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Ten things we hate and love about Apple

The company formerly known as Apple Computer and now called simply Apple is unique in many ways -- including in its ability to drive even folks who admire it positively batty. It makes great products (usually), yet its secretiveness about them borders on paranoia, and its adoring fans can be incredibly irritating. Of course, its fans have to put up with some irritations, too: Simply being a member of the club still means you must endure unending jabs from the other side of the socio-political-techno aisle. But do they have to wear their suffering as a badge of honour?

Today, we -- that's us, Narasu and Alan, veteran Mac users both -- are going to get some stuff off our chests. We've enumerated ten things we hate about Apple (or its followers, or simply about the experience of using its products). But in the interest of fair play we're also publishing another list -- 10 things we love about Apple.

And so, with protective helmets in place, off we go:

1: Free speech, anyone?

Even if you're no Apple fan, this particular issue might not rise to the top of your own personal gripe list -- but hey, we're journalists. So sue us.

Er, that's probably not the right turn of phrase to use, considering that in December 2004, Apple filed a lawsuit against the Apple Insider, O'Grady's PowerPage, and Think Secret websites for posting information about upcoming technologies that Apple had shared with outsiders under nondisclosure agreements. In the case of O'Grady, the news was of a Firewire interface for Garageband. In the words of O'Grady himself: "yawn."

Apple pressured the sites to reveal their sources, and even worse, pressured the sites' ISPs. In May 2006, a California court said no way, ruling that online journalists enjoy the same First Amendment rights as "legitimate" offline journalists. Seems silly in today's world, doesn't it? Recently, the court ordered Apple to pay the sites' legal fees -- about US$700,000.

2. More secretive than Homeland Security

Those feds are secretive, but they're no match for Apple reps' infuriating stock answer: "We don't comment on future product plans." Being an Apple adherent means never knowing for sure if the shiny new MacBook or iPod you just bought is about to be rendered obsolete by a Steve Jobs keynote.

Of course, Apple is merely the most famous secretive Silicon Valley company, not the only hush-mouthed one. And tight lips make for explosive buzz when the company does decide to drop a bombshell. But contrast Apple's secrecy with Microsoft's lack thereof -- Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and company love to talk about their company's upcoming products, and they still gets their fair share of buzz. Even though many of those plans have a tendency to not actually come true.

3. Ain't too proud to blame

When Apple shipped iPods containing a worm last year, instead of issuing a humble mea culpa, Apple took a swipe at Microsoft, saying, "As you might imagine, we are upset at Windows for not being more hardy against such viruses, and even more upset with ourselves for not catching it." As you can imagine, that didn't fly with security experts. How about an apology to the folks who were unlucky enough to buy the infected iPods, period?

4. iHate iAnything

Apple first floated the idea of product names with a leading lower-case letter in 1994 with eWorld, an ill-conceived online service that went belly-up after a year and a half. But when it introduced the original iMac in 1998, it hit on a phenomenal success -- and prompted hundreds of third-party manufacturers to follow with sickeningly cute Bondi Blue products with names that also began with a lower-case "i." Now dozens of Apple and third-party product names begins with "i." Their manufacturers are all jumping on the bandwagon, hoping that a single letter will sway us to buy their stuff. Meanwhile, you can't even start sentences with the products' names.

Is it any wonder that we're inclined to like Apple TV in part because it turned out not to be iTV? Or that we're kind of sorry that Apple was able to strike a deal with Cisco to share the name iPhone?

5. Where's the Blu-ray?

Steve Jobs was the CEO of animated-movie studio Pixar; Apple is represented on the Blu-ray Disc Association board of directors. The Mac is supposed to be the computer of choice for video professionals.

So where is the option for a Blu-ray Disc or HD DVD player in the fancy new quad-core and eight-core Mac Pros? They're stuck with the same-old Superdrive. Mac apologists will no doubt provide you with a complex explanation of why this makes perfect sense, but the fact is that next-generation optical drives are available and make sense for some folks, and Macs don't have them. (If the company announces support for one or the other by the time you read this, see "More Secretive Than Homeland Security" above for why we didn't know about it.)

6. Nobody's perfect

All companies make design mistakes, and in truth, Apple makes far fewer than most. But, despite what the most extreme aficionados say, even Apple's design sense isn't anywhere near flawless. And when it makes goofs, they tend to be doozies.

Examples: The iMac's perfectly-round, ergonomically egregious puck mouse, or the Toilet-Seat iBook (complete with handle). Don't forget the Shuffle audio player, whose lack of a screen or other discernible navigation aid Apple has successfully spun as a "feature." (Yes, we know that the Shuffle is wildly popular -- and yes, we'd still rather buy a player that can tell us what it's playing.)

7. Give me a sign

Does anyone want to tell us when the next Mac OS X software updates will hit? What security vulnerabilities Apple is working on fixing? In April, Apple released a patch that plugged more than two dozen vulnerabilities -- with absolutely zero advance notice. Mac users were wide open to attacks, and they never knew it. Even Microsoft (usually) tells people when to expect patches, and often tells you how to protect yourself until the patches are ready.

8. No good for gaming

Browse the Apple Store's games selection -- go on, we'll wait. Oh, back so soon?

That's understandable, because sorting the store's games selection by the newest available produces titles that were introduced two or more years ago on Windows. Games have always been scarce on the Mac, and Apple still can't convince many developers to make their titles compatible with its computers. Apple does equip some of its systems with high-end graphics cards, but with slim pickings to play on them, they're a waste of money for most people.

True, Apple's Boot Camp will let you run Windows games on a Mac, but we still don't know many hardcore gamers who choose to go that route.

9. Limited selection

Apple offers just three desktop computer systems these days -- and one of them is the Mac Mini, with its aging processor, piddly 512MB of RAM, and tiny 60GB hard drive. Neither the Mac Mini nor the iMac accepts internal upgrades beyond more memory, so to get a system that will accept additional components later, you'll have to spring for a dual-processor Mac Pro, which starts at a steep $2200.

You can buy a starter Windows system for less than a fourth the cost of the Mac Pro; later on, if you decide you need a speed boost, you can buy a new motherboard and CPU and probably install them yourself. If you want a speed boost on the Mac, you have to buy a whole new Mac.

In the portable realm, MacBooks and MacBook Pros are nice machines. But again, you get only three choices. Opt for Windows, and you can choose anything from palm-sized micro-PCs like the OQO Model 2 to huge, honkin' laptops that are more powerful than any mobile Mac.

10. Doesn't play well with others

Give Apple credit for (finally) allowing Windows to run on the Mac. But the company still maintains a closed-door policy on many aspects of its technology. For example, iPods play only a couple of transportable audio file formats (AAC and MP3); they won't play files in Microsoft's WMA format, used by much of the rest of the world. Even the much-derided Microsoft Zune plays all three formats. And if you import WMA files into iTunes, you must wait while the application converts them to its favoured AAC format.

Okay, we understand that DRM has been a necessity to get music companies to release music for sale on the iTunes Music Store. But our bigger gripe is that you can't play music purchased from the iTunes Music Store on anything but an iPod or the upcoming iPhone, because Apple won't license its FairPlay digital rights management technology to makers of other audio players. Even if those players recognize AAC files, they can't decrypt them, so they won't play. Even when Apple begins selling music without DRM, you'll pay extra for it; most tracks will still have the DRM restrictions.

10 things we love about Apple.