‘'Full disclosure: I have since purchased an iMac (Spring 2008), and after some initial frustration, am happy with it. The disk is pretty quiet. ;-)

But I thought I would leave this page as an historical note.'’


Persuasion

Walter Mossberg (the Wall Street Journal’s “Personal Technology” columnist) loved it. Friends raved about it. I was curious. And as a BSD fan, how could I go wrong?

With Mr Mossberg’s help I persuaded my parents to buy a new desktop iMac G5 (the all-in-one, flat screen kind).

Outlook, Mail, and Address Book

Our initial impression was positive. The interface was spiffy and “fun”, the built-in applications seemed to do a lot of cool stuff. The machine seemed solid and well-engineered. After digging deeper, however, our opinions started to change.

First we tried getting mail and settings out of Outlook (for Windows). This turned out to be almost impossible – even to get into Entourage (the Outlook equivalent that is part of Office for the Mac). I was able, with much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair – and via the help of Mozilla Thunderbird – to get the contacts list out of Outlook and into Thunderbird, and from there into Apple’s built-in Address Book application.

Then I tried to set up an IMAP account on Mail, and discovered some really irritating bugs. It is impossible to configure which folder – local or remote – is used for Sent mail, Drafts, and Trash. It is impossible to understand which are the local folders and which the remote. It turns out that Mail does actually save sent mail on the IMAP server, creating, on the server, a folder called “Sent Messages” – but this folder shows up as “Sent” in Mail.

I had played with Thunderbird enough to know that an interface to IMAP folders and its configuration can be simple and perspicuous. The degree to which Apple got this wrong is astonishing.

iTunes

Ok, so on to iTunes. In addition to the evil documented in iTunes iPods and audio codecs, iTunes has bugs. One in particular seemed particularly shocking (and very easy to tickle): if you set it up to “Import and then Eject” but turn off playing (while it imports), the first CD you insert has to be manually imported, and then manually ejected. After that, it seems to work. (I think – I don’t remember exactly.)

While this is an easy bug to work around, it’s right there in your face every time you import a CD. And this is the latest version of iTunes.

iPhoto

On to iPhoto. iPhoto is supposed to be easy to use. So, we tried to figure out how to import some photos from a CD and put them into a folder. This should have been trivially easy. It wasn’t – in fact, we were never able to do it successfully. There were several problems. First, the documentation. To begin with, at one point the iPhoto help simply refused to work. A blank page displayed. After opening and then closing iMovie’s help, the iPhoto help worked. This was starting to feel like the inexplicable, unrepeatable, black-box bugs in Windows that are so infuriating.

Then, the iPhoto help said, in one place, that you could drag and drop photos into iPhoto, and in another, that you should only ever use the Import function to get photos into iPhoto. What does this mean, “import”? What is it actually doing? Why is dragging and dropping bad? No explanation.

So we imported, and instead of offering to create a new folder in the library it dumped our pictures next to a bunch of other pictures that I had earlier copied (imported? I forget) from a USB memory stick. We tried, and failed, to select the pictures we wanted and move them into a new folder we had created.

Looking to the help for insight, we found mentions of books, albums, and folders without any explanation of the semantics of these objects. How are they different? When would I want to use them, and for what? Nothing.

This was as bad as Windows!

At this point this $1900 machine was looking more and more like a football.

Disk noise

But the real deal-breaker, for me, was the hard disk noise. When everyone except me had gone to bed, and with iTunes silenced, the whine of the drive became really quite annoying, and to make matters even worse, it changed speed (and therefore pitch) making it even harder to ignore.

Questionable point-of-sale ethics

My parents returned the machine to the Apple store (in Palo Alto, CA) – and paid a modest “restocking fee” for the privilege – but not before we noticed something very interesting about their receipt: the date was wrong. It was exactly one week earlier than it should have been. What made this interesting to us is that, normally, you have two weeks to return purchases to Apple. But if they back-date the receipt by a week, and if you use a credit card to pay for your purchase, the only record that you were in the store is your receipt, but by dating it wrong, they “relieve” you of a week’s time to consider your purchase.

It’s hard not to think that this was intentional, especially since, when told about it, they said “that’s interesting – no one else has complained about that”. Meaning: the ruse worked.


I have moved on to a search for convivial computing hardware.