by Larkin Vonalt

And Why You Should Be Too.

I am a long time Apple fan. I have fond memories of the Apple Performa. I wrote some of my best work on a 1991 Apple laptop, a Powerbook 140 with an 80MB hard drive. I’ve put together whole newspapers on a G4. And yes, I wept when Steve Jobs died.

But I am cross with Apple, and you should be too.

We bought an iMac in 2007. I understand for the “Geniuses” at the “Genius Bar” that four year represents a fifth of their lives, half their adult tenure. It represents the whole span from trembling freshman to cocksure graduate. Yeah, I get it. But wait ’till you get to be edging up on the wrong side of fifty and four years will seem like no time at all.

Little did I know in 2007 that I was buying one of the notorious Shanghai  Factory W8 computers. Though it serves us well, it did develop a hiccup with the hard drive– but we lost only the email and little else. You kind of take that in stride, like having to replace a water pump in your car. It’s just one of those things.

Then the vertical lines came. First just one, off to the far left of the monitor, a single line of violet. Over the next weeks, it was two and then twelve and then twenty. It turns out that iMacs manufactured the winter of 2006 at Apple Factory W8 in Shanghai will all over time develop this problem of creeping vertical lines until eventually the entire display is obscured.  Eighteen months ago, Apple had a service memo on this problem, but since they now consider this not-quite-five year old computer obsolete, that memo has expired.

I went to the Apple Store with the computer in my arms and bellied up to the Genius bar. They agreed to see what they could do. A few days went by, a week. They were having a problem getting the part. On the tenth day, I got the call that the Mac was ready to be picked up. In the interim my husband had bought a Toshiba laptop. While I was grateful to have some kind of computer access, using that clunky little machine made me long even more for the gracefulness of the Apple interface.

We had the iMac at home for five days before the display started to wobble. Then roll, like the televisions of my childhood. Sadly, unlike those televisions, a smack to the side of the box did not fix the problem. So we went back to the Apple Store, this time tearful with frustration. The “Genius” is sympathetic. He’s one of the managers and he gives me his card. Give him a week, he says, and they will have it back to me good as new, including the foot that some unfeeling lout had left pen marks on the last time it was in.

When the iMac came home, it was indeed, good as new. This is not why I’m cross with Apple. This, too, is like one of those automotive mishaps that happens to your car and not to your buddy’s. Machines break. Just one of those things. No, the reason I am quite fed up with the Wonderful World of Steve Jobs is that they are intentionally selling us something with an artificially short shelf-life.  It used to be that when you bought a Macintosh it would still be functioning long after you’d outgrown it.  No  more.  If my computer were a food product, it would be fresh sashimi-grade tuna, excellent for 15 minutes.

Listen, dear reader, to my melancholy tale, for if  you have a Macintosh, this sad song is yours to sing as well.

My old iPod had developed quirks; it no longer saved playlists, it wouldn’t charge sometimes, then it would.  So last month I bought a new iPod. Just went into a store, chose the color (graphite) and the size (8 gig) and walked out. Went home and plugged it in. Up popped a message that this new iPod could not sync to my music library because it needed iTunes 10. So I went to download iTunes 10 and I got a message that iTunes 10 required an operating system of at least OS 10.5. Dammit. The iMac came with Tiger (Mac OS 10.4.11) installed, with only 512 MB of random access memory.

I was not a happy camper. But I had work-related things I had to produce on the computer, so I set the iPod aside for a few weeks. There were other hints that I was going to have to upgrade. The system was crashing more often. Mozilla Firefox wouldn’t download the newest browser. I couldn’t even have more than one application open at a time. I grew to hate that spinning beach ball, and its implied message:  “Please continue to hold.”

It’s the number of generations out of date that becomes the sticky wicket. Since Tiger had leapt on the scene, it had been outpaced by Leopard, and then Snow Leopard and finally Lion. Panther? Who remembers Panther? Once you are three generations out, my friend, you are toast.

I couldn’t upgrade to Leopard because Leopard too is regarded as obsolete. So I bought the upgrade to Snow Leopard 10.6.8.  Of course I couldn’t install Snow Leopard because the computer didn’t have enough memory. So I bought 2 gig memory sticks and installed them.  Now I’ve spent an extra hundred dollars to make the iPod work, but I was still feeling philosophical about it, and quite pleased with myself for having mastered the installation of memory and software upgrade.

Until I went to use Photoshop. No dice– and okay, it was Photoshop Elements 2 (from 2002!) and I can see that it might be time for an update there. Lucky me, the newest Photoshop Elements 10 is on sale for fifty bucks. Then I had to scan a document to send in an email to someone. The printer would not function. Okay, maybe I didn’t plug it in. Nope, it’s plugged in, and I try printing something– that works just fine.

Hours go by as I search out an upgrade for the HP driver to restore the functionality of scanning, copying and faxing. Finally, in one line of text, buried deep in a document, after downloading several installers, I read that the Officejet 6110 is not compatible with Mac OS 10.6 and above. I’m not feeling so philosophical anymore. But I put on my coat and go out into the rain and buy a new printer. Now we are up to $220 out-of-pocket, just to sync the damn iPod.

The worst is still to come.

Years ago, when I produced a weekly newspaper in a little town in Montana (on a Macintosh G4, remember?) I used the graphic design program, Quark Express 2.  It wasn’t cheap, but it was intuitive and I grew to love it. I can make anything with Quark! I can make you something that looks like a dictionary page, or a wedding invitation or any kind of printed matter (or web page) you can think of. I have a thousand beautiful fonts. It is exquisite. In 2007, I bought Quark 7 for the new iMac, thinking rightly that the one designed for the Linux-based operating system was not going to be happy in the new Intel based system.

Beloved Quark. I know Quark like the road map home. I can run Quark in my sleep. It is familiar and comfortable, second nature now. On Wednesday, I designed an announcement that needed to be mailed the next day. The program seemed to run a little slow, but nothing indicated that there could be a problem lurking. I even downloaded a new font to use. When I went to export the file to be printed, it crashed. And crashed again. And crashed a third time.

So I start reading. Various forums indicate a problem with a certain kind of fonts. Quark themselves say that running Quark 7 with Mac OS 10.6.8 is not supported. There are no free or low-cost upgrades. I have a very long “chat” with a Quark customer service representative who recommends downloading the free 30-day trial of Quark 9.  I download it, copy the document and it crashes again. It’s not even finding the Helvetica font for Pete’s sake! I wade through Apple support documents and download both “upgrades” or patches for Snow Leopard. I make an appointment for a phone call with Apple support. It is after three in the morning when I go to bed, defeated. I have spent five freaking hours just trying to make Quark run. If I have to actually upgrade the program (and it looks that way) it will cost $300.

In the  morning, while waiting for the Apple “Genius” to call me, I re-design the announcement in Word. God, it’s ugly. Are they called “Geniuses” on the phone too? Whatever. The boy on the phone is very sweet and assures me that I’ve done all the right things and that it should work. He listens, a little bemused at my complaints that the computer is “not that old!” and offers as a platitude that his parents are still using a Mac “even older than yours, but mostly just for word-processing.”  Sigh.

He gives me a case number and suggests that I reinstall Snow Leopard. I haven’t done it yet. I don’t hold out much hope that it will work– and if it doesn’t, then I have more decisions to make, and probably more money to spend. Maybe I can move iTunes and Snow Leopard to an external hard drive and go back to my nice quiet life with the Tigers.

There’s one more insult.  Snow Leopard isn’t the most recent Mac operating system, that’s Lion. And guess what? My computer won’t hold enough memory to run Lion, so when Snow Leopard is completely obsolete (two years? three if I’m lucky) I will have to buy a new computer. So whatever upgrades and improvements I invest in now, I can be certain that they won’t work in no time at all.

Would you buy a dishwasher with that kind of shelf-life? Even if you only spent a few thousand dollars on a car, you’d expect it to go on for several years. If I spent that  much money on a painting or a sculpture or a desk, I’d expect to have it for the rest of my life.  Even a purebred puppy lasts ten to twelve years. Yet Apple blithely expects that we will shell out another two grand every five or six years just to be able to update our iPods and check our email.

God forbid you actually use the iMac (or Macbook or what-have-you) in a professional capacity as a writer or designer or photographer. Not only do you have to pay a lot more for that software, you can be certain that Apple will make sure that it is useless in the time it takes a reasonable wine to mature.

I never thought it would be Apple that would have me crying for consumer protection, but that’s where we are.  Though it’s Apple that has made my life topsy-turvy this week, all the computer companies are equally malevolent in this aspect. All of them should be required by law to insure the functionality of their software for a minimum of ten years. Ten years would be acceptable. Go on making huge strides in development, make more wondrous machines, but make sure you don’t abandon your earlier creations in the dust.  And Geniuses, you’ll get old too, and you’ll see in time that four years is no time at all.