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Buy an iMAc? - Maybe

“Buy an iMAC”, said my friend Barrie, observing the pain I was going through installing Windows XP Service Pack (2) on my “Production” system last Saturday.

“I would”, I replied, “but unlike you, I’m wedded to a Microsoft world and can’t escape if I wanted to. Anyway”, I teased, “the iMAC is not a real personal computer; it’s a digital lifestyle choice, like the iPod and you’re a photographer, so unlike the rest of us, you have a choice and aren’t condemned to a life of Service Packs and endless suffering.”

In fact, I can now rather grudgingly declare Windows XP Service Pack (2) to be a success. I hasn’t eaten any of my applications on any of my computers – so far – and instead appears to have stabilised my main system, which thanks to cumulative patch fatigue, was crashing at least once a day before it was applied.

The problems I was having with SP2 weren’t actually down to Microsoft. For some unknown reason backup CDs created with my Archos drive weren’t readable with my Iomega drive. Worse still, the new Iomega, software appeared to be damaging my Windows installation so badly that it took over three hours of repair before could get the system running properly again.

This rather illustrates the problems we all face in making any form of serious upgrade. Extrapolate my experience and frustration from two to twenty of two hundred systems and the numbers of headaches are bound to compound as no two systems are ever completely identical in my experience and each has its own quirks.

I’d love an iMac of course and an iPod and lots more besides but I’m a pragmatist and I’m reminded that the celebrated author, Umberto Ecco, once wrote an essay in which he argued that the IBM PC was a Protestant machine - grey, sensible, unforgiving, popular with accountants and offering only deferred gratification - while the Apple Macintosh was a Catholic device - sensuous, indulgent, offering immediate gratification and forgiveness on demand. Columnist John Naughton added the postscript that presumably Ecco was thinking of Mediterranean Catholicism rather than the Polish variety.

Living, as we do in a largely Microsoft world, the deferred gratification that Ecco refers to, still appears to lie in the far distance, with the promise of Longhorn, the next release of Windows. It has been suggested that SP2 is actually an interim release of the product, the engine having been replaced with something a little more reliable and of course secure to hold the fort until Microsoft delivers an end to all our problems or we are overrun instead by Linux-toting Penguins.

Until that happy day, I’m stuck with what I know best and which 90% of the time, give me the applications and the compatibility I need for my work with a 10% irritation factor included for free. I’ve had a Macintosh and although it still works perfectly, it’s buried in my attic somewhere because it’s too much trouble for me to master and my daughter prefers Windows. As she’s nine, an expert, she tells me, on computers and Playstations and omnipotent, who am I to argue.

A year ago, Apple offered me an iMAC to use for a long term comparison with Windows for reliability and user experience. It never arrived and so here I am now with SP2, which I declare to be safe, in my experience at least. If it works for me, there’s a good chance it will work for you and but if the iMac finally arrived, I wonder if I would have the strength to resist?


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