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.
Categories: scholars and rogues