The Computer Blog

Monday, February 23, 2004

Apple’s Quality Control—Their Achilles’ Heel?

With the release of the mini iPod last Friday, reports have surfaced today that the new device is sporadically freezing. Unless you’re inside the Apple camp, there’s no way to really know how widespread the problem is. But considering Apple’s recent track history regarding quality control—actually, its lack of it—one has to wonder whether Apple’s great opportunity to bridge into the world of the everyday consumer will be stopped dead in its tracks by the defects in quality control that have been affecting the rest of its products.

Apple ignored the iBook motherboard problems until a lawsuit and emerging bad press forced it to take action. With the mini iPod or any other product that has the potential to enter the mainstream, the damage poor quality control can do the company will be far deeper than that even a class action lawsuit would bring.

As much as I’d like to have a G5, they seem to suffer from a broad smattering of problems that include noise in the audio circuits, noisy power supplies, and the inability of the computers to burn DVD’s using Apple’s latest version of iDVD (iDVD4). Great reasons not to buy a G5 when you’re into videography, as I am. I’m leery of the G5. As much as I’d like to buy a machine, I’m more apt to buy a dual processor G4 not only because they are cheaper but because they’ll give me fewer problems. All the speed in the world doesn’t mean anything if the computer won’t do what you need it to, a lesson I learned all too well on the PC side of the computing world.

How big is Apple’s problem? They’re not talking. If Apple really wants to capitalize on the momentum it seems to have, it needs to return to a very basic business and manufacturing fundamental. Whatever they make has to work and work well, or it is all for naught, no matter how good the overall product is.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Sometimes newer is not better…

The old saying that goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” certainly doesn’t apply to computer software. Too often, it appears that someone changed something original in a program for the sake of change, not because it wasn’t working, and they invariably made it worse. I know I’ve bitched before about what I consider to be the darkness of Panther’s interface and how much I dislike it, but I’m going to mention it again because it feeds into the changes Apple continues to make to its operating system, changes I’m questioning as necessary.

Really, about the only thing Panther has going for it is Expose and the fact that Apple has locked some application functionality, like the new iChat AV Beta and the Safari upgrade, into it. (It’s sad when Apple has to take a Microsoft course and try to push upgrades on people with such tactics, but that is what appears to be happening.) While there are some other smaller things also going for it, I don’t use any of them enough to make them assets to me. Between Panther’s darkness (greyness?), its inconsistent and sometimes slower performance across my home network, and the fact that one of my prime OS X applications won’t run on it, I’m sometimes regretting the upgrade. My only salvation has been the fact that I can boot my PowerMac from either of its hard disks, so I am running both Jaguar and Panther on the machine. As pressed as I am for time right now, I am honestly thinking about doing some slight reconfiguration of the machine to support booting into Jaguar as my prime operating system. I have already decided that I will not move completely off Jaguar, though that had been my original intent.

I find myself in the same situation I am in on my Windows machine. I am holding onto Windows98SE because my PaperPort scanner works reliably under it and doesn’t under Windows XP. While I like XP’s functionality more, Win98 is easier to troubleshoot and keep running. I won’t be getting rid of it anytime soon.

The mentality of the computer companies is that the newer product is always better and therefore whatever losses you incur in moving up is worth it. That ain’t always so. It ain’t always the truth. Yes, they must keep moving ahead to make a profit and keep growing, but they don’t have to do it at my expense. Apple’s now infamous yearly $129 OS updates are getting old; the thing that has made them palatable are the family pack deals where you can upgrade multiple machines, usually five, on one license for only about twice the cost. But, as I’ve already said in this blog, I’ll be looking a lot more critically at any OS releases next year from Apple before I spend any money. There will have to be a dammed good reason beyond fixing Panther’s bugs before I’ll go there.

Of course, sometimes newer is better. After looking at the newest version of Photoshop, I have convinced myself to upgrade. I love the new Photomerge and its file manager and they plus the new filters and color matching filters make it worth the expense. That would not be true if activation software was also present; but it is not on the Mac versions, so I feel okay about taking the plunge. I will also look at upgrading my other Adobe software (Illustrator, Go Live, and InDesign) on the Mac side; my Windows versions will stay where they are since I so rarely use them and I’m not willing to further support activation schemes in software.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Jaguar is brighter than Panther…

I know I’ve said this before, but I love Jaguar’s brighter interface. Panther has its speed and additional features going for it, but I feel like Apple went backwards in interface design and moved OS X more toward the dull look and feel of Windows with Panther. Often, when I use Panther, I use ShapeShifter and a Jaguar GUI theme to get me back to a Jaguar look; but it’s still not quite the same. You never quite step away entirely from Panther’s dirty look. There’s a lot about Jaguar that’s brighter, and it has a much better feel.

I’m writing this note using Jaguar. I have two hard disks mounted in my 2002 Quicksilver PowerMac, and I have Panther loaded on the boot disk and Jaguar loaded on my second. I can’t transition to Panther entirely—and actually don’t want to—because my CD/DVD labeling application won’t run under Panther. It’s the same situation I found myself in on the Windows’ side of things were I was forced to build a dual-boot system to be able to use my Visioneer PaperPort scanner, an old tool I still find immensely useful. Amazing how much some things change, they still remain the same.

After several years of paying for operating system upgrades, I’m at the point where I’m looking very critically at whether or not I will do the next. Frankly, I would have to have a very compelling reason to. Additionally, if I felt that Apple had wandered even farther away from the bright, colorful designs of OS X that helped draw me to it, I would have an even bigger uphill climb to make. The odds are I won’t do it, just like the odds are I won’t upgrade to Longhorn. It would probably take a new machine here to take me into a new OS, and that machine would probably be a G5. In any case, it’s more than likely a year away. Apple’s new OS probably is, too; and Longhorn is even further out than that; so, it’s not something to worry about.

Will I have to take them to court?

The official report on the damage to my son’s PC inflicted by UPS is now at my local UPS store. I know because they called the house the other day, even though they didn’t leave a message. Game playing! I’m sure they’re hoping I’ll forget and not come in and they can claim they called, even though they never made any real attempt to get in touch with me. I’m going down there today and talk to them. My hope is that we can settle this thing amicably without me having to take them to small claims court, but everything I’ve seen and heard from the company since the inspection makes me think that won’t be the case. If I have to go down the hard road just to get reimbursed for the damage they did, I will never ship anything with them again. If the store just settles up (and I’m being generous since they’re not being charged for labor), then I’ll consider doing business with them again.

I’ll update this section later today with what happened when I went to the UPS Store.
(See the Beware UPS page for updates and more info.)

Update: 12:26 p.m., February 7, 2004

I have been reading the situation correctly. From the beginning, it has been apparent that UPS had no intention of compensating us for the damage they did to the CPU. After first denying that UPS has sent him a report, the store owner admitted that the claim had been denied after I confronted him with the fact that the store had called the house.

I intend to take the store and the company to small claims court and seek damages under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices act. I'm not going to give my case away here; but what I will say is this: I will never ship with UPS again. All their practices, from riding around Houston for a day with my packages when they arrive early to the total absense of customer service I have recived after they damaged the CPU, that the customer, especially the small business or individual customer, is not something they care about. I believe I have a pretty good case in court. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Once everything has made its way through the legal system, I'll post pictures of the damaged box, the damaged case, and the damaged packaging.

For the rest of you doing business with UPS Stores, I would advise against shipping with them at all. If you feel like you must, then be sure you sit down and read all the disclaimers they put on the little yellow receipts they give you. I think it'll make you think twice about shipping with them and well it should.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

VISA Scam

A nice little VISA scam showed up in my mailbox a couple of days ago. It was just like a million others floating around, though ingeniously done, that asked for me to click on a “Continue” button where it would take me to a website and have me verify my VISA info. The “social engineering” of this one consisted of it purporting to be from VISA and that this was a security check; and, indeed, it was. It just wasn’t the security check it would have you believe it was.

I would say I doubt if there’s anyone who doesn’t know by now that if any e-mail arrives asking you for personal or financial information, it needs to be treated as suspicious. But the fact that these things keep arriving and people keep falling for them says that not everyone understands that, yet. And they’ll keep showing up until everyone does and sending them becomes not worth the risk of being prosecuted.

To respond to the note, I surfed over to the VISA website where I located the real VISA address where their security folks reside and forwarded the e-mail to them along with a note detailing when and how I had received it. I received a response within hours saying that they had already contacted the authorities and were pursuing the source(s) of the note. It also explained how helpful it was for folks to forward stuff like this to them. They depend on us telling them this is going on.

The cool thing about the Internet is the worldwide community it creates. Like any community, though, it contains folks who don’t have their act together and seem to feel that the only way they can make a living or find happiness—and the two are often mutually exclusive—is to take advantage of or hurt others. In the long run, scam, spam, and other abuses of the Net hurt the Internet itself since they provide fodder for more regulation, more security, and more governmental intrusiveness. A lot of reports compare the Internet to the Wild West; remember, the West was tamed.

HP Business Inkjet 1100D

For the last two years, I’ve been looking for a good replacement for my HP 940c inkjet printer. I have a need for color brochure printing on demand; and while the 940C could produce some nice colors and detail, it was terrible from an overall production standpoint due to paper misfeeds and high ink costs. (I would typically lose 25% of a run due to misfeeds.)

Why have I been looking for two years? Well, I never have been able to find a printer that reviews shows had the right balance of cost, utility, and performance. Ever since the 1100D was released, though, I’ve been reading reviews on the web, snatching print samples for showroom printers at computer stores, and searching the web for a good price. I decided a couple of weeks ago it was finally time to move forward, and I would buy an 1100D.

I spent several hours yesterday getting the printer to run on three machines, two Power Macs and a Windows XP/98SE Andy-built machine. As it turned out, most of the problems were due to a Belkin USB 2.0 hub I had in my little USB office network. Even without that, though, Panther just was not extremely friendly to the drivers that came with this printer. It took several attempts to get the printers to load and have Panther recognize them. Jaguar, on the other hand, had no problems at all. Windows XP started bogging down and locking up after I installed the HP software; troubleshooting revealed the culprit was the printer’s “Monitor My Print Mileage” (mpm.exe) utility. Once I disabled and uninstalled it, XP worked fine. Win98SE also yield up no problems.

I’ll put up a full review of this printer (hopefully) in the next week, as soon as I have a chance to put the printer through some paces using both my Athlon XP powered Windows XP machine and one of my PowerMacs running Panther.