Maybe a herd but it ain’t Microsoft’s doing

Prolog

John Gruber, in his inimitable style, tore the  PC industry into shreds with his scathing post – Herd Mentality , just a day after the hugely hyped Windows 7 launch. Gruber pinned  the blame squarely on Microsoft.   Somewhat by coincidence, i have been thinking about the state of the PC industry for the past few weeks.  This post from Twilight Fairy [one of the earliest bloggers from India) made me think a lot harder.

My conclusion – Gruber is wrong. Much of  the blame lies elsewhere.  Stay tuned.

My PC

I have been using PCs since 1987 (when they used to run CP/M and MS DOS) However, most of my usage was on PCs belonging to my university or my company. I bought my first personal computer in 1996, a desktop running Windows 95 for US $1,400.  It was a remarkable computer that continued to work flawlessly till 2005.

Because it could not keep up with the demands, i bought another desktop PC in 2001 running Windows 2000 for a similar $1,400 but with a lot more of everything, dual hard disk, TV tuner etc.   Within 2 years, both the hard drives crashed simultaneously. No backups, damn. I took it to a reputed US computer retail store (now out of business) and they advised me  to replace both the hard disks, which i dutifully did. Within a few days both disks crashed again. It turns out there was a problem with the power supply or something like that. I had to junk that computer.

While this was going on the personal front, i changed 2 laptops (running Windows)  on the work front due to some problem or the other – hard disk, battery problem etc.

My Mac

Frustrated by this experience, in 2006, i decided to buy an intel-based Macbook Pro for $2,000. It was almost twice the amount of money then for a comparable Windows-based laptop, but i still took the plunge because i wanted to experience the Mac.  In the past 3.5 years that i have owned it, i have had zero problems with it except for the one time that the Magsafe power adaptor stopped working.

On the work  front, in the same 3.5 years, i have had to change laptops twice due to some part failure, and replace batteries once.

What went wrong?

Just to be sure, the laptops or desktops i mention above are all name-brand computers.  How is it that the desktop computer i bought in 1996 worked flawlessly for so many years, but not the ones that i used later (mine as well as my company’s)?

I think the answer lies in the hardware. In the race to cut the price of the PCs, the hardware makers have driven the prices of the component parts down to the point where quality has been given short shrift. Therefore, PCs are cheaper and you get what you pay for.

Though i paid almost twice for my Macbook Pro, the ROI due to it not breaking down is incalculable.   I have not had to change batteries or make any other changes to the hardware since i bought it. Quite remarkable compared to my PC experience.

Role of the OS

When i think about what role if any the OS played in the scenario i describe – it is Zero. I have had no  major issues with Windows other than the typical irritations like the OS crashing or having to reboot it every now and then.

Given that i don’t do any heavy duty work on my  Macbook Pro other than email, Open Office, iLife kind of work, i haven’t found spectacular benefits of using Mac OS. It is definitely a better OS with many thoughtful touches, but not anything that makes Mac OS  200% better in line with the price premium.

Role of the Looks

Yes, the Macs especially iMacs have eye-catching designs which is significantly better than what the PC industry has to offer. But i wonder for how many people (as a percentage), the sheer look of the computer matters that much. For the majority of the people, IMHO,  what matters in a computer is its ability to function more than anything else.

Conclusion

In my view, it is Apple’s superior hardware design, perhaps using better quality component parts that is the real difference.  Instead of trying to race to the bottom with a lower price, the PC makers should focus on making better quality hardware even if it means charging people a bit more. The lost productivity and frustrations when your PC breaks down is the biggest scourge facing the PC industry.

Epilog

What is your experience with PCs? Do you agree with my conclusion?

Disclaimers

1. Because this post is entirely based on my experience, it suffers from a sample size = 1 problem (not enough data points). However, i have had the opportunity to talk to many PC owners over time and the frustrations are quite similar. Twilightfairy’s experience is a good example as well.

2. A zillion posts have been written about how Macs don’t really cost that much if you add up the value etc.  I don’t agree with any of them. You do pay a significant premium for Macs. My experience says it is worth paying the premium.


Comments

  1. Quote
    Kartheeban said October 25, 2009, 9:02 pm:

    Sukumar – I agree with your points. The quality of hardware have really went down :-(.

  2. Quote

    Nice post.

    Yes, I agree with the points you have mentioned. I owned my first PC in 2001, and, surprisingly – that continues to work even now. The next PC I bought (assembled from various manufacturers) way back in 2004, but things started going wrong after a couple of years (faulty USB ports, corrupted bios, DIMM socket failing). I switched to a mac last year, and, have been loving the new experience. And yes, leaving aside the superior UI, stability and usability of the OS X, its the hardware quality which makes it superior to its PC counterparts (not to mention that I didn’t need to reinstall the os anytime in this year, but with PC, I had to do a clean install every 4 to 5 months).

  3. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said October 25, 2009, 9:19 pm:

    Thanks Kartheeban.

    Thanks Abhishek. With name-brand computers if the experience is bad, i can only imagine how bad it will be with assembled ones.

  4. Quote

    Succinct. Swift.

    Neatly explained.

    How do you find the ‘usability’ aspect of Mac? Is it just a matter of getting used to it?

  5. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said October 25, 2009, 10:15 pm:

    Thanks Abinav. The usability is excellent. There is a bit of learning though, because it does some things differently compared to Windows.

  6. Quote

    Nice post sukumar.. I havent used Mac. and could not comment on it.

    on the part of Herd Mentality, i feel, it cannot be avoided in cut-throat competition. My father, as a hobby, started a PC sales company in 1999, and took the dealership of datamini. While this branded PC is a quality one in terms of finishing, hardware and internal assembly, the additional price tag of 4000 rs, remained a disadvantage for us, where a dozen of other companies are offering PC at much lower rates. My father is forced to deal with assembled systems too.

    Generally, people in india are cost conscious, dont have much awareness about computers.

  7. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said October 25, 2009, 10:21 pm:

    Thanks Senthil. Yes, i think it is the cut-throat pricing that the PC industry practices that is the source of this problem.

  8. Quote

    I have a Mac and a PC. I’ve used DOS and Windows. Mac’s got the sex appeal. Functionally I don’t find Mac any superior. Having used a PC since the DOS days, I am more comfortable with Windows as it allows me to have more control over things I can do. Although since XP even Windows seems to give power users lesser control. I’d go with Windows as more apps are available for Win. And I’d go with Mac for the sex appeal of the hardware, not so much of the OS.

  9. Quote

    From my perspective, I look at the Desktop and Laptop markets very differently because of the capability of building your own PC from scratch is a really great option for me. My old desktop ran for 7 years and it hardly ever gave any problems. The freedom of choosing a motherboard, harddrive etc of a brand of my choice not only gives me independent warranty terms with each vendor, but also i get to make the trade offs here and not some HP or dell. Ofcourse this might not be the case with everyone else.

    Laptops on the other hand dont give you the flexibility that desktops do in this way. I have had really bad experience with HP. I had to replace 3 motherboards in just 15 months of buying the laptop. Highly incompetent service engineers and really bad customer service. I had to fight for getting the replacement for the last two motherboards because it happened a month after the warranty expired. The second motherboard lasted only one week!! Sadly HP has wonderful looking laptops in the market but the hardware seems to suck. [i made my laptop touch 85 C in 30min of photoshop operations, bad design?] My laptop hasnt given any problems since then only because of the fact that i have underpowered it by turning off one core unless i really need to do cpu intensive stuff.
    Dell on the other hand seem to have great customer service. Four of my roomies have a dell so. Apple of course tops the market in terms of quality, and is very sexy thing to own. Next time I buy a laptop, it sure aint going to be HP. Dell / Apple seem to be doing good for now.

  10. Quote

    Whoops. Turned out to be more of a rant than just a comment! :D

  11. Quote

    Sukumar,

    I agree with Jasikrat. I think the quality of laptops (which has become the defacto workstation) lags when compared to desktops.

    However, I do not know if the problem is with hardware and hardware vendors alone. MS has to accept some of the blame. For example, you mention some of the times that your machine crashed or you had to reboot the system. I do not know how much of this you had to with the Windows 2000 and 95. I believe the windows OSes has failed to adopt to sophistication of modern applications. Granted some of the applications are ill developed and consume CPU, memory or footprint for no rhyme of reason. But still, the OS must safeguard the user from such “rogue” applications.

    Here is an example – More often than not, when I take my laptop from office to home and reconnect to my home wireless, I see that a few applications (such as my office IM) churns a ton to try and connect to an access point. Sometimes, I see these applications consuming all the CPU such that I cannot even invoke task manager to kill such processes. I just have to reboot my machine. One consequence of this CPU churn is the need for the fan on my laptop to work extra hard. And I see that once every 6-9 months I have to send my laptop to repair the “fan error”. Of course, there is the BSOD, though I see very less of these now a days.

    Part of the reason could be that the MS could not evolve the architecture (due to various reasons such as maintaining backward compatibility etc.) as they would have liked to. Vista, I believe, was a step in that right direction, though they swung the pendulum to the other extreme in terms of security. But, Windows 7 based on Vista/Longhorn should hopefully afford MS the opportunity to let the OS handle modern/complicated applications.

    And hopefully, the vendors will be more quality conscious as well.

  12. Quote

    Sukumar,

    Great post. The basic theme – “Who will the rat race ?” or “How will we win the rat race?” this is dilemma in front of individuals / groups/ corporations. This pressure makes us do things which compromises quality. How many times we get into a project with under-qualified personnel in the hope that as we go along we will pickup skills and deliver? – Almost all the time.

    This pressue to Get to the market faster (AT whatever cost) by everyone ( manufacturer + distributor + retailer + service provider) in the ecosystem has created a vicious circle. I don’t think know if this cycle is reversible at all. Strong leaders who have the guts to say “Quality cannot be compromised for growth” can only change this detoriation.

  13. Quote

    On a side-note I have seen people using the Mac hardware running Vista and were extremely happy about. Best hardware and lots of software. Best of both of both worlds. :-)

  14. Quote
    Karthik (subscribed) said October 26, 2009, 8:31 am:

    Hi Sukumar,

    Nice post on Mac and windows.

    I too had the same problems with HP as mentioned in the Twilight Fairy blog. Suprise to see the same kind of problems faced by other user.
    HP Laptop heating and poor customer service with HP. When i bought my laptop, I had very less knowledge about apple, may be now if i am planning to buy a new laptop i will go for macbook. I spent 1250$ for hp laptop three years back, so i have to make full use of it. It is still working in good condition and satisfied all my day to day needs by sitting on top of the cooler for last 1 year.

    As mac os is linux based, it should be stronger than microsoft windows os. As mac is less vulnerable to virus compared to windows. As we all know about the quality of apple products, as you pointed out, it is worth to spend some extra money for a peace of mind. And also i read in the apple website saying, apple is the only company who manufacures hardware and develop OS to better suit their needs and vice versa. All the other hardware companies use windows os, developed by microsoft, so it is two different systems.

    Now I recommend my friends to go for mac, and they are not in state to agree with me, may be i should send this blog link.

    Also to add about product quality, my first nokia phone 6610 worked great for 5 years, and it is still in good condtion with poor battery life which i can understand. I recently purchased nokia e51 for 200$ from amazon after a month of reaserch. But after 3 months of usage i returned the phone with lot of complaints and lost 34$ as a restocking fee. Now I am back to my old phone.

    These days all phones(all electronics and house hold goods) last on average for 1.5 years. In my view there are two reasons.

    On similar lines wiht laptop and cell phones companies,
    1. Compromise on quality for low cost in thte compettive market.
    2. Companies dont want us to buy a item and keep it for 5 years, 10 years. They want us to keep changing it frequently for more business.

    Now in a real life, finding an item or product or service like “worth for money” is very rare. The above are my personal opinions.

    Life is beautiful.

  15. Quote

    Sukumar,

    I think you wrote a wonderful post at the right time.

    MS is a leader and one of the key players in the PC ecosystem. They should have ability to sway. They should raise the bar.

    My personal experience is in the same lines as Jaskirat and Ganesh. One of my friends assembled a PC for me with best available parts back in 1999 with Windows NT, upgraded to Windows 2000. It is still used by my father with no issues. Once a while virus scan and few cleanup and maintenance issues. If I want my next computer, I will go to newegg and get components and build myself rather than rely on HP. One thing we overlook is warranty. When I bought my Dell Inspiron 6000 in 2005, I paid 1200 USD. But within an year, it’s HDD crashed and I got it replaced under warranty. Then I paid 250 USD and extended it’s warranty to 3 more years until 2009 May. Between 2005 and now, I replaced HDD twice, charger 3 times, battery recall, chasis once, key board once, monitor once. If I calculate retail price of all these, it will be top $1000 including labor. I thought I paid this PC tax for warranty.

    Well I thought Mac doesnt need this hassle and PC Tax. My brother paid 2500 AUD for state of art Macbook Pro. And that is useless now because it’s motherboard failed just after the warranty. He had to throw it and buy a HP. Dell at least sells extended warranty. But Apple Protection Plan is not that lengthy. I think it gives just 2 more years than standard 1 year. So, at the end I find PC better any day. Of course if it if for my mother, I will get a Mac as I hear great usability stories.

  16. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said October 26, 2009, 8:53 am:

    Jaskirat,
    Interesting comment. That gives some great insights. It seems to me that you are also finding the problem more with the hardware than with Windows. Is that a correct inference?

    BTW i dont think your comment is a rant. Even if it is, so be it. I am trying to collect people’s experiences, anyway.

  17. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said October 26, 2009, 9:02 am:

    Ganesh,
    Thanks. Interesting that you choose to make a distinction between the desktop and laptop builds echoing Jaskirat.

    That is a great insight – an OS problem causing the fan to fail. I don’t know enough to say if the hard disk failures, battery failures and other kinds of problems i faced are due to OS problems. I think it is unlikely, but i could be wrong.

    I am not saying that MS has no problems. Yes, the frequent crashes and reboots are definitely a productivity drain. However, that doesn’t mean the poor build quality of the PCs can be pinned on MS as Gruber has done.

  18. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said October 26, 2009, 9:07 am:

    Kumaran,
    Thanks. Yes, it is this rat race mentality that is causing these types of problems.

    On the Vista running on Mac. That is cool. In fact, i bought the Mac only after they moved it to Intel because i wanted a backup plan. In case, i didn’t like the Mac OS, i could install Windows on it. However, i didn’t find the reason to do that. The OS is quite easy to use and there is some learning for a long time Windows user like me. But that is not a big deal.

  19. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said October 26, 2009, 9:10 am:

    Thanks Karthik. It is interesting to see so many people talking about problems with their PCs software-induced or hardware-induced.

    Interesting observation on cellphones. Yes, you hit the nail on its head. It is the same phenomenon of trying to push the prices down that is resulting in this type of quality. As Kumaran puts it – “the rat race”.

  20. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said October 26, 2009, 9:20 am:

    Vamsi,
    Thanks for the kind words. That is a great insight on Warranty. I guess you were smart enough to buy extended warranty. I had not done that and i think i paid the price for that mistake.

    However, from your comment, the # of parts you have replaced (under warranty as well as under extended warranty) is ridiculous to say the least.

    My TV works for years together with nary a problem. When we buy something as expensive as a computer, my expectation is that it is defect free for atleast 3 years.

    That basic expectation is not being met by the PC industry. And that is a big problem.

    As for your grandmom, i think the usability of the Mac OS is over rated. To learn to use computers is complicated. If you have never used a computer, both Mac and Windows will take time. Windows may take a bit more time, but i dont think it is significant. If you say, iPod or iPhone has great usability, I agree. But Mac OS does require time to learn, especially for newbies.

    I would buy a Mac for the superior hardware that gives you peace of mind.

  21. Quote

    Yes, I don’t really think I have had issues with the operating system because I was free to choose what I want. I currently triboot XP/Windows 7 (Beta)/ Ubuntu 9.10.

    Hardware issues bother me most and I guess that is probably because the OS issues are some thing I know how to work
    around. If it was desktop, we have a lot of options in case of a screw up. I could very well buy a totally different brand motherboard compatible with my current set of hardware. With laptop you are tied to the proprietary stuff for things like motherboard and processor although you can choose what ram/hdd you want. So when the MBoard screws have to go for the same shit even if it has issues that havent been fixed. You don’t have options and that quite frankly is scary.

    HP was supposedly selling decent hardware until recently. I think they might have learnt a lot from the failure due to nvidia chipsets and other hardware design problems with the dv & tx series laptops, and they might change if they need to survive. But they might have done irreparable damage to their reputation by ignoring customers and their appalling quality of service.

  22. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said October 26, 2009, 11:33 am:

    Thanks for the clarification Jass. That makes sense. I hope HP is aware of all these issues and is taking concrete action.

  23. Quote
    pk.karthik said October 28, 2009, 3:57 am:

    Succint and well written Sukumar,I cannot agree with you more.My first desktop (assembled)which i purchased in 1999 was functioning till 2006,infact even in 2006 there was crash and since I had just purchased a laptop i did not feel the need to repair it.But My lap top crashed within 2 years and slowing started losing parts like a withering mould.I now dicarded it totally .I felt it was waste to money and have gone to back to desk top. for browing while travelling i use my mobile( who quality has gone down by way) or my Ipod.
    With regard to Apple I guess its experience which people talk about.I have not yet worked on Mac but was planning to take it some time ..Any suggestions on that :)

  24. Quote

    It would be interesting to see if the fall in quality is due to the demand-supply mismatch? And also combined with immaturity in miniaturization – laptops? Almost everybody I see today buy a laptop rather than a desktop (unless one is a PC gamer or has special needs like digital workflow work for some media (photos/ videos). But do we have evidence that industry matured in the same rate for these technologies?

    Second reason could be cooling problems – We know that these solid state devices work best in good ventilation. Laptop enclosure doesnt allow that much of ventillation and hence could be one of the reasons for early deterioration. Thoughts?

  25. Quote

    PK Karthik,
    Thanks for corroborating my stance with your experience. As for the Mac, i would strongly recommend buying yourself a Macbook Pro. Now the 13 inch MBP is very affordable.

    Vamsi,
    Interesting thoughts. Cooling problem – that is very insightful. If you see what Ganesh has said above, it does seem like some of that is happening. Actually i found that my MBP runs very hot that i actually cannot keep it on my lap. v Apparently, Apple fixed that problem in the next iteration of MBPs. So i don’t know if cooling problem is such a big issue.

  26. Quote

    Excellent write up Sukumar. I had a Sony laptop since 1998 but it crashed on 2004 and i bought a HP Pavilion on 2004 and it crashed on 2009 and i bought again HP pavilion on 2009 with Ubuntu and Windows Vista dual boot, but during all this ‘crash episode’ i haven’t lost any data since i automated back up feature. I own Mac Book since 2007, i fell love with it’s performance and UI quality. Due to unreliable hardware performances nowadays, as you said, i keep on following a “spread rule”, that is i store all songs in MacBook and work related stuffs in Ubuntu and all others in Windows, with in these three, Windows is error prone (based on my experience) so i turned on automatic back up feature for windows, each month 1st my data will be backed up. For Ubuntu i used rSync to back up some important files. I don’t back up MB since it is rock solid, never breaks and all songs are backed up in iPod.

    I believe one of the main reason of hardware failure is, dust inside the PC case because we used to keep it on floor or very close to floor. We have to remove periodically the PC case to clean all dusts. There is a fast removal spray available at stores to remove the dust. I liked the iMAC design since it is carefully designed to kept it above ground level. I never ever heard anything about iMAC crashed stories, because the mighty iMac never placed or come to floor to get all dusts. Other than that the fault and cheap parts are also the reason for crash, but we can avoid it by buying some decent ones.

  27. Quote

    Sukumar a very insighful post from your experience…Your writeups carry clarity of messages and loads of informations…
    PS:It’s really long since i read Priya’s writing….Please ask Priya to come up with a post soon :)

  28. Quote

    Hi Sukumar,

    Funny. I didnt read this post till this morning and I find it to reflect exactly my experience with Pcs. I have bought 3 different laptops till now in the last 10 years and each one of them has had one issue or another ( all windows). We went through paying so much in total for the three put together and so we said we need to get away from Pcs. We got our first Mac ( the new Imac 21.5) delivered yesterday and its been a real pleasant experience. We paid about $1200 for the machine ( with the wireless mouse and keyboard) and it was delivered within 48 hours for free.

    Everything about the machine seems simple, easy and efficient. I think that is the key to a good interface and user experience. comes completely preloaded that all we had to do was switch on and enjoy.

    Lets see.. hopefully all our photos and music will now stay in one machine for a while.

    My take – Its worth the price ( and I dont think its that high today as it was a couple years back).

  29. Quote

    thanks Subba. That is a good insight on having a good backup strategy. I find it difficult to believe that it is the dust that is causing all these problems? If that is really true, why doesn’t it affect the Macbook Pros? They live in the same dust-prone environment as the windows laptops right?

  30. Quote

    Thanks for the kind words Annapoorani. I will give your request to Priya.

    Sundara,

    Thanks for corroborating my views. Yes, i think the Mac premium has now come down to about 30% or so depending on which model you are buying, which is definitely worth paying.

  31. Quote

    Hi Sukumar,

    I’ve never used a mac long term so i cant say much. However i’ve used crappy hardware on my home desktop lots of times and ive learned the hard way. I’ve always assembled my PC’s from day 1. I’ve hand picked what i want and assembled it to make it work for me.

    In the attempt to save money i have brought cheap motherboards, ram and hard drives and messed around with my happiness resulting in data loss.

    However over the past 3 years i follow a strategy. I upgrade when i have a dire need and i change not things when it works. Yes, i’m power hungry and use 8 GB of ram on my vista pc (currently) and run applications that process several RAW files from my DSLR and i’ve had 0 issues. Sometimes im amazed at how people find vista bad since ive not had one BSOD in 2 years of hard core vista use for all sorts of applications.

    My strategy is to buy the best of hardware, have the latest of the drivers/firmware and dont do stupid things such as installing crapware from the internet. Basically the same old things Microsoft always advises. I’ve never purchased an antivirus software and have always used free versions of Avast or AVG and Free version of Zone Alarm antivirus.

    I completely agree on the front that hardware lays the foundation for your computing experience. No amount of a spectacular OS can compensate for a cheap hard drive that has delayed write issues often, thats a lesson people must learn who buy cheap 2000 rs. worth 250GB hard drives.

    I can safely say my experience holds water for both windows and Linux. I’ve used linux from day one as well while ive been using windows. For most parts its the hardware and drivers, for some parts its what kind of practices you subject your pc is. I cannot rule out the Operating System out of picture though. I think vista was bad but to squarely blame it on Microsoft is madness. People who loath linux and its superiority on the security front i believe are the ones who follow the herd mentality. If one uses Ubuntu they would know what a pain User Account Control is on Linux. MS cut down on a lot of rubbish manufacturers were doing with their driver coding practices for windows. Though this means bad news for me (one of my good old graphics card no longer works with the second newer one i have due to driver conflict issues) i think its a fantastic move in the right direction that sets the tone right. MS shouldn’t take it lying down like it did with PC manufacturers all these days. I’m happy paying a little bit more and i always have, to have quality hardware that does not break down.

    End of the day i think, what suits one self is what works best. I’m a windows user with frequent trips to the linux candy store. Linux does not address many of my requirements while windows does but linux fares far better than windows on a lot of things that microsoft fails to address and is capable of addressing.

    Windows or Linux, if you aint got your CPU box right the PC is going to suck. I’ve had a power horse of my machine with all sorts of high spec parts limp like a wounded dog because a blade on a cooling fan worth Rs. 85 went bad and i replaced it with the more expensive Rs. 200 version of it to have it the PC back in form, i guess that sums it all up.

  32. Quote

    Yes, i was also a non-believer of dust but my last failure of HP pavilion was due to dust. After crash i opened the PC case and noticed the unbelieveable dust acclimation, the main part is a film coating between CPU fan and main attachement worn out because of excesive dust hence heat transferred directly to other parts of PC. The problem is nowadays, due to increase activity of PCs, the hardware vendors try to increase the cooling fan speed which is good for cooling but bad part is the powerful fan sucks all dust inside to PC.

    Here is link, i randomingly picked from Google search result http://www.examiner.com/x-14942-San-Jose-Home-Technology-Examiner~y2009m7d22-Dust-out-your-PC

    I don’t know why MacBook Pro not getting that much dust as Windows based hardware, i can research on this and post something here if i find anything useful. But i guess the fan speed and internal process is well synchronized.

    Subba

  33. Quote

    Sukumar,

    This post of yours has come in real good time for me. I have bought a Mac Book Pro, it is just a week old. Finding it very interesting. I am sure it would last a long time. My earlier HP laptop lasted for close to 7 good years.

    I too believe that paying a premium for the right product helps us.looking forward to explore the Garage Band in my Macbook :)

    Thanks for the post.

  34. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said November 1, 2009, 7:36 pm:

    Thanks Dilip. That is an interesting strategy. Overall it seemed that you too rely upon better quality hardware.

    Subba, thanks for the additional research. Yes, it will be good to know why MBP is not affected by the dust?

    Rams,
    Thanks. I am sure you will have fun with MBP. When you figure out how to use Garage Band, please explain to me as well. I have a hard time figuring out how to use it. So much for the mac’s usefriendliness :)

  35. Quote

    Sukumar,

    Good post once again – you make the explanation so simple & powerful..

    I think MS is also partly to blame compounded by few other factors.. If hardware was the only factor, the same should have happened to say Odometers and Vehicle Onboard computers? Even Apple outsources all the manufacturing and am sure there is an element of price bidding happening on the supply side..

    How about Lack of ‘standards’ as a major reason? there was ofcourse the BIOS and OS-hardware standards specified for the most part by Wintel along with form factor standards like ATX etc.. But there was no equivalent of the ISO specifications for the ‘hardware’ itself. MS or Intel could have taken a lead in evolving such a standard?

    Apple on its supply side am sure has pretty strict standards and gets the manufacturer to confirm to. MS being a 3rd party and the whole PC ecosystem the way it is structured, there is no independent specifications to confirm to. The Wintel/PC gang could’ve come up with some specifications to identify the BMW’s and Kia’s of the PC industry. The closest I am aware is whatever Intel published – we know how independent this will be.

    To take one analogy, I know a opti-coupler contract manufacturer based in India/China. All the orders from only one of their clients is assembled at the India unit at a higher cost, every other order is distributed where there is capacity. Fact is there was this one client for whom the assembly/testing was more rigorous than the others -> they knew their clients quite well :) There was no apparent industry standard in this case.. So the best client always got the best equipments..

    In PC’s case, even if there was one manufacturer who insisted on highest quality, they quickly died in the race to the bottom as you rightly pointed out.

    We can also sight Moore’s law – since consumers sort of knew the PC is going to be replaced/outdated soon, they also wanted the cheapest. (not like buying a car which you know is going to be for a longer term).

    Personal Situation: i have a Dell desktop bought in 04, working fine – used by kids to play games. Home laptop (IBM Thinkpad) lasted 3 years and couldnt withstand my 2 year old :) So switched to Sony Viao earlier this year (w Vista) – so far so good. My first work laptop (IBM Thinkpad again) lasted 2 years before HD crashed; current T43 is now 4.5 years old. HD crashed last month and got it replaced/upgraded

    BTW, here is a computerworld study suggesting replacing the laptop in 2 years : http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9132096/Study_Not_replacing_laptops_can_prove_very_costly

  36. Quote

    Thanks for the kind words and insightful comment Sibu. Interesting insight on lack of standards. But i thought that SATA, PCI, USB etc are all hardware standards?

  37. Quote

    Yes, there are standards – but all of the SATA/PCI/USB etc are standards specifying the interface b/w each other and not really individual component quality specifications.
    Wikipedia has a good list of all PC standards – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_computer_standards
    Need more research – Have started a Wave to discuss this..

  38. Quote

    Thanks Sibu. Please update after your discussion.

  39. Quote

    Nice post ! What I feel is instead of shifting the entire prod range to a higher price to improve quality,the manufacturers should have different model sets that progressively increases quality w.r.t price. (Most of the them are already doing this). There would also be a section of the crowd (teenagers,some geeks) who always love to play ard with the latest stuff & throw away comps in 1-2 years. And yes, they shd always have a premium high perf range which gives quality of the highest order.

    And again Sukumar, was it just sacrificing quality of hardware that drove down prices ? I am not sure if I totally agree with that cos Chinese manufacturing & improved tech should also hv contributed a lot in easing prices.

  40. Quote

    Ranjit,

    Just a point on chineese technology and cheaper . The have major advantages in terms of cost of production

    1. 70% don’t invest in R&D . They just blatantly copy.
    2. They don’t have marketing costs
    3. They have 0 cost after sales-support. Dell recalled and replaced batterires which had a problem, this has to be costed upfront.

    For normal manufacturers the above percentage is pretty huge and then there is production costs. Typically that is only 30% of total costs.

  41. Quote

    Ranjit,
    Thanks. Yes, they could have multiple price points for people. That is a good idea.

    In my view, if you drive down prices beyond a point, it will come at the expense of quality. I think that is happening in the PC industry.

    Kumaran,
    thanks for the insights on Chinese manufacturing. I think the Chinese innovations are in the area of how to produce the same thing cheaply. I am not the world has paid much attention to how they accomplished this miracle. I am sure the low wages of the Chinese are a factor. But when you look at India, which arguably has similar low cost wages, we are not able to replicate what the Chinese have done in manufacturing. Unless we in India understand what the Chinese have done, Chinese manufacturing will eat our lunch as it is already doing.

    I don’t think the low prices is because of not doing R&D either. Even that the Chinese are trying to rectify by pumping billions into research.

  42. Quote

    @Sukumar:

    Excellent analysis!!

    You have brought out the reasons very well. Even I have wondered why recent laptops were so unreliable while old ones worked like w/o much maintenance. You really have brought out insightful points.

    We bought a branded HP desktop in 2002 and it worked perfectly till 2007. My dad then went for a HP Compaq Notebook (don’t know the model) in 2008 and the hard drive crashed within 3 months after buying.

    I bought a Dell Inspiron 1520 with Windows XP in Dec 2007. It is working perfectly so far. *Fingers crossed*

    Never used a Mac though.

  43. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said November 13, 2009, 7:36 pm:

    Thanks for the kind words Saraswathi. Welcome back to sastwingees after a long while. It is interesting that so many people share my experience and yet there is no major mainstream media article on this subject. Isn’t that strange? Good luck with your Dell.

  44. Quote

    With the Droid and Chrome OS, Google is now at a similar decision point w.r.t mobile devices: Be like MS – control the OS and get different vendors to produce the handsets OR be like Apple and have an own device.

    Google seem to be betting both ways – Already several vendors are building Android phones. But there are heavy rumors that a Google branded superphone is in the works, taking the Apple approach to control the end to end consumer experience. With several opinions on why they shouldn’t be doing the same (like alienating the h/w vendors)

    Am sure the price pressure is a given for the handsets, so only time will tell if the price pressure will drive the overall quality of the hardware down OR if Google will be able to hold the vendors to higher quality standards. Maybe Google superphone will become THE gold standard in terms of hardware quality and OS utilization?

    Reference –
    Why Google should not sell own handsets – http://bit.ly/2h1Kfb
    Google Superphone really soon – http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/11/17/thegoogle-phone/

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