Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter — Issue #1036


Gene Steinberg

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Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter
November 28, 2022


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A VINTAGE MAC TALE: VOLUME ONE

According to the latest estimates, the average age of a new car in the United States is 12.2 years. In other countries, it may be longer, and that means many vehicles are even older, yet they are still on the road in decent enough condition. Sure, they probably require constant maintenance to run, and that maintenance can be expensive if you’re not a do-it-yourselfer. But the average price of a new car is $48,o00, largely because of tight supplies of chips from Asia, and the fact that so many of you prefer SUVs, crossovers and trucks to “old fashioned” sedans. My first new car, an Opel coupe bought in 1967, cost me all of $2,100.

How time flies when you’re having fun.

But in the tech world, we need more or less instant gratification. An older gadget needs to be replaced on a fairly regular basis to keep up with the times and the latest apps. It used to be two years for a smartphone, but it’s now 3.5 years at trade-in according to published reports, but iPhones last far longer, usually.

When it comes to a Mac — and I’ll avoid discussions of PCs for now — they are expected to last around eight to ten years without major troubles. But people quite often trade before then, simply because Apple has dropped support for macOS on those vintage models, and more and more software requires later operating system upgrades. Besides the newer models run faster, which may be important if your workflow stretches the limits.

It’s not unreasonable to suggest that some of this is planned obsolescence, a way to force you to buy the newest model. This is unlike that aging car, which, if kept up with regular service, can run for decades without concerns of compatibility. It doesn’t need new apps or an OS upgrade obviously, although they are sometimes available for recent models.

In any case, as with most of you, I’ve had my health and financial challenges well into my old age. My Late 2014 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display worked great for years, except for a Fusion Drive replacement three years ago, but it now appears to be on its last legs. It is not currently usable because it fails to boot properly, reaching the desktop, but running slow as molasses when apps don’t outright freeze. I fear a repair will cost upwards of $500 based on the preliminary estimates that depend on the actual source of the problem. That expense might have been worth it a few years ago, but now it’s a vintage model that’s only worth recycling if you try to trade a working model to Apple.

I’m busy saving for a new iMac, and maybe I’ll be ready in time for the next revision. The original 24-inch iMac is over a year old now, and would benefit from the M2 CPU.

With a sick iMac, I’ve been relying on my aging MacBook Pro to get by. This unit is the 2010 17-inch model, meaning it doesn’t even have a Retina display, though it’s clear enough at a normal viewing range. The slightly fuzzy text is definitely not bothersome, since I lived with Macs of that sort for decades. The basic specs include a 2.66 GHz Intel Core i7 CPU, 4GB RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. The last supported OS is 10.13 High Sierra, released on 2017. I suppose a seven-year stretch isn’t that bad. The iMac got by with macOS 11 Big Sur, released in 2020, meaning that Monterey and Ventura aren’t supported.

Performance on the notebook with less demanding apps, including the audio waveform editors I use for my radio Show, The Paracast, ought to be satisfactory. But the original hard drive was a slug, so I eventually replaced it with a 500GB SSD from OWC; included was an upgrade from 4GB to 8GB of RAM.

That SSD made all the difference in the world, though it was a bit of a bear to replace due to Apple’s dedicated efforts to make Macs as difficult to repair or upgrade as possible. In its infinite wisdom, Apple uses pentalobe screws on the older MacBook Pro, which require a special screwdriver. They are so tiny, they are easy to lose, so I had to get some extras. But at least I could do the upgrade; that’s not possible with current models.

With the SSD and RAM upgrade, performance isn’t bad. My audio apps render my shows in their final form without too much delay, but it’s still roughly twice as long as the Late 2014 iMac, which is pretty much what the specs indicate. I also encounter delays in typing text, where it lags slightly. It’s particularly noticeable in the WordPress visual editor I use to write these columns.

While I can manage without any hiccups with the Firefox and Safari browsers, Chrome 109 brings it down to a stutter, literally. But I can manage with the other two. For audio editing, I get by with older versions of Audio Hijack (3.8.5), Amadeus Pro (2.8.8) and SoundStudio (4.6.1), plus Feeder (3.8.5) to upload the podcast versions. I’ve recorded two episodes of The Paracast with this machine, and I was able to manage most tasks without undo delays except, again, for the longer rendering times on the audio files.

And then there’s Microsoft Office.

The current version available for Office 365 subscribers requires macOS Big Sur or later, so I contacted Microsoft support via chat to see if I can download a previous version. And, no, I am not assuming Microsoft is in league with Apple to force you to buy a new Mac to run their software. Quite often this happens to support newer OS features, which means older Macs might run an app slowly or not at all.

Unfortunately, support couldn’t solve the problems. Yes, they sent me a link to an installer that ran, but once any of the apps were launched, they got stuck in the activate mode, constantly “Loading” with a spinning wheel. Microsoft said that’s the best they could do; it’s just too bad in so many words.

But I didn’t stop there. In an effort to try to fix the problem, I followed Microsoft’s directions on removing Office apps from a Mac, which mostly include trashing the app files and a few additional items from the Users Library folder. The instructions call for a restart, after which I tried to reinstall. The failure to activate was the same.

So I removed everything listed by Microsoft again, but found a number of additional files in the Application Support and Preferences folders in my Library folder. I tried a third time, and it was definitely not a charm.

For now, I have to rely on Apple’s Pages app to open Word files, which isn’t so bad, since most of the work I do these days is text based, or to open documents that don’t require editing, thus don’t need activation. So it’s not all bad.

Update: Several hours after the initial Office 365 activation failure, I decided to give it another try. This time it worked, which appears to indicate the problem was on Microsoft's part, unbeknownst to the support person. Well, at least that's progress.

So there you have it. A 12-year-old MacBook Pro managing the production of a syndicated radio show and other chores. It’s a sacrifice to be sure, but I’m happy to have a backup to depend on until I resolve my iMac dilemma.

THE FINAL WORD

Gene Steinberg’s Mac Radio Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.

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