Archive for January, 2010

Macs and PCs

January 4, 2010

Time for a story about computers.

About two and a half years ago, when was leaving Manchester University to move to Durham, I bought myself a new PC laptop. At Manchester I’d been allowed to use a laptop owned by the Business School there, and had got on well with it. It worked well. It was based on Windows XP, and except for a few problems with wireless networks, it gave me very few problems.

The laptop was bought from a high street chain and was from a large Japanese manufacturing company. It was based on Windows Vista, which had just come out. It was a disaster. The software on the hard drive simply didn’t work – it seemed incompatible with the new operating system. Then Vista accused me of having a pirate copy (despite the software being preinstalled on the machine). I range Microsoft, who told me I’d have to buy a new license. I took it back to the shop, who got in touch with Microsoft, and got rid of the error. Then it came back. I got my money back.

Undeterred I bought another laptop based on Vista, this time from another large electronics company who you’ve probably heard of. This one worked better – the software didn’t fall over all the time. However, about 3 months in the battery started playing up, and then refused to charge properly. It was returned to the manufacturer, who said they’d fixed it, but they hadn’t. They gave me a refund.

Next I purchased an XP laptop from a large American company. This worked reasonably well until, one day on a train to Wakefield, smoke started coming out of it. I think this was because XP seemed unable to always detect that it was supposed to be in sleep mode with the screen shut (this happened a few times on my Manchester machine as well), and the machine had got over-heated in my bag. The manufacturers fixed it, but I’d had enough. I decided to buy a mac.

Now the thing with macs is that the operating system is so much better than anything that Microsoft has ever produced that the comparison just doesn’t stand up. The test is that you stop noticing the operating system on a mac because it just works. No crashes, it comes instantly out of suspend, it just goes along. But, the range of software is rather limited, and it the versions of Office programmes just aren’t as good as those available for Windows.

As a result, I’ve always run Windows in a window on the mac using a program called Parallels. It’s very clever – I have Windows XP running alongside the mac, and am able to use software like Nvivo which you can’t get on the mac.

This week, fed up with the poor performance of Word for mac (thanks Microsoft), I went and bought a new Windows 7 machine. Good grief. All the problems of nearly three years ago began again. The machine, again from a well known and respected PC manufacturer, kept coming out sleep mode with the trackpad disabled. Looking this up on the web, it was a well known problem. Another problem as that the speaker outputs both seemed to be wired to the left speaker, with nothing coming out of the right one. I took it back to Curry’s today and got a refund.

So here’s the thing. Am I really unlucky with PC laptops, or is that the industry is in complete disarray? Stuff just doesn’t work. I would like to have the convenience of using a PC again, but it seems no-one can supply me a machine that works.

So I’m staying with my mac, and running Word 2007 in a window on it, with XP running in the background to allow that. This seems to me to be an extraordinary way of having to use a computer, but for now there doesn’t seem to be an alternative. One day there may be a PC for me, but at present it just doesn’t seem to be the case.