I’ve been a Microsoft Windows user since Windows 3.1. I remember the day I upgraded to Windows 95 and it felt like going from the stone age to the iron age – the Start Menu seemed like a great idea and it looked fantastic – my world was changed forever. I’ve been using Windows ever since and as soon as the latest version – Windows Vista – was released, I installed it and started using it day-to-day as I mentioned before.
Initially I liked Vista, I was impressed by some of the cool animations and effects, I liked the icons and there seemed like a few decent improvements over XP. It was quite snappy and everything appeared to work rather well. Of course, as is to be expected of Windows, things degrade over time. It’s slowed down a lot, various pieces of Microsoft software crash from time to time and the “Do you want to perform the following action?” dialog that pops up often from UAC just gets annoying and seems like a poor solution to spyware and viruses after a while. Frankly, I think Vista is a huge disappointment and my disappointment was about to get a lot bigger.
While attending the Future of Web Apps conference in London I noticed a lot of attendees used Macs. My friend John Topley, who I was attending with, has been trying to get me to buy a Mac for years and had a MacBook with him. As he started showing me the software you get with it I was blown away. It was absolutely clear that a lot of the new GUI (Graphical User Interface) in Vista is directly copied from Mac OS X – except it makes more sense in the Mac as all of the GUI conforms to the same rules. Straight out of the box there’s a bunch of useful software to let you create music, video, photo books and a host of other things you have to pay for with Windows. I looked at the Mac vs. PC adverts and they started to make sense – Windows machines are work-orientated and pretty dull on the whole, whereas Macs seemed more fun and creative at heart. And I’d lost count of the number of bloggers out there who’ve switched from PCs to Mac and never looked back.
John then wrote ‘The Case For The Mac‘ on my site (a very good read) and I was sold. I finally ordered a MacBook with a view to replacing my Vista laptop and desktop. I didn’t want to write about it immediately as I decided to live with a Mac for a month or so to really get a feel for what it’s like. That time has come.
Quite frankly, I’ll never buy another PC. Everything they say about Macs is true – “it just works”. You get so used to having to tweak Windows to get things to work correctly, from graphics cards to the registry to a hundred other things. Not so on the Mac. One of the first things I did was connect to my home wireless network which was a simple case of picking it from a list, entering my WEP key and that was it. I went on holiday the other week and brought my MacBook and my Dell laptop running Vista. To connect to the local wi-fi on my Mac took perhaps 10 seconds start to finish and I was surfing the web. To do the same on Vista took 5 minutes. I had to connect and re-connect about 6 times before it would stick, each time I had to go through a 3 step wizard and I got sick of hitting the same buttons over and over again. I started to get frustrated with Windows in a way I never did before. I was being asked a load of questions it should know the answer to – and the Mac was smart enough to make these decisions itself.
I’ve had tears running down my cheeks making crazy photos with software called Photo Booth that comes with a Mac. You use the built in camera to take your picture but it applies some mad effects live that you can preview, like the one pictured right (I don’t really look like that). The software isn’t particularly useful but it’s a hell of a lot of fun and you just wouldn’t get something like that bundled on a PC.
As I mentioned you get lots of useful, creative software bundled with a Mac, called iLife. The software all integrates really well and lets you create music using Garage Band (there are hundreds of loops you can use to create very professional music – oh, and you can sing or record your own instruments too), manage and edit your photos in iPhoto, play music in iTunes, make movies with iMovie and there’s a host of other things that are fun and creative. The software is very well thought out and easy to use, taking the power of great GUI design to a level I’ve never seen before on Windows. For the first time in a long time I’ve felt a surge of creativity since getting my Mac – suddenly I want to try and write music, create a movie and do a whole bunch of other things I’d never have thought about on a PC.
I’ve often wanted to create a DVD you can play on any DVD player with a slideshow of some of my photos – that way I could send it to my dad and he could see my holiday pictures, etc. Can you do this on Windows out of the box? I’ve never been able to – so I’d have to go and search and buy some software and it’s just never been worth the effort. Can I do it on my Mac? Easy, I can go from start to finish in a couple of minutes and it’s really obvious how to do it. And that’s just one of a hundred common things you’d want to do that would require buying more software on a PC that comes as standard on a Mac.
The MacBook itself is really well thought out. Having a magnetic power lead means if someone trips over your cable, it just pops out and doesn’t drag your MacBook onto the floor. This has saved my skin several times already! When you shut the lid it goes to sleep, but a little light on the front slowly dims and lights up to indicate a heartbeat so you know it’s in sleep mode rather than off. Open the lid and it springs back to life – do the same on a Vista-powered PC and it springs back to life after a little while, but then it has to re-connect the wi-fi and all in it can take a couple of minutes. That’s not good enough.
The lid of the MacBook doesn’t have some rubbish catch you need to slide across to open, it’s magnetic. The built in camera is pretty impressive and “just works”. They even look incredibly cool (and I love that the Apple logo on the lid lights up when you use it). It’s amazing how beautiful design can influence your thinking.
I read the OS X Missing Manual to really get to grips with all the shortcuts and differences between the Mac and PC but within a week or two I was quite at home on my Mac. I doubt you could switch from a Mac to a PC and be as settled so quickly.
Regular readers know that John’s Background Switcher 3 is just around the corner (a few days away to be precise). They’ll also know that it’s written on Windows but I’ve got a Mac now, does that mean it’s dead? Well no.
I also bought Parallels which allows me to run Windows applications inside my Mac – the best of both worlds. I installed Windows XP (because I trust XP) and can run Visual Studio 2005 alongside my usual Mac software. In fact the last few beta builds of JBS 3 have been built on a Mac and you’d never know! It just works.
I find myself going into work – where I use Vista – and cursing at how slow it is, being frustrated at how it forgets all my folder display settings, gnashing my teeth every time I’m asked to confirm that I really do want to run an application I’ve just launched (like Visual Studio 2005), swearing every time software hangs or crashes and getting annoyed in a hundred other tiny ways. They’re just little things, but they add up and I find myself thinking “it’s much better on a Mac”.
So far I’ve managed to persuade one friend to buy himself a Mac and you might be next! The thing is, you just need to sit down and use one for 5 minutes to realise that you’ll never want to go back to a PC again. Do believe the hype.