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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Take-down at the Apple store

I read a story last year that implied Apple Computer was lax on security at its retail stores. Don't you believe it.

When the new MacBook was announced Tuesday, with immediate availability, I headed for the downtown San Francisco store to buy one up so we could review it here at CNET. As usual, the store was crowded, and some employees were setting up some display models of the new machines.

Asked if they had any black MacBooks in stock, a green-shirted employee immediately took me to a POS (point-of-sale, not the other kind of POS) machine, punched some keys and happily informed me there were still a few left in stock, despite an early crush of customers. He took my name and dutifully tried to sell me an extended warranty, a ProCare plan and a .Mac account (at 30 percent off). "Just the laptop, please," I responded, and he handed me one of those crowd-control, pager-like devices that you get when you try to eat at TGI Fridays on a Friday.

Click for photos

So I waited patiently, with a cadre of other customers holding their shiny little pagers and waiting for their treasures to be excavated from the store's basement.

After about 30 minutes of watching many customers happily fork over $1,500 for their black MacBooks, a man strode directly in front of me, stooped down to the floor and appeared to tuck a few boxes of iPod accessories into a coat that was too large and thick for the balmy weather.

He headed straight for the door, where a white-shirted Apple employee stepped in front of him, while another lined up behind him. When the white shirts removed the boxes from under the man's jacket coat, he attempted to run toward the main drag of Market Street. If the coat had been less bulky and prone to tearing, he probably would have gotten away. But it served as a convenient lasso that four people eventually used to drag him down and haul him back into the store, sight unseen, but likely somewhere close to where those MacBooks were sitting on pallets marked Top Secret.

After nearly an hour, my name was called. Not a good sign, considering my pager had remained silent. Sure enough, there were no black MacBooks left. Even though a salesman had assured me they had it available, this other employee informed me the reality was they really had no idea how many were available. Except that now he was certain none was available. So CNET got a white one: The pictures are here. The episode with security and the suspected shoplifter (caught with my handy Treo) is here. And the moral of the story is here: It's a bad idea to attempt any shenanigans at an Apple retail store on the day a big, new product is released.