matter what I did.

My first instinct as a PC guy is to think it could be a virus, but I’m told there is no such thing as a Mac virus.

I suppose it could have just been bad RAM, but then why did it take two weeks to act up? The panic log seemed to indicate a memory paging error, but I also did a Mac extended hardware scan and it didn’t find any problems.

The guy at the Future Shop said it sounded like a faulty hard drive, but I don’t really buy that.

In the end, my options were either (a) exchange it for a brand new iMac and start all over again, (b) send it away to Apple and wait 2 or 3 weeks to see if they could fix it without losing my data, or (c) get my money back. Seeing as it was the last day for option (c), I decided I didn’t want to risk either of the other two options. As painful as it was, I had to part with my new Mac and accept the fact that it just wasn’t meant to be.

I’m not going to say that Macs suck and I’ll never try one again, but it’s pretty hard not to be put off by the whole ordeal. If it was a hardware thing, then it’s possible that I simply got a lemon. If it was a software issue, it could very well have been my own fault for installing some crappy shareware program or old system utility that borked the whole thing. But unless I could identify the culprit, how was I know to know it wouldn’t happen again? I really didn’t like the idea of an OS that couldn’t handle a little bit of fiddling behind the scenes, and I didn’t like the fact that once something messed it up, you had no recourse other than to reformat the entire thing. At least with a PC you can usually boot to DOS and try to recover some data or re-install Windows without losing your files.

So I guess this means my days as a Mac convert are over. Here is my short list of pros and cons that I took away from my brief stint as a Mac user:

The Good
- Compact and quiet: The iMac ran super quiet and made for less desktop clutter since the CPU is inside the monitor.
- Increased Compatibility: With an Intel processor I was able to run both Windows and Mac software quite easily using Apple’s own free Boot Camp software.
- OS X Features: There are some pretty cool features in Mac OS X… things like expose, widgets, and spotlight made my life easier. I think Windows Vista has since ripped off some of this stuff though.
- Peripherals: It came with a built-in web cam, firewire ports and a bunch of other things out of the box that my PC didn’t have.
- Enhanced Podcast Tool: Macs have the ability to make enhanced podcasts with chapter stops and pictures, but the software doesn’t exist for Windows yet.
- Delicious Library: Jim from fjetsam tipped me off on this Mac-only media cataloging program and it is amazing… movies, music, games and books all in one, and the interface is so much better than DVD Profiler.

The Bad
- Mouse Tracking: This may sound like a stupid complaint but I seriously could not get used to the mouse movement on a Mac. Despite an array of utilities aimed at fixing the problem (MouseFix, USB Overdrive, MouseZoom), I wasn’t happy with any of them.
- Home/End Key Behaviour: By default the Home and End keys do not move to the beginning and end of lines on a Mac. You can customize this in your key bindings and hack it in for certain programs, but it’s still not a system wide thing.
- GarageBand Sucks: And Adobe Audition is not currently available for the Mac.
- Limited Troubleshooting Ability: If your system dies, whether it’s a software or hardware issue, there’s not much you can do other than send it away to Apple and get them to repair it.

I guess I’ll be spending next week checking out PC system packages. Sigh. Dude, maybe I should just get a Dell.

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