Don't buy a Mac.

I'm sure the title of this post will cause at least one of my friends or regular readers to spit on their display, and for that I apologize. I can'tbelieve I'm even writing the words myself. This isn't the setup for a joke, or a clever bit of reverse psychology. I genuinely believe that now is a terrible time to buy a Mac and a terrible time to be a Mac user.

If you're not a regular reader of this blog, please understand the following:

  • I'm a life long fan of Apple. I started on the Apple II platform and started my subscription to MacUser magazine when I was in the fifth grade.
  • I derive my living from the Mac platform as the sysadmin for a Mac-based ad agency.
  • I can't stand Windows for anything other than gaming.

In summary, I'm your typical Mac nerd. I love Apple and I love Macs. This leads to an obvious question, "Why would a Mac user publicly warn people against Apple products?" At first, the answer is elusive. Apple seems to be executing on all cylinders. Mac OS X is lauded as a technical and usability marvel. Apple's just completed a very rapid and very beneficial transition to a new CPU architecture. Macs have never been more cost competitive than they are right now. By all appearances, now is the perfect time to switch. I've been singing that song for 18 months.

Sadly, underneath that shiny bit of PR buzz, the execution is lacking. Actually, lacking is a poor choice of words. The execution is terrible. I mentioned I work for an ad agency. That agency is 100% Mac based. From creative to media, from account service to accounting there's a Mac on every desk and no Windows PCs in sight. We're somewhat well known for our tendency to stay ahead of the curve in terms of technology adoption. In fact, we're known enough that Apple even did a success story on us for

As a result, we've been very aggressive in deploying Intel Macs. Our company is growing at an unprecedented rate and we're also in the middle of retiring some older machines. Most of our Intel Macs are MacBooks, but we have iMacs, minis and MacBook Pros as well. I'd like to offer you a brief summary of our experiences:

90% of our MacBooks have experienced at least one of the following issues:

  1. Random, frequent shutdowns. Machines generally have to be out for repair for days or even weeks because the needed parts on are backorder. This issue occurs in over 40% of our machines and many have to go back for additional service on the same issue.
  2. No video on startup unless the user resets PRAM. Neither Apple Authorized Service Providers, nor Apple support has been able to offer any suggestion aside from "reseat the RAM."
  3. Top case-discoloration. A replacement top-case fixes it, but it's still downtime for the user.

30% of our Intel iMacs have had logic board failures. One machine had to go back 4 times. Thankfully the Core 2 iMacs are, so far, functioning perfectly.

No Mac minis have had any issues at all. We have quite a few running as the backend of a presentation system, so this is encouraging.

Our MacBook Pros have been solid, at least in terms or hardware. Software reliability is another story.

The people in our company with MacBook Pros are executives. They make frequent client presentations. These presentations are presented at high resolutions and often contain HD video. Our presentation platform is Keynote. Because these machines tend to be out of the office more than they are in it, our MacBook Pros are not bound to our Open Directory server. The local users are also admins so that they can change their computer's configuration as needed in a presentation environment.

Our employees are terrific. Even though they have admin access, I don't have issues with people loading unapproved software, fonts or any other items. Some of these users do allow Software Update to do its thing when it prompts them. Like so many other people have witnessed, Mac OS X 10.4.8 is not a well behaved update. This morning I've had three MacBook Pros come in that will not start up. Three.

All our computers are ordered BTO from Apple. We use Apple RAM and Apple installs it. We don't install any of the much famed haxies. The only third party software on these machines is Office 2004. So, why is an OS update killing these machines? As with hardware, Apple's software QA seems to be on vacation.

When you add these issues with the long lead times when ordering Macs, I end up with a situation where we have several employees at any given moment who don't have a computer to work on. That is obviously an incredible drag on productivity. This is the crux of the issue and the reason I'm writing this. If you need your computer, you can't afford to be a Mac user right now. The reliability isn't there.

If the situation does not improve quickly, we'll be forced to add PCs to the mix. They have their own set of support issues, but right now we feel trapped by a single vendor with no options to protect our operations. Our founders and management are all Mac fans, but at some point that's not enough. We're at that point.

In the unlikely event that this post gets linked, or dugg or slashdotted I want to emphasize that the problems here are specific. My rep and engineer at Apple have been nothing but empathetic, supportive and helpful. Apple support has likewise been great, although unable to get repairs done in a timely manner. Also, our local Apple Authorized Service Provider has been incredible, although again part backorders have made for lengthy waits.

I'd love to hear comments from other Mac admins on the subject.

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