Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Resale Value of Your Computer

What!?   Did I just title this post "Resale Value" and "Computer" in the same phrase?  That's right.

Just over a year ago, we bought a used Mac from a friend (I find myself an evangelist for Mac platform now).  Before I got so Mac-savvy, I found out it was going up for sale and raised my hand.  When I got it, it hit me what a G5 means (which they told me, but didn't mean anything to me at the time).  Before Macs were built with Intel processors, they used PowerPC chips (a joint venture between Motorola and IBM) - and of course Motorola before that.

So, I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach I overpaid.  I paid $300 for that, keyboard, mouse, speakers, and an Epson printer.  Of course I checked first before I bought and it was a reasonable price.  For a G5 made in 2006.  Bought in 2011.  What!?  If any of you have a Windows machine, you are thinking I was nuts.

However, the G5 was a 64-bit processor, and that Mac works great.  In fact, it is faster than the 2010 HP 64-bit laptop we bought for my wife - by a lot.

Turns out, I paid a fair price.  I have since bought another used Mac off eBay, and have kept an eye on others.  I decided to look at some items over the past 6 months, see what they sell for on eBay.  The state has to be Used and Working.
  • An iMac that retailed for $1,199 back in 2007 sells for about $300 on average (5 years, 25% of its value).
  • A MacBook Pro that retailed for $1,199 in 2009 sells for about $700-$800 on average (a whopping 67% of its value after 3 years)
  • The Mac Mini desktop, that retailed for $599 in 2007, sells for $200-$300 on average (about 42% of its value)
That kind of depreciation is unheard of in the electronics, and certainly computer, industry.  A computer as an investment? Get real!

Let's compare that to some others:
  • Lenovo Thinkpad W510 Core i7, 8GB RAM - that was about $2,500 retail in 2009, and now sells for - wait for it - about $350.  14%.
  • Many desktops I know went for about $600-$700 new, now sell for about $60-$80.  10%-15% of their value.
I find this shocking.  Truly shocking.  In fact, some Macs that are a year old, used, sell for RETAIL.  I saw a couple sell for above retail, but I jot that down to some fool who paid too much.

Perhaps what I find most shocking, is that I find it shocking! If the Mac is really so clearly better than a Windows or other machine, then it should be no wonder that Apple makes profit oh it's hardware, and that used equipment retains its value so well.

Take into account what I said above - the older Macs still function quite well in today's world (I recommend sticking with the Intel-based ones after 2006 - unless you really don't care, don't get a G4 or G5 Mac).  Am I an advocate for buying used equipment?  You bet.  Just beware, it often doesn't come with warranty, you can't get AppleCare on it unless you buy it from the Apple store (in which case they charge a bit more than the market, but less than a new machine).  If you are a tech geek, you can fix it yourself (and find out how on Google).

Many people complain about paying a premium for Macs as compared to PCs.  It is actually quite difficult to compare them, mostly because there are so many options.  However, the PC market has become a free-for-all of competition which has lowered prices and margins, while the Mac market has remained quite high.  However, Macs still have to compete - they are no longer in an island of "Mac enthusiasts" who are the only pool of customers.  Yet, when it comes to value, let's look at what it is you need a computer for, and what you value.  How do they stack up?
  1. Do you use it to do normal Internet stuff?  (Web surfing, e-mail, videos, file sharing, etc.)
    1. In general, Macs are much more secure.
      • There are a handful of viruses, which have affected a small portion of users, compared to PCs
      • Windows prompts you for a large variety of operations to try to take away opportunities for bad software ("malware") to take over your computer, and give you control over whether or not they can do it.  This is called UAC (User Access Control), it basically is the "Cancel or Allow" prompts Vista is infamous for introducing.  Users get desensitized to so many prompts and end up clicking Allow before reading them.  Mac has you type an administrator login only for specific actions that affect the system (software installs, changing configuration files).  It is very secure.  Software can't install without your express permission and password. In the newest OS X 10.8 Apple has introduced app signing by certification. If the app doesn't have a valid signed certificate, users can opt to not let it run.
    2. Macs are a lot more stable; the two pieces of individual software that crash the most in the computing world are Internet Explorer and Windows Explorer - two key central core components of Windows.  Even if you don't use them directly, they are core to Windows and you can't help using them as part of Windows-based software.
  2. Do you use it to manage multi-media?  (Photos, videos, music, audio files, etc.)
    1. As you guessed it, the Mac is a multimedia machine from the beginnings in 1984.  Windows is basically a kluge of hodge-podge patchwork of drivers, patches, updates, and features that have been assembled by Dr. Frankenstein and hopefully work together, given a framework (.NET Framework - a very buggy one to build software on).
  3. Do you expect the computer to make it easy to find your stuff?
    1. In Windows, you go to Windows Explorer.  How many of you know what that is?  Then, there is a search field in the upper right corner - type in a term, it finds things.  Kind of.  It's OK, much better than it used to be, but still leaves a lot to be desired.
    2. In Mac, you click the magnifying glass in the upper right corner of the screen - all screens - and type a search term.  It searches everything - e-mails, file names, file contents, picture and music attributes, databases, you name it - anything on your computer, and locates it instantly for you.
  4. Do you expect the system to take care of the basics?
    1. Disk Maintenance - computers use what is called a "file system" to organize how they store files on disks.  The Windows file system is NTFS, and as you can image, Windows NT was developed in the early 1990's, it really hasn't been updated since.  It is horrible at maintaining a healthy file system as it gets fragmented and slower over time; the Mac uses modern techniques to keep disks performing at their best (and reduces overall wear and tear on the hardware so it lasts longer).
    2. Backup and protect your work - Windows does come with a backup system, but frankly a) it is hard for the average guy to find, and b) it is really up to the user to figure out how to back up, when to back up, and where to back up.  The Mac has it built into the machine - an icon at the top of the screen indicates the status, it figures out what to back up and when (you can adjust), and where (it prompts you when you stick a blank drive in the USB slot, or you can set up a device on your network easily).  Restoring it restores everything you care about (see the above link).
  5. Making your everyday work easier
    1. Tons of features make the Mac a dream to use.  All of these listed here are lacking on Windows.
      • Multiple Desktops allow you to set up virtual screens that you can swipe between with a gesture, and you can arrange your windows on each screen.  If you have multiple monitors, you have multiple monitors per desktop, so you can really arrange your work if you have a lot open at once.
      • Back to where you were - when you log out, reboot, and log back in, the Mac restores everything the way you were when you left it - applications, documents opened, where the cursor was in the text file, etc.  It is all set back to where it was.
      • Locating, locking, and wiping a lost system - iCloud enables you to locate lost Apple equipment (including a Mac) if it is powered on the Internet, remotely lock, and optionally wipe it.  There is also a commercial app that when activated, simulates a hardware failure, so that if a thief takes it into an Apple store for service, it displays to the Apple service personnel a notice that it has been stolen and a request to notify the police.
      • Multi-finger gestures means you can scroll, swipe between screens, go back and forward among pages of a document or web history, and more without any buttons or clicks.
      • Dashboard gives you important widgets, hidden while you work, but available at a moment's notice.  Clock, calendar, reference materials, flight trackers - you name it, there are hundreds or perhaps thousands of widgets.  Windows has widgets, but they are not widely developed by programmers, so the choices are limited, and they clutter your one single desktop.
    2. Stability - things just work.  Printing, if there is an error in Windows it says "There was an error printing."  That's it.  Have you every tried to click "Troubleshoot?"  It always says that everything is working fine.  The need to constantly reboot to keep things working, happens on all computers, but on Windows most frequently.

The Mac does all of the same things a PC does, but better. Then you add performance and stability. It doesn't get slower over time. Backups are complete, simple, and automatic (buy a backup drive or device). Then take into account resale value. If you can expect to get 25 to 67% of the value 3 years later as opposed to 10%, what is really the better deal?

Friday, August 17, 2012

How does GMail do it?

Do you use GMail?  I have been using it for many years now.  When I first started out, I think they offered 2.5 GB of space.  When you look at the page (while not logged in), the number under "Lots of space" keeps going up.  Right now, I have 10GB of space (with about 1GB in use), after what, 8 years or so of use?

So that brings to mind the question, "How do they do it?"  How do they have ever-increasing space?  Ever since I first saw it, I envisioned people sitting in a data center dripping sweat while endlessly popping new disk drives into storage arrays.  "So, what do you do for work?"  "I install disk drives in GMail drive arrays."  "Oh....interesting."

According to Yahoo Answers (who knows more, Yahoo or Google?), there is some formula on quotas that adds more storage the longer you are a member.  However, when I log out, and Google "doesn't know who I am," it still shows 10GB now (2.5 GB when I first started).

However, this blog's roving reporters have uncovered the truth.  We expose it here, first.

What is really happening here?

As you may suspect, Google is making money off the free e-mail by placing "unobtrusive" contextual advertising on the right-hand-side.  (In plain English, GMail looks for key words in your e-mails as you read them, and displays relevant ads.)  So as an incentive to have eyes to broadcast to, they offer ever-increasing storage.  For advertisers, they bill per impression (or per 1,000 impressions), so the more impressions they make, the more money they make.  Enticing users to log in gives them a captive market - unless, of course, you are using a mail client and downloading the mail to your hard drive.  But then you don't get to take advantage of the ever-increasing storage available to you, nor the live cloud mail across web and devices (like my iPhone).

Using our advanced covert techniques and spy gear, we have uncovered a conspiracy between the mobile device providers (Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Blackberry, HTC, and others), and Google.  Enlisting the help of a highly advanced race of beings from a distant planet in the Horsehead Nebula, they have concocted a plan to take over the world one bit at a time (or one person at a time), and install Skynet to track and control each and every one of us.  Their long-term plan is for Skynet to start building robots that kill people, to clear the planet for them to move here.  Their home planet is tearing itself apart, but because of Earth's higher gravity, our race is stronger than them and has super powers compared to them, so they need to wipe us out first.

First they need money, lots of money.  As you can see this is backed by the biggest companies on the planet.  What's in it for them?  A cut.  The Forgned (the closest spelling of the alien race) have offered these companies a split of 10% of the profits - while retaining 90% for themselves.  Once they have accumulated enough wealth, they will be able to purchase enough industrial production to create a stable wormhole generator, warp to our planet, and take over the solar system.

We are 80% certain this is the case.  Either that, or we have been watching too much Stargate SG-1, Doctor Who, and Battlefield Earth.

Do the Earth a favor!  Don't use GMail web as your e-mail access!  Access GMail from your mobile device, or from a mail client on your computer!  This may be the only chance to save Earth from the impending alien invasion.  They are still years away from getting enough money, and building the gate.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What do you like about Microsoft?

I know, it's really easy to find a bunch of things you don't like about a thing - a product, a company, etc.  A company as big as Microsoft and who has been around as long has surely developed a reputation on both the plus and minus sides.  But, instead of ranting, let's talk about what we do like about it.  Feel free to chime in!
  1. Employed many people and contributed to the global and national economies.
  2. Very good at developing and enhancing user interfaces, especially graphics and icons.
  3. Spin-offs have benefited humanity, including spin-off businesses and charities (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Paul Allen, etc.)
  4. Very good at taking a product, identifying it as a marketing success, and investing in it (usually by buying it out)
Am I short on the "like" list?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Are You Upgrading to Windows 8?

Microsoft recently announced Windows 8.  In their announcement, they claim that it has been totally overhauled, redone, and as far as I can tell the biggest news is - it is using the Metro live-app panel made famous in its smart phone interface for the start menu.  Are you ready to make the switch?

My first introduction to Windows was version 1.0.  In Version 1.0, they introduced the mouse, pull-down menus, graphical interface - all the stuff Xerox developed and gave away to the world.  Wow.  It wasn't until version 3.0 that it was "stable" - and by "stable" I mean usable.  The graphics back then were really low resolution, it didn't leave much room on the screen for stuff.  DOS was better.

By 3.0 there was VGA graphics, and it did the trick.  But the Mac had PhoneNet, a networking over phone lines where you could hook up computers, share files and printers.  So Microsoft had to compete - and they came out with Windows for Workgroups.  That was a mess - ask anyone who worked with it!  Forget it.

As the industry and technology matured, they finally came out with a viable version that networked, and that was called Windows 95.  Finally, a version of Windows you could use and only reboot once a day to maintain stability from crashes.  Kind of.

Long story short, there were many many released versions of Windows - with only a few stable versions in between.  More than half of the versions were considered by the professional community to be stable, as indicated by boldfaced type below:
  • Windows 1.0 c. 1987
  • Windows 2.0 c. 1987
  • Windows 3.0 c. 1988-1989
  • Windows 3.1 c. 1989 - Didn't freeze that often, only had to reboot a few times a day on average, had to format hard drive and reinstall OS every 6 months or so to maintain performance
  • Windows 3.11 c. 1989-1990
  • Windows for Workgroups c. 1989-1990
  • Windows 95 c. 1995 - Didn't freeze or Blue Screen that often, only had to reboot a couple of times a day on average, had to format hard drive and reinstall OS every 6 months or so to maintain performance
  • Windows NT c. 1996 - (Server version) Recommended reboot once a week to maintain "stability"
  • Windows ME c. 1999
  • Windows 2000 c. 1999 - Only had to reboot once a week, had to reformat hard drive and reinstall OS once a year to maintain performance
  • Windows 2003 c. 2002 R1 and R2 - (Server version) First stable, able to run long periods without reboot
  • Windows XP c. 2002 - (not stable until Service Pack 3 several years later - hence both bold and non-bold characters)
  • Windows XP 64 bit c. 2004 - Although generally considered a stable operating system, many of the applications were inherently unstable because of the underlying Operating System's unstable handling of 64- and 32-bit applications
  • Windows Vista c. 2008
  • Windows 7 c. 2009 - I reboot my laptop about 2-3 times a month because of instability that does not usually crash the whole system, just makes things annoying
  • Windows 2008 R1 and R2 c. 2009 - (Server version)
  • Windows 8 (the jury's out as it's not yet released)
Now, it is important to define what we mean when we say Released.  All software vendors have pre-release versions of their software for testing and preview, and it is universally accepted that these pre-releases (called Alpha or Beta releases) are or may be unstable.  A Release is an actual production of the software, deployment on sold equipment.  That is to say, that machines ship with the software loaded on them, and there is no downgrading (unless you have the disk and do it yourself).  Above are only the Releases listed - except for Windows prior to its initial release at 3.0.

By my count, that is 15 releases since 3.0.  Of those, 7.5 were considered stable (XP is mixed).  That puts Microsoft's track record on Release at 50% (let's be generous and say XP 64 really was stable, 57%).  That's pretty close to every other release.  Further, they claim that they completely rearchitected Windows.

As an analogy, let's imagine that we were a company that made cars.  We develop a car in R&D, test it out, then put it out in the dealerships to sell.  Every other model we release just doesn't work.  What happens?  A whole host of things - but many of them just crash.  Stuck accelerators, won't start, brakes fail, steering freezes.  Yet, we sell more cars than anyone else - Honda, GM, Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Chrysler, Hyundai, Fiat - anyone.  Why is that?  How is that - I mean really, you must have everyone hoodwinked, right?  Perhaps it's because we have the coolest styling - yeah it may suck and isn't reliable, but at least it looks cool?  Works for Jaguar.  But I digress.

Knowing that Microsoft has "completely rearchitected" it - whatever that means - and they have a 57% track record, how do you feel about "upgrading" to Windows 8?  Are you going to do it?  How would you feel if you bought a machine that came with Windows 8 pre-loaded, and you didn't have a choice (remember ME)?

Whether you use computers for business, recreation, leisure, home, or all of the above - remember that you DO have a choice.  Your choice begins with your wallet.  Where you choose to spend your money dictates what organization your money goes to.  Do you give your money to a company with a 50% track record on their Operating System, and depending on how you count it, a 0% track record on hardware (many think X-Box is successful, albeit it is not a real money-maker in Microsoft's earning reports)?

You can buy a PC without an Operating System, and download and install Linux for free.  This runs just fine, and many apps are free.  You can buy a Mac, and be rest assured that everything works great, and you won't pay much more than you would for a non-Mac (unless you wand to get a low-end PC, in which case Apple doesn't have anything that competes at the low end).  These are 2 alternatives that are quite manageable for the average guy - if you only think a little, and take a little action to find a local store that can support you.