By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Taking a look at Windows

I love my Mac, but it doesn’t love me. I just got my iBook G3 back from Apple following its sixth repair in three years. And guess what? It’s working again, but I can no longer adjust the brightness on the screen. My three-year extended warranty expires Wednesday. I should get it back to the shop, but I don’t want to give it up again. Such are the frustrations of a longtime Mac lover.

Lately I’ve been thinking the unthinkable: The next time I upgrade — say, in six months or so — I might actually take another look at Windows. Never mind the hardware problems — I’m frustrated at the number of sites I keep running into whose multimedia features only work with Windows (MSNBC.com, for instance), or that make the experience for Mac users so painful that it’s not worth the effort (NECN.com).

How is it that WBZ-TV (Channel 4), to name just one example, can get it right? I have no trouble watching old friend Jon Keller on my iBook. For that matter, there are plenty of Mac-friendly multimedia sites, from NYTimes.com to Youtube.com. It can be done, and apparently it’s not even hard.

But as someone who’s supposed to keep up on the intersection between journalism and new media, I find it pretty frustrating when I run into a section of AOL.com or Yahoo that is restricted to Windows users.

Nor would the switch be all that difficult. I almost did it a half-dozen years ago and gave up in frustration over incompatible software. Now, though, it would be trivial. Almost every program I use these comes in two (or more) flavors, Windows and Mac: Microsoft Office, Firefox, Ecto for blog-posting, Mozilla for Web design, and, of course, Apple’s own iTunes. About the only program I use regularly that doesn’t have an exact Windows equivalent is iPhoto — and I know Adobe makes some cool consumer-level stuff for Windows customers.

Are Apple’s new MacBooks sexy? Oh, yes they are. But I’m really beginning to wonder.

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17 Comments

  1. Clyde Grubbs

    I Book is a consumer model computer, good for the money. But MacBook is pro machine, rugged and it will last a long time. I have given away a perfectly functioning Powerbook because they became after seven years obsolute relative to my needs. My wifes iBook is good, but it is needs repairs once a year. My present Powerbook is also getting old, but works fine.(Free with AppleCare, and not abnormal for a consumer machine.)

  2. Anonymous

    Dan –Please say you’re thinking switching to non-Apple hardware, not switching to MS Windows! With Apply making the switch, you might as well too, but not to MS, please.One problem with switching to Windows for those stupid websites — the “Windows Only” websites usually want you to be browsing with the unsafe MS IE browser, not FireFox under Windows. If switching FireFox “Agent” to claim it’s IE would work on Windows, it should work on Mac. If it *really* needs IE, or really needs windows, the website is very not safe, it’s doing something behind your back to your files, or is downloading real binary executable programs instead of AJAX/Java/JavaScript that lives in a security model. Insecure website: Just say no.Have you tried the Windows-emulator on MAC for those times you think you really have to have it?What part of Yahoo is Windows only? I’m browsing with FireFox on Linux, and haven’t noticed any issues.Since you were an early adopter of real shell-command ISPs, you shouln’t be afraid of trying a modern Linux desktop if you’re looking for alternatives, but serious geek cred like that is no longer required. FreeBSD/NetBSD is a closer hop too – Mac OSX is BSD Unix under the hood, on a Darwin kernel. FreeBSD & NetBSD have a different kernel and a different skin, but same guts — and there’s a choice of skins. Gnu/Linux has the Linux kernel and the Gnu stack, a little different than BSD but close — and a wide choice of skins. (There are even BSD/Linux crossovers now.) Many Linux variants also run on PowerPC — meaning Mac’s. Most have LiveCD “test run” options to try-before-install. All are Free like your FireFox. (Yes, some offer free-speech pay-beer support options too.) There are so many choices there is a website devoted to tracking them.[1]Mark Shuttleworthy, the South African billionaire astronaut’s “Ubuntu” Linux project is developing a desktop Linux for real people. The spring release (in test now) is designed for slam-dunk install on modern Intel-based laptops from the majors — IBM, HP, Dell, ??.[2] There’s even a website that automates installing the “non-free” (free beer, but copyright) add-ons to bring your desktop upto “ready to surf multimedia” readiness without geeking. [3]My wife is using Ubuntu as her primary desktop for Web, email, solitaire — it was such an upgrade from Win95 she’s got no complaints. — Bill Rreferences* [1] List of all Linux+BSD options* [2] Ubuntu * [3] Automatix for Ubuntu

  3. Anonymous

    Dan, don’t do it. If you’re still using a G3, you have no idea what you’re missing. Get a nice new Mac that runs the latest version of OSX, and don’t look back.

  4. Aaron Read

    Dan – if you’re willing, can you post a detailed “day in the life of” your iBook? Including (especially) any physical movement it goes through?It could well be that your version of “daily use” is harder than one normally expects on a laptop…and if so, switching to Windows is not going to help. Many Dell laptops, for example, are exceedingly fragile; if you must buy Dell – always get the three-year warranty and be prepared to ditch the laptop and get a new one after three years…not unlike a car lease.I personally and professionally have found that IBM Thinkpads tend to be tougher than most, although who knows if that’ll still be true under the Lenovo brand. I don’t know if the Panasonic “Toughbooks” are really as tough as they claim but I’d guess they’re pretty tough-ER than most.Also worth noting – just last week it was confirmed that a hacker successfully installed Windows on his iMac G5 with the new Intel chips. This wasn’t an emulator, it was like he was using the iMac hardware just like any PC hardware. Impressive stuff. Took some serious deep-level tinkering, though…it’s not even geekstream yet (nevermind mainstream) but I’ll bet it will be within 6-12 months.

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Aaron — An excellent suggestion. Let me give it a try.6 a.m. Remove iBook from freezer. Place inside oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.6:15 a.m. Remove from oven. It’s generally hot, so I almost always drop it on the kitchen floor at the this point.7 a.m. Read New York Times online while showering.7:30 a.m. Drive to work. I have a special bracket that lets me mount my iBook directly over the engine block so that it doesn’t get too cold.8 a.m. Arrive at office. Prop door open with iBook while I use the men’s room.8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. During this time, the iBook is safely mounted on my desk. Occasionally the display won’t look right, so I just take a hammer and pound directly to the right of the trackpad. Works every time.5 p.m. Arrive home. I might set up my computer for a few hours, or I might leave it alone. Sounds safe enough, right?10 p.m. Place iBook back in freezer for the night.Now what could possibly be the problem?Now, seriously … I have often wondered whether my use pattern is too rough for the iBook. I have never dropped it, but I do take it everywhere with me. I open and shut the flip screen a lot, since I’m transporting it a lot. And I suspect it’s been subjected to more hot and cold while sitting in my car than is good for it. That is really all I can think of.I have been told that iBooks are delicate beasties, and that PowerBooks are much tougher. I don’t know. I never had this much trouble with my gray PowerBook G3, but I definitely had *some* trouble.

  6. mike_b1

    Leaving the PC sitting in the cold car probably wouldn’t affect it, unless the solder joints on the board froze and cracked, which would take some doing. The heat could, however: electronics like cold but not heat. Turning it on and off a lot will reduce the lifespan. It’s called thermal cycling, and it’s hell on PCs.

  7. Brigid

    I feel your pain! My iBook G4 was in the shop four times between October 2005 and February 2006. My faith started to waver, but my husband, who uses a Dell, says they are no more reliable than Macs. Laptops are delicate machines that get moved around a lot, so they break.So don’t give up on Macs—just get the AppleCare warranty, back up regularly, and be nice to the folks at the Genius Bar. With all my laptop woes, the AppleCare has more than paid for itself, and when they got churlish about fixing a bad screen driver, the geniuses took my side and made them do it. I know people complain about Apple’s customer service, but I have nothing but good things to say about my local Apple Store.If you do switch to Windows, you might as well set up a swear jar to fund your children’s education. After working on a Mac, I find using Windows is like trying to walk with my shoelaces tied together. That’s why, although my husband is a Dell dude, we’re raising the kids Mac. (Also, I can steal their computer when mine breaks down.)

  8. Anonymous

    Dan, do yourself a favor and test drive a ThinkPad at Office Depot. They’re built like a tank and the keyboards rock. Plus, you can put Linux on it easily…

  9. MeTheSheeple

    I have an Acer laptop that’s died three times in 8 months. My wife has a new iBook that runs godawful slow and was more expensive.My conclusion: Computers suck.As far as the operating system goes, eh, they’re all growing closer together. I see more options with the Windows variants, both in terms of available software (even basic stuff, like OpenOffice, or a Firefox that doesn’t crash as much) and in terms of the broader availability of hardware.Computers suck.

  10. Anonymous

    Go for it Dan!You’ll be much happier with the options on a PC….you are not subject to only the “Apple ay”.BTW…As a Windows user, I’ve found NECN.com’s site troublesome as well.

  11. mike_b1

    As background, I’m an editor for a magazine that covers electronics manufacturing. By no means am I a a software expert, but those who fuss about their PCs’ slow performance should take a few fairly simple measures to improve it. 1) You should know that microprocessor speed far outstrips that of the memory devices. Load your machine with as much memory as possible, as this is where the operations get hung up. 2)Turn off (or remove) all those programs that you install, use once and forget about. These add up and bog down the system.3) Your machine should have an internal cooling fan. If it doesn’t, the board and components will get too hot and you will have problems. (Intel is working on a solution for this using lower power chips that generate less heat and also extend the battery life, another pet peeve of laptop users.) 4) Use the disk defragmenter and other such programs periodically (you can set reminders to do so, and run them overnight because they take a good while to finish), and also — very important — reimage (or have it done for you) your PC about every 6 months. As for the debate of Mac vs PC reliability, I would not rely on a handful of responses here as a guide, only because it’s completely anecdotal and is very likely not a representative sample.

  12. Anonymous

    Sex is better on a Mac. Now that I’ve got your attention – do you wonder if the Globe had a reporter on the scene for Scalia’s Boston flipoff, and if so, how come only the Herald mentioned it?

  13. Aaron Read

    LOL – I liked your “day in the life” Dan! But if you want to know where I’m coming from, ask a few of your students about what they do to their laptops. They’ll say “nothing much”. Then ask them to describe it as a “day in the life” and your jaw will probably hit the floor. Or just read http://www.computerworld.com/sharky for a few weeks for some stories about REALLY dumb computer users.A good friend of my fiances has had, ummm, “issues” with cellphones deciding not to work after she tried to take calls while in the shower. Yeah, and this is a very smart woman who makes well over six figures in the world of high finance. It’s just her expectations of what is “normal use” for electronics are a little different than most of us. 🙂

  14. MeTheSheeple

    Some electronics like to be beaten. I’ve got a 15-inch KFC flatscreen monitor that’s had problems since it was a few months old. Periodically, the display narrows up, or expands significantly far beyond the borders. Slapping it simultaneously on both the left and right sides fixes it. That’s worked for 13 years. The company’s not around any more, but the monitor is.It’s also good stress relief.

  15. Dan Kennedy

    Kentucky Fried Chicken used to make monitors?

  16. MeTheSheeple

    KFC was owned by Smile. The monitor producer reverted to the parent company’s name before both went under. I’ll offer you an invitation to slap my monitor around if you want to find out more and/or need the stress relief. 😛

  17. Brigid

    Rearding not being able to access certain sites, maybe we Mac users should speak up more. I have a small blog that covers manga, Japanese comics. Recently I complained that a new webcomics site only supported Internet Explorer. I just got an e-mail from them this morning to say that they now support Safari and Firefox on Mac OS as well. I don’t flatter myself that they did it because of me, but I do think that if enough people draw attention to the problem, a wise marketer will fix it.

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