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Why I’m becoming a Mac person

I’ve used each of the Apple machines pretty much when they came out. I’ve owned several, most recently a Powerbook. Yet the Mac has never stuck with me. Now, my black MacBook is bringing me joy. I use my big honking Windows desktop machine only when I have to.

What happened?

I’ve had what I think of as legitimate reasons to find the Mac unpleasant. I don’t think of Apple as a user-friendly company. The Mac’s insistence on sticking with interface idiocies like shipping with a one-button mouse and only allowing drag-sizing from the bottom right-hand corner, strike me as explicable only as arrogance. I prefer Microsoft’s willingness to run Windows on machines manufactured in an open market, although it does result in the chaos of drivers that is the bane of Windows’ existence. The lack of software for the Mac is an issue. And then there are my idiosyncratic reasons for sticking with Windows, including the tons of utilities programs I’ve written for myself and my need to run a version of Powerpoint that has full path animation, which Mac Powerpoint lacks.

Likewise, I’ve been unpersuaded by the Mac’s case against Windows. Windows XP (Microsoft’s failed to give me to a good reason to switch to Vista) is quite robust and stable. Even when a program crashes, it doesn’t pull down the entire operating system. If you know what you’re doing, you don’t get viruses. The registry is an overly-complex solution to the complexity of modern software, but it rarely gets in your way, and being able to edit it (after making a back up, of course) actually gives you some additional control over your machine. The problems Mac users rag on Windows users about generally don’t hold against sufficiently sophisticated users. I have become a sufficiently sophisticated at Windows use. I’ve had to.

So, what’s changed my mind?

Some of it has nothing to do with the Mac. In particular, I’m coming off of a Thinkpad X40, an admirably light and small laptop, which has me enjoying the MB’s larger and wider screen. That’s helping a lot.

The open source movement has now created great software in enough categories that I don’t feel like I’m downgrading. Open Office (I’m using the NeoOffice flavor of it, which uses more of the Mac’s UI and skips X11, or at least makes it invisible) now feels as good as Word; the upgrade to the spell checker, for example, has helped. Thunderbird and Firefox work just fine on the MB. The utility programs, like the text editors and FTP programs, are great, and even tend to be prettier than their Windows’ counterparts. So, even though there is far less software available for the Mac, for me there’s enough, and enough is all I need. And, the same is true for the non-open source stuff. The one category that matters to me that the Mac loses at is games. But I still have my honking Windows desktop for that.

The ability to run Windows on the same MB is comforting, especially during the transition. I have a 10gb partition for Windows, leaving about 140gb for Mac. I find I’m only using the Windows partition for working in Powerpoint and for retrieving items I forgot to port over. And, Parallels, which lets you run Windows in a window on your Mac desktop, may not be rock solid, but it is way cool.

I do like knowing Unix is under the hood. It enables a range of tinkering that would require far deeper knowledge in Windows. (Windows API anyone?) Of course, tinkering is how people like me get in trouble.

OS X absolutely handles some core user functions better than Windows does. When I close the lid on my Thinkpad, I can never be entirely sure what state I’m going to find the machine in when I come back. It’s supposed to go into sleep mode, but it on occasion goes into either hibernation or total shutdown. And it takes way too long to come back, no matter what state it’s in. This is one of those things you’d think Microsoft and hardware manufacturers would have figured out by now. On the other hand, I can close my MB and be confident that when I open it, it’s going to blink its eyes once or twice and be fully awake. Likewise, my MB latches on to the strongest, open-est wifi signal without asking me to salute and sign some papers. Also, the Mac seems to be doing a better job of power management, although I’m not competent to judge this. (Hint: Turn on Parallels and watch your power drain, presumably as the Core 2 cpu #2 kicks in.)

Put it all together, and the MacBook feels great. It’s solid, it’s fast, the display is beautiful. Oh, I’ve had program crashes, and there’s UI stuff that seems thick-headed (how about letting me use just one finger to delete forward? Jeez!), but, well, it’s just a computer. And I’m enjoying it more than any computer since my original KayPro II.

Of course, it helped that I got it just before going on a working vacation when I could devote some serious relationship-bonding time with it. Employers ought to grant leaves of absence to users making the switch. The first couple of weeks are such an important bonding time. We ought to respect that. I hear the French give 14 days of paid leave.

19 Responses to “Why I’m becoming a Mac person”

  1. I honestly can never understand what people mean by “less software available for the Mac”. Really? Maybe in the very distant past it was true, but I was using macs for close to five years now and I don’t feel that way at all. For more than three years I used both Windows and OXS daily (I am a software developer and I develop for multiple platforms) and I could not find good usable Windows replacements for tools I swear by on the Mac. I don’t even mean developers’ or hackers’ tools. I could not find an outliner, for example. And what about the calendar? Outlook is horrible, Sunbird is absolutely unstable, what else is there? Finally, Quicksilver — try replacing that!

    For a little while about the only thing I needed Windows for was to be able to upload my running workouts from the Forerunner GPS watch to the website (their plugin was Windows-only). Then I found a utility that would download the tracks from the Forerunner in a suitable format and I then could upload them to manually. Then made their plugin work on the Mac. And that was it.

  2. I made the switch back to a MacBook Pro earlier this month as well (from an IBM ThinkPad T42p). I miss the ThinkPad’s screen real estate (1600×1200) and the fabulous keyboard. Aside from that, I haven’t looked back.

    There is less software, but for me that’s actually a good thing — it’s easier to separate the good stuff from the crap. I’m a little surprised, though, to see that a lot of software that’s free on Windows — utilities mostly — are payware on the Mac.

  3. Not to nitpick, but you say:

    presumably as the Core 2 cpu #2 kicks in

    This is one of the stranger statements I often see from Windows switchers who are using multi-CPU and multi-core Macs.

    Both cores are always running, unless you do something to explicitly disable one of them. In Mach – used as the core of the Mac OS X kernel – the fundamental unit of scheduling is a thread, and threads are scheduled across available processor cores when they become runnable. (The algorithm is complex and does take affinity into account, but the above is the gist of how it works.)

    There’s almost never a time when only a single thread is runnable; /usr/bin/top can tell you how many are in existence (though not runnable) at any particular time. This has virtually nothing at all to do with concepts like the currently-in-use application or whether it is itself multithreaded, or whether there are other applications even running. (There are always a variety of services running that make up the OS itself…)

  4. Thanks, Chris. I picked up that piece of misinformation somewhere. I actually do know better. Didn’t think. (And, yes, I do use top. I still managed to hold on to the wrong idea.)

    George, there simply are fewer sw pkgs for the Mac. Whether there are fewer _good_ sw pkgs is a different question. Here I agree with you. (PS: rely on a quicksilverish program on Windows. I think it’s called pc-com. There’s also ActiveWord. And autohotkey.)

  5. Nice blog but evil smileys will take over the world :) Join the army and stay beautifull! :)

  6. The hibernation issue and the simplicity, or maybe also reliability a MB has while connecting to the next Wi-Fi, are some of the few reasons why I’d switch to a MB. But then – my (WinXP) HP nx8220 is almost as sexy as a MB and it comes with a two-buttoned mouse :-)

    What I like about these MBs though is how they actually make one realize that there’s a only a small collection of programs needed to fulfill the daily tasks.

  7. Congrats on making the switch. I think you’ll find the Mac a more than capable and reliable machine. I went from a 2-button mouse life to the Mac, and ended up trading in my habit for a single button. Efficiency and usability aren’t always what they appear to be, and for me the one-button approach works better. I was totally surprised.

  8. A few comments. (1) All Macs have fully supported two-button mice for years. Any normal Windows-compatible, two-button mouse with a scroll wheel works fine on OS X. I couldn’t live without a three-button mouse. (2) I run a ton of Windows apps using Parallels. In general, I find the quality of 3rd-party apps on Mac to be much higher than the equivalent on Windows (but I depend on Office on both platforms). I find a lot of the Windows shareware to be quite poor. The Mac stuff seems to be written with more pride – not just to make a buck. (3) Running Parallels and a bunch of Mac apps at the same time works a lot better since I bumped my MacBook Pro to 3 GB of RAM this week. Both the Mac and XP now run very fast, and I can switch with no delays – there used to be too much paging. Buy as much RAM as you can. (4) Details I love on the MacBook Pro include the built-in camera, the cool remote control, the iLife suite of apps, Firewire 400 and 800 ports, the magnetic power connector – i.e., attention to the tiniest details.

  9. the french give me full medical coverage just so’s i can sit on my ass and write all day on a mac. how ’bout them apples?

  10. Just an advice: have you ever tried applications like Scrivener or Journler? I believe they would be perfect for your job.

  11. Dave, of course I know the Mac lets you plug in a 2 button mouse. The arrogance is (imo) in not building one into the machine itself.

    As far as the hardware goes: Yes, all that you point to is very cool. But, having to carry (= lose) a dongle with me so the MacBook can output to the vast majority of projectors and other devices is pretty annoying. And many of us still occasionally use dialup, so having to buy a $50 usb modem was $50’s worth of annoyance. Also, I have to buy mice with longer-than-usual tails because the MacBook’s usb ports are all on the left side and I’m a righty. Also, although there’s room, there’s no delete-forwards key, even though a two-fingered key combo is built into the system. Also, there are widespread reports that the power supply frays at its head after about a year; I’ve used shoe “Goop” on the junctions of the wires to forestall this. Also, Apple has patented the very cool magnetic connector, so there’s no aftermarket. Also, the machine runs so hot at times (Parallels seems to turn up the flame to broil) that Apple (I’m told) recommends that you not use your laptop on your lap. Also, the black MacBook’s finish is marred by being touched, which is not quite the attention to the tiniest details you refer to.

    So, don’t get me wrong. I’m loving my MacBook. But it isn’t perfect.

  12. Just a second vote for Scrivener – it just rules for putting together books.

    There is an amazing amount of excellent Mac shareware from one or two person shops. And some of the slightly larger shops do great work – check out Omnigraffle from Omnigroup.

  13. I do find that without fail my Mac’s fans speed up and the machine gets hotter by virtue of having Parallels on. I could swear this was not the case when I had a virginal Windows install, I suspect it might have to do with the antivirus and other utilities (keyserver, for one) chugging away all the time in the background, eating up cycles.

  14. I do find that without fail my Mac’s fans speed up and the machine gets hotter by virtue of having Parallels on. I could swear this was not the case when I had a virginal Windows install, I suspect it might have to do with the antivirus and other utilities (keyserver, for one) chugging away all the time in the background, eating up cycles.

  15. I just got a Mac today, after 12 years on Windows. I’m trying to move over my Firefox profile (jillions of bookmarks, passwords, etc.) and I’m a bit flummoxed. How do I move a directory from my key drive into the proper Mac directory for Firefox? Do I need to use Terminal (in my dalliance with it today, I had to try and recall my 15-year-old Unix knowledge to remember commands like ls)? The Mozilla site was no help at all.

    Any generous Mac expert want to give me a pointer?



  16. John, I’ve found what looks like the Firefox profile on my Mac at [username]/Library/Application Support/Firefox/

    After making a backup of the directory, it may be that if you copy the Firefox profile from Windows to the Mac, it will work. Or, I will have destroyed your system and possibly run over your dog with my Hummer. It’s a bit of a crap shoot.

    No Terminal or Unix is required. You should be able to do this within Finder.

    And Spotlight will show you where your Firefox install is.

    Have I mentioned that I may be steering you down entirely the wrong path?

  17. Hi John, why don’t you simply install on both Win and Mac Firefox the plugin Foxmarks, then all your bookmarks will be synched (I use it to synch from my WinXP in Office to my IMac at Home)… I hope this help..

  18. Dave, Stefano,

    Thanks so much for your help. An extension was just what I was looking for. And so I tried Foxmarks, which worked seamlessly on both machines. It took about 10 minutes to complete the whole thing.

    Thanks a lot!

    BTW, Dave, I am reading your book. I’m finding its lessons pretty timely with respect to a video-logging project I’m working on.

    Regards, John

  19. I’m a longtime Mac user — about 15 years, at this point — and continue to be really happy about what my Mac lets me do.

    I’m here at this moment to ask a tangential question, though. I just got a 13″ MacBook, and find that the laptop sleeve I used to use to protect my 12″ machine in my briefcase no longer fits. Ethan tells me you’ve got a nifty laptop condom. From where did it come?

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