imageReading the title you might think I am pulling a Don Dodge… the Microsoft evangelist you got canned, moved to Google, and almost immediately penned a blog post on the wonders of Apple versus stodgy old Microsoft.  No that’s not it… I thought to write this blog post after recently writing on my Facebook wall:

Another reason Apple sucks...iTunes on my quad core pc is unresponsive and unusable... either they nerfed it for the PC to force you onto a Mac, or they cannot make software... either evil or incompetent...that's Apple

To which I got the expected responses of, “well that’s just you… works for me!” and “well Microsoft sucks!”.  Apple fan-peeples… a passionate if not somewhat single minded bunch.

I really wanted to like Apple.  I thought they might have had something special.  After three years and six Apple products I can report that they do not suck, but they ain’t nuthin’ special either.  Yes six products…

1. Original (pre-Intel) Mac Mini

Bought this for $200 used, then sold it a year or so later for $200, so no complaints there :-)   The apple quality lessons learned on this machine were:

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  • The Spinning each Ball of Death: where I first learned that Mac OS is more than happy to hang and have applications go unresponsive as Windows is with its rotating hourglass of wait (this was a few years ago before the Vista/Win7 spinning annulus of woe)
  • If it ain’t Apple, it’s probably broke:  One of Apple’s huge quality advantages is that they manufacture both the software and the hardware it runs on.  So while Microsoft sweats testing across thousands of vendor equipment combinations, Apple just doesn’t seem to.   So when I tried to get that Bluetooth dongle to work with the Mac-mini, the result was pain.

2. Late 2008 Macbook Pro 15”

This was still before I joined Microsoft, and I wanted to get my wife her own machine.   Apple seemed like the obvious choice for my semi-technical wife (she would say non technical, but due to osmosis she knows more than most non-techy folks), due to their reputation for usability.  But usability comes with a a price.  In my “award winning” Yahoo Answer I explain how a Mac costs twice as much as an equivalent PC.  Quality lessons learned from this machine were:image

  • Shocking engineering decisions:  I noticed when using the 2-prong electrical adaptor that one could feel a slight charge (tingling) on the metal case (that is to say the work area) of this PC.  I isolated this to the machine and not the environment by testing in several disparate locations. Thinking I had a defective unit I brought it in to the Apple “Genius” who informed me that there was nothing wrong!  I argued and his answer was that it is a complex machine like a car.  I countered that if I smelled gas while operating my car I would get it fixed.  I escalated to the manager and got a replacement… turns out the Genius was unfortunately right.. they all do it… this is how Apple engineers and sells them.
  • The power adaptor broke and was replaced.
  • The screen flickers.  Even after a logic board replacement it still does it… no resolution to date
  • And of course a good share of beach balls of death
  • Time Machine flakiness… I will blame most of this on the Apple Extreme Base Station later in this post, but suffice to say it is unreliable and slow.

True Story:  I am not a “hater”…

imageIn Jan 2009 after owning the MBP for about 4 months I found myself in the office of Barton Place, Director of Test at Microsoft.  I was being interviewed for the Senior Test Manager position I was to later hold and Barton asked me, “Give me an instance of software with high quality”.  Mac OS and iLife applications popped into my mind.. dare I say that…in a Microsoft interview?  I saw a Mac sitting right there on his desk, and thought it must be destiny and said it.  I justified my choice including points about usability, design, and that it seems to operate without obvious defects.  He accepted my answer but noted they do indeed have obvious defects… turns out he was right.

But “Lovers” can be “Haters”….

A Facebook frenemy (friends, but we seem to disagree on everything) posted that she needed to borrow a Macbook power supply as hers had broken, and that it was at least the second time recently this had happened stranding her without power.  Thinking we had found common ground I posted too that mine had broken, and that I was disappointed in Apple’s quality.  To my surprise her response was not one of camaraderie, but of outrage that I would question Apple’s quality.  Even in the face of bearing the brunt of the problem, she would brook no argument of anything but Apple’s perfection.  A similar sentiment is expressed regarding the aforementioned shock issue by a forum poster who says, “….in fact every MacBook Pro out there has this issue. Simple solution: Use a grounded socket and plug ”

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3. Airport Extreme Base Station

  • Frequent drop-outs on my network.  Confirmed on WiFi 802.11N…I think this is also happening with 802.11B and even wired
  • Supposedly supports Time Machine on an attached hard drive (air drive), however this solution is flaky at best.  the MacBook after working fine for a while will simply forget the mount point for the destination drive and silently fail to back up.  When it does work it takes forever (about a minute) to enter Time Machine.  This is a “supported” feature that received too little quality focus.
  • Cannot manage through web interface, only through Apple’s proprietary software… OK so this was a design decision and one I had to accept if I wanted this hardware…

4. Airport Express

  • Chiefly used to stream audio to external speakers, it simply stops working or drops out occasionally
  • Probably by design, but a poor, non-customer focused design, you can only stream audio from iTunes to this device.   So say you are watching an Amazon streaming download and want to pipe the sound out… you are out of luck without a 3rd party app.

5. iTunes software

  • I have used this chiefly on the PC and some on the Mac.  It is pretty and has lots of functionality, but is bloated and slow.  If in the midst of a download it becomes non-responsive and laggy.  Maybe it is worse on the PC… in which case this would be consistent with Apple’s un-spoken policy of degrading user experience to suite Apple’s goals.

6. IPhone 3G:  got two..one for me and one for my wife

  • Extreme performance degradation after iOS 4 upgrade.  See my point above about Apple’s policy of degrading user experience to suite Apple’s goals.  They want you to buy an iPhone 4
  • My phone died after 1.5 years (random restarts) and needed to be replaced.

MicrosoftBut the title of this piece is Apple doesn’t suck, so what gives?   My point is that Apple does a lot right.  This piece is getting too long so I will wait until later to say how I admire Apple’s design and innovation.  But Apple does as much wrong as…say Microsoft… they just do not get the flack for it.  They are the Teflon tech company. (um…wouldn’t that be 3M?  :-).   Apple does some right and some wrong…by highlighting both they can learn what to double-down on and what to improve respectively going forward.  Let us look at Apple in a realistic light.

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