scholars and rogues

Welcome to the Dark Side: another PC business user defects to Mac

About two and a half years ago, when I was running my own little one-man consulting operation, Microsoft killed my computer. They did it remotely via a routine update. If you use PCs, you get these updates all the time, and usually they install automatically and there’s no real issue.

But this time something went horribly wrong. It wasted my ability to use the machine for anything other than a paperweight, and in a stunning display of destructive innovation, the software misfire actually wiped out my USB ports. I’d have been thoroughly impressed if I hadn’t been so mad.

It took me awhile to figure out what had happened. I tried to solve the problem myself and went so far as to execute two complete system resets (that is, I stripped it and did a complete reformat, reinstalling Windows and all my apps (and dealing with all the lost settings, etc.) Still hutzed.

So I finally broke down in utter despair and called Microsoft support. I spent three hours on the phone with my best new friend in Bangalore as he worked his way through the entire tech support manual. We tried everything you can think of, including another system reset. And again, nada. At that point he announced that we had done everything, and that meant that this had to be a hardware problem. Hold on, he said, while I transfer you over to HP tech support.

Great. Just great.

The HP guy said hold on. Let’s try something. (Only with an Indian accent.) Within about ten minutes he had proven conclusively that it was a software problem, after all. A few more painful minutes and he had more or less helped me fix things (although I still had quite a lot left to do in the way of re-establishing the prefs and profiles on all my software). Oh, and one of the three USB ports never came back.

Microsoft remained officially baffled. Their bafflement lacks credibility, though. A friend and colleague, whose husband is a tech guru of sorts, tracked down some forum threads that indicated I wasn’t this update’s only victim. And the sysad at my current place of employment, when I told him the story a couple of weeks ago, said yeah, that happens all the time. That’s why we never run Microsoft updates when they first release them.

I lost two days of my life to that little adventure. I had a client project due the following week, but had the crash happened the day before instead of the week before, I’d have been epically screwed. At that moment I made a decision: my next machine was going to be a Mac.

I’d been a loyal PC guy for years, preferring the flexibility, the massive array of applications and the general business-oriented seriousness of the platform. I’d gotten very good with Windows over time – I’m a problem solver by nature and dealing with Microsoft on a daily basis had honed my king-of-the-workaround skills to a razor edge. I’d snickered at the cult that fawned over Steve Jobs’s every note to the milkman.

But now there was a new concern. If I can no longer trust Microsoft not to slag my computer when important work matters are pressing on me, then it’s no longer about design. It’s no longer about cool. It’s no longer about applications or user subcultures. No. It’s now about business continuity. The Mac wasn’t a spiritual decision, it was a coherent, rational business imperative.

I didn’t get around to another computer purchase right away. I lived with the PC (although I watched it like a hawk and got got extremely cautious about installs from Redmond), and when I took a real job in 2008 I got a company Dell. But lately I’ve felt the need to get my work and private lives segregated a bit, so last Sunday I hit the Apple store in Boulder and bought a shiny new MacBook Pro.

So far I’m loving it. The learning curve still resembles a curve less than it does a vertical line, but that’s to be expected. It handles system files differently, for instance, and I’m learning a new install process. I’m a little annoyed at the VMWare Fusion folks (the app that lets you run a PC virtual machine within Mac OSX) because it never occurred to them that you might want to include at least a brief description of the steps that need to be taken to install an app on Windows. Because it is not set up to let you do so by default and you’d have to be a pretty clever little boy or girl to intuit the steps that have to be taken.

I love the coherence of the top-to-bottom integration. After years of sniping at the limitations of a closed system, I gotta tell you – it’s nice plugging something in and knowing that it’s very likely to work (VMWare notwithstanding).

Fortunately my good friend and former colleague Deborah Levinson of Nimble Partners knows everything about Macs and has been nice enough to be my own personal tech support desk this week. She’s probably already broken the record for most dumbass questions answered in a 7-day period and there are still a couple days left. Dad-in-law Frank Venturo has also been a lot of help along the way. So major thanks to them.

No, I don’t expect Apple to be perfect (my one call with their tech support so far yielded a positive outcome, but the guy on the other end of the line wasn’t what you’d call a rocket surgeon.) But I’m convinced that I have a powerful, reliable business machine. That hasn’t always been true.

13 replies »

  1. I have a similar issue with SP3. Every time I try to install it, I get a blue screen and have to uninstall it. So, basically, I do the same thing your sysad told you. Never DL a major update until it’s been out a while. Of course, I also have to contend with the ‘pecaut effect,’ which even has our IT guys baffled. Shit just goes wrong w/o explanation when I’m in the room.

  2. Brian’s succumbed as well. His little bite of the apple was paid for by his employer, but now I have an iPhone and the edict for a Mac as my next laptop is increasingly set in stone.

  3. It’s weird, I’m a little opposite of popular convention. For audio/video stuff it’s actually worth it for me to build my own PC. In the long run it will be more diverse, work faster, and be way cheaper (ie way more cheap and free plugins and software). However our home pc is taking a dump, and so is our TV. I was really thinking about buying a 27 inch iMac. The resolution is better then most HDTVs, plus I get a nice little computer out of it.

    • D: As it is, right now I have both. I have the work machine still, so I have all the opportunity I’ll ever need to make side-by-side comparisons. The main thing I don’t like right now is that there isn’t a Mac version of WordPerfect, which I use a good bit. I’m going to install it on the virtual machine and see how it works in that environment. May solve all my problems right there.

  4. You have it backward – you left the darkside;) Welcome to the light of Apple. In the last 3 years we’ve converted our house to all Macs – 2 laptops and mini for the kids. The Genius Bar people at our Apple store rock, very helpful!

  5. Is your MacBook Pro the matte screen model? I’ve never actually seen one without the glass bezel. Looks cool, and enjoy your Mac!

    • As someone who abandoned Linksys routers and modems because of a singularly bad technical and customer service experience that no one I’ve talked to since could believe, I understand why your experience would drive you to leave PCs for a Mac. However, don’t delude yourself into thinking that you’ve done anything but trade one evil overlord for another. At this point there’s less than a micron’s bit of difference between the anti-competitive practices of Apple and the anti-competitive practices of Microsoft.

      I might consider a Mac when they stop suing every single company that tries to sell a clone. Of course, that will happen about the same time the SCOTUS disallows all software patents for stuff like one click purchases, multitouch gestures, and the appearance of a user interface. In other words, never.

  6. Trust me, Sam, you haven’t been asking dumb questions — just the questions I’d expect from anyone switching from one OS to another. Besides, you’d have a hell of a long way to go before you hit the dumbest tech support call I ever had to deal with, which was from an attorney wondering why the 5.25″ disk my employer had sent him didn’t work in his 3.5″ drive. Why, he’d folded it in half and everything!

    Your story about MS bricking your computer reminds me, though, that you should be reading Macintouch regularly, especially when new system software is released. Apple updates rarely go quite so wrong, but if they do, Macintouch will be on top of reader reports about it. And always back up before you install any system updates anyway, just in case — Time Machine is your friend.

  7. Oh, Jebus – I freakin’ LOVE Time Machine. Talk about a seamless process.

    Will keep up with Macintouch – thanks for the rec. And again, thanks for knowing everything.

  8. If it were anyone but you, I’d be more upset.

    We’re upgrading to 7 one PC at at time.

    Good luck.

  9. I can’t blame you on the switch. I’m staying with win/linux because I can put together a PC for way way cheaper then the mac version. I also like being able to play games 😛

    I am of the type that doesn’t upgrade to the latest service packs or even OS (I am still on XP as vista turned out terrible and I wanted to see if win7 did the same). I also clone my complete HDD every week just in case either the drive bricks (had a seagate firmware problem last year) or something goes horrible in an update (no bad luck so far and I’ve been doing this since dos 5.0).