Im a switcher, a recent convert to the Mac way. Last month I purchased my first PowerBook, a replacement for the last of a long line of IBM ThinkPads. Theyre great machines, and hard to say goodbye to in some ways, but as I have no warm feelings for Microsoft and OS X seems so far ahead of the Windows world, the change seemed inevitable. Recently I had my first chance to try out Apples warranty service on my three-week-old 17 PowerBook G4, though the experience wasn't something I went looking for. In a way, though, I was eager to see how the service would compare to that of IBM. Ive got some fairly substantial experience with ThinkPads and the service offered when something goes wrong (and with laptops and any kind of serious usage, something eventually goes wrong). IBM has proven themselves again and again in the past to offer best-of-class service when something needs to be repaired. Apple is turning out to be not quite as tasty in this arena. In fact, After 9 days Im still waiting to hear anything conclusive about my computer, and in the mean time the comparison between big blue and those insanely great folks over in Cupertino is starting to leave me sour. So, in an effort to turn my exacerbation into something a bit more fruitful, I offer the following: one persons comparison of warranty service for ThinkPads and PowerBooks. The initial Call I know a fairly good deal about computers, which is to say that if I go the trouble of calling tech support, its a safe bet that the computer is going to need some sort of hardware repair. Of course, the tech on the other end of the phone doesnt know that, and theres always the initial round of lets-make-sure-this-guy-isnt-a-bozo. Im pleased to say Ive never had an IBM rep know less about the problem than me. I dont know where they get these guys (and how they manage to be perenially happy to help, even at 3:00 in the morning), but theyre amazing. Extremely good people skills, very knowledgeable technologically, and they usually have the same machine as you sitting in front of them. When calling, Ive never had a hold time of longer than 2 minutes, and they usually get a handle on the problem very quickly. I found Apple to be a bit different. My first call was late on a Sunday night, and no one was there to take it. I can understand that: this isnt a Fortune 100 company, after all, and they certainly dont have the customer base to justify that kind of support. I retried on Monday and had to listen to a recording for 15 minutes. Again, not the hugest problem, but not IBM, either. Finally a technician answered my call and spent the first few minutes trying to muscle me into purchasing AppleCare and extending my warranty. I politely declined and said that right now I would like to focus on the fact that my 3-week old laptop had started making noise out of the speakers and earphone jack only intermittently, and that it took inserting and removing the earphones to jar it back into functioning when it dropped out, as if there were some sort of short. Is it playing sound now? the tech asked. Just minutes before it had played nothing. I started iTunes. It worked. Yes, but it wasn't a minute ago, and it probaly won't work again in a couple of minutes. It's going off and on, I replied. Well, sir," he responded, "Im afraid theres nothing I can do. Have you tried reinstalling your operating system? I informed him that I was fairly certain that the problem was hardware related, and I reminded him that it seemed to be fixed by inserting and removing the earphones repeatedly. Well, it could be software, he said, and anyway, since its playing now theres nothing I can do. Reinstall OS X and if it still misbehaves I would suggest you take it to an apple retail store. I asked him if he had ever seen a problem like this (with an emphasis, once more, on the earphone-jack thing) be caused by software. He said uh, well, uh, yes. I have. I didn't believe him, but what could I do? I asked for a case number for the call. I could give you one but I havent put anything in. Theres nothing to report yet. Frustrated, I got off the phone, backed up my hard disk to a LaCie d2, and reinstalled Panther. Surprise, surprise: no sound. Immediately, I packed up my machine, headed to the Apple store in Palo Alto, and waited another 15 minutes until a much more helpful employee at the Genius Bar could see me. I explained the situation, and he immediately said Is it less than 10 days old? If so well get you a brand new one today. Unfortunately I didnt quite make the cut, so he began to fill out a service order. Oh, he asked, do you have the case number for the guy you talked to on the phone? It will really help speed this up. Ugh... The Turn Around With IBM, if the hardware can be easily replaced (i.e. a new TrackPoint or keyboard), they ship you the parts immediately. In 24 hours or less you find a box on your doorstep that has exactly what you need and a sheet with instructions on how to switch out, say, the keyboard (Of course with the 17 PowerBook the keyboard has been soldered onto the aluminum case, so I dont think that will ever be an option). If the machine has bigger problems, they send you a box, and if you catch the Airborne Express rep when he delivers it, hell take the machine then and there. In all my history with IBM Ive had to do this twice, and in both cases the machine has come back, fully repaired, in under 48 hours. The genius at the Apple Store said I would have to wait a week, which sounded bad enough, but I left my computer at the store 9 days ago, and theres really no telling when Im going to get it back. The web site says nothing other than the fact that the repair depot received it three days after I dropped it off. When I call AppleCare they tell me that apparently the good folks in Houston are waiting for a new logic board. Its not really clear when theyll actually get the part and be able to start working on fixing my machine. Meanwhile, theres no way to waive a signature for return shipping, so you can either have it sent back to an Apple Store or risk picking it up at UPS if youre not around when they come by. The Bottom Line I dont really know yet how the story ends. Hopefully it wont endure much longer. In the meantime Im back on my old ThinkPad, tolerating the aesthetic banality of Windows 2000 with a tad bit of nostalgia. I certainly dont miss Microsoft, but its nice to sit in front of an object of reliability again. ThinkPads are like little tanks, and when they do break down, you can bet your butt, or your business, that theyll be up again in no time. As much as I love my PowerBook, thats something I just cant say when it comes to Apple.