Monday, May 2, 2005

I'll have a PowerBook to go, thanks!

Buying a Mac is significantly different to buying a PC. (I don't like the appropriation of generic terms either, but from now on, when I write "PC", I mean a Wintel box. When I write "Windows", I probably mean Microsoft Windows. When I write "Word", I probably mean Microsoft Word. It hurts my brain too.)

I bought a Pentium 4-based PC a couple of month ago, and it was hard. Let me be clear: just buying it was hard work. Trying to find a decent PC hardware dealer is very difficult. It's really easy to become a PC hardware dealer, so lots of people do. You can be a PC hardware dealer from a spare room in your house. Worse, because the profit margins are so tight, there's not a lot of spare money for things like, say, shop fittings, and shelves, and display cases, and assistants who know how to communicate in multi-word sentences. That is, you don't even know if you've found a decent PC hardware dealer, because good ones look and feel the same as bad ones.

What I should have done, and what I almost did, was to bite the bullet and call Compaq or Dell. (As an aside, the only reason I didn't was because their completely unnavigable but very shiny corporate websites lead me to believe that they couldn't supply me with quite what I was looking for. For example, I didn't want a monitor. Now, people who know better than me have subsequently assured me that Dell and Compaq would have sold me a PC without a monitor. But I couldn't get the monitor out of my "shopping basket". No sale. But I digress.) Instead, I used the jaded PC hardware buyer's approach: I went with the recommendation of a friend of a friend—a local store with a website which let me order online.

From order to pickup was reasonably smooth, though they couldn't get in the CPU I ordered in a timely fashion, so I settled for a slightly slower one. There was another stock availabilty issue on another part, but we got there eventually. For reasons which are no longer clear to me, I elected to assemble the machine myself from parts. This was an idiotic idea, but by no means the dealer's fault. I bought a case from him, which he didn't seem particularly interested in selling me. I needed a graphics card, but seemed unable to force this guy to take my money, so I went elsewhere.

This is a PC hardware purchasing success story. It was a protracted process, involving excruciating interaction with a guy who seemed as though he'd rather be in a different universe. And I'm fairly sure he was the owner of the store.

Evidently, even purchasing an Apple, on the other hand, is meant to be part of the Apple Experience. I toyed for a while with buying the PowerBook from the online store. Now, it might be just because with a PowerBook, there are very few things you can upgrade, but I found the online store to be exceptionally straightforward: select PowerBook, select screen size, upgrade RAM, upgrade disk, done. That's it. There are not multiple millions of different hardware permutations. You don't have to decide whether you're more "Home" or "SOHO". Sure, choice is good, but overwhelming choice is, uh, overwhelming.

In the end, I had a question: If I order a PowerBook now (this was post-April 29), will it ship with Tiger or not? (The answer, by the way, was, "It will either ship with Tiger installed, or with a DVD to do the upgrade." Seemed reasonable.) Given I needed to ask a question, and the guy seemed like a nice guy, I ordered it on the phone. (In actual fact, my wife ordered it on the phone later from the same guy.) So, would anyone like to bet on whether it ships with Tiger?


  1. It will... Apple override local stores to make sure that the purchase of Apple equipment is done right. When I deal with my local supplier (as I purchase for a University), Apple are always hovering in the background saying "Is everything OK? Are you happy?".

    When you get the Powerbook, one of the things I'd like you to write about in slow motion, lots and lots of extravagent detail... is the moment you discover "Terminal" buried in Utilities.

  2. Yes, but give the normal Mac interface a try first. I used 80x25 text mode on every machine I owned, through the 15 years of Linux (since kernel 0.11a)... until I got a Mac.

    Friends of mine, who had been irritated by my "it's not 80x25! It's crap!" mantra immediately accused me of being a hypocrite as I yodelled the glories of GUI.

    My response is that it's not about text mode vs GUI mode... it's about what works and what doesn't work, and their GUI still most definitely belonged to the "not working" camp.

    That, of course, only irritated them more. A win-win situation!

  3. From steve. Blah to this website's GUI interface.

  4. Michael makes a fair point about build quality -- I've just been through the irritation (and that's all it was, but I've got a really low threshold for irritation) of warranty repairs on my 17" G5 iMac. That said, my old G3 iMac is sitting next to me right now, still running perfectly six years after purchase. Of course, the fact that it's running MacOS 8.6 makes it yet another rather large paperweight, but such is life.