First of all, let me state the obvious. I work for Microsoft. Being that is the case, you can assume right away that I have a somewhat positive opinion about the company. And you would be correct. I like this company and its products. Maybe that isn't as resoundingly positive as Steve Ballmer and his statement: "I LOVE THIS COMPANY!!!", but love is such a strong feeling. For me, I can say I like this company. That still is pretty good. It is not my religion and my family comes before my job. Microsoft fits in there somewhere after those two on my list of things I love or like.
So when I you read a review from me about a competitor, you might assume right away that I am going to eventually come out on the side of Microsoft. But you would be wrong. There are many competitor’s products that I think are top-notch. I speak with my money. If I owned a company and needed a product, I would not automatically buy all Microsoft products. I would buy the best product for my company. I am not zealot or fanatic. And that is sort of what my whole experience with Apple taught me.
Years ago when the iMac G5 came out with the 20 inch flat screen, my wife was needing a new computer. She primarily uses the computer for iTunes, Web browsing, IM and Spider Solitaire.
I was traveling at the time that the new iMac came out and I was really impressed with the design. So partially as a way to get a good look at the machine myself, I went ahead and got one for my wife.
Of course, as any good geek would do, the first thing I did was open the case. What a thing of beauty this was. I have built my share of computers before and I was very impressed with the thought that went into this. Even unpacking it was a delight. The list of things that really impressed me have been lost in the mire of my mind over time, but I remember some of them like the screws were really small and yet could not be lost. Or, the way that the cable went through the hole in the stand. Or, the way that the batteries for the keyboard were very easy to find when you opened the box they came in. I mean, there were a lot of good ideas in the design of the machine and although I can’t remember them all, I do remember thinking how great a deal I felt I had made in purchasing it. Those who know me at work, or even my customers, were bound to hear me tell them about the beauty of the iMac. I really liked it.
When my wife got the computer she was amazed that I did this because of who I am, but she liked the computer. It fit nice on her desk. I bought her the Bluetooth Apple mouse and keyboard and the wireless NIC that was built-in to the motherboard. It had 1 wire coming out the back. Very smooth and pretty.
The first thing that I had to do (so that I would not feel too guilty about buying this as a Microsoft employee) was to get Virtual PC running with Windows XP on it for her. That way she could run certain programs that only ran in Windows. Over the next couple of years I had to reinstall this probably 3-4 more times since the virtual hard disk (VHD) would get corrupt somehow. It probably was my fault because of virus scanning software on the iMac or something like that, but it really did not matter that much anyways because the extra steps it took to get to Windows, were extra steps that my wife did not have to take when she was on her old computer. It rarely got used. That should have been the first sign, but there were other issues as well.
My wife’s main complaints were:
I fixed complaint number 1 by buying a Microsoft mouse. I tried to fix number 2 by showing her how to play Spider Solitaire in Virtual PC, but that wasn't successful since that took too long to start up and get to the game. Number 3 - Well, that was just going to take some time...
Overall she seemed happy for a while.
Then the hardware failed on us. It started off with the mouse not working unless we rebooted the iMac. We tried other mice. We tried reducing the number of USB devices. Nothing seemed to work.
Then the screen stopped working. It looked like I was going to have to go to the Apple store. Now, the only Apple store in the town I live in is also in the only Mall that I can't afford to shop at. This should have been a big warning sign, but it wasn't. I pull up in my mini-van and lug this 20 inch iMac around the mall until I get to the store. I got a decent number of stares.
This was my first trip to the "Genius Bar." I've talked about arrogance before on this blog. But let me tell you something... I'm smart, but I would feel really silly working at a place called the "Genius Bar". So after spending some time standing there with this large monitor, a "Genius" walks up to me and asks if I have signed in. "No", I told him. "Well if you want to get some help tonight you should." He shows me the tiny laptop on a table and I finally figure out what is needed to get signed in. My name pops up on a big screen for the whole store to see and he says: "Are you Gerod?"... Brilliant.
Turns out that the whole motherboard needed to be replaced. No charge. We'll call you when it is available. A week later, I get to lug the 20 inch computer back through the mall to my mini-van.
A little time passes and the thing wont boot at all. "Uh oh... Sounds like a power supply," I think. I know that this is not my fault since no other devices that were plugged into my UPS are experiencing any issues. Dreading the walk back through the mall, I do what any self respecting geek does when a power supply on his computer goes bad: I look on-line for a place to buy one. Tough luck there pal.
So I load the iMac back in the minivan, walk through the mall and sign in on the tiny laptop again. Soon a “Genius” comes up to me and asks if he can assist. “I think that the power supply is bad on this,” I tell him. “We’ll see about that,” the “Genius” kindly replies. He takes that back off of the computer and smells the power supply. “It doesn’t smell like it is bad…” He plugs the cord in. Nothing happens. About 5-10 minutes passes and he agrees with me. The power supply is bad. He checks their inventory and tells me that I am in luck since they have one left. He plugs the new one in. We wait. Now we smell something. After fiddling with the power supply some more, it turns out that the new one was bad as well. Oh well, it happens. I leave it there knowing the drill by now.
I come back later after everything is working again. When I leave the “Genius” tells me that there will be no charge this time, but I better get it on a surge protector. I explain to him that I purchased a brand new UPS for this machine, because of how expensive it was, when I bought it and that I don’t believe that the UPS is the problem. He tells me he understands, but that next time this happens Apple will probably have to charge me. He then mentions that if I had bought the AppleCare plan when I bought the iMac then they would continue to replace the bad parts. I tell him that I would be happy to buy AppleCare and that he should sign me up. He then tells me that you have to buy it when you buy the computer. Hmm… Well, that would have been nice to know. I leave less than a happy customer.
Just in case this happened again, I decided to buy another brand new UPS for the iMac. In my house there are never enough UPSes, you know? Turns out that it made no difference. The iMac stops working again. Knowing better than to do anything else, I drag the iMac to the “Genius Bar” again. This time my wife has had it. I mean, I had enough when I couldn’t fix it myself, but now she is tired of having the thing in the shop, plus I’m sure she is also tired of hearing me complain about having to go to the Apple store all the time.
I load the thing in the minivan again, walk though the overpriced mall, sign into the tiny laptop and wait for the next “Genius”. I then ask to speak to the manager. A nice lady asks me what the problem is. I ask her if I can get my money back. No. I ask her if there is a trade in program. No. I ask her what options I have. I am ready to sell the thing and I can’t sell it in its current condition. She tells me that they will fix it this one last time. I mention to her that she would be better off not asking me if I have AppleCare. She doesn’t. They replace the power supply again on the thing and I take it home one last time.
In the end, I sold the iMac to a college student who needed it for a Graphic Arts class. I took the money from that sale and bought a brand new Dell for my wife with a 19 inch monitor. The price that I sold the 2 year old iMac for was the same price that I bought the Dell for, so I broke even. I can’t imagine what I would get for a 2 year old Dell, and I suppose something has to be said for its resell value. But I suppose the same could be said for any high priced item as well.
It was then that I realized what I didn’t like about the whole “Apple” experience. It has an air about it that doesn’t fit with me. Now, I appreciate good service. I try my best to not go to one of the largest retail chains in the US, not because I consider myself too good for it, but because I hate waiting in line to give my money away. So I pay a little more to get better service. But, I can still get what I want there without paying too much for it. Dell computers are well built. They get deals with their partners to load a lot of software on them and I spend 2 hours uninstalling everything once I buy a computer from them, but that is my choice. If I wanted to, I could pay a little more and get a clean machine without the discounts as well. In the end I would still pay less for a machine and I would be happy with it.
This my opinion: Dell and Microsoft are like the large retail chains. (I am purposely not mentioning names here.) They deliver good products at very reasonable prices. Apple is like those stores in the mall I don’t visit. The products might be exactly the same, but you just seem to pay more.
Some zealots will say: “You get what you pay for”. But do you really? Or are you just paying more? The large thick line that used to separate the Apple PCs and the others has gotten a lot thinner now that they are on Intel hardware, now that you can load Windows on them, now that you can use Microsoft mice on them. Will you continue to pay more when the “Apple-ness” is gone? Maybe. There is a reason why the malls I don’t go to are still in business. Some people really like to shop there.
OK, I have digressed. In the end all ended well. My wife is playing Spider Solitaire again. She has her “Start” button back. Her mouse works the way she likes. She is enjoying Internet Explorer 7 and all its new features.
And someday… She will have Vista. When she asks for it J
Now if only I could get her iTunes to stop crashing. Perhaps she could use a Zune?
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