“Have fun with your new toy.” I haven’t heard that at Christmas in a long time. I’ve heard it a lot this last week though because I just bought a new MacBook. A nearby mall on the mainland has a real Apple store, trend setting design, big crowds, lots of light and white. Very impressive. As a purchaser of a Macintosh 512k in the mid-eighties I can tell you that the feeling is going away. This week’s experience has been headaches and frustration, not ease-of-use or evangelical bliss. Sad to see the old feeling fade.
Buy a new computer and have fun filling out computer user surveys; especially for semi-geezer geeks like me.
How long have you used computers? Since 1976.
What types of computers have you used? Am I allowed to fill a few pages? Lets just take it from my first, an IBM mainframe, through the PDP series, PCs, Kaypros, Macs, Vax’s, Newton MessagePads, and do I count the chip in my cell phone that is more powerful than most of the pre-millennium equipment?
What’s your level of proficiency? Well, I was programming in Fortran and Basic before you were probably born, but since then I have happily left the coding to others.
How often do you use computers? Let me see if there’s a minute in this house when there isn’t a computer operating. Oh yeah, during a power failure we’ll take a break.
It was a power failure that precipitated this episode. I took a vacation, and while some will take vacations and leave their computers behind (like I did in the Autumn of 2010 as I walked across Scotland) I usually take my computer to stay in touch with friends, and for entertainment. I was playing a game (Civ) when the power dropped then spiked. The machine seemed fine then, but within a day it degraded to useless, unable to reliably boot to Safe Mode. Bad.
Considering that it was a five year old PowerBook G4, it had served me well; and amortized out over five years, it hadn’t cost much. Fortunately, I do regular backups, so I wasn’t afraid of losing much data or many files.
I had a need, so as soon as my mighty computer expert (Gail LaForest) confirmed that my venerable machine had fried and died, I drove over to the Apple store and bought a brand new MacBook. Their expert wanted to make sure that it would serve all of my home and business needs and that maybe looking at the cheapest one wasn’t the best idea. I pointed out that five years of their progress probably meant that the lowest end machine should have more capacity and capability than the one from 2005. They agreed.
For something over $100 or more, they offered to help migrate all of my files. Their store is on the mainland. I live on an island. The dead machine was back home and every trip costs about $20. I decided to use my local expert. Besides, it’s a Mac. How hard could it be? One of Apple’s major sales pitches began when it became easy to transfer from PC to Mac. Prior to that it was two guarded camps. Then the thaw began.
Somehow we’ve come to the point where transferring from Mac to Mac comes with a price tag. Something was lost along the way.
Hope lived because of my frequent backups, non-pirated software, and reasonable level of experience. I hoped that the new machine would be fully operational within a day or two. Monday, four days into the process, I’d reinstalled MS Office, Firefox, Apple’s iLife, and some Adobe products; but, none of my original files, emails, or photos have made the jump. I won’t worry about printer drivers for days. The installation of everything else was fine, but Adobe and some Apple software have some sort of rights issues, the same sort of thing that may be holding up the file transfers. Apple to Apple transfers shouldn’t take days and expert assistance.
One particular glitch inspired this post. One piece of Adobe software installed properly, so it said, but when I opened it, it said that my personalization information was incorrect. Serial numbers were right, it recognized my Adobe account, but it needed something else, maybe something that was on a dead machine. I couldn’t call the company. They don’t provide a phone number. I couldn’t email the company. They didn’t provide an address. I went to their online chat agents as instructed, who after 45 minutes and some bad directions got me to a screen that told me to contact an Adobe online chat agent; at which point he said something like, “So, I guess that should do it.” He’d led me in a circle. My blood pressure felt like it was rising. My face had reddened. My headache was tremendous. I stood and shouted at the world. Then I pointed typed that the use of their product is not more important than my health. I gave them my phone number and encouraged them to call me if they wanted to resolve the issue. They haven’t called. I’m not surprised.
My experience is common. My frustration is common. But, except for people how like to build their own computers and keep current on innovative operating systems, we accept spending either hundreds of dollars or days of effort to switch from one machine to another. If it doesn’t feel that way, time it. How long does it take from opening the box and firing up the computer for the first time to having everything accessed and running again? What other product that costs as much requires so much effort by the consumer?
My experience is common, but not extreme. Others have had far worse. My situation is exacerbated by some personal health issues. For someone out there, they’ve had poorer health, harder computer problems, and a greater need with less time and money to spend chasing solutions.. Yet, the companies that enable our digital lives do so by selling the potential of marvelous personalization while treating individuals impersonally.
Success breeds hubris. Empires and leaders have experienced that long enough that it was old news when the Greeks began using it in their tragedies. Our country and some of our leaders take success for granted. Organizations and corporations do too. Arrogance or too much familiarity with success can lead to acting as if everything attempted is blessed and no wrong can result. For some, it is an aspect of being human, but it is not a requirement and like any bad habit, it can be countered.
I think Apple, Adobe and others have fallen into that trap. Apple’s onsite expert sold me equipment that couldn’t be used with my new MacBook. Adobe treated me as if my problem wasn’t worth their time, which is a business model that works if you are a semi-monopoly. It is reminiscent of American car makers that tried to sell cars based on emotion and nationalism rather than by giving drivers what they wanted: quality and dependability at a reasonable price. Eventually the companies learned, or at least some of them, but the lessons only came after crisis. Now that Apple is on top in terms of market cap, I wonder if a competitor will unseat them, or if Apple will learn and change. When the customer must accommodate the company, then the balance of goods and services delivered for money received is out of balance. Curiously, Microsoft, the one company that historically made the most noise about product codes and such, is the one provider that successfully re-installed without a glitch.
My first Mac had the feel of a useful machine and the joy of a toy. This impressive MacBook has really only added two features that were lacking in the first: color photo quality graphics and internet capability. Much of the rest is bloatware. With that first one I finished my Masters in Engineering, did word processing, managed home finances, and played games. With this one I get all of that, plus a massive headache. But it looks prettier, and I guess in today’s world, that’s important.