I love the Macintosh on an abstract, conceptual, idealized basis. The actual, physical Macintosh I encounter in reality often frustrates the heck out of me. This is made more embarrasing by the fact that I’ve developed a reputation around Berkman as a Mac evangelist. (I’ve gained this reputation largely by snickering at Windows users when they wrestle with technical problems I no longer encounter since moving back to the Mac two years ago…)
Wherever I go, I carry a little white plastic widget with me – the adaptor that lets my road-beaten Powerbook talk to a VGA monitor. This lets me attach my Mac to a projector and give a talk. At home, it lets me attach the Mac to the large monitor I bought a few months ago when I discovered my eyesight was getting markedly worse. Needless to say, I’ve been pretty distraught to discover that the adaptor is getting dysfunctional in its old age – unless I twist it in increasingly complicated ways, I get a picture that’s deep blue, or lacks red, or is an odd shade of green.
So I called my Mac retailer of choice and ordered a new widget… and, a few days later, received something that looked exactly right, but didn’t fit into my monitor port. A month of travel intervened, and now, my first “free” day at home in a month, I called to get the right part. “That’s the only one that exists, sir.” After about half an hour, we established that I have an “old” Powerbook – one manufactured in January 2003 – rather than a current Powerbook, and that parts for “old” Powerbooks weren’t available through retailers.
I called the Apple Store and discovered that they, too, don’t sell “old” adaptors. They sent me to the parts department, who denied for half an hour that there was ever an alternative port design for the Powerbook. Finally, he conceded that there was an old Apple cable called an “RGB to VGA” (actually, it’s a form of mini-DV to VGA, but let’s not quibble) and offered to sell me one for the miraculously low figure of $16.80, including shipping. (This is truly miraculous, as the last time I tried to buy something from Apple – an “X” key, to repair damage to my keyboard – they quoted me a $800 service fee. I repaired it myself with funtack.)
So I asked to buy three – one for travel, one for the home monitor, one for backup. Nope. It’s a replacement part, and they’ll only send me one. I’ll need to get Rachel – who’s got the same machine – to order another one, and will keep my eyes open for folks with old-skool 12″ Powerbooks to see if they can order my third.
For anyone coming from a search engine: If you’re trying to find a VGA adaptor for a pre-September 2003 Macintosh PowerBook G4, the part number is 922-4554. The Apple Store will not sell it to you – call the support phone number and ask for the part specifically, by number.
You’d think, by the end of this runaround, I’d be pissed at Apple. And I am. But mostly, I’m thinking about buying a new Mac, when finances permit. Because the truth is, as much as Mac’s hardware, service and IPR policies surrounding iTunes frustrate me, nothing could get me back to the sorts of tech hell I used to inhabit when I was on either Windows or Linux.
I watched Rebecca wrestle with Windows XP the other day (it had spontaneously decided to prohibit her from using any of her web browsers) and realized how much of my life I lost to fixing either my Windows laptop, or the Windows boxen at the Geekcorps’ offices around the world. I never wasted quite as much time with Linux, as I only used it as a development environment, but I remember watching much smarter friends lose days on end getting Linux to see their external wireless card or their internal microphone. (Lots of those friends seem to be carrying Macs these days.)
Someone observed that the real problem with Microsoft is that their operating systems have taught users that it’s normal for software to crash catastrophically. I’d argue that the real problem is that Microsoft’s OS is so unusable that Mac’s mediocre service and quirky hardware look so good in comparison.