Gartner Blog Network

Apple Myths

by Jeffrey Mann  |  February 10, 2009  |  6 Comments

Dissing anything Apple is one of the most dangerous things a blogger can do, but I feel obliged and justified. Baiting Apple fans is second only to criticizing open source as a way to generate vituperative comments. I have always had a mixed marriage imagewith my wife preferring Macs and me needing to use Windows notebooks because my employer wants  me to. Since I am the computer guy, it means that I have to figure out how to get both types of machines (and more recently my Blackberry) working on our home network, printing on our printers, etc. In the early years, the Mac always was easier. With the latest two OSX releases, I just feel like I am figuring it out twice, with the Mac a fair bit more difficult.

I am as impressed as most people are with the overall design and beauty of the Apple products. Usability is definitely suffering, however, as they get more complex and intertwined. Last week, my wife’s iBook G4 died. Apple seems to think that is a normal thing for three year computers to do, because there aren’t really many viable repair options available. By the time we replace the hard disk, and the keyboard (which has been wonky for about a year), we would have almost paid for a new machine. So that’s what we did: A brand spanking new 13 inch Macbook.

When trying to revive the old machine to get the data off, I reinstalled the OS. Now it starts fine, but when I try to start any applications, they just bounce on the dock a few times and nothing happens. No error message. Nothing to indicate that an app failing to appear is out of the ordinary. Just a little happy bouncing icon. That kind of behaviour drives me crazy. As often as not, when something goes wrong on the Mac, there is no information about what happened and no apparent place to go to fix it. On Windows machines there are all kinds of places to tweak and probe. I never know which one to use, which drives me crazy in a different way, but at least I can find a place to start fiddling. What can I do with an icon that bounces happily away, but little else?

I moved the iTunes over from a backup, and all seemed to go well. I had to re-authorize the machine to play the tunes I had bought from the iTunes Store. Slightly irritating, but I can live with that. Now about half the songs we bought pop up the authorization message (and refuse to accept the authorization), and half work fine. No idea why. We bought them all exactly the same way.

I also moved all our photos over from a backup disk. But do you think that there is a way to get iPhoto to recognize all of the libraries and albums from the other machine? Not that I could find after quite a bit of searching. It imported them all just fine, but lost all of the organization, metadata and slideshows built up over the years.

The new machine has a nifty built-in camera. Except that iChat says that this machine is not equipped with a camera. But it is. I am sure there is someplace to turn it on, but I haven’t found it yet.

We wanted to use the nifty iChat interface. But the descriptions on how to get it working are incredibly opaque. the steps involved to connect to someone else are in no way obvious. Something called Bonjour keeps popping up, but I have yet to figure out what it is or how it will help me, after about 30 minutes of looking, the limits of my patience.

I still have to figure out how to convert old AppleWorks files into a format that Office for Mac can read. I would have thought that would be a standard filter, but I’ll have to go looking for it.

I appreciate the design of the box, and the slick look of the operating system. I am also sure that I will figure out all of this stuff eventually. Please don’t offer technical solutions, as remote support is frustrating for both sides. I am also sure that Windows can be just as frustrating. I honestly really like the Mac in many ways and don’t feel that strongly about operating systems anyway. But I expected more from a system that is so praised for its usability. I have always secretly wanted to be a Mac user, so I write this diatribe with disappointment. I am sure that it is a viable alternative to Windows as a corporate desktop machine, but only because it is equally frustrating, albeit in different ways.

I have stopped muttering about how Macs are so much easier to use while trying to figure out why some obvious function isn’t working. It’s better for my mixed marriage.

Category: apple  consumerization  personal  

Tags: apple  ease-of-use  myths  ui  windows  

Jeffrey Mann
Research VP
20 years with Gartner and META Group
30 years IT industry

Jeffrey Mann is a Research VP at Gartner, covering cloud office, collaboration and social software.

Thoughts on Apple Myths

  1. When a Mac works it’s great. But when it doesn’t, well…

    Having had some similar experiences on my Mac with bouncing useless application icons, system rebuilds and lost data I know what you’re talking about. But whether that experience was any more painful then the one I went through trying to extract the mountains of spyware that had infested my previous Windows machine is debatable.

    I think Apple is less prone to having problems but not impervious. But the underlying problem is industry wide – the minute anything goes wrong the user is jettisoned into a very ugly and very expensive fix cycle. I’d be more than happy to forgo a bunch of new features in upcoming versions of Mac OS X and Windows if they’d put their attention on those issues instead.

  2. Jeffrey Mann says:

    I agree. I really am neither a PC nor a Mac. I don’t believe that Windows or Linux is better, but after too many experiences like this, Apple has lost its aura of mystical easiness.

    BTW, I think I figured out the camera problem. The diagnostics show that OSX has decided that we don’t have enough bandwidth, even though there is enough to run a webcam just fine on my Windows machine and video works fine on the Mac.
    If that is why it doesn’t work, why does iChat tell me that there is no camera on this machine rather than tell me that there is not enough bandwidth to run the camera. Grrr!

  3. Ant Allan says:

    I have a strong preference for Mac OS X over Windows. Absoulutely, Macs are not infallible, but the foibles and failings are easier to live with…

    So far, I’ve transferred stuff between machines (green iMac to Intel iMac, and the latter to MacBook Air) without any trouble… all apps, all downloaded music work fine. (Apart from one app that realised it was running on two machines where I had a licence for only one!)

    If you have problems, take your machine to the Genius Bar in an Apple Store. (Book first!) I and others have always found them very helpful.

    Although they can’t fix bad error handling in iChat! You’ll need to “Provide iChat Feedback” (in the iChat menu) to address that…

  4. […] (Windows Vista), might be less ho-hum (Windows 7), supposedly just work (MacOS X — although I disagree), or just sound really cool (Google […]

  5. Don says:

    What he is talking about here has little to do with the fact that he’s had problems – It is that the mac is so confident in their perception of being a system that “just works”, they have completely forgotten the concept of an error message that is meaningful. Additionally, they hide the tools needed to self analyze problems behind layers of prettiness that do not help solve the problem.

    Your suggestion to “go to the genius bar (BOOK FIRST!)” is one that I frequently hear from Mac users, and it always gets a chuckle. What if it is 5pm on a Sunday, and you have something due at 10am on Monday? What if *GASP* you don’t live within reach of an apple store (most of the country/world)? The answer in Windows or Linux is to fix it yourself. The Apple answer is, invariably, “hunker down and hope for help” – Alternately, it is “call third-rate phone support”.

  6. […] already find most Mac vs. PC discussions irritating (they both work, they both have problems, IMHO). But a split like this will inevitably encourage the disturbing trend that splits the world […]

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