Mac, and back, with knobs on

I believe it’s a popular cliche among serious enthusiasts for Mr Jobs’s products to say “once you go Mac, you’ll never go back”.

Here’s a datapoint to the contrary.

I bought a MacBook Air at the end of 2008. At the time, the GBP was at an entertaining 2:1 exchange rate with the dollar. Naturally, Apple being a bunch of thieves, the UK list price in pounds was more or less the same as the US list price in dollars. Luckily, I happened to be on a trip to the US at the time, and therefore only had to pay about GBP1000 for the thing.

It was pretty. It still is pretty. If anyone ever asks me whether or not Apple’s products are pretty, you’ll get a 100% unequivocal ‘yes’ from me.

It did various fun things that the assorted work laptops I’d owned before it couldn’t, like having an inbuilt video camera. Exciting! It’s a pity the bloody thing was so processor-intensive on the machine’s pathetic processor that Skype rarely worked, but hey – videos!

It didn’t run much software, but that’s OK – all you really need is Office and Creative Suite, which I had. And a decent browser, which admittedly wasn’t available at the time of purchase, but Chrome didn’t take too long to come out afterwards. And it’s not Apple’s fault that Office 2007 for Mac is completely unusable for anything serious (*doesn’t support macros*? ARE YOU ON DRUGS?)

Anyway. It had a very quiet life for 14 months as a personal laptop, to go alongside my personal desktop and work laptop, and occasionally being used for design work. Then it came to Australia with me to become my main computer.

ERROR. Apparently, if you go Apple, your year-old GBP1000 (or GBP1750, if I’d bought it in the Apple Shop) laptop isn’t actually up to the challenge of working as a main computer. Running an external monitor as a second desktop made it sad. Running Excel, Word, Powerpoint and Chrome at the same time made it very sad. Trying to run Skype, or anything else, on top of the above… well, it wasn’t a great success.

Around this time, it started emitting evil squealing noises whenever it’d been in operation for more than a couple of hours. I dismantled it and cleaned out the fans, which stopped the problem temporarily – but of course it recurred.

Eventually, about last October, I had no alternative but to go to the local computer shop and pay the equivalent GBP550 for a real computer. So I did. And I’m extremely happy with it – it does everything I could conceivably want, and it does it fast.

The plan was to keep the Air as a backup machine / actual notebook when lugging the Samsung wasn’t ideal (example of why lugging the Samsung isn’t ideal: it has an inbuilt numeric keypad. Awesome for Excel; not so good for fitting in luggage…). Which worked for about six weeks, until the Air developed a screen malfunction whereby about a quarter of the screen was incomprehensibly scrambled all the time. Oh, and the evil wheezing got worse, too. And the battery life had fallen to under an hour.

So I tolerated that, for a while. And then today, I saw this chap for the equivalent of GBP200. No slower than the Air at its best for basic tasks, easily portable, compatible with things – nothing not to like.

And that was it, for me and Apple. The day I realised their markups are so enormous that you can buy an excellent luggable and a decent netbook for less than the cost of their compromise machine. The day I finally decided to let the pretty go, and accept that everything else about Macs is just annoying.

I should also say – the decision was made easier because Windows 7 and Office 2010 (unlike Vista, and unlike Office XP) are *actually quite good*. I’d have considered staying with Apple for longer if the alternative were a Vista machine.

…which is all partly a long-winded way of saying:
1) No, I’m never going to buy a fucking iPhone.
2) I have quite high hopes for the Nokia/Microsoft smartphone alliance that’s just been announced. Nokia makes good hardware (and still has the best phones for use as phones), and Windows 7 shows that Microsoft is capable of making good software. That’s got to be a start.

23 thoughts on “Mac, and back, with knobs on”

  1. [I was tempted to tell you what a happy mac user I am, and how you got unlucky / rashly bought the wrong mac to do what you wanted. BUT WHO CARES. You've got rid of a computer you don't like for one you like. Good for you]

    I'm with you on the question of mark-ups – I think I read somewhere that Apple makes more profit than all the other PC and laptop manufacturers (on their PC and laptop sales) put together.

  2. I would never consider the Air to be a main computer – it's too small (hard drive etc, not screen size), not powerful enough and as you say, ridiculously expensive. I had a PowerBook though that was my main computer for 4.5 years, and I've just swapped it for a MacBook that works brilliantly and will hopefully be my main computer for the next 5 years.

  3. You had a bad experience, in that they normally last for years, which is why they're not that cheap second hand. And from the sound of it, you should have added more RAM. But there thing you haven't mentioned is this: if you want to use Microsoft apps, use a Windows computer. There are Office alternatives for the Mac but if you want MS, stick with their OS. There's a reason why they make OS X Office a bit crap…

  4. Although I do have an iPad, an iPhone, a MacBook Air (which Mrs J took one look at and has taken for her own) and an iMac, I take a strange pleasure in running Windows 7 exclusively on the latter. (The UI is now, I think, much better than OS X – the task bar and start menu makes the dock look like the early-90s bit of UI design that just won't die that it is.)

  5. Peter:
    You can't add RAM to an ('08 vintage, at least) Air.

    And yes, OK, fine – but this means "if you have a job that could vaguely be described as 'business' and you need to use a computer for work, then don't buy a Mac". Which isn't something anyone had said before I tried.

    I've used Mac (and Linux) versions of office software, and they simply don't have Office's functionality – Office:Mac is crap, but it's infinitely better than OpenOffice or iWork. Fine for writing letters to the council – not fine for writing 300 page reports, multi-sheet spreadsheets with macros, or 400-slide PPTs (don't judge me).

    Richard:
    Hehe. If I'd been feeling wealthy last October, I might have bought a Powerbook and installed Windows 7 on it. But I wasn't. That's still a possibility for the future, once Scabby Studentdom has been eradicated.

  6. Apple are well on the way to being the next Microsoft – capable of selling sub-par shit because they're the only game in town.

    The iPhone stopped looking flashy and exciting the minute _any other company_ produced a smartphone.

  7. Not that it really matters anymore but Vista is fine now and has been since SP1. Not for running on a dinky netbook, but on a reasonable spec desktop it's no trouble at all.

    One of the worst things about Macs is Entourage, the Outlook equivalent, IMO. It really is a clever strategy of Microsoft to produce appalling-but-still-better-than-the-alternatives versions of their PC software on Mac.

  8. The moral of this story is that it pays to define a set of requirements up front and stick to them. I usually throw away this list when it comes to cars but hey they are a bit more exciting than computers. On a more serious note if you need to use Macro's etc and are ahemm create 400 slide Powerpoints then a Windows device is the way to go. If you like everything to be integrated and work without fiddling around then the Mac OS X route is probably the right path for you. I don't dare your hopes on the Nokia/Microsoft tie up as the market is moving too fast and bioth companies don't have a great track record for keeping up and they're no longer the thought and product leaders in this area.

  9. Hmm. I know it's heresy, but I'd query the Mac's "everything integrated and work without fiddling around"-ness – at least, it's not appreciably easier than Windows 7, and buggering around under the (software) hood when things get tricky is much harder.

    I'm not sticking all my hopes on the Nokia/MS tie-up, but I'm not sure you're 100% right. If Nokia and Microsoft are going to come up with a superb new offering based on Windows Phone, which incorporates Nokia's (unequivocal) excellence at making the Just A Phone part of things work well, then that could be a great success – and Nokia is still the unequivocal product leader in the mobile phone space, if not the thought leader.

  10. Dunno if that's typical for the Airs (or maybe an early adopter problem?), but my regular Macbook is 3 years old and still going strong as a do everything computer, which beats my previous non-Mac laptop. I guess you win some, you lose some.

  11. Possibly just an Air was a foolish mistake, then – at least, interesting to see everyone agrees with that.

    Sarah – don't you have problems doing your fairly-data-heavy stuff on the Mac?

  12. tl;dr: I bought a very limited computer with known trade-offs, only intended by apple to be a peripheral, mobile computer, and then tried to use it as a full-on desktop and complained when it didn't do the tasks for which it was not designed. I then bought a much cheaper laptop which makes a completely different set of trade offs and was surprised it works better for my needs.

    By the sounds of it a macbook pro would have been a better idea than the experimental '08 Air.

  13. I bought a very limited computer with known trade-offs, only intended by apple to be a peripheral, mobile computer

    The Air was marketed at the time not as a netbook but a proper computer, with similar specs (apart from its HDD size, which was never actually a problem) to the standard Macbook. I assumed a) this was true b) this is why the bloody thing cost $2000, at the time when a decent-enough desktop PC cost $500.

    The thing I bought today cost $300, and is a limited computer with known trade-offs, only intended to be a peripheral, mobile computer.

  14. @John B

    Possibly just an Air was a foolish mistake, then I didn't say that. I mean, the thing was beautiful right?

    Mine was starting to slow down when I had lots of applications running, but perked up when we upgraded to 4GB RAM. It crashed on my PhD thesis once, but I don't know whether that was the massive file size or the computer channeling my despair about m-dashes and n-dashes. My experience is that theses tend to crash computers, though, Mac or not.

  15. “once you go Mac, you’ll never go back”.

    I am not happy with this casual reference the well know racist assumption of black super sexuality and white fear. I need hardly elaborate on the implications of the racially based sexual myths,suffice to say that the Nazis had a ready explanation of the achievements of black Americans as sprinters and physical pursuits in general.

    This is the sort of insensitivity, often in the guise of flippant humour, that quietly perpetuates injustice and it should not be considered acceptable.

    Not good enough.

  16. My experience is that theses tend to crash computers, though, Mac or not.

    Damn right. My wife's thesis crashed our Amstrad PCW8256 in 1988 and I've no reason it's got any better. IME, though, they only do this 48 hours or less before deadline.

  17. Do you still have it and can I try an punch it in half now? If yould just let me do it 2 years ago this sorry tale could have been avoided.

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