Tales of a Switcher

Getting Hooked!

I remember way back when, back in 1986, when men were men and the command line was the way to go, asking several friends of mine whether I needed to get a Mac or a PC. When they asked me what I was going to do with it, my answer was "write and desktop publish". Get a Mac, they said. Everyone in the publishing industry uses those. But Mac's were very expensive. Being somewhat newly divorced and still dealing with an ex-wife who seemed to like to drag me into court whenever she could, money was an object. I wanted whatever I bought to be compatible with what we had at work; and I worked at NASA's Johnson Space Center where the big push was to buy PC's and put everything on Windows. It would be 17 years later, after I had sacrificed too much of my life to building, repairing, and maintaining Windows' machines that I would find out that ONLY Johnson Space Center was transitioning and ONLY because of one executive who some folks thought had a hand in the Microsoft till. It would take seventeen years of frustration before I realized that my friends had been right; and if I had bought a Mac 17 years ago, I might be a nationally known and published author by now.

In 1999 and 2000, I participated in two Earthwatch expeditions in Idaho to study mountain lions. I took still and video cameras with me and struggled, after I got home, to make a couple of videotapes from the footage I could use to increase awareness about mountain lions. I spent months editing and trying to produce five or six usable tapes. For my efforts, I got maybe two that didn't have some kind of rendering problems. Sometimes due to timing problems. Too often due to operating system crashes.

No matter what or when, I always seemed to spend more time troubleshooting some aspect of Windows than I actually did working. I was good at troubleshooting PC's and Windows but little else.

In 2001, I married a young gal (younger than me anyway) who knew only Mac's. I had never used one before or even really seen one up close. My wife's all-in-one 14 inch CRT powered iMac did not impress. It seemed too small and cramped and, running OS 9, had less functionality than Windows.

So, I went through all the hassle and expense of upgrading my Windows systems (I had 2 desktops then) to Windows XP. I liked XP but its incompatibility with some of my hardware --which ran on Windows 98 just fine---complicated my life since I had to build and maintain a dual boot system. Even with XP, though, I was still struggling to get everything to work together. Digital video was coming of age; yet, nothing in the Windows world seemed to be keeping pace. I had to run three or four video and DVD burning programs, because of incompatibilities and just lack of functionality, to be able to get a decent DVD.

In 2002, that all changed.

In 2002, Apple hit the market with the flat panel iMac, OS X, iMovie, iTunes, and iDVD. My wife wanted one of them, the Superdrive model to be exact. I wondered why. The woman was barely computer literate, and she had never shown any interest in working with video on my Windows machine. Still, wanting to make her happy (and I could keep getting laid), I went out and bought her a flat panel iMac complete with a Superdrive.

One night, she took all the digital photos we had taken at our wedding and loaded them onto her iPhoto on her iMac. I watched as she arranged them into a slide show, put music to it, and burned it onto a DVD in fifteen minutes without consulting the Help file or a book even once. We popped the DVD into our home DVD player and it worked like a champ. We watched the slide show on our TV.

THAT got my attention!

Not much later, I hooked up my video camera to her iMac, dumped some footage into iMovie, edited it, and burned it to DVD thirty minutes after I started. I put it in our DVD player. It also worked!

There was something to this!

In May, I bought my first Mac. Even though I wanted an iMac to write on (I consider them perfect writing machines), I bought a 1Ghz Dual Processor PowerMac G4 and an 17 inch Apple Studio Display (LCD) to work edit and produce video on. It wasn't a good first impression. Apple's quality control had provided me with a bad 512MB memory module that caused OS X to crash. Once I figured that out and replaced it with a module from Crucial.com, it's been smooth sailing ever since.

Now, one year later, we have one Windows machine (my XP desktop running an Athlon XP 2000+ CPU) and FIVE Mac's! We each own an iMac and an iBook and the Powermac still chugs away. We are a happy Mac family. Our software stable includes Microsoft Office v.X for OS X, lots of Adobe products (Illustrator 10, Photoshop 7, Go Live 6.0, Live Motion 2.0), Corel Draw 11.0 (mainly to handle earlier Corel illustrations) Final Cut Pro 3.0, iMovie 3.0, iDVD 3.0, iPhoto 2.0, and iTunes 3.0. Yes, I am in a bit of debt right now paying for it all; but I am IN LOVE for the first time in my computing life. Everyone needs to experience that before they die!

The Pro's and Con's of Switching

Pro's

1. OS X provides a lovable, mesmerizing computing experience. The design of OS X, with its Aqua interface, is as elegant as they come. It's colorful and fun, something I never felt about any Windows OS I have run. It's designed around the K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple, Sucker!) principle; so much so in fact that it took me awhile to realize that everyone ASSUMED that a newbee like me would know that to uninstall a program, you simply dragged it into the trash. (As you might expect, Microsoft products and hardware drivers are notable exceptions.) You can pretty well learn to operate the computer and most Apple products by just sitting down and playing with them. Even so, since OS X is Unix based, you can really get under the hood of the operating system using the command line and Unix commands.

I simply have more fun on my Mac, plain and simple!

2. My experience with OS X is that the operating system is VERY stable. If it crashes, you probably have a hardware problem. I have had application crashes (and still get some occasionally), but I have been able to simply crank up the application and start working again.

3. If you're into digital video, the tools that come with any Apple computer are second to none for the home hobbyist. iMovie and iDVD are so easy to use and elegant that learning them is almost intuitive while they remain powerful enough to use for basic professional projects. The same holds true for iPhoto to a lesser degree.

4. Some Macs come pre-installed with Apple Works (a combo word processor, spreadsheet, drawing, and presentation program) as well as versions of Quicken. OS X also includes a mail application (Mail), a calendaring application (iCal), and an Address Book that all work together.

5. I spend significantly less time troubleshooting things on my Mac than I do on my Windows machine.

6. Most major Windows' applications are available in Mac versions. I run Microsoft Office, Adobe products, and Corel Draw on both platforms.

7. Networking with Windows systems is easy with Jaguar. (OS X version 1.2+)

8. OS X comes with its own web server without having to buy a special version. To get a web server with Windows XP, you have to buy Windows XP Professional which costs $100 or more than the home version.

9. Apple seems to listen to its customers and responds fairly quickly, at least compared to some other companies.

10. Mac users do seem to form more of a community than Windows users.

11. Mac hardware is beautifully, thoughtfully designed and holds its value better than its PC counterparts.

Con's

1. Macs cost more than PC's and switching over can be expensive. It depends on which models you are buying (PowerMacs are still a bit overpriced but not nearly as badly as they were when I bought mine!) and on how many applications you have to upgrade or buy new for the platform. Mac software made by vendors who also service Windows' customers is generally more expensive than the Windows' versions. In some cases, though, you may actually get some features not available to your Windows brethren; so, it's not all bad. From a cost standpoint, the best scenario is when you buy a Mac and all the software you need is already on it. For many people, that will be the case.

2. Mac's are slower than PC's. There are specific tasks where a Mac may be faster; but overall my experience and research both say they are slower. For me, though, they are fast enough; and I don't see huge differences. In many cases, because I am loving the experience so much and able to work without fighting the machine or the software, I get done in less time than I used to doing the same task on a faster PC. There is only one group of users I would recommend a PC for, and it is gamers.

3. There is not as wide a selection of software available. The real question is whether you can get the software to do what you need to do on the Mac platform. If your answer is "yes", then go for it! (On the PC, it has often taken me two or three applications to do what I can do on the Mac with one.)

4. Apple Quality control does not seem to be as good as it needs to be. My brand new $3000 PowerMac G4 Quicksilver immediately and sporadically crashed from the get-go; and the culprit turned out to be a bad memory module supplied by Apple. I fixed the problem by replacing the module with one from Crucial.com. My flat panel iMac, after being left off for a while, would boot up with very, very dim video, almost black. I solved that problem by resetting the PRAM several times. Now, it seems to work fine. I was two for two at that point. My wife's iMac works great and always has as have the two iBooks we bought. Still, my experiences coupled with things like the eMac CRT problem within the last year and the noise problems with the first Mirrored Drive Door PowerMacs suggests that Apple has a way to go in that department.

Summary

No matter what anyone says, computing is an individual experience; and only you can decide which applications, platform, and hardware setup works best for you. Maybe you like Windows or maybe you like Macs. Buy whatever makes you happy. Investigate the marketing hype by logging into newsgroups and searching the web for other people's experiences. (I hope some of the links on my Mac Resources page might be helpful if you're leaning in the Mac direction.) If, after reading this and doing that, you feel you might want to give the Mac a try, go to a store that sells them or find someone who lives near you who has one and get some hand on. Moving to a Mac is not as fraught with peril as it used to be (if it ever was); and you might just find out that, as in many things in life, conventional wisdom is often wrong and based on someone else's agenda. Certainly, I thought it was worth it!

Andy