Monday, April 02, 2007

My Experiences With a Mac

I recently purchased an iMac and switched from Windows XP to Mac OS X. After having worked with it for a few weeks now, here are my experiences:

- I like that Apple puts a lot of thought into visual design and usability. The monitor looks freakin' beautiful. The keyboard has a USB plug in it for plugging your mouse into (or whatever else). The keyboard is only USB 1.1. The USB ports on the back are 2.0, however. When the Mac is sleeping, a pulsating circle on the monitor fades in and out to let you know. The built-in speakers sound great. Yeah, you pay more for Apple hardware, but it's really well-designed.

- Mac OS X runs more smoothly and quickly. However, my Mac has 1GB of memory, whereas my Sony VAIO only had 512MB, so I'm not exactly comparing "apples" to oranges. Regardless, it boots up in about 15-20 seconds. You can be working in less than 30 seconds. On XP, even on my laptop at work (which has 2GB of memory), it takes longer than that.

- There are more built-in applications on OS X than XP. And some of them are really useful, like iPhoto, iDVD, iMovie, and GarageBand, to name just a few.

- Searching is great. The built-in Spotlight application works similarly to Google Desktop on XP, but it feels more integrated into the OS than Google Desktop. You can also use it to find applications to launch, which I now prefer to navigating through the XP Start menu.

- Printing is also great. You can either print to the printer or to a PDF. On XP, you need something like PaperPort to print to a PDF.

- Boot Camp is sweet. You can run XP on a separate partition, natively. So I can still play games I have that are XP-specific.

- Parallels Desktop (a separate purchase) lets you run XP in a virtual machine. It's amazing...BUT, whenever I run XP in the virtual machine, it thinks the hardware has changed and keeps asking me to re-activate with Microsoft. The other morning, it would not activate automatically, so I had to call Microsoft and explain to them what I was doing to get it unlocked. It was a hassle to be sure. I'm not sure if this is going to be an ongoing thing or not. This is exactly why I want away from Microsoft.

- OS X feels more stable. I can play 3D-accelerated games and drop back to the desktop several times and the OS doesn't lock up like it did on my XP machine.

- Each user gets a home folder to work out of, and all their settings, documents, music, etc. go under it somewhere. One thing I've always hated about Windows is that the user and the applications they run can write files virtually anywhere in the filesystem.

- Installing programs is usually as simple as dragging an icon into the Applications folder. Deleting them is also really easy. You just drop the application's icon in the trash.

- On OS X, the active application's menu bar is at the top of the scream, and disjointed from the application itself. It takes a little getting used to. Also, when you close an application's main window, it doesn't usually close the application. You have to explicitly choose the Quit command from the menu. The jury is still out if that is a good thing or not.

- Going back and forth between OS X and XP really has made it hard for me to use shortcut keys. On Windows, to copy, you typically do Ctrl+C. On OS X, to copy, it's Command+C (and the command key is where the Alt key is on a Windows keyboard).

- The Home and End keys work differently. On XP, they usually jump to the start and end of the current line. On OS X, they jump to the top and bottom of the document. Annoying.

- The mouse on the Mac seems to only have 1 button. The mouse is more sophisticated than it looks, though. It can actually detect pressure on the areas where the buttons would normally be, and do the left click or right click. Right-clicking is off by default. In normal usage, I found the mouse detected the right-click most of the time, but not always. I finally just took my Logitech mouse from my XP machine and am using it instead.

- No real backup tool is pre-installed. XP has a built-in backup tool (it's terrible), but at least it's there. From what I've read, Apple has a .Mac website that has a really awesome backup tool--they host your backed up data. It's $99 per year. I not paying that.

- Most websites work on Mac (especially using Firefox). Netflix's video on demand only works on Windows, probably because it uses Windows Media DRM. (But I can solve that by booting up XP).

- Most developers focus on Windows first. Quicken is a perfect example. Quicken 2007 for Mac looks years behind Quicken 2007 for Windows. It's very restrictive. I hated it so much, I sent it back for a refund. I found a great cross-platform program called MoneyDance that is much simpler to use, and it can download transactions from my credit card, bank accounts, etc., just like Quicken.

Overall, my experience has been more positive than negative. It took me a few days to get to the point where I actually liked working on a Mac. Now I wish I'd switched sooner. I've read a lot of reviews saying OS X is elegant. To the casual observer, it doesn't really seem that much different than Windows XP, but after using it for a few days, I finally "get" what they are talking about.