I practically floated into the Apple store. That's how excited I was to leave Black Friday with a new iMac. The salesman needed merely to gesture to the 21-inch flat screen on display, and I was sold: out the door, box in hand, convinced I had turned a corner in my career.
Two weeks later I'm back at Apple headquarters -- my teeth worn down, my face prematurely aged from endless hours of sleeplessness and technological frustration -- certain that the iMac was the worst purchase I'd ever made.
The idea started in San Francisco. I was at KGO, ABC News' Bay Area affiliate, appearing on "The Ronn Owens Program" to talk about my recent military reporting, which sparked a Congressional hearing. "I'm working with a video editor right now," I told KGO's news director, "to compact the hearing into a brief clip that can go viral on YouTube." The director, Kevin Keeshan, twisted his head, wrinkled his brow and stared at me in utter confusion. "Why don't you edit it yourself?" he said. "Well," I stammered, "I don't really have a strong enough computer to do that. I don't even have video editing software."
Keeshan laughed. "I'll tell you, every intern here who applies for a job can video edit," he said. "It's sort of a standard skill."
I slinked out of his office and flew back to New York determined: I was going to buy an iMac, teach myself Final Cut Pro and tackle my next video project alone.
My iMac and I got off on the wrong foot. Turns out there's a video camera embedded in the screen, and before I could boot her up for the very first time, she wanted to take my picture. For "identity purposes," she said. I stumbled to the bathroom, brushed my hair (and my teeth), exchanged my raggedy Raiders t-shirt for a professionally ironed button-up and returned to my desk, smirking at the turn of events. My old PC didn't care if I called the Pentagon in my bathrobe. My iMac apparently had registered with Match.com.
I had an article to write, but the only word processor I could find on my iMac was TextEdit, essentially a stripped-down version of Notepad. The program had an excellent array of font options, like "Bigger" and "Smaller." It didn't take long to become frustrated with the iMac mouse too. It limped across my desk, the "on" switch, which is located on the belly of the mouse, scraping the mahogany of my desk as it went. Before I could finish my first letter, I began to miss my old, five-button mouse.
I booted up my bank account before realizing the Mac keyboard had no number pad and was heartsick to learn that the thesaurus WordWeb, every author's best friend, didn't work on Mac's OS. Neither did Ipswitch FTP, my file-uploader.
Some headaches I expected. I knew that, unlike a PC, I wouldn't be able to connect one computer to another and transfer over my documents. Instead I had to use my external hard drive, like a makeshift canoe, to migrate my articles, music and videos from one computer to the next. Loading and unloading docs to my external drive, I smacked into another iMac annoyance: unlike a PC, the Mac wouldn't let me move files to and from my external drive, only copy them. I realized I'd have to keep a sharp memory of which files I'd copied over -- or move every document twice and see which files it asked me to replace.
As I delved into an ocean of Mac dork chat boards, hoping to learn how to migrate over my Thunderbird mail and address book, I started wondering why I had converted in the first place. Even moving over my iTunes playlist, I soon learned, was going to take intricate coding tweaks. My frustration beginning to boil, I figured I'd cool down with some swing dancing videos stored on my hard drive. But QuickTime wasn't in the mood to play. My .flv and .mkv files triggered only error messages, and some of my .mpg clips opened to blank screens.
I opened Mac's Thunderbird, and my jaw dropped again. The font on every email was so small, I was going to need the Hubble telescope just to answer my morning mail. After an hour, I could feel the pressure in my eyes, the vessels constricting. To make the Mac program livable, I increased the font to 16 point, then continued writing emails to military sources. That night, at 3:30 a.m., I awoke up with a disturbing realization. On my high-resolution iMac my 16-point lettering may have looked like normal size, but to the officials now receiving my letters, my emails must have looked like they were scribbled in the balloon-type of an eighth grade amateur.
There were two obvious solutions: For the next few years I could type every letter in 16-point font, then decrease the font size just before sending it, or I could decrease the screen's radically high resolution. I sighed, realizing this was yet another Mac complication for a function my PC simply performed without fuss. I had battled the QuickTime player, which proved unable to make playlists, rolled my eyes at all the programs I had to quit twice to truly shut down, and grimaced at the dock shortcut to my MP3 folder, which malfunctioned after one day, topping the inert folder icon with a question mark. Now I was going to have to decrease the screen resolution simply so I could write emails.
I found the screen settings and slid the resolution bar down one notch. Suddenly everything was fuzzy. The blood vessels in my eyes began to constrict again.
The final straw came when Mac's Firefox took me to my website. To my horror, all the spacing was askew, the graphics tossed left and right like the wreckage of a hurricane. I asked myself: As a web designer, how can I design web pages when I can't see what 90 percent of my viewers are seeing?
For a second I thought, well, I could load Parallels, the Mac OS program that allows you to run Windows applications on your iMac. But that plan was squashed fast. Before I could complete Parallels' installation, it asked for a copy of the Windows CD. I shook my head in disbelief: where the hell am I going to get a copy of the Windows CD? And if I need Windows to perform basic functions, why don't I just get a PC with Windows already installed?
Here at the Apple store, the lovely red-headed saleslady is grinning at me. "That's quite a yarn," she says, a chuckle interrupting her words. "Yeah, that small-font thing really is a problem. We have a lot of people who face that, then come back to return their computers." Count me in. I'm returning my iMac, then headed to Best Buy to snag a PC, one four-times faster than my current computer and $400 cheaper than that iMac.
I'll spend the difference on a video editing program, a new haircut and a first-rate pair of swing dancing shoes.