Two problems–data loss and monitor impairment–reported with new Apple Computer products have hundreds of customers up in arms and should be watched closely by Mac-using educators. The trouble reports involve Apple’s new “Panther” operating system and its latest laptop computers.

More than 1,000 disenchanted customers have signed an online petition asking Apple to acknowledge a widespread defect in the liquid crystal display monitors installed with its new Powerbook G4 laptops.

According to the petition–filed on a consumer watchdog site that encourages disgruntled customers to lodge grievances against companies for faulty products and services–the screens are susceptible to “white spots” that appear on the display and, in many cases, grow in number with increased use.

“I didn’t expect a premium machine with a premium price to suffer from such a blatant manufacturing defect,” complained one petitioner.

Educators, too, have encountered the faulty screens.

“Our school purchased a 15-inch Powerbook the day after they were announced, and as of a few weeks ago I started noticing the white spots,” said Elaine Wrenn, technology coordinator for Echo Horizon School in Culver City, Calif.

Wrenn, one of Apple’s Distinguished Educators, said she had yet to contact the company about the defect.

The other complaint–and a potentially more serious one for schools–involves reported compatibility issues between certain external FireWire 800 disk drives and the recently released Mac OS X 10.3 operating system, also known as “Panther.”

Apple says there is a glitch in a particular chipset manufactured by London-based Oxford Semiconductor, which can result in the loss of data stored on an external hard drive. After upgrading to “Panther,” users have complained that information stored on these outside drives is no longer accessible on their machines.

“Apple has identified an issue with external FireWire hard drives using the Oxford 922 bridge chipset with firmware version 1.02 that can result in the loss of data stored on the disk drive,” the company said in a statement. “Apple is working with Oxford Semiconductor and affected drive manufacturers to resolve this issue, which resides in the Oxford 922 chipset.”

Oxford did not return calls by press time.

In the interim, Apple recommends that customers do not use these drives. To stop using the drive, you should “unmount,” or disconnect, the disk drive before doing anything else, the company said.

On the heels of the controversy, at least one FireWire drive manufacturer–Oregon-based LaCie–released updates for its 800 drives, saying it believes the problem is more widespread than Apple claims.

“We believe this problem affects all manufacturers of FireWire 800 drives,” the company said. “LaCie has been actively investigating these reports to identify the cause of the problems and to provide our customers with a solution.”

LaCie customers can download the updates by going to the company’s web site.

Apple’s statement did not indicate whether the defect applied to older FireWire 400 disk drives as well.

Although Apple acknowledges the existence of both problems, the company stopped short of saying whether it would repair the monitors or reimburse customers for their troubles–at least for now.

Educators overall were surprised by the apparent oversights.

“This does seem to be an issue that Apple should jump on and shouldn’t have missed,” said Larry Anderson, founder and director of the National Center for Technology Planning and a long-time Apple advocate.

Still, for schools, the damage so far appears to have been minimal.

Mark Luffman, head of information technology services for Cottonwood Oak Creek School District #6 in Arizona, said schools in his district haven’t even considered upgrading to the new OS X platform yet.

However, he said, the problem isn’t likely to stop him from performing those upgrades eventually.

“I’m confident that whatever the problem–if it is a real widespread thing–Apple will fix it,” he said.

Links:

Apple Computer
http://www.apple.com

Oxford Semiconductor
http://www.oxsemi.com

LaCie
http://www.lacie.com

Online Petition
http://www.petitiononline.com/applelcd/petition.html