posted by Thom Holwerda on Sat 15th Jul 2006 21:05 UTC
IconNot too long ago, I sold my iBook, right after the new MacBook was announced. I planned to buy that same MacBook somewhere this summer; however, I started to doubt. I had second thoughts. Let me explain why I decided to not buy a new Mac, but instead opt for a used G4 PowerMac. Note: After being absent for a week, here is another Sunday Eve Column.

I started my Mac life out with a used iMac G4. I still love the design of the iMac G4, and I'd buy one again if my cash reserves would allow me to. I then traded that iMac in for a brand new iBook G4, as I did not have a laptop at that time. As said, I sold that iBook a few months ago; on the same day, the MacBook Pro arrived Apple NL loaned me for review. After keeping that for a month, I was Mac-less (save for my iMac G3 running OS9, which I mostly have for the fun of it).

I had various reasons to buy a Mac in the first place. These reasons basically came down to secure, nice-looking, easy-to-use software, superior hardware quality, good customer support, and good design. Using these reasons, I even converted some of my friends to buy Macintosh computers. However, as of late, Apple has been starting to let me down, on three of these four fronts. And that pains me to say.

First of all, the software part. I need to clarify that this is not really a case of Apple letting me down; they still produce secure, nice-looking, easy-to-use software. However, contrary to a few years ago, Linux is now also nice-looking and easy to use; and of course Linux has always been pretty secure. I am of course referring to SUSE Enterprise Linux Desktop 10. This piece of software, which has its flaws, obviously, has left me with little to nothing to wish for. It looks extremely good, it is very easy to use, and is of course as secure as a desktop/laptop needs to be.

In addition, it is open-source. Now, I personally have little benefit of using open-source software. I am not a programmer, so looking at source code is about as interesting an activity for me as is looking at grass grow. However, I try to use open-source software whenever the open-source product is at least on-par or close to on-par with its closed counterparts. Of course some parts of OSX are open-source; but I think we can all agree that the bits that matter in OSX are closed source, making the operating system as a whole much more closed than open.

Another important aspect of the software-side of this story is iLife. I always saw iLife as a very important aspect of the Macintosh experience. However, the competition has caught up with Apple in this aspect. For instance, I find Google's Picasa2 much easier to use than iPhoto. The most important 'feature' of Picasa2 is that it does not force you into using a weird database scheme you cannot easily navigate though via a filemanager. Picasa2 just uses the directory structure you yourself create via the filemanager, allowing you to use your own logic to organise your own files. Other than that, Picasa2 is free, runs on Linux as well as Windows, and is significantly faster than iPhoto.

The other parts of iLife have always been fairly pointless to me; GarageBand, while being the application with one of the best names ever, is of no use to me (I do not make music or podcasts). I already have a weblog/website using Wordpress, so iWeb is also of no use to me. iTunes I never really liked; I hate how it has the iTunes Music Store, which I do not use as I am old-fashioned and buy my music at my local album store, attached to it, shining through everywhere. For the rest, iTunes is just your average music player, nothing extraordinary or revolutionary.

The second reason for me to become a Mac user was the superior hardware quality. To my dismay, I have seen Apple's hardware quality degrade over the past few years. The MacBook Pro has a whole batch of problems, of which the most important one was the for me insane amount of heat it produced; I say this out of personal experience. A recent report has indicated* that the PowerMac G5, as well, seems to suffer from quite an amount of problems. To put it bluntly: my confidence in Apple supplying me with superior hardware quality has gotten seriously dented. I today no longer see Apple as superior in this aspect compared to its competitors.

Lastly, I have seen too many negative reports concerning Apple's customer support. They seem to be very reluctant to provide support, they are slow to respond; combine this with Apple's failure to properly respond to various recurring defects, and my faith in Apple's customer support is now also dented.

So. This leaves me with only one justifiable reason to buy a Macintosh computer: design. Yes, I still believe Apple makes the best-looking computers money can buy. Even though its current designs are mere shadows of the G4 Cube (which I consider to be the best-looking computer ever designed, despite its problems), they still outshine anything the competition has to offer, personally.

And there is the problem. I am a student. I do not have a lot of money; I live on my own, I have a house to pay, I have to eat, I have a social life to run, I have a car to maintain, you name it. Computer design is a luxury I cannot afford. To put it bluntly: I refuse to pay for design.

Rests me to say that I hope you understood the meaning behind this column. Some will claim I just felt like bashing Apple, and probably nothing I say here will change the minds of those people. I wrote this column to give you insight into how someone like me, with a limited cash reserve, goes about making decisions like this. I am not trying to make you make the same decision. I am trying to make you make your own informed decision.

I will simply buy a nice, used PowerMac G4, or better yet, a Cube. Sometimes, Linux still drives me nuts, making me want to crawl up in fetal position, and chant 'OSX' to a full moon.

* Please note that I realise the limitations of the cited survey. However, limited as it might be, an indication it is, still.

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