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Apple MacBook Switch Experience

I've been using Windows for over 10 years, I would say I'm an expert windows user having worked at Microsoft on some of the aspects of Windows XP and some early Vista designs. I've played with Mac's over the years. I've had an iMac, the cube Mac and a Mac-mini but these have always served as secondary testing machines. You never really learn a system until you're immersed in it. A few months ago I decided to take the plunge, the MacBook Pro was the first time that I would be using a Mac to actually get work done.

The MacBook Pro is the best laptop I've ever owned (Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Toshiba, Gateway, Compaq). The hardware is well engineered and elegant. The operating system and applications are amazing at times and frustrating at others. This is partly the frustration of transitioning from Windows and partly the lack of certain features that I take for granted. Overall the experience has been positive. The Mac software community seems to be more passionate about creating quality applications. While at times this means that there are fewer applications the average quality of applications seem to be higher. I've been using Parallels Desktop as a tool for Windows applications, this has provided a critical stepping stone through the process.
The Hardware
The design of the overall hardware seems simple but the subtle touches do add up.

  • When you close the lid hidden magnetic latches hold the cover closed.
  • The power connector has a magnetic plug (MagSafe) preventing you from yanking your laptop onto the floor.
  • When the laptop is in a dark room the keyboard gets backlit and the monitor adjusts brightness automatically.
  • The battery pack on the bottom has a touch sensitive readout of the current charge allowing me to know if it needs to be plugged in without turning it on.
  • The DVD is slot loaded from the front so there's no flimsy plastic DVD tray.
  • The caps lock and num-lock keys have a little light directly on the key showing you that it's on.
  • A web cam and microphone is built directly into the frame
  • The fastest resume from standby I've ever seen
  • Etc. Etc. Etc. None of these would be considered 'must have' features but together they create an experience that you can't get elsewhere. The design is minimalist and may not suite everyones aesthetics or their personality but it is defiantly well engineered.

The Software Experience
Changing operating systems is strange because the things you thought you knew are no longer true. Some of these things are so hard-wired through repetition that even a month later I'm still catching myself hitting Enter to open a file and swearing when I realize I'm renaming it. The lack of a second mouse button was initially infuriating however the new MacBooks allow you to do a two-finger tap to perform the right click action.

The Good:

  • iLife - The basic tools for editing photos, videos and music are in the box. These are quality tools that don't typically come free with a PC.
  • Graphics - The graphics are stunning, the little details are everywhere from the genie effect to Expose and the dashboard effects. I found myself entertained and even after a month it hasn't gotten old.
  • Applications - Safari, iChat, iDVD and others are really nice applications. They do what they are supposed to do and not much else. These applications aren't ideal for power-users but they are perfect starter applications. This actually leaves a good opportunity for third party developers to create the tools that aren't part of the basic package.
  • Parallels - Some applications just aren't available for the Mac. I still live in Outlook and despite it's drawbacks it's still more powerful combination then iCal & Mail. I tried MacOffice but it was a joke, why use MacOffice when you can run the real thing. The ability to have ALL popular applications working on the same box is a killer feature that's helping Apple sell millions of boxes (to people like me).

The Bad
After using the Mac for a month there are a number of things that I continue to be frustrated with.

  • There's no easy way to start an application that you don't use very often. I have to open a folder and browse around for the application I need. What's it called again? What folder does it live in? Third party tools like QuickSilver provide a shortcut for quickly launching apps but I'm shocked that a better launcher isn't built in. Yes, I miss the start button.
  • The behavior of the dock is confusing. It seems to combine running applications, shortcuts, minimized running applications, system tools and the trash can. I have repeatedly dragged icons into a puff of smoke by accident and had no way to get them back. If you have multiple windows of the same application it's hard to find the right one.
  • Wireless configuration is very hard to use. If you're connected to your own access point you'll be OK but as soon as you go searching for a hotspot you'll need iStumbler or some other tool to find open access points.
  • DRM just sucks. (this is mostly a gripe about Microsoft not Apple but it caused a ton of frustration). Windows media files won't play nice on the Mac, tools like flip4Mac, won't always help. Why are my home movies encoded in WMV? Moving your music, photo and documents is a real pain.

The Ugly

  • The Mac namespace is just ugly. Initially I thought that "Music" = "My Music" and "Pictures" = "My Pictures" but this isn't correct. The file system namespace exposes users to all sorts of document and application internals. If you want to browse music files you need to use iTunes and if you want to browse photos it has to be iPhoto. It seems that users aren't supposed to organize files in these locations (even though they are exposed in the finder). It's really easy to mess up your filesystem and applications.
  • Installation of applications - This seems to be all over the map. Most application download a file that mounts a virtual drive, it's then up to the user to drag that file into the applications folder. I then delete the the file unmount the drive by dragging it into the trash and then I have to go find the application I installed. (What was it called again?) It just seems strange and unnatural. Uninstall is just as bad (often worse) and I always feel that I haven't truly uninstalled it even though it's deleted.

Overall OSX is a very capable system. Like the hardware there are a lot of special touches and finesse throughout the system. Some aspects of the system are clearly better then Windows while others seem confusing and awkward at times.

How do you measure the success of an OS?

Out of the box I could deffinetly do more with a Mac then a PC however I can't say I got more 'work' done on a Mac or was more productive. i would say that I had more fun. This is subjective but the OS does encourage you to play, create, listen to music, look at photos, etc. This emotional aspect is why fans of the OS are so passionate. It's this emotional aspect that reminds us that we're human and having fun is part of who we are.

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