(See also: Switching)
I have officially made a big change in my life, and I’m glad you’re here to listen to my story. I’m sure I’m probably like a lot of you, and my story may be familiar to some of you. It’s a sad story, in places, and in some others angry, and by turns both frustrating and annoying (in as much as those can be separate experiences), but in the end I hope my story will help those of you still stuck in the place where I was, and may show you the light at the end of the tunnel.
I am a Mac owner. A double-Mac owner, in fact. And here’s how I did it.
Switching from Windows to Mac is not something to be taken lightly. It’s a different world here in Appleland, one that sleek and streamlined and covered in brushed metal. I don’t consider myself to be an Apple fanatic, like some I know intimately, but I’m certainly a member of the converted. I was sitting in a client meeting just the other day experiencing some keyboard difficulties and explaining that I had just “been switched” (of my own accord) and was still in my adjustment period, kind of like going from automatic transmission to a stick.
A stick gives you more control and you have a certain affinity for your vehicle that automatic transmission can’t deliver. At the same time, an automatic transmission does everything for you and you’re not required to, in a word, think. You just do. So it’s not a perfect analogy, since I’d say that the Mac meets pieces of both descriptions — I feel a bit like there’s a new layer of stuff in the way of the operating system, so in that sense it’s like automatic transmission. At the same time, using OS-X feels a lot more like being in a well-tuned German automotive wonder, and Windows now feels like a late 70’s Pontiac with leaky breaks.
At the meeting, as I was explaining that the F-keys on my MacBook Pro have different functions depending on what other key I use (in Windows, a function key is a function key and only a function key) and that I am still getting used to the lack of a right-click on my mousepad and the absence of the backspace key and that new and funny Apple-key and so on (all I wanted to do, by the way, was show all my Photoshop comps on a single desktop using Exposé, which is slick and fun and a really nice feature — when I can figure out how to make it work while a table full of VPs are staring at me) when I found myself, in way of apology and explanation, extolling the virtues of Appleland.
You see, I’ve not only rid myself of my 3-year-old Sony Vaio tower (a workhorse that I upgraded constantly and from which I decided that Sony makes fine looking hardware but should leave the OS alone) and my 1-year-old Toshiba notebook (whose hard drive died in that one-year period, though suspiciously just after the warranty also died) and the virus-ridden, glitchy, “time to wipe the hard drive again” Windows XP laughingly-referred-to-as operating system, but I also added a MacMini, an AirPort Extreme base station and an AirPort Express network extender to my little home-office, ditching some Linksys boxes and a crate full of Windows system add-ons like Trojan removers and virus innoculators and worm finders in the process.
I’ve been contemplating this move for over a year, but what finally sealed the deal for me was Parallels and BootCamp. Put simply, as a Web site developer, I cannot ditch Windows altogether. I still need to test my designs in Internet Explorer and on the Windows platform, which treats a lot of important screen functions differently from the Mac OS. And there are a couple of Windows apps I will probably still need to use now and again, though I expect ‘a couple’ to become ‘none’ fairly soon.
BootCamp on the Mac allows you to dual-boot (or tri-boot, or whatever-boot) into differing operating environments on the same machine. I’ve loaded that bloated and shiny and way-too-overchromed Windows Vista onto a small partition on my hard drive so I can boot into Vista natively if I want or need to, mainly for gaming purposes — because I’m such the gamer, now, you know — and use DirectX 10 and all my 4GB of RAM and the full processing power of my machine when I want to. Or, I can open a virtual machine on my Mac desktop via Parallels using that same BootCamp partition and use only enough processing power to look at two operating systems at once, testing a new HTML/CSS beauty in every browser conceivable.
Lastly, Parellels will also allow me to share folders between operating systems and update the files in those folders for both systems regardless of which one “owns” that folder. I can even duplicate my Mac desktop in my Windows (ugly) desktop so all the folders I place there are now immediately available in Windows. The time saving and convenience in that operation alone is amazing.
But let’s leave Windows aside for a moment and talk a bit about what the Mac is like for someone like me, someone who’s been using Windows since Win95 and been a faithful and trustworthy Microsoft devotee the whole while.
One main difference I’ve been discovering, and the main issue of my discomfort with Mac, is that it is largely a keyboard-driven system, while Windows is largely a mouse-driven affair. If you’re more comfortable with your hands on the QWERTY and less with the wrist-pain inducing mouse, you’re already set to switch. Knowing what combination of keys will accomplish a certain task on Mac saves you time and energy you otherwise spend hunting for the “Windows Way,” which entails pointing your cursor at something and clicking on it.
I’m very mouse-oriented. I sometimes take offense when I have to use my fingers to type something. The Web has only made this worse, since you can navigate around and perform tasks without ever touching a key. And though the Mac doesn’t demand that you memorize its keyboard eccentricities, it certainly helps when you do.
Being mouse-oriented, the single-minded single-button mentality of an Apple mouse or an Apple touchpad is nothing short of annoying. Yes, I know I can plug in any other mouse and retrieve my right-clickiness, but it irks me that they won’t adopt this one extra button, particularly when high-end mice often have 5, 7 or 9 buttons to do all sorts of crap. Again, the solution comes in the form of a keyboard-combo (press the Control button when clicking the button yields a “right-click”) but it just seems silly.
On the plus side, I am absolutely in love with two-finger scrolling. On a MacBook, rather than click the button and scroll with your finger, which often left me carpal tunnelly on a PC notebook, you just use two fingers and suddenly you’re not moving the cursor, you’re scrolling the page. Brilliant. Love it. Simple and effective. Much better than the whole “look! our dock icons swell!” crap.
Other changes/annoyances I’m getting used to are the ways in which an open window on my Mac desktop works versus how I expect it to work from living with Windows for 12 years. The buttons on the top are now on the opposite corner. There is no option to make an application take over the whole desktop space, and often the application’s floating palettes float freely on the desktop. You can only resize from the lower right corner. Closing a window doesn’t close the application. Floating windows reveal all the other windows underneath.
There are positives and negatives to both methods, and I suppose it comes down to what one is used to. I have found that I can adapt to Photoshop’s open desktop and in some cases it’s a boon, since it allows me to see things I am creating and the things they are based on. I do miss having a few of Window’s built-in system apps, particularly software removal from the Control Panel and the Character Map, neither of which apparently have a twin in Appleland — or at least, not a free one.
I’m worried about the cleanliness of my hard drive. Since I’m unfamiliar with the Mac’s system of storing application threads around the hard drive, I’m not sure I’m actually deleting everything when I pull it into the trash. I’ve found a sweet little $10 application called CleanApp that monitors my applications and will fully clean them off if I no longer want them, plus it also strips out all the language packs that often come contained in applications — about a gig of space reclaimed — and will clean out the bits of data in the universal binaries (the stuff that allows an application to run on either IBM’s or Intel’s processors) that my particular computer doesn’t need. So far, so good, and $10 isn’t much, but it seems like something that should be included in an OS by nature.
So those are some of the day-to-day changes that I’m dealing with in my new environment. What I get in return more than makes up for it all. I guess that keeping total control over the operating system and the hardware that runs it has its advantages. One of my gripes about Windows is that it’s necessary for Microsoft to keep so much legacy crap hanging around because they have such a huge range of hardware drivers and software interactions they have to contend with. Owning 90% of the computer market has its disadvantages, and unfortunately it’s the end-users that have to pay the price, not to mention years-delayed OS updates with bugs out the wazoo.
Take networking, and particularly home networking. With Windows, it was a hassle and a half. Now, I’m not a networking specialist at all, but I know my way around an IP address and a simple router. I used to have to figure out what was wrong with a set-up by looking at several different things at once. Is it Windows? Is it Sony? Is it the router? The router firmware? The router software? The modem? The cables?
In Appleland, it’s really plug and play. I plugged in the AirPort Extreme and the MacMini found it automagically. Then I could tell it how I wanted it configured and what’s connected to it and whether to share that with others on the internal net. The APX is in the living room where the Comcast cable comes in and where the cable modem now sits. Out of the ethernet ports sit the MacMini, the TiVo, and the Xbox 360. With the TiVo attached, the MacMini can sync with recorded programs using Toast. With the 360 attached, it can see the music, pictures and videos on the MacMini’s additional hard drive using Connect360. Now, supposedly the 360 will automatically connect to any Windows machine in the local network, but I could never manage to get the Windows computer and the 360 to agree on something, so it never worked. Now I can set the background image on my 360 desktop to any photo in my iPhotos, and play any song in iTunes while I slaughter the bad guys. Yes, no more will I have to suffer through some horrible My Chemical Romance crap built-in to a video game. Now I can listen to Kate Bush during the bloody mayhem! Awesome!
Then I plugged in the AirPort Express network extender with AirTunes, and plugged my printer into its USB port, and my speakers into its stereo miniplug port (which also supports digital optical out) and now I can send my iTunes either to my 7.1 set-up in the living room, or my stereo speakers in my bedroom-slash-office, or both! I can keep all my music on my MacMini+ drive, tell the MacMini to share the library and pick it up on my MacBook Pro in my bedroom. The downside? I can’t use the 802.11n Etherfast speeds built-in to the AirPort Extreme because the AirPort Express only supports 802.11g speeds, so I have to make due with 54Gb — but I can also untether my notebook and use it anywhere in my teeny tiny apartment. That makes me happy. I also plugged in my Linksys VoIP router for my Vonage account (hey, how can you beat $9.95 a month for phone service if your cellular signal stinks?) to the Express’s Ethernet port so I could keep my landline on my desk, and plug my laptop into an Ethernet connection while I’m at my desk.
The AirPort Express is a true little wonder. I have to hand it to Apple on that one. If I lived in a large, old home that wasn’t pre-wired for Ethernet — like pretty much every home in San Francisco (not that I’ll ever be able to afford one, but one can dream in Appleland) — I could buy a bunch of them and plug them in wherever I wanted to hear my music and have an instant all-over sound system. It’s certainly cheaper to get a few little AirPorts than to rewire the whole place, and they’re often available in Apple’s Refurb Store for $20 off — plus free shipping!
If I’m starting to sound like an Apple ad, I apologize, but I really am shocked at how easy it is to get my digital life in order using Apple’s system of products and software. The elegant and beautiful industrial design doesn’t hurt, of course, as well as the new quiet I can enjoy without the usual fans whirring away all the time. I can see how the cultists can bow down at Sir Steven’s feet, awaiting every new product launch, and snapping them up as quickly as Apple can make them. If you’ve been using an iPod, and you appreciate its elegance and simplicity and ease of use, all of that just passes through into Appleland.
There’s a price to pay, of course, and it’s the lack of openness in the world. It does feel a little like having a tight jacket applied over one’s comfy pajamas. It’s weird losing complete and simple access to everything in the computer’s innards. OS-X may be more simple and elegant, but like some of Apple’s ideas about simplicity and elegance (hello, right-click?), sometimes it’s too simple.
All in all, and after all my internal trepidation about making the switch and also my weird and somewhat illogical fear of becoming a cult member — or even to be looked upon by others as a cult member, even by other cult members — I’m very happy in Appleland. I find that I don’t miss Windows at all, and when I start it up in Parellels it looks so… well… shoddy and pimped-out. I mean, why is Windows so… Windowsy? It’s trying so hard to be there, and now I realize I don’t want it in my way like that. I want it to provide the engine, but I don’t want to look at the engine, or sit in the engine. Don’t chrome it all up and stick so many cupholders on the dash and make everything just so… y’know… Windowsy. Take it down a notch or seven, Mr. Gates.
Just some advice from someone whose site looks like it was created in some overwrought Ajaxian nightmare. So, grain of salt and all that.
August 30, 2007