Why I switched to a Mac after 20 years of Windows PC
I’ve been a Microsoft Windows fan since 1987 and have used Windows 286, Windows 386, Windows 3.0, Windows 3.1, Windows for Workgroups, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows 2003 and Windows Vista. As you can see, I have a long, loyal history with Windows. I pride myself on my deep understanding of Windows and have mastered tweaking everything from network settings (MTU, TCP-Window, etc.) to maximize high-speed broadband, to customizing cache settings to maximize I/O performance. I can fix nearly any Windows-related problem you can throw at me. This familiarity has given me great comfort over the years.
Windows 3.1 Screenshot
During the past 15 years, I’ve consistently made fun of anyone around me that uses a Mac and brushed them off as a “non-serious computer user”. I made exceptions in this humor for artists and writers but everyone else was fair game!
Macintosh System 7 Screenshot
Recently, I started noticing some of my friends defecting to the Mac, including friends that are extremely technical and very hard-core software developers. This opened my mind a bit and got me exploring. Meanwhile, I continued to get frustrated by little things in Windows and found myself asking the following questions version after version:
- Why does it take so long for Windows to boot?
- Why does the boot duration increase over time, even though I don’t install new software often and regularly defrag my hard drive (including MFT, swap file, folders, etc.)?
- Why do most serious Windows users accept the fact that at least once a year (more often for some of us), it’s necessary to do a complete re-install of Windows to regain performance and stability? (I call this a Windows enema!)
- Why does my machine work one day but have problems the next day with NO software changes. What happened!?
- Why does it take so long to shutdown Windows? Like boot-up, this seems to get worse over time.
- Why does standby not work consistently? I have tried it ever since it was introduced and have yet to get consistently good results. For some reason, the stability of Windows decreases quickly every time standby is used.
- Why did 64-bit take so long!? It’s not even fully realized yet for most of us.
I could go on and on…. device driver crap, conflicts, corrupt registry, adware, random blue screens, blah blah blah.
Don’t get me wrong, there are good reasons for some of these challenges – Microsoft has worked hard to maintain backward compatibility and it’s a miracle IMO that things run as well as they do considering the long history and customer demands. We’re all screaming for 64-bit yet Microsoft needs to also support a few 16-bit leftovers! Also, when you buy a Dell or IBM or HP or whatever, you are not only getting Windows, you are getting device drivers written by multiple companies so the complexity increases exponentially. Because Apple is a bit more proprietary, they can focus more on stability with their finite mix of hardware devices. I’m typically very against anything proprietary when it comes to technology, but in this case, it does make some sense.
About 11 months ago, to my dismay, and against my advice, my wife bought a classic white MacBook. I told her that she was terminating our support agreement that had been in place for 20 years and that she was now on her own! For several days, I would walk by her and ask, “how’s your new iPod doing?”. With very few exceptions, she’s done just fine without me. She takes advantage of the Genius Bar at our local Apple store, and signed up for Apple’s $99 One-on-One training program. Basically, you pay $99 per year for weekly one-on-one training on practically any Mac-related topic. At first, I couldn’t figure out how Apple could provide this level of support for only $99/year. If a customer takes full advantage, they can get 52 sessions at about $2/session! I quickly realized how Apple was able to pull this off when she kept coming home with new Apple accessories, software, etc. Clever marketing huh? Weekly up-sell opportunity! They actually do a great job.
After several more months of investigating and interviewing friends, I took the plunge. I was comforted by the fact that underneath the slick Mac OS exterior was real Unix….including Perl, Vim, bash, X11, etc. I spent many years of my career neck deep in Unix so it did help to see some old familiar things. Oh, and by the way, don’t tell me about the various Windows Unix-like shells – it is not the same! I can’t do “real” unix stuff like named pipes and I can’t do things like, “runapp | grep -i error | tee error.log” or run programs in the background (&), etc.
A few years ago, Gartner published an article titled, “Understanding Hype Cycles”. It was written to describe the maturity and adoption cycles of new technology in general, but I’m going to use the same phases to describe my experience – I think it fits well.
Phase 1: Technology Trigger
For me, the trigger was the fact that several friends that I have huge respect for switched. I knew there must be something to it. Another trigger was that my Windows machine was starting to show performance degradation– it was almost time for my semi-annual Windows enema and I was tired of doing this! I needed 64-bit so I could use more memory so I was already facing a few minor software compatibility problems.
Phase 2: Peak of Inflated Expectations
I heard from numerous friends and co-workers that Macs never need rebooting, are always fast, never get a virus, never lockup, etc. I have to admit, I was getting a bit excited about the concept. I had only experienced this type of stability with Unix and Linux.
I got advice from several co-workers on which machine to get, what software to install, which accessories to add, etc. I then ordered my new machine, a fully loaded MacBook Pro with 4GB of memory, 200GB 7200RPM drive, Mac OS X Leopard, extra battery, etc.. When the machine arrived, I quickly pulled it out of the box, plugged it in, turned it on and stood in awe of the incredibly bright LED-lit screen, simple back-lit keyboard, fast boot time, etc. Things were good!
Phase 3: Trough of Disillusionment
After I got through playing with my new MacBook, I needed to get back to work. This is when the frustration kicked in and the honeymoon abruptly ended. It started when I configured Entourage (Office 2008’s equivalent to Outlook) and started catching up on some email. I immediately felt unable to type! The following keys were missing: PgUp, PgDn, Home, End, Ins, Backspace and more! These all have easy equivalents but I didn’t know what they were! I hit the maximize button (which was on the “wrong side” of the window border by the way) but it didn’t maximize the way I expected. Later I closed the window but I noticed that Entourage was still running. I didn’t know how to “right-click”. I didn’t know how to switch programs at first and when I finally stumbled on command-tab, it didn’t work the way I expected. I was lost! What the heck was Apple thinking when they designed this interface? It ain’t right!
I then installed Flex Builder 3, copied over my projects and was relieved to see that they worked as-is, but navigating the IDE was very clumsy for me since I didn’t know how to do some basic keyboard stuff. I didn’t even know how to take a screenshot. I didn’t know how to install new software (what is a .dmg file!?). I knew at this point that the transition was not going to be trivial.
Phase 4: Slope of Enlightenment
I took a step back and decided to approach this with a little more structure…hacking was only leading to frustration. I found Apple’s “Switch 101” page at http://www.apple.com/support/switch101, which offers some very good advice to get a PC guy started. I also picked up a copy of “Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual Leopard Edition” by David Pogue. This is a MUST-HAVE book. I read it cover to cover and started feeling much more comfortable. Don’t try the switch without this book! I finally got my head around some of the important shortcuts…such as command-Q to quit a program, command-H to hide a program, command-tab to switch applications, command-~ to switch between windows of an application (very cool once you are used to it). I learned how to use the dock, how to quickly get to my applications, how to open a terminal window, how to use spotlight (VERY cool feature), how to boot from a USB device, etc
Phase 5: Plateau of Productivity
It’s been two weeks and I’m completely moved in. To my surprise, I’m finding that I’m more productive than before. The machine boots incredibly fast. Network connections occur almost instantly, including wireless connections. Sleep mode actually works so I rarely shutdown. The keyboard is incredibly responsive and well laid out. I think I’m at about 90% efficiency on it…. but I still find myself occasionally forgetting how to move the cursor to the end of a word or sentence, etc. I think I’ll be at 100% within another week.
Microsoft Office 2008 – I was using Office 2007 on my PC and had only recently adjusted to the dramatic difference from Office 2003. I was disappointed to find out that I was going to have to go through another major adjustment. I am able to use Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Entourage (Outlook’s replacement) but it takes a bit of hunting through dialogs to find things. This will take a bit to adjust to.
I’m very frustrated by the differences between Outlook 2007 and Entourage 2008. Each has features that the other product does not have. Do these development teams ever meet? The needed features are there…but…well…it’s just different. One huge disappointment is that Entourage will NOT import a PST file! How can this be!? I had to purchase a 3rd party converter to make this happen. I was starting to feel a bit alienated by my good ol’ friend Microsoft.
VMware Fusion– I spend a lot of time talking about and demonstrating Adobe LiveCycle ES, which does not run on MacOS (at least not as a supported environment). However, it runs very well on a VMware image. I have three VMware images that go with me everywhere. Image 1 is a stripped down Windows XP image that I use when I absolutely have to have IE. Unity mode lets me run Windows XP programs side-by-side with Mac OS programs. Image 2 is a Windows 2003 image with the full LiveCycle ES install. This is my demo server image. Image 3 is a Ubuntu Linux image that I’m using to test AIR apps. See my earlier post, “1 MacBook running 3 OS’s and 3 AIR Apps simultanously” for a good example of the power of VMware Fusion.
Adobe Creative Products – I’ve installed the entire Creative Suite 3 on my new MacBook. There was very little transition time required for these since they basically work the same. I have noticed that Lightroom is much faster on my new MacBook, even faster than my dual-CPU Dell workstation. Both versions are 32-bit so I suspect that available memory is part of the reason it runs faster. Photoshop is basically identical with one exception. Over the years, I’ve developed a habit of using the keyboard to open menus. For example, to open the highlights/shadow dialog box, I simply hit ALT-I for the image menu followed by “A” for adjustments menu followed by “W” for shadow/highlight… never touching the mouse. This doesn’t work on Mac OS. Menu items don’t have this type of selection shortcut. There are shortcut keys to many dialogs, but you can’t navigate menu structures this way.
What I like:
- Awesome keyboard (now that I have figured it out!). The back-lit feature is great on night flights.
- Multi-Touch is incredible and very addictive. Also, I’ve configured my touchpad to do a “right-click” when I hit it with two fingers (eliminates having to control-click)
- LED screen is incredible – very “white” – perfect for photography work
- Having 4GB of addressable memory is nice. Caching seems to do a great job utilizing it.
- Networking is very fast, especially when establishing a new connection.
- Boot time and shutdown time are very good
- Sleep/Standby works with no apparent impact on stability
- Battery life is great so far. The website claims 5 hours but, as expected, I got about 4, which I’m happy with. Ask me again in a year
- The power cord is nice – comes with an extender. The connection to the MacBook is magnetic.
- It’s easy to create a clone of your hard drive to a USB drive…and it’s bootable! This is great if your hard drive crashes 5 minutes before a presentation. You can simply switch to booting from your USB copy. I use Carbon Copy Cloner (free!) to do the cloning.
- Spaces is awesome – gives me multiple desktops – easily switched by hotkeys. There are equivalent Windows utilities but not as solid as Spaces.
- Exposé is very useful, especially when I’m dealing with 10+ open applications.
- The graphics card (NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT) is fantastic – 512MB of memory – incredible 3D performance. But, this is a work machine… so I of course never play games on it… so who cares <cough 😉 >
- Software install and uninstall is cleaner. Many programs are just a simple .app file.
What I don’t like:
- I miss Outlook. What I really want is Outlook with a few of the Entourage features added. For example, in Entourage, when I view an email that I’ve replied to earlier, I can quickly jump to my reply by clicking a link. When viewing the reply, I can quickly jump back to the original. Entourage global address book lookups are much faster than with Outlook. One big frustration with Entourage is the inability to convert text to a hyperlink. I often send emails with links to articles, etc. but instead of writing out the URL, I keep the email clean by saying “click here” and then convert it to a hyperlink. Amazingly, you can’t do this in Entourage! Do the Entourage developers not use the web??? Also, Entourage does not let me edit server-side/Exchange mail rules. I rarely need to change these so it’s no big deal. I can do it from the webmail client using IE under my VMware image.
- Safari – it’s a nice browser but not as fast as advertised in my opinion. Several websites are still incompatible. Firefox was the first piece of software I installed! I’m not thrilled with any browser choices but I’ll get by.
- Time Machine is a great backup solution with a very cool interface but it lacks the controls that it needs. I would like to have it turn off automatically during work hours. I have to switch it on and off manually. I’m sure there are ways to hack this but it hasn’t been important enough for me to investigate.
- Microsoft Excel 2008 is a bit sluggish when moving from cell to cell. All of the features seem in place and many of most complex spreadsheets (with pivot tables, charts, etc.) work as-is.
As expected, many of my every day utilities don’t run on MacOS. I was able to find alternatives. Here is a short list:
- CuteFTP – replaced with Transmit – very similar features – I’m satisfied
- Miranda and Trillian (IM Clients) – replaced with Adium. I actually like Adium much better and highly recommend it. It supports Jabber, AIM, Yahoo, Google Talk, MSN, IRC and more
- IE – mostly replaced with Firefox and Safari but for those few websites that insist on IE, I boot up my Window XP VMware image.
- Microsoft OneNote – replaced with MacJournal – it’s not an exact replacement but it has everything I need
- Windows Media Player – replaced by QuickTime for some formats. I installed VLC to handle the rest.
- FeedDaemon – my favorite Windows RSS reader – replaced by NetNewsWire – very similar functionality but it’s missing the ability to download full content for offline viewing. It does stay in sync with FeedDaemon running on my PC and my mobile RSS reader (NewsGator Go).
Overall, I’m glad I made the switch. I do think it’s a better OS for most things. I could have easily stayed with Windows and got the latest greatest fastest 64 bit laptop and maybe found the stability and performance that I’ve wanted all of these years….or maybe not. I haven’t abandoned Windows. I still have a very nice Dell workstation running both Windows XP and Windows Vista 64. I’m now able to switch back and forth between my workstation and my new MacBook easily.
I’ll post another update in a few months when the newness wears off. 🙂
Windows Vista / Mac OS Leopard
5/8/2008 – Very good article in Business Week titled, “The Mac in the Gray Flannel Suite” – about the growing demand for Macs by Office workers.