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  • Is Your Computer Broken Again?

    September 10th, 2009

    So this plaintive refrain is repeated over and over again in two radio ads I heard this morning, while driving to the local convenience store for a cup of java. In each case, the announcer assured us that the company they were hawking would fix all that ails those boxes for modest hourly rates.

    Now these two computer shops are local. There are thousands and thousands more littering the landscape, and it certainly makes sense. After all, there are hundreds of millions of personal computers across the planet that are not located in larger businesses, where you can usually depend on your network administrators to make the necessary repairs.

    Indeed, the repair shops aren’t all for Windows PCs. Macs need repairs as well after the warranty is up, since they use the same hard drives that you find on a PC, and power supply failures occur on occasion as well.

    All well and good.

    But the resemblance between the Mac and the PC pretty much ends there. Yes, your Mac OS can get messed up too, but Apple has worked hard to clean up the installer, so upgrading to the latest and greatest version of Mac OS X only rarely gets you into trouble. When it does, absent a hardware problem (particularly defective RAM), it’s because you got a little too enthusiastic about customizing the inner workings of your system.

    However, the Windows PC, with thousands upon thousands of possible system variations, can develop far more trouble, and require far more maintenance to sort things out. This is part of Microsoft’s dilemma. Apple operates in a closed ecosystem, with only a limited number of models and possible ways to customize them at the factory. Besides, most Mac users rarely stray beyond a simple RAM upgrade, though some will tackle hard drive replacements.

    When it comes to system issues, just reinstalling ought to set things right. In fact, with Snow Leopard, Apple has pretty much given up on the Archive & Install process. If things are totally out of whack, you can wipe the drive and start with scratch, with a little help from Apple’s Migration Assistant, Time Machine or a third-party backup app. But the process, while somewhat daunting to the novice, isn’t so involved that you can’t get from start to finish all by yourself, but allow a few hours for the process.

    With Macs, there is also Apple’s Genius Bar or perhaps a third-party shop with a great service department to set things right, but I doubt that they are overworked when it comes to routine software fixes.

    With the Windows shop, considerations of simplicity may go out the window. So after the routine hardware replacements, a typical home PC is apt to require malware removal or just a general cleanup. More often than not, it’s just as simple — if that’s what you call simple — to wipe the drive and start over. It may actually cost you less to have the PC repair person restore everything rather than attempt to sort things out, although the hourly fees for the latter can be mighty tempting.

    So I can well understand why those PC repair shops are investing heavily in advertising. Indeed, the precarious state of the economy has forced more and more people to put off purchases of a new computer. They struggle to keep the old one running as long as possible, and that only creates a greater climate for things to go wrong. That’s particularly true if preventive maintenance — and that especially includes keeping malware protection software up to date under Windows — has been lackadaisical. It’s not as if you can set and forget the PC.

    Indeed, a PC shop just opened adjacent to the neighborhood UPS Store. The person advertises low-cost tuneups, and is apparently also building his own PCs that he not only sells direct, but finances himself. So you pay him weekly or monthly, and you get a brand, spanking new Windows box, along with a local place to take it if things go wrong.

    Now I don’t begrudge anyone trying to make an honest living, and if he does good work, he deserves the patronage of local PC users. On the other hand, I haven’t gone in there to see if he knows anything about Macs, or how he might feel about the matter. Certainly repairing old Macs can also deliver some solid profits too.

    Maybe I should suggest the Mac equation, in order to help him expand the business. Sure, there’s an Apple Store in the area, along with a Best Buy and third-party Apple reseller, but maybe he can undercut their repair prices. It would be good business for everyone.

    Indeed, the fact that the PC usually costs more to maintain than the Mac over the long haul is great news for these shops. But not necessarily for the end-user.

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    15 Responses to “Is Your Computer Broken Again?”

    1. Bart Hanson says:

      I am a Mac fan (boy) and have been since I had a Mac IIsi (i.e. way back).
      But I do not agree with the basic premise of this article. Yes Apple works
      hard to ensure a better default experience than the average PC gives users.
      But Microsoft do have multiple hardware configurations to work around
      and far more work to do to ensure things work.
      From what I’m seeing of the early reports on Snow Leopard, plenty of things
      seem to be broken. Flash, SMTP, QT, O.K. the first update is out already but
      I think that between trying to make things compatible with the iPhone, on
      one hand, and attempting some future proofing against the likes of Psystar
      on the other, things have gotten overlooked and broken.
      I’m hoping like hell it’s not true and that Apple still does have its users at heart
      and not the dollar, time will tell…

      • It helps when you actually take the time to read what’s going on. QuickTime isn’t broken, Flash wasn’t broken either. They just had an earlier version. As to SMTP, well, that was an issue that didn’t impact most people, and most others had workarounds.

        All right, the 10.6.1 update came out 13 days after the original release; 10.5.1 was out somewhat later in relation to 10.5, but there were far more serious bugs. You need to get a grip. 🙂


    2. DaveD says:

      Somehow, I don’t see the same situation as implied by Mr. Hanson’s response of “From what I’m seeing of the early reports on Snow Leopard, plenty of things seem to be broken.”

      From the experiences of the first install of Snow Leopard by the “trailblazers,” it has been quite good. I am so thankful for their comments and they provide a great benefit to the Mac community.

      I never had the fortitude to be one of the first. So many third-party apps are in use. In upgrading to Jaguar, Panther, and Tiger, I patiently waited for the .3 or .4 OS update.

      • @DaveD, You know, I’m thinking he misconstrued the QuickTime 7 update for something in Snow Leopard which, by the way, has QuickTime 10. Talk about not paying attention. I mean, Apple didn’t have to release Snow Leopard the month before they promised, right?

        Besides, early release bugs are not uncommon. That’s how it works.


    3. Al says:

      You are right on target when you pointed out that Windows has to deal with so many hardware configurations that the cheapest way to fix any software problem is to wipe and reload.

      On my last Windows PC purchase which was oh, nine years ago, rather than get a name brand PC and then deal with tech support hell when the inevitable problems come, I decided to buy a locally built machine from the neighborhood mom-and-pop PC store. At least they know their configuration and so, as opposed to the local Geek Squad geek or the outsourced call center tech support supporter, they are more likely to know where to look when problems crop up. And worst case, I can drive up and plunk the machine on their counter when I’ve run out of ideas for a fix. It’s just like a Genius Bar!

      Nowadays when friends ask me what computer to buy, if they for some reason don’t want to go Mac, I tell them to get a machine from the local mom and pop. Then they actually have a knowledgeable warm body to run to when their machine starts acting up.

    4. Jon T says:

      Can you say ‘Windows Registry’? By definition a Windows machine should be wiped and reinstalled every six months. And that’s assuming it isn’t led into the control of someone 10,000 miles away before then.

      The comparison between Windows and 10.6 on a scale of 0 to 10 is Win at 3 and OSX at 9. I’ve done both for a long time and that is probably being conservative.

      Can’t wait for January – Apple 10″ touch launching alongside Google Wave – it’ll be a tsunami that engulfs Redmond entirely. Woo hoo…

    5. John Dingler says:

      Hi Gene,
      Aside of your theoretical argument, I have a practical solution.

      According to Alsoft’s DiskDoctor, the Apple Snow Leopard installer also installs errors to the internal hard drive during the installation process. Proof is that I had DiskDoctor zero-out all errors, etc., before the installation but detected 3,503 errors after the installation. Of course, I clicked “Repair” for DiskDoctor to repair all file errors after which DiskDoctor detected zero errors.

      • @John Dingler, I want to say in all honesty that I’m not sure what you are talking about here. Alsoft’s DiskWarrior (not DiskDoctor) may not even be fully compatible yet with Snow Leopard. So don’t assume that somehow disk errors it may report are in fact genuine — or even significant for that matter.


    6. John Dingler says:

      Hi Gene,
      As to whether or not DW for Leopard is or is not fully compatible with Snow Leopard, according to the Alsoft home page, the “All new DiskWarrior 4 v.4.2 for Mac OS X Snow Leopard” is. As an aside, this upgrade is free to those who purchased DW for Leopard. The upgrade allows one to make an updated CD, all handled by its Web 2 services.

      What I attempted to indicate in my previous post is that DW for Snow Leopard showed that my HD had zero errors before installing SL but acquired thousands after. I am assuming that any other good disk repair utility might show the same.

      As to whether or not the reported errors are significant, only Alsoft’s scientists would know, certainly not I, and DW does not show that sort of data anyway. I simply use the updated utility as is as a satisfied, long-time, DW user.

      • @John Dingler, The proper way to test this would be to use different disk repair utilities to see if they all report errors. Indeed, to find a general problem, you’d have to see if it extends beyond a single or a small number of installations. In saying that, Disk Utility finds nothing wrong with the hard drives on my Mac Pro. Both drives (the second used for clone backups) have 10.6.1 on them.

        Take that for what it’s worth.


    7. John Dingler says:

      Hi Gene,
      As part of my once per week preventive maintenance regimen, quite often I first use DU because it goes fast through its repair cycle.

      But in this case, DiskUtility found nothing out of place on my Intel iMac, either before or after, but it usually does not find anything wrong. After running DU, I used DW, which usually finds, as in this case, something wrong with the file system and apparently fixed it afterwards.

      Question then becomes, what significant problems, or insignificant problems that may develop later into significant ones, might DU not be finding that may need fixing, as well as what DW is finding that it thinks needs fixing.

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