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All computers suck

I no longer have a working computer and I don’t know what to do about it.

I’m not going to bother whining about Vista, although to make the case for my despair I do have to state for the record that Vista has turned a working XP machine into a useless pile of software failures. I cannot count on any application completing its task. And I’m not referring to Vista’s propensity to interrupt me with security questions. E.g., I spent most of yesterday trying to move 20gb of music from Vista to my MP3 player, hoping that Vista would move all the files before crashing. It took many reboots. App after app freezes or crashes. And I can’t play a graphically intense game, even after downgrading to DX9, without a fresh reboot and no other apps running. Even then, it’s likely to freeze while I’m playing and almost certain to if I leave it alone overnight. And keep in mind that this is on a high-end machine with lots of RAM and hard drive, and a high-end graphics card. So, well, I guess I am going to bother whining about Vista.

Vista is worse than I’d expected (at least in my experience), but what really has me down is that my MacBook — which in most ways I love — continues to be unstable to the point of unusability. I had hoped that Leopard would end the frequent app crashes. So I did a fresh install. Things worked well for a a few weeks. Now it is crashing and freezing frequently. Last night during a presentation, Keynote totally froze, even thought I had done a fresh boot and had nothing else running, and I had to present with slides. (No, that was not an improvement.) This morning, I was interviewing JP Rangaswami for a podcast and Audacity froze and then crashed, wiping out the recording. I continue to get seemingly random app crashes of the kernel error sort. My system is unstable, which is worse than being broken.

I have run every diagnostic I can find, especially looking for bad RAM. I have done a scrape-and-clean reinstall. I literally don’t know what else to do.

I feel like I’m out of options. I don’t mind an occasional crash. But I now don’t have a working computer system — one I can rely on to, say, record a podcast or sync an MP3 player — and I’m actually pretty depressed about it. [Tags: ]

32 Responses to “All computers suck”

  1. Wow. It’s been a few years since I’ve supported Windows (or done desktop support for anyone but myself), but I have lots of Macs. My take on the Macbook is that I would suspect a hardware failure of some kind. Macs just don’t act like that otherwise. Shot in the dark, though: are you in the habit of installing software with kernel extensions, possibly of the non-commercial or small developer variety? I’d hate to point fingers, but these are the only software items I can think of that would destabilize OS X without a large and easily findable outcry–and fix.

  2. David –

    I feel your pain, especially WRT the MacBook. Sounds like you may have a hardware problem. Frequent kernel panics are NOT normal for Macs. They are often an indication of hardware issues.

    Take to laptop to The Computer Loft in Alston . They’re an authorized Apple repair place and can do warranty work. Tell ’em I sent ya.

    Good luck.


  3. Can well understand your misery, David. I’ve been observing lots of Mac-using friends experiencing Leopard and/or hard drive problems. Meanwhile, Vista on my ThinkPad runs faultlessly.

    None of which offers any cheer. Sorry.

  4. Scott, after my Tiger problems, I got pretty careful about what I installed, sticking with fairly well known apps, although Lord knows. I have no idea which have kernel extensions. Growl? DoubleCommand? QuickSilver?

    Max, thanks. The problem is that the crashes are not reproducible. But I will try the Computer Loft, as you suggest. Thanks for all your help all along.

  5. I called The Computer Loft. They say to tell you, Max, that they love you.

    The guy on the phone was terrific. I told him the kernel panics generally reported a problem at x00000000, which he said might indicate a problem in the northbridge memory controller. How could I not love him after that?

    Unfortunately, they need 7 business days to fix it, which is a problem for me. But I may see if I can get everything I need back onto my old Thinkpad and bring it in. I’m not sure I have much choice about it, actually.

  6. If the Vista machine is OK hardware wise and just borked up by Vista, my advice would be to get the Ubuntu liveCD and set up a dual-boot configuration with Windows and Ubuntu. You can set Windows as the default OS so that if you do nothing on startup you’ll still be in Windows, but if Vista gets really flakey, you can have a reasonably pristine Ubuntu install you can use to do all your everyday tasks until you figure out what killed your Windows partition.

    This is how I started experimenting with Linux on the desktop, and while I still have my PC set up to dual boot, I was satisfied enough with Ubuntu that I spend probably 85-90% of my time there these days (basically if I’m doing anything but playing games, I’m in Ubuntu).

  7. I’ve got a couple of ubuntu installations running now, and they’re delightful, but hardly trouble free. The problem with your otherwise excellent suggestion, Jason, is that I’m using Windows now for some apps I can’t easily replace on other platforms, especially MSFT Money, my Creative Labs mp3 music manager (love the player, not crazy about the desktop sw), and games. That aside, I’m on my Mac all day…

  8. How about going back to Windows XP…?

  9. As much as I love supporting local businesses, and I’ve sent many a-person to Computer Loft, I’m certain that the Apple Store in Cambridge would be able to fix it faster. Let’s just say I have some personal experience there. Feel free to email me if you have any questions…

  10. David did you ever tried focusing your attention to the washingmachine while hackin on your pc ?

    it makes miracles to me

  11. “I’m using Windows now for some apps I can’t easily replace on other platforms”

    Well, David, there’s your problem. And the same for Mac. While an Ubuntu user myself, I’d never say it’s a slam dunk to just pop in a LiveCD, but frankly, it would certainly be worth the significant investment of time to try and move to either web-based or cross-platform options…

    I’d shoot for web-based — specifically of the open-source variety. Even if you don’t go the self-hosted route, the option’s always there. Seems like the best of both worlds, and it’s working nicely for me. I can plop down at any ol’ keyboard and get what I need done. Sure, I sacrifice a little bit in application features, but after a while, most of these features just start looking like bloat anyway.

  12. Dean, my problem isn’t that I’m trying to run a handful of apps on Windows. The problem is that Vista is making it difficult and stressful for me to do that.

  13. I had a Macbook Pro which started having regular kernel panics about mid last year. We had an in-house Mac tech who was able to replace the motherboard while I was at lunch, and they went away. It’s definitely not normal for them to be doing that.

    For your non-game apps it’d be worth trying WinXP (or Vista if necessary) in a virtual machine under Parallels Desktop. (Assuming you can get your mac stable, of course!) This way you can easily snapshot the VM in a known-good state, and if the whole thing goes down the damage is contained to your VM instance.

    This approach is less likely to work for games, but you can always keep a pristine windows install on your desktop for those.

  14. I also had a Macbook that was super-flakey and ended up being replaced by Apple, only to also be super-flakey. I sold it to someone willing to try their luck at a reduced price, and went for a Macbook Pro that has by and large been flawless. I don’t know what it is about the Macbooks – I have plenty of friends with them and by and large they have zero problems. The ones I had sucked horribly and almost drove me away from the brand, but the Pro saved the day.

    As someone who makes his living with his computer, I really feel for you. It’s gut-wrenching when these things that hold so much of our lives become unreliable as the norm.

  15. You’ve got hardware problems: bad mobo, bad ram, bad video or bad disk. Take it to the Apple Store or an authorized Apple dealer.

  16. Today’s Globe had ads for a Dell desktop for $400+ and laptop for $500+. Windows XP available.

  17. David, I commiserate. I just bought a new Acer Veriton 6900, and it has come with a host of problems. Computers have been around for ~25 years, and should be getting easier to use, and instead seem to be getting harder. It’s not acceptable, and a person shouldn’t have to be a computer scientist or college freshman to make them work.

    Fight the good fight.


  18. Trying an Ubuntu live CD would seem a low-risk thing to do.

    For what it’s worth, I happily ran Win2k for about 5 years on my main laptop, before getting an iBook which seemed way ahead in user-friendliness and was reasonably stable. I’ve always had a Linux machine around somewhere, but would use it for services etc, not desktop work. Then I got a laptop from my employer with WinXP pre-installed, which seemed a big step backwards in terms of stability. I recently got another Dell, and decided to give Ubuntu a try. Ok, some bits of the config were fiddly, but all the info I needed was available online. Now it seems rock-solid, and I find it more user-friendly than WinXP. Given the stories like yours about Vista (and even Leopard), I think I’ll stick with Ubuntu for a while.

    btw, Audacity runs a treat on Ubuntu (there are a lot of pro-quality audio/music tools around). I’ve had success with slides on OpenOffice a couple of times, though I really should get around to using on of the HTML-oriented approaches – Slidy or S5.

  19. I feel your pain

  20. Thanks, Hanan. The source of my pain is that I LOVE computers :(

    Taking the MacBook into the Computer Loft today. I’ll continue fiddling with Vista because I can’t believe it’s really as bad as it’s being on my machine; besides, I like high-end, graphically-intense games that just won’t run well enough under VMware on my MacBook. And I’ll continue to install ubuntu for relatives who need to be online. (OpenOffice is great for words, but it’s not enough for the slide work I do.)

    Thank y’all.

  21. Just thinking outside of the box. What if the problem’s situated outside your computers. Just guessing, irregular electrical current, for example. Would that destabilize your machines?

  22. Gerrit, it’s a durn fine thought. But I’ve had the electricity checked by two electricians, both of whom did fairly extensive work. One of them is a master electrician who I like and trust to know what he’s doing. Indeed, after he did his work about 2 yrs ago, my hardware failures decreased dramatically. (My big computer is plugged into a massive USP, while my laptop, unfortunately, just goes into the nearest outlet.)

  23. DoubleCommand might be your problem!! I was having issues after my Leopard upgrade. After much googling, I discovered that DoubleCommand was not updated for leopard. Since removing it, I have been pretty much crash-free. (several weeks now)
    (Although, I really miss my mapped forward-delete key!!)

  24. Gordon, DoubleCommand might be contributing to it, but I was having problems before I installed it. Worth looking into. thanks.

    I took my MacBook in to the Computer Loft. They’re worried that the problems may be caused by multiple, intersecting failures. I’m worried that the intermittency of the problems will frustrate their efforts. OTOH, they were surprised that my MB crashed rather than waking up from sleep-mode; I thought that was just the way Mac’s work.

    They say I should check back with them in a week. And, btw, Computer Loft in Allston (Boston) is a little geek cave with computer bits all over — very comforting. (No, I’m not being sarcastic.)

  25. yeah, and firefox crashed while i was reading your story

  26. David

    I wasn’t suggesting your problem was that you’re using a handful of Windows apps but that you’re *stuck* using a handful of Windows apps. Yes, it’s a shame that Vista’s making life difficult, but that pain would be significantly lessened if you had alternatives available.

    Still, it’s pretty sad that both Vista and Leopard bring this much friction to what should be a simple upgrade.

  27. David:

    Like you, I expect the things I pay good money for to work right. My wife, who works for the Federal Aviation Administration, is more pragmatic than either of us, however. She acknowledges that software and hardware seem to have limits way below what is advertised, and for many years has successfully practiced what she calls “partitioning” as a way to keep going. This is done mainly by allocating different types of work/applications to different computers and servers. For example, she maintains a completely separate laptop for use in making presentations. The only things on this computer are PowerPoint, Word, and her web browser. Neither the hardware nor the software is ever pushed to the limit. Also, when preparing to make a presentation, she puts the PowerPoint files onto a CD in the self-presenting mode. That way, she can use almost any borrowed computer to make her presentation if necessary. Beyond this, she also places a copy of the raw PowerPoint files on her private, $4.95-per-month web site so that she can download them at any time.

    For daily work, of course, she keeps a seperate computer, and her “older” computer as backup. As for games, she feels that they should be viewed to be as dangerous as viruses because they tax resources so heavily, and does not keep them on any computer that she must rely upon.

    I’m not sure if this addresses in any way the specific problems you have experienced, but I thought I’d offer it here for you and your readers.

    Curious Ray

  28. I ran across this blog after some random web surfing, and I definitely understand the author’s frustration. I used to build and repair PCs for a living, but got out of thre business due to the simple fact that the entire computer industry has become nothing more than overhyped frustration; on all kinds of levels. The computer industry as a whole is a cesspool of form over substance, and marketing over common sense. It’s filled with nothing more than seriously flawed software and hardware; as well as empty promises.
    The software companies have become almost draconian (“pricks” in simpler terms), and the quality of hardware continues to steadily decline.

    Can you imagine how bad things would be if other things that we use on a daily basis were as unreliable as computers? Can you imagine going thru this kind of crap with something like your car?

    The computer industry is a disgrace in every regard, and consumers have become the victims of their shortcomings.

    You’re certainly not alone in your frustration. When I have computer problems, I find it helpful to picture the entire industry as a single person. I then picture myself sending a good swift kick to the industry’s jewels, followed by a good swift kick to the face. It’s crazy, but it helps; especially during those times when a computer or computers become my worst nightmare.

  29. Hi David,
    Apple replaced my MacBook Pro with a new one when it needed it’s 4th motherboard.

    The brand new one’s shift key is sticky, external La Cie drives don’t always boot, and I can’t capture with FCP from my Canon GL/2, I have to resort to iMovie.

    Something is wrong here.

    It’s troubling.

  30. The Computer Loft found that the motherboard was faulty and put in a new one. I pick it up this afternoon. Fingers crossed…

  31. Hopefully all is well after MacBook’s mobo replacement.

    Just wanted to chime in on this thread since it’s dear to me.

    Computers in general have also been my love – since the 80’s. In my estimation (as well as others it seems) is that they’ve collectively gone down hill. Primarily this is due to increasing complexity, IMO.

    Microsoft’s monopoly, I’m pretty sure, can be fingered as the culprit for this trend. They’ve never cared about doing anything right. INstability has been the norm for their OS’s for the bulk of the company’s existence. Since the 90’s they’ve had such a distorting effect on the computer market that now those “lovely” traits they bring to the table are now widely considered ‘OK’ and even leak into Apple’s products.

    I don’t know what the answer to this problem is, but I do know it’s making me want my Atari 800 back. Plenty of games, great communications software, zero crashes, instant-on. We left all that behind *for this*??? :-)

    Again I hope all is well with the MacBook. Vista can burn in heLL with its maker, but I hope it’s not giving you much pain at present either.


  32. computers DO suck, to some degree.. but the main problem is that, while our normal appliances like TV, refrigerator, toaster, etc, are bullt and expected to perform only one task and do it WELL, computers are built and expected to do MANY different tasks.

    on top of this, we have different hardware and software manufacturers competing for business, constantly budging the lines of quality VS cost. as long as the computer market is like this, we will continue having problems using our computers.

    i do not own a mac, but i can certainly see the higher level of build quality of mac computers, due to the benefit of strictly controlled software development on those computers. only mac can produce mac hardware, and only mac can write mac software. i don’t like it from a consumer’s point of view, but as a technician, it’s a platform that produces a high quality product, as hardware and software are constantly scrutinized for the highest quality BEFORE the product gets to the consumer.

    i completely agree with the idea of using multiple computers for multiple tasks. i have one old desktop that i use for my music production studio, an old laptop that serves as a portable music and DVD player around the house, as well as my wife’s and my personal laptops, which are mainly for personal surfing and doing homework. my laptop, in fact, does not even have a cd/dvd drive, so there is no temptation to install unnecessary games and software.

    but i’m a computer professional, and i keep a lot of old computers around to fix up and do what i like with.

    i honestly feel bad for anyone that has to trust only one computer with ALL of their tasks, because i know all to well how many things would be lost if that one computer got damaged, lost, or infected. .. all your eggs in one basket, as they say.. so i store all my stuff on an external drive, and divide my tasks to separate machines. if anything bad happens, i only lose one function, which can still be picked up by another computer, temprorarily. but that’s just ‘how i roll’.

    have a great day guys!

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