Tag Archives: Apple Macintosh

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So much for Apple’s legendary build quality

Readers of this blog may recall that I bitched about the time it took for Apple to deliver my new MacBook recently. It was ordered on 5 February, finally arrived on 14 February – and broken on 31 March. What did I do to break it? I rested my hands on the palm rest. Is that a user error?

Seriously, I was in the pub last night with Alex and Simon (from ascomi, who are helping me work on a new version of this site) and there was a fair degree of Mac vs. PC banter going on when all of a sudden there was a crack under my right palm and I saw that part of the top cover/keyboard assembly was split at the edge. I had only had the computer in my possession for 6 weeks and have really looked after it – to say that I was not happy is a bit of an understatement. So much for Apple’s legendary build quality.

Split top cover on nearly-new MacBook after 6 weeks of light (and careful) useAs it happens, some people regard the MacBook as the ugly step child of the Apple family – I disagree (hence the reason I bought one) but I do think that it is a little pricey and for that premium pricing I do expect premium build quality. It may not be as bad as the last Dell notebook I used but it is nowhere near as good as my IBM ThinkPad T40 and I have never had a case crack through normal use (drops and inadequate protection in transit maybe).

It seems that the MacBook case crack is a common defect and, whilst Apple refuses to acknowledge it as a design fault (it seems to occur next to the small bevel that keeps the screen and keyboard apart when the MacBook is closed, suggesting that may be causing undue pressure on that part of the top case) but Brian Ford wrote about the same problem four days ago and although getting picked up by John Gruber (Daring Fireball) will have helped, last night had 144 comments on his post. On that basis, this does not appear to be an isolated issue.

Furthermore, the problem has been around for a while now and whilst some reports suggest that Apple has changed the affected component and it does not occur on new models, I see no evidence of that as my computer is less than two months old – I call that pretty new.

I phoned AppleCare as soon as they were open this morning and spoke to a really helpful guy. He asked me if I had taken out AppleCare protection (no, but I have a warranty) and then proceeded to make an appointment with an Apple “Genius” at the Apple Store (I don’t know what’s worse – Apple’s idea that their tech support guys are all geniuses or Microsoft’s idea that there are IT departments full of heroes all across the world) . When there were no slots available, I asked which store he had tried and he said “Oh, most people ask for Regent Street in London”. I said “I’d like an appointment at my local store please” and suddenly there were lots of slots free and I just needed to pick my time!

So, I set off to the Milton Keynes Apple Store, arrived a couple of minutes early, booked in, and saw my name top of the Mac queue at the Genius Bar. Then I waited, and waited, and pestered the sales staff until a (very helpful) genius called Simon came over to help. It seems that the iPod queue and the Mac queue are actually one, and that there was only one genius, who was very very busy with a lot of people to see this morning, meanwhile the shop was littered with trainers and sales staff apparently doing very little.

Thankfully, Simon the genius noted that my MacBook was in “mint” condition (although the Genius Bar Work Authorisation will only allow it to be recorded as “As New”) and there was no argument that it had been mistreated in any way. Apple will be replacing the top cover/keyboard assembly and say that it will take 5 to 7 days but why so long? It should be a 1 hour job (maximum), plus the time to obtain parts and schedule the work – so, 2 to 3 days would be more reasonable. Doubtless I will hear from support technicians who say “you try our job for a day – we work really hard” (to which I say “I’ve been there – and so do lots of people”). In the meantime, I’ll be without my MacBook for a week.

I’ve posted my picture of the issue to the Flickr group that has been set up to highlight this issue. In the meantime, if you are having similar problems, I urge you to do the same and to leave a comment on Brian Ford’s Newsvine article so that he can build enough evidence to (hopefully) get Apple to actually do something about this issue.

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MacBook Meccano

Imagine that you are the parent of two small children and a beaker of milk gets spilt very close to (and splashes over) your shiny new MacBook.

After turning it upside down, shutting it down, removing the battery and wiping away all the obvious spillage you might want to check that there is no liquid inside the machine.

If you were to find yourself in this situation, you might find the ifixit do-it-yourself instructions for Mac and iPod repair very useful (or the Apple Service Source guide for the MacBook).

If you are lucky, it may turn out that the spillage hasn’t made it past the upper cover and into the internal workings of the machine. Phew!

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Top quality service from Crucial memory – and a new Mac memory advisor tool

I’ve written before about and, yet again, I have been blown away by the competitive prices and speed of service.

In the early hours of yesterday morning I ordered 4GB of RAM for my new MacBook. With free shipping, it came to a bargain price of £72.83 (Mac:Upgrades are currently selling the equivalent Kingston RAM for £83.82). The free shipping is for an estimated 3-5 day delivery but it arrived this morning – just over 24 hours after placing the order! Mac with 4GB RAM installedA few minutes later I had the RAM installed in the MacBook.

Some people will say that you need to use OEM-specific RAM because it’s the best available. Nonsense. If third party memory was unreliable then major OEMs wouldn’t be prepared to sell it and Crucial is a division of Micron – one of the largest memory manufacturers in the world.

Most of my computers now have Crucial RAM inside and I’ve had no problems. There is only one notable exception – when I upgraded my Dell Server a few weeks back, the Dell memory was horrendously priced but they would also sell me the equivalent Kingston RAM if I wanted it. Some people have reported problems with value memory (e.g. Kingston ValueRAM) but this was the full-quality item. Ironically, I only bought from Dell to keep things simple – whilst I was waiting for the memory to be shipped the price for equivalent RAM at Crucial dropped to a lower level.

There’s one more thing I wanted to mention – Crucial now have a memory advisor tool for MacOS X. You could always browse by manufacturer to find memory for a Mac but this makes the process even simpler, querying the computer to see what model it is, how much RAM is already installed, and exactly which components to buy.

Apple Memory upgrades from Crucial

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Macworld 2008 – looking beyond the Steve Jobs reality distortion field

Before the Apple fanboys call me a hater, I’m not a PC bigot.  I’ve written here many times about how a PC is a PC, and that the MacOS X vs. Windows vs. Linux thing has gone too far, with advocates of each platform treating theirs as the one true approach to personal computing with the kind of fervour normally reserved for religious purposes.  I also like my Apple hardware and have a Mac, three iPods and an iPhone to prove it (as well as an assortment of Windows and Linux PCs), so I think I can be pretty objective in this area.

Having established my credentials, let me take a few minutes to dissect Steve Jobs’ keynote at the recent Apple Macworld conference and push aside the hype to get down to what Apple’s major announcements for 2008 really mean.

  1. As is now traditional with Macworld conferences, it started off with a PC vs. Mac advert complete with all the usual bias, lies, and claims that PC (i.e. Windows) copies the Mac in everything… hmm.  I’ve not upgraded to MacOS X 10.5 Leopard as for me it doesn’t represent a huge leap forward but I am glad though to hear that it is selling well – Apple claims 4 million copies in first 90 days making it the most successful version of OS X ever.  That’s only half the story though.  It may only have affected a minority but, from the reports I’ve heard (in the Mac-focused press), Leopard upgrades have not been without their problems (how dare users run non-Apple applications!).  And as more and more consumers switch to a Mac (I see no evidence of major businesses switching – except perhaps the odd director here and there who is senior enough to tell the IT department what he wants to use) problems with upgrades between OS releases will appear more significant.
  2. The next major announcement was Time Capsule – a companion product to Time Machine consisting of an Airport Extreme and hard drive in a single device to backup Macs wirelessly.  It sounds great, but suffers from the same problem as Windows Home Server does for PCs – support for heterogeneous networks is just not as good as it could be (and, as for Time Machine, Windows PCs have had snapshot-based backups for years).  What’s particularly worrying is that Apple claim the device has a "server grade" hard disk yet according to the technical specifications the Time Capsule uses a SATA disk. Those of us who frequently specify servers know that major vendors such as HP do not recommend SATA disks for intensive workloads due to the higher MTBF (hence the 1 year warranty that HP offers on a SATA disk compared with three years on a SCSI disk) and consequently I consider that to call the Time Capsule disk "server grade" is taking things a little far.
  3. Looking at consumer media devices:
    • There’s little doubt that the iPhone has been a huge success with 4 million devices sold in 200 days (although that is still quite a way off the original target of 10 million in the first year).  Apple is claiming 19.5% of the United States smartphone market but what also has to be considered is that the iPhone is not a business phone.  The new iPhone software is great too, although I’ve upgraded mine and am a little underwhelmed with the location awareness, which often seems to think I’m a few streets away (or even the next village).  As for the software update being free – I should hope so given how much we are paying for our iPhones!
    • Continuing the theme, Apple has made some of the iPhone applications available for the iPod touch, for a small charge, with the purchase via the iTunes store (could this be a demonstration of the model for future iPod and iPhone software purchases once the SDK is launched?).
    • The iTunes store has now sold over 4 billion songs with 20 million in one day (Christmas Day 2007).  It’s hard to deny that it’s been a huge success although the decision of some record companies to distribute DRM-free music on competing platforms should certainly be viewed as a threat (as long as it’s DRM-free then that’s no problem for consumers!). Apple is claiming that they are doing well with TV show downloads too (precious little content over here) but have revised the model for selling films, launching iTunes Movie Rentals – and it seems the studios are all on board!  The bad news is that international rollout is not planned until later this year and I for one am sick of Apple treating everyone outside the US as second class citizens.  It does look good though – the DRM is not too onerous with 30 days to start watching a film after rental, and 24 hours to finish (just like physical store) – and one nice touch is the ability to start watching on one device (e.g. a PC) and then finish on another (e.g. an iPod).  US pricing will be $2.99 for "library" films or $3.99 for new releases (so less than my local DVD rental store – that is good).
    • The Apple TV was originally an accessory for iTunes running on a computer and has sold reasonable well but even so there is little doubt that it has not been as popular as Apple had hoped.  Now Apple is trying again with new software for Apple TV (a free upgrade for existing users and a reduced price for new hardware purchases – at least in the US) and it will still synchronise with a computer but is no longer required to do so.  Support for iTunes Movie Rentals is extended with the ability to access DVD or HD quality (HD will cost an extra dollar) with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound as well as direct access to podcasts, photos (from Flickr or .Mac) and YouTube.  For me though, the Apple TV is still missing what it really needs – television!  Add a tuner and PVR capabilities and I’ll buy one.
  4. Finally, Jobs claims that Apple makes "the best notebooks in the industry" (I think they are among the best – Lenovo’s ThinkPads are also great) and at MacWorld he announced the MacBook Air – "the world’s thinnest notebook".  That it may be, but I think it’s expensive (relative to the MacBook and MacBook Pro), underpowered (an Intel Core 2 Duo may not be slow, but 1.6GHz is slow for a Core 2 Duo), lacks the ability to be upgraded and, whilst the main device may be thin, it does require me to carry a load of peripherals with me (power, optical drive, USB hub – it only has a single port) and doesn’t even have built in wired Ethernet.  It does have some nice touches though, like the additional gestures on the trackpad.  Remote Disc sounds good as an alternative to providing a build in optical device but why is an application required to simply share a CD/DVD drive?

Last year wrote about how didn’t want an iPhone but by the time it launched over here I’d changed my mind (and shunned the touchscreen widescreen iPod that I had originally craved!).  This year I wanted either an aluminium MacBook with a PC Express Card slot and upgraded graphics, or a MacBook Pro with a MacBook-style keyboard.  The MacBook Air is neither – it’s just a thin, aluminium, MacBook, with reduced functionality and increased price – but I guess the lesson for me is to never say never…

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A plea for Apple to update the MacBook Pro

I really would like to buy a 17″ Apple MacBook Pro but if I’m going to spend all that cash then I need to know that it’s the right thing to do. I’ve been waiting for OS X Leopard (not that I can see much advantage in upgrading to Leopard but it seemed daft to buy a new computer with Tiger on it) and now I hear rumours that there will be a new MacBook Pro announced in the New Year. So, if anyone from Apple is reading this, please, please, please, consider the following for the next update:

Apple MacBook Pro (17

  • Why is there all that wasted space to the side of the keyboard (which is the same size on both the 15″ and 17″ models)? With a 17″ unit, surely you can fit a larger (even full-size) keyboard on there instead of larger speaker covers?
  • Why is the wrist rest so huge, with the keyboard set so far back? (it’s fine on the 15″ model but with the larger chassis of the 17″ I’m really not sure that it will be comfortable…)
  • Please, can I have a two button trackpad?
  • Oh yes, and if you really want to justify all the extra cash (after all, it’s really not an inexpensive purchase), how about a docking station too?

The MacBook Pro has plenty of features that make it better for me than a standard MacBook but if I have to keep on plugging in an external mouse and keyboard, then that really defeats the object of buying a desktop replacement notebook PC.

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Microsoft’s MacBU is moving in the right direction, just not fast enough

Office for Mac product iconsA few weeks back, I wrote about the frustration of working (or rather not be able to work) with Open XML documents on a Mac. Some wag even pointed out on a recent podcast that Apple beat Microsoft to provide support for its own document formats in the new iWork 08 application suite. I hear good things about iWork and it’s very reasonably priced (especially when compared to Microsoft Office) but I work with Microsoft Office 2007 on Windows and need something functionally equivalent for the Mac so I’m sure I’ll be getting a copy of Office 2008 for Mac in due course (attempts to get a beta invitation have failed dismally). There is light at the end of the tunnel though – since my original post, the MacBU has released a (time-limited) beta of the Microsoft Office Open XML File Format Converter for Mac, so that at least gives me something to work with for now (the previous version was only for Word documents).

Mac RDC logoAnother new product from the MacBU is (at last) a universal binary version of the Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac. I’ve been beta testing this and whilst it’s far more stable on an Intel Mac than the old version, it still doesn’t seem to offer something that I need – support for multiple client connections. I’ve provided feedback on this (others were less charitable in their contributions). In the meantime, I’ll be sticking with CoRD.

It seems that the MacBU is releasing new products but at an almost glacial pace. I don’t care that it’s been 4 years between Office releases – there was a similar gap for the Windows product – but surely the file format converters could have been ready when Office 2007 shipped on Windows. Similarly, based on what I’ve seen with the Microsoft’s RDC client for the Mac, it’s not exactly worth waiting for.

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Open XML documents driving me insane on the Mac

A few weeks back, I wrote about how smart Office 2003 had been in detecting my need for an Office 2007 document converter and opening it for me. If only I could say the same for Office 2004 on the Mac. I’m all too familiar with Microsoft product groups working independently but the MacBU has excelled (excuse the pun) in its inability to ship a working document converter for the Open XML document formats more than seven months after the release of Office 2007 on Windows.

To make matters worse, Office 2008 for Mac (which uses the new file formats) is a closed beta so I can’t use that to convert/open the files.

Ironically, there are various reports of using an alternative office suite like OpenOffice or NeoOffice to open the files! Hmm… not such a smart business move for Microsoft then…

My Digital Life has information on the various options for working with Open XML in Office 2004 for Mac. Mac Mojo (the Mac Office team blog) has information about a beta converter for Word documents (only).

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File name limitations when accessing Windows file shares from a Mac

Earlier this afternoon, one of my friends got in touch with “a quick tech question” (it had to be quick as his method of communication was SMS text message):

“…We have a brand new, state of the art pre-press system which, for some reason, is running Windows 2000. It seems that this OS cannot handle file names longer than 27 chars…”

I was sure that this would be an integration issue rather than an operating system restriction as I’ve never come across any such limitation with a Windows NT-based Windows system (leaving aside the question as to why would a state of the art device use an old and unsupported operating system?) – besides which, I was in no mood to give an office full of professional Mac users an excuse to bash Microsoft!

After a very short time spent googling, I found a newsgroup post which explains the issue. It seems that Apple filing protocol (AFP) 2.2, used by Windows Services for Macintosh, has a 31-character limit (presumably 4 of those characters are used by the driveletter:\ portion of the filename and another one somewhere else leaving 27 visible characters). AFP 3.x has no such limitation but, as all modern Macs can use SMB to communicate natively with Windows servers, there seems little point in using Services for Macintosh these days. Looking at the Wikipedia article on AFP, there may also be restrictions on file sizes with AFP and certain client-server combinations.

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New (mighty) mouse

A few months back, I wrote about the problems I have been experiencing with my Apple Mighty Mouse.

I got used to cleaning the scroll ball, but after a while, the right-click became unreliable – to the point where I had to connect an ordinary PC mouse to the Mac, which then worked perfectly (indicating that my configuration was fine).

Contrary to the anecdotal reports that I linked in my original post, last week I took the not-so-mighty Mouse to the Apple Store in London (Regent Street), where a “genius” exchanged it for a new one.  I hadn’t been hopeful (as when it was my turn for service he was displaying a really unhelpful attitude, still complaining to a colleague about his previous customer) but, even after trying it out on another machine and not finding any problem, he commented that I “seem to know what I’m talking about” (I hope so!) and exchanged it anyway.

I’d forgotten how good it was when it was new – I just hope this one lasts a bit longer.

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My computer is better than your computer…

A couple of weeks back, I posted some clips of spoof Mac vs. PC ads, as well as pointing out that the Apple campaign is a little… how can I put this… untruthful… at times. I couldn’t be bothered to report Bill Gates getting annoyed on US television over the whole Mac vs. PC thing but I can tell this whole episode has gone mainstream when British comedians start poking fun at the Mac vs. PC ads on BBC Radio 4.

I was laughing out loud when I heard last Friday’s The Now Show – so much so that I thought I’d share a short segment of the show here – thereby illustrating that the whole “my operating system is better than your operating system” nonsense is quite ridiculous really:

Jon Holmes: Let’s take two letters at the same time…

Mac: Dear Jon, I’m a Mac.
PC: And I’m a PC.
Mac: I wonder if you could settle, once and for all, the controversial debate that’s been raging as to which one of us is better for the home and which one is better for the office?
PC: Well it really is a tricky one that, isn’t it? Umm.

Jon Holmes: But the Mac or PC argument has of course been a source of techie conflict for years; personally I couldn’t give less of a t*ss either way – they both let you download p*rn don’t they – what’s not to like? But speccy computer enthusiasts on either side treat the Mac and PC divide like open war…

(gunfire/explosions)

Admiral Horatio Nelson: The Battle is won Mr Hardy. Those Mac-loving scum have taken their stupid mouse that has only one clicky button and turned tail and fled. We can claim victory over those who would dare prefer an OS X operating system that utilises GUI and Unix underpinnings.

(explosion)

(Windows exclamation sound)

Arghh!

Admiral Horatio Nelson: Mr Hardy! I’ve been hit by a spam e-mail! I thought this ship’s Windows anti-worm and virus software had been configured to prevent unsolicited e-mails. I am done for.

Captain Thomas Hardy: Sorry Sir, the ship’s firewall was down. IT say there was a .DLL file error in the hold.

Admiral Horatio Nelson: It is over Mr Hardy. My battle is lost. Kiss me Hardy.

Captain Thomas Hardy: No thanks Sir, someone might film it on their phone camera and put it on YouTube and we’d look well gay.

Jon Holmes: PC or Mac, Mac or PC it’s causing a national divide pitching brother against brother, cousin against cousin, spoddy geek against spoddy geek…

Geek: At my signal, unleash Dell.

Jon Holmes: However, Mitchell and Webb aren’t the first double act to advertise computers either. Punt and Dennis did one some years ago, back when they were famous, in which they too had to pitch computer against computer but back then, there was no real contest as to which was the best…

Sinclair ZX-81: Hello, I’m a Sinclair ZX-81.
Space Invaders machine: And I’m a Space Invaders machine in the pub.
Sinclair ZX-81: I’ve got up to 1K of memory, an external cassette recorder (not supplied) and a lead to connect me to the back of the television.

(pause)

Space Invaders machine: Yeah but I’m in the pub.

Jon Holmes: No contest!

Notice
The above work has been copyrighted by the British Broadcasting Corporation and the author believes that the republishing of the script and low-quality recording on this page constitutes criticism, review and news reporting under the terms of fair dealing in the United Kingdom Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA). It also represents free publicity for one of the BBC’s excellent programmes!

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