Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Technology had come to collect its pound of flesh. Start coughing up the cash, sucker.

I am now the not-particularly-proud owner of four Mac computers. Please note that I am a guy who lives alone in a small apartment and works mostly alone in a small office. All I need is two computers. I could get away with only one, if I had to. All I’d need to do is slip a laptop into my briefcase at the end of the day, and slip it back in at the start of the next.

So why four computers, especially when there’s nothing physically wrong with any of them? As best I can tell, they all still work up to the manufacturers original specifications. The problem is, manufacturers specs are moving goal posts these days, and you have to move with ‘em or die. Maybe even literally die.

My old Mac “clamshell” laptop still writes and reads the Microsoft Office and Quark Express programs I installed on them the first day I owned them. But both Mac and Microsoft– and for that matter Quark Express – have had digital behavior changes since I bought those two oldies.

In the case of the Year 2000 Mac clamshell, document written in the latest Microsoft Word, the one that labels all its documents “.docx” instead of “.doc”, will not open with the current operating system. Nor can you buy an electronic update that will let you convert incoming .docs to .docx. Nor can it deal with the oodles of changes to the way the Internet works. Nor will it work with the latest versions of Quark.

So my old nearly $2,000 clamshell is now essentially an expensive old typewriter.

My 2004 machine is not much better. The old Microsoft and new Microsoft office programs still work on it, as does my 2004 version of Quark Express. But Apple has decided it will no longer support the operating system with security upgrades and other fixes, not even if you or I will pay for them. 

Which means that, if I turn it on, pirates somewhere out there on the Internet can jump into my wi-fi, board the computer, steal my address book and passwords, and stuff their pockets with my bank and brokerage accounts. For a geezer whose earning capacity and savings capacity is now limited, that’s not even a near-death experience. That is death, unless I can figure out how to live on Social Security.

Mind you, most of the changes don’t make the computer do anything I need it to do., or anything most of us need it to do. Nor is this like the “planned obsolescence” that scandalized the public in the 1950s. That kind of obsolescence was merely psychological. If you wanted to drive an old car, you could still get by with your old Studebaker.

The changes in computer technology today exist, I suspect, almost entirely to make sure that people have to go out and buy the new stuff, or else. And the “upgrades” affect Windows users as well as Mac users.

Apple is now sending out warnings that I need to upgrade my third computer, which used to be my office computer until my old home computer became too dangerous to my financial security to plug in. Meanwhile, to avoid lugging a computer to and from the office each day, I’ve gone out and bought the fourth Mac.

Each time this happens, I pay Apple and Microsoft a combined Right-To-Live-In-The-Modern-World Tax of between $2,300 and $3,000. 

If a street thug walked up to you, pointed a gun at your head, and demanded $3,000 to let you live, he’d be guilty of armed robbery. But although corporations are now legally people when it comes to funding multi-million dollar campaigns to support their pet lapdog politicians, they’re not people when it comes to highway robbery.

You see, when Apple and Microsoft demand your money or else – well hey, that’s the way it is sucker. Stand and deliver. Pay up or die.


Desargues said...

Use one of your four computers to install Ubuntu or Mint on it; both are versions of Linux. It comes with a free, MS Office-like software package: LibreOffice. It's all zero dollars. A very stable platform--hardly ever crashes. Virtually no viruses or malware: hackers don't waste their time writing viruses for Linux (machines that run Linux are only about 0.5% of the global market). Be done with Apple and Microsoft. That's what I did, and I never looked back. Suck it, Silicon Valley.

Geese Howard said...

Yeah, as said above Linux works just fine on older stuff. So does free BSD.

It's also worth noting that Windows 7 runs just fine on non modern hardware as well. An old core2 duo or AMD athalon 64 x2 (both dual core) with 4gb of RAM will run Windows 7 right now. That's 2006 and prior era hardware (core is 2006, x2 came first).

Your issue with docx is strictly Mac related. You can convert back and forth in the Windows versions of office and most of the free Linux based office programs. Some of the newer effects won't work, but unless the document is macro'd to hell and back you won't have any issues.

Apple is by far the biggest offender when it comes to this. MS isn't nearly as bad and Linux well part of the point is that it can be run on minimal hardware.

I have three hand built liquid cooled computers, two servers, a NAS, Linux box, Linux laptop, and an MSI GS70 gaming laptop. Android tablet, ipad, iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S4, Blackberry and a Windows phone. And that's not including the thousands of dollars in network gear.

All crammed into a tiny ass studio apartment. Though I work in IT, so I often purchase stuff just to play around with the tech. If I don't keep up to date I'll lose my job and be unable to get another one.

Mike McCarthy said...

what Geese Howard and desargues said.

Carol Ann said...

Although I will work on Macs at work (we are a Windows organization) I have disliked them forever since you no longer were able to program an Apple easily. Try OpenOffice, it should run on any Mac and read those pesky files

Geese Howard said...


It's worse than that. From an IT standpoint apple has no security, it's security through obscurity (nobody uses it and bloggers at starbucks have nothing worth hacking). The software sucks, and they deliberately fuck with it. Toss into that the fact they solder/melt the ram, ssd, cpu, and gpu onto the motherboards of many devices and you can't upgrade or replace parts on your own. apple is strictly over priced shit made to deliberately fail to milk more money from upper class hipsters that have no understanding of tech. Explains why Rush Limbaugh loves them.

There was an argument to be made for apple back in the days of IBM PPC (and those weren't even the real IBM POWER CPUs high end non apple products used back then, just the cheap shit, but hey it's an apple!!!!!) when software and compilers were custom made for them, but since going intel there is no reason to support apple unless you have stock in them, care about image over quality, or are just an idiot.

IMHO Linux for expert users and servers, Windows for servers, office workers, gamers, and people who know some tech. Apple for grand mothers and the crowd that cares more about conspicuous consumption rather than quality.

I'll also note I have Win7 running on an old ASUS socket 939 NVidia nforce 4 chipset, amd fx-55 (single core, 64bit, integrated IMC) CPU, 4gb ddr1 pc3200 (DDR400 low latency), ripped out the dual 6800 ultras in it and plopped in a single NVidia quadro. That's like 2004 era tech, damn thing runs fine.

Where you get hit on the "hardware" side of things is the BIOS, or UEFI as it's known/implemented today. In a nut shell, the microcode to add modern stuff just doesn't exist, so it flat out won't work. Leave the apple shithole and you'll find companies like ASUS often update their BIOS religiously, so adding in stuff that shouldn't work is easy. Plus in both Windows and Linux someone will create a new BIOS you can flash on to use the new stuff anyways as long as it's socket compatible.

That doesn't exist in the apple world and it's not possible. The reason "it just works" is because they do not allow that and force you to upgrade.

Ditch your fucking laptop and buy a desktop part by part. Dual boot Windows and Linux so you can use what you need when you need it. Get rid of the steaming pile of shit that is OSX and load Linux on all your laptops. Enjoy proper computing instead of making a fashion statement.

Brian Link said...

Along the lines of what Geese said - I've always preferred PC boxen because they're customizable. My mainboard is from 1999 right now, but I'm able to upgrade memory, processors, graphics cards et al one at a time. I've finally hit the edge of the usefulness of the mainboard now, since the architecture of expansion cards and chips has progressed to the point where replacements are very expensive, given their rarity.
So, I'll pony up for a new mainboard at some point (which is not insignificant cash-dollars), with bare-bones features. Then I can resume upgrading the memory, graphics, processor, etc, incrementally.
I used to be able to use an excuse that Macs don't run Windows, and therefore are unusable for me since I'm a Windows programmer. But I've been at several gigs where other guys were dual-booting iOS and Windows with ease. The hardware is still mostly a closed-box though.

wetcasements said...

PCs are kinda bad, but Apple is horrible. Avoid it at all costs.

As long as you never use IE you should be fine.

The New York Crank said...

Yes but...

There clearly seem to be some clever workarounds for people who know what they're talking about. But you lose me when you say things like, "I'll also note I have Win7 running on an old ASUS socket 939 NVidia nforce 4 chipset, amd fx-55 (single core, 64bit, integrated IMC) CPU, 4gb ddr1 pc3200 (DDR400 low latency), ripped out the dual 6800 ultras in it and plopped in a single NVidia quadro."


The one inarguably brilliant thing about most computers these days is that you can have near zero tech knowledge, plug it in, and still make it play. What you're saying to me is the equivalent of a mechanic driving up to a little old lady stuck on the edge of the Interstate and telling her, "Hey, all you have to do is open up the engine block, replace the crankshaft, sandblast the valves, and she'll run like new."

Could I take several months or maybe even years off, enroll in some intensive courses and master this stuff? Maybe. But that defeats what made computers ubiequitous. You don't have to be a master mechanic to drive a car, and you shouldn't have to be a computer engineer or software designer (even an amateur one) to get more than four years of useful life out of a $2,500 machine, particularly one that works exactly the way it worked when you took it out of the box.

Yours crankily,
The New York Crank

Never Ben Better said...

Why are you paying two or three grand for an Apple machine when you can get a Windows laptop for half of that which will do the same job? I'm what Geese would put in the office worker tier of computer users, with three desktops -- the oldest a 2004 Dell* -- and a laptop running seven printers/all-in-ones for my home office (so many because I want redundancy plus for EVERY function I need to work) and my entire setup probably cost me under three grand. In the last ten years I've had just two virus attacks that got past my defenses and required a trip to the computer doctor to clean out. I can't run .docx files on my two XPs but I can and do use .doc on the two Win7s with no problem.

Heck, if I recall correctly, I paid maybe 400 bucks or so for my other XP desktop, some obscure brand called ZT, and it works just as well as the Dell desktop, the Dell laptop, and the Gateway all-in-one desktop for the jobs I dedicate to it.

Go browse the reviews for the various Windows machines out there and see what will suit your needs. I bet you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much money you can save and still get all the functions you're paying Apple prices for.

Oh, and whatever Windows machine you get with the pre-installed basic programs, take the McAfee or Norton shit right off and install something useful for protection, like Avast or Trend Micro or Kaspersky.

*Okay, so the 2004 Dell needs to be deliberately pull-the-plug crashed now and then to get it out of freeze-up and back working up to par, but it still does the few jobs I keep it alive for just fine.

John Robinson said...

Yerah, I agree that Macs are lovely as long as you plan on replacing them every few years. For those of us who don't have that kind of cash in lumps, the incremental upgrade route of IBM-compatibles is the way to go. I stopped screwing around with most of the more serious stuff since it always seems to become a brutal life-and-death struggle between me and the OS/BIOS, but swapping in a new video card or adding a larger HD or new optical drive is a piece of cake. Even replacing a CPU (and usually also a power supply) is no big deal most of the time. I'm no longer a fan of Dells, but I still prefer them to Apples.

The New York Crank said...

First of all, my apologies for misspelling ubiquitous in my last comment. And the there's this:

The most salient quote (but read the whole article for context) is this:

"What does this say about Apple? It says this is a company in a bubble, a company that still believes it knows more than you do about what you want."

Yours crankily,
The New York Crank

Geese Howard said...

@New York Crank,

I was just dumping the specs out in case you knew. Those specs are old as hell 2004/5ish era hardware. The purpose was to show that you can keep things running if you stay off the mac eco system.

That box started off with Windows XP, the 6800 ultras were 400 buck a pop video cards back then. The only changes to the machine were removing them and installing an nvidia quadro graphics card and an SSD. The quadro was simply to lower the power consumption, and the SSD was simply for faster boot times. That box has run Windows XP + Fedora Linux, Windows Vista + SuSE Linux, and now runs Windows 7 + SuSE Linux.

The only reason I bothered to change the OS was to keep up with what we use at work. I have to support Linux/Windows servers and desktops, so I generally install the OS I deal with at work on my boxes at home.

You don't need to work in IT to have a computer that you can extract a decades worth of use from. You can just buy a midrange PC and then use Crucials memory/ssd configurator to upgrade it halfway through (Crucial is part of Micron so unlike most companies they actually make memory and know what works in what with out settings timings, speed, voltage and everything else in the BIOS on your own, it's plug and go).

The reason apple is "open the box and use" is also the reason it's "throw it away after two years and buy a new one". It's made for idiots. Thus it has a limited selection and is meant to be thrown out entirely when it runs into trouble. On the other hand Windows requires more technical skill, but you can upgrade the damn things to your hearts content and add all sorts of stuff. However that comes with a risk, the more you alter the box the more you run the risk of having to trouble shoot it on your own.

When my machines hit the point where they are no longer fast enough for my needs I don't throw them away. I give them one final upgrade (max amount of memory, fastest CPU for that socket, clean them all out, wipe the drives and do a clean OS install) and give them to my parents/uncle/older brother and they live on there.

Hell my dad has an old Pentium 2 system I gave him that is still going strong, we got that thing in the mid 90's. It's got a version of Windows 95 that I personally hardened against penetration. This way he can play all his old DOS games and other stuff. Works perfectly.

You don't even want to know how old some of the odd servers I keep going are, a decade isn't even that long for those, all work fine.

The point is that if you are buying a computer as a tool the problem you have doesn't exist. But if you are buying fancy electronic toys and using them as computers, the problem you have very much exists... and it's entirely related to your brand of choice.

Distortion not Noise said...

I am in the same boat with a 10 year old laptop, and several 5+ year old imacs. I am sad Snow Leopard is being mothballed because it worked well and I have a bunch of programs that will not work on Mavericks (which I dislike for the idiotic security preference defaults among other things). I am resigned to taking the last Snow Leopord machine offline and using it for the things it can still do without endangering my retirement. But with regard to MS Office, You could stop paying MS and use NeoOffice ($10 per year) which works pretty well and opens and saves to ms formats. I am going to donate other old machines to a public school.

Distortion not Noise said...

And as for the Apple bashers out there, when something works pretty well for a group of people, that's a good thing. The fact that most people don't care about what is going on under the hood is very similar to automobiles. I don't give a crap as long as it gets good mileage and doesn't break down. The cost difference used to be severe but is no longer.
I don't understand the vitriol for Apple. All multinational companies have their own interests at heart not yours. I don't believe that a 10 year old pc works any better than a 10 year old Mac because they weren't designed to handle the amount and type of data that exists now. That said, I am contemplating buying a pc this time and putting a linux partition on it along with a mac partition to learn enough of linux so I could potentially stop paying both MS and Apple.

Geese Howard said...

It's not bashing apple at all. It's a statement of fact. If you purchase a mac you aren't purchasing a computer. You are purchasing an electronic device that is more of a fashion/class statement than a computing tool, and is designed to be thrown away entirely every few years and replaced with a new one.

Not only because it won't work properly, but because it's no longer the fashion statement it once was.

That's not an attack, it's calling a duck a duck. That's their business plan, and it's an amazingly successful one at that. If you don't like it, or you can't afford it, you shouldn't be buying it in the first place.

Products that are made so you pay to be noticed or are fashionable all work like this. Apples are for people that get the new BMW every year because people will know, or buy the new rolex with minor differences because people will notice. It's why these things are ubiquitous in industries like fashion or design, but non existent in industries like engineering. Part of paying to be noticed is people noticing you can pay a lot and do it repeatedly. It helps attract the right people to the brand by keeping it out of the hands of the riff raff and only in the hands of the upper class.

Again, I have no problem with brands like these. Shit I buy Rolex, I have jeans that cost hundreds of dollars. But it is what it is... and I wouldn't want to use those items for more than two years because then it's old and thus the power of the brand and it's cost of entry is vastly reduced.

I'm fine with it personally, but I know I'm spending money to prove I can spend money, not because the product is any good.

Paul said...

My dad just updated his circa 2002 desktop to W7. Working great for him. He spent $350 on it back then.

Mac wants to sell hardware, so it behooves them to create software that isn't backwards compatible.

I'm a graphic designer/video editor. I demand the best performance out of my machines. I understand specs. My co-worker's Mac has worse performance than mine, at twice the cost. And it's in a box that can't be physically upgraded with RAM or video processing.

Specs are specs. Buy Windows next time. Save you money and the hassle.

Joe said...

My own experience doesn't match Geese's description very well.

Years ago, I opened up the case of a Mac II and I was impressed. Those guys build computers better than I can, and they've kept it up. Wintel and Linux, no way - with those, I have to do a ton of work myself, and I'd rather not.

Also, I have a BSD command line right there, whenever I want it. I use it more than anything except the browser. I don't use much 3rd-party software, though. I use Apple and Mozilla stuff for connectivity, and home-written stuff for real computation. I know I'm not the mainstream, but Geese talks like I don't exist at all.