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User Experience, my Aunt Fanny - Blather, Rinse, Repeat
August 28th, 2007
09:22 am


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User Experience, my Aunt Fanny
Or similar mild oath that signifies disgust without triggering obscenity filters.

So, a while ago, I bought a pretty beefy Macintosh G5 Tower Pro machine. The idea was that somebody needed to write Power PC games for the starved Mac audience. And then Apple announced the Intel Mac line. There goes the starved Mac audience - or at least the odd cross section that wants to play games on their Mac, and are willing to upgrade to a new machine to do so.

Along the way, I bought and installed several pieces of software. Some of the software I bought on disk, some I bought through electronic distribution, what with not living in the stone age and all. The stuff I downloaded ranged from games to applications to music. You know, the fun stuff that Macs are all about.

And then came the time when the motherboard fried itself. I got it replaced right away, perhaps out of an inclination towards self-torture. Remember the chapter in the microeconomics textbook that talks about how monopolists get to charge whatever they want? Turns out, Mac G5 Pro motherboards are not priced competitively with Intel PC motherboards. Imagine that.

But I got the machine back, and it was working fine.

Until last week, when I started hearing beeps and clicks coming out of the hard drive.

I took it back to the Apple Store to get them to diagnose the problem and recover the data if they could. I got a phone call on Sunday (not even a full business day later) saying they had replaced the hard drive. Er, OK, I had authorized that, but really I wanted my data back, if possible. "Yeah, we put it on a test rack and it just beeped and clicked for a long time." Ok, fine.

So I picked up my machine, and I asked to get my dead drive back. "Um, we can't do that. It's a weird policy, but we have to return the drive." What? The drive that I came in here with, that you couldn't diagnose any better than I could, now you can't give back to me? If I wanted to send my drive to a data recovery service, you're saying I can't? That's sweet.

"Ok, how about my iTunes downloads - is there any way I can recover those?" "Yeah, click on 'report a problem' inside the iTunes store, and someone will reset your downloads so you can download them again." Again, this is a weird policy. I'm certain that it's a byzantine gerrymandered compromise between Apple and the RIAA, but I can't imagine it's accomplishing the intended goals.

And, really, let's think about the other software I purchased. I'm able to go back to everybody else's website and re-download the applications and games and the audiobooks without any hassle, it's just my music that's a needless difficulty.

So, at this point, I've clicked on "report a problem" a couple dozen times, to no avail. Sometimes I get a dialog box telling me that an error has occurred and to try again later. I've also submitted a problem report via Apple's website, which they said would be acknowledged right away via email, but I have yet to see an automatic acknowledgment email, much less a human response.

My current inclination is to reinstall as little as possible on that machine, as it's proven to be unreliable and ill-supported.

And why are there fewer games for the Mac again?

(9 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:August 28th, 2007 06:13 pm (UTC)
The idea was that somebody needed to write Power PC games for the starved Mac audience.

Still true, but PowerPC OS X. Just because I can reboot into Win XP or run it in a virtualized environment doesn't mean I want to, or will.

In fact, I often won't, because -- due to the loose connection between hardware and software on the PC side -- some slightly older PC games won't even work with today's PC graphics hardware. An example from my world: the 2003 Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and my 2006 MacBook. This craziness simply never happens on the Mac side.

I think in your shoes I would demand my old hard drive back. You paid for it, you own it, and you should get it back. That you paid for another hard drive from them -- instead of buying it somewhere else and installing it yourself -- affects that situation not at all, especially since the repair did not fall under warranty or AppleCare.
[User Picture]
Date:August 28th, 2007 06:56 pm (UTC)
I would demand my old hard drive back.

Yeah, I should have, and I was pretty close to doing that when I was in the shop - but at that point I didn't have my wellsprings of righteous fury to tap into.

I've since found "Senuti", a tool to retrieve data from my iPod, which will go a long way to recovering the podcasts and playlist information that I had accumulated within iTunes. I am relieved by this, but not entirely satisfied. My music catalog mostly lived on a network file server, but the metadata (iTunes rankings, play count, etc) was on the failed drive, it seems. With Senuti, I believe that I can extract much of that information from the iPod and reconstruct much of my library.

I suspect that there will be a few gaps, and I am currently disinclined to buy any more music from iTunes. Instead, I'll probably buy CDs from Amazon. I feel a little bit like a pawn of the RIAA in so doing, but CDs are superior media to fragile DRMed files under the iTunes purchase agreement.

As my disgust tempers with time, I'll reinstall my Python development environment and try to make a PowerPC binary version of my space golf game - I still see OS X support as a way to stick my thumb in Microsoft's eye, which is as important as ever to me.

I may even buy an Intel Mac Mini one day to help me make Intel OS X software. But I'm in substantially less of a mood to get a MacBook when my current laptop dies.
[User Picture]
Date:August 28th, 2007 07:06 pm (UTC)
I'll probably buy CDs from Amazon

Exactly my choice. I dislike iTunes for just the same reasons you do, and have therefore never bought any music from it since (as your eco textbooks probably mentioned) the world tends to give you more of what you spend money on.

CDs, which give me complete control, seem superior to me. So I rip from CD to MP3, still use iTunes as my player/ripper, and back up the library to an external drive.

As for OS X development, let me encourage that again. I spend way too much time playing chess against my MacBook and would love to spend $15 or $20 on some slick, appealing new timekiller game.

And in the event you do get a MacBook, I cheerfully recommend buying AppleCare through Amazon for two more years of hardware coverage -- at 20% less than Apple would charge for the same thing.
[User Picture]
Date:August 28th, 2007 08:21 pm (UTC)
CDs, which give me complete control, seem superior to me.

Yeah, the one thing that iTunes gives me is more of an a la carte ability to grab individual tracks that I'm interested in - I want to listen to one obscure one hit wonder from the 80s, is it worth $15 to buy the entire CD for that one track, or do I spend $.99 and then try to remember to burn the thing to a CD for archival purposes? There's not a lot of music that I've bought through iTunes, but occasionally the math seems to make sense.

I cheerfully recommend buying AppleCare through Amazon

At some point, I'll feel more comfortable with this. Right now, it feels like extortion. A mighty fine piece of hardware you've got there. Shame if something would happen to it.

Randomly - not long ago at all, Amazon got confused and sent me the wrong package. I had ordered a paperback book, I think, and got somebody else's AppleCare. Being the upstanding guy I am (and wanting my book), I muscled through Amazon's dense screen of FAQs before figuring out how to contact a human being to get a RMA. Hardware coverage was in my hands perhaps not even a month before I could have used it. So it goes.
[User Picture]
Date:August 28th, 2007 08:46 pm (UTC)
Well, $250 for AppleCare has a high value premise to me since realistically I expect hardware to fail before I want it to fail; I'm likely to replace my laptop only every three or four years, and laptops involve a lot of heat and high-cost parts like the LCD.

In the case of a thing like the hard drive, that (in my case) IBM made and Apple did not, it doesn't seem like extortion, particularly since IBM sells drives to plenty of PC manufacturers and the failure rate will be the same for them. In the case of a logic board (which Apple did make) it might seem different, although even then there are often core components that fail and which again, Apple did not make. I remember a bursting capacitor issue a few years ago that seriously hurt both Apple and Dell.
[User Picture]
Date:August 28th, 2007 09:37 pm (UTC)
Go here and read the next several strips. I just read them and couldn't help feeling like I'd read something very similar this morning....
[User Picture]
Date:August 28th, 2007 09:50 pm (UTC)

That was amusing - thanks.
[User Picture]
Date:August 28th, 2007 10:32 pm (UTC)
huh. Sorry you've had difficulties with your Mac. I've had my iBook for 4 years now and haven't had a bit of problems. I had a Performa before that, and never had any problems there. But in between, I bought a Compaq laptop and that thing never did work right. Guess every company can produce a lemon.
[User Picture]
Date:August 28th, 2007 10:46 pm (UTC)
The last four times I've had to have a machine fixed, three of them were Macs, and two of them were this G5. One was my Dell laptop, but (like Wes said), one can expect laptops to take extra abuse and fail earlier.

I imagine that I'm just unlucky, and Macs are every bit as reliable as any other off-the shelf machine, but given my poor track record, I'm awfully wary of making future purchasing decisions based on the reputation of the company over my personal experience.
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