Hi, it’s John here. No, not John Conners, but John Topley. I’m the friend who persuaded John to attend the Future Of Web Apps conference that John’s been blogging about recently. For reasons best known to himself John has decided to turn over the keys to his blog to me. Which means I’ve got a golden opportunity to take her out for a spin, but what to write about? As I’ve been nagging John for some time to buy a Mac—you may have seen my slightly tongue-in-cheek comments to that effect scattered throughout his blog—I thought I’d try to present a (hopefully) intelligent list of reasons as to why you should make your next computer an Apple Mac. I promise that I’ll try not to come across as an Apple zealot (hey, I don’t even own a black turtleneck sweater), with the proviso that I do find it hard not to be enthusiastic about Macs. If all I do is annoy you then I’m sorry, and rest assured that this blog will soon return to the scheduled programme of great photography tips, articles about which hairdryer you should buy and all the other weird and wonderful musings from the world of John Conners.
At this point you may be letting out dark mutterings to the effect that I’ve got some nerve and don’t I know that this is a Windows heartland and the home of legendary Windows software John’s Background Switcher. In fact, I might not be as deep into enemy territory as it first appears. I’ve actually been using Windows for about fourteen years and I still use it at work. You know, for pie charts and spreadsheets and stuff. I’ve written software for Windows, both for fun and professionally. I quite like Windows. I used to like it a lot, but since switching I now officially only quite like Windows. I certainly have a lot of respect for the ubiquity of it and its legendary backwards-compatibility. However, I think the Mac is a better computer for people who really care about their computing experience, in the same way that a BMW is a better car than say, a Toyota, for people who really care about their driving experience. Sorry John, I guess I just lost you the PC-owning Toyota drivers from your demographic! Never mind. Anyway, here are eight top reasons you should buy a Mac.
- Macs are beautiful. The great Alan Kay said that “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware” which is what Apple do, beautifully. I’m not naïve enough to believe that Apple design and make everything in their computers, but they take charge of the most important bits. I’ve always loved Apple’s industrial design but Jonathan Ive and his team have kicked it up to another level in recent years. Apple give you attention to detail that you just don’t get from PC manufacturers. For example, my PowerBook has a column of five lime green LEDs on the underside of the battery that light up when I press a little button, so I can see how much charge is left without switching the computer on. The MacBooks have a magnetic power connecter that will disconnect if you trip over it so that the Mac itself isn’t dragged down onto the floor. When I eject a CD or DVD from the slot on the side of my iMac, exactly half of the disc is ejected with exactly the other half remaining inside the computer. Somebody has actually thought about how much of the disc should be ejected and designed accordingly. The precision of the engineering is breathtaking. This fanatical attention to detail also carries through to the box that the Mac comes in and to the documentation it comes with. The whole experience has been thought about and the result is that the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.
- Macs aren’t cheap. It seems odd to tout the price of Mac ownership as a virtue, but that’s not actually the point I’m about to make. One of the arguments that’s always wheeled out against the Mac is that they’re expensive. Yes, it’s true: Apple don’t make low-end computers in the same way that the prestige German car manufacturers—Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz & Trabant (joking)—don’t make low-end cars. Some people just don’t seem to understand that this is an acceptable way of doing business. Hey, if you want to pay £250 for a cheap PC then more power to you, you’ll almost certainly get more bang for your buck than ever before. However, thanks to the relentless march of Moore’s Law, the high-quality Mac has never been more financially accessible either. You can pick up a cool little Mac mini for £399. Further up the price scale, there have been various comparisons that have shown that price-wise the Mac comes out equal or even less than a PC kitted out with equivalent features and quality of components. So you might say that a Mac is relatively inexpensive but never cheap.
- Macs foster creativity. The Mac includes a piece of software called GarageBand that lets you make your own music by putting together a whole range of musical samples into a sequence. Or you can plug in a keyboard and play something. Or plug in a microphone and record something. This is the sort of thing that professional musicians did twenty years ago with Fairlights that cost £60,000! Oh, and if you like the result you can export it to iTunes. Macs make it easy-peasy to organise your fabulous holiday photos and turn them into a slideshow on a DVD—accompanied by your GarageBand composition from earlier—that you can use to bore your friends and family to tears with. All of these iLife applications work together properly. And if you’re really serious about photography like Mr Conners, then the Mac is the platform of choice. I probably don’t need to mention that Photoshop started out on the Mac, but more recently Apple’s Aperture and Adobe’s Lightroom have been slugging it out in the professional photography software stakes.
- Macs don’t let you down. Like it or not, Windows is (in)famous for going wrong. I’m not talking about the Blue Screen of Death here. I lose respect for people who are still making jibes about Windows crashing, because in my experience Windows has been a rock-solid for years. No, what I’m talking about is the curse of malware. I wouldn’t dream of hooking up a Windows PC to my broadband Internet connection without having the holy triumverate of firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software in place. On my Macs I just use the built-in firewall and that’s it. No system is perfect and Apple do release the occasional security update, but it’s nowhere near the torrent of Windows updates that come down the wire every time I boot Windows XP. Irrespective of whether this is because most computers run Windows or whether Mac OS X really is a more secure by design, Macs give you peace of mind. And it’s nice to know that the operating system isn’t wasting resources by constantly having to monitor itself to see if it’s under attack.
- Macs run Mac OS X. Mac OS X is a great operating system. It’s a bit of a mongrel in the sense that it’s taken different bits from all over the place, but like a great chef, it’s combined all those ingredients into a delicious new dish. You get all the power, heritage and command-line tools of FreeBSD UNIX, the amazing development tools and APIs from Steve Jobs’ NeXTSTEP adventure, as well as the drop-dead gorgeous Aqua user interface. Aqua has benefited from being five years ahead of Windows Vista in terms of eye candy—which means that it’s more subtle and requires less hardware. I can get the full Aqua experience with all the transparency, drop shadows and animation with a 64 MB graphics card on my PowerBook. Windows Vista simply can’t do that. Some people have actually installed Vista on their MacBooks and report that not only does the laptop run hotter than under Mac OS X, but the battery life is reduced too. Remember, this is straight test of running the two different operating systems on the same computer. Finally, Mac OS X is easier to buy. It comes in two flavours: home or server and you can buy a five-user family pack for £139. That’s the cost of the full version, not an upgrade disc. Contrast this simplicity and transparency to the six different versions of Windows Vista, not including the forthcoming server versions. Windows Vista Ultimate currently retails on Amazon.co.uk at £313.48 for a single license.
- Macs rock if you’re a software developer. Java, Python, PHP and Ruby are all built in and Ruby on Rails will be in the next version of Mac OS X. You also get a Developer Tools disc that contains lots of extra goodies such as GCC and the various bits you need to start writing your own Mac software, including a decent IDE. Plus you’ve got all the oh-so-handy UNIX stuff only a Terminal window away, including Vi and Emacs; talk about being non-partisan!
- You can run Quicksilver on a Mac. Quicksilver is “a unified, extensible interface for working with applications, contacts, music, and other data.” What the heck does that mean? Just think of it as the closest thing we have to those control-your-computer-by-thinking gizmos that we’ve all seen in sci-fi films. Quicksilver is free software that thanks to its plug-in system can do practically anything. I can press Ctrl + Space and then start typing some letters from a URL and Quicksilver will complete it for me. Hit Enter and I’m in a web browser looking at that site. Or I can type browse and it lets me scoot through the albums, playlists and artists etc. that are in my iTunes library. Or how about this: I can type the name of a file, hit the Tab key and Quicksilver will present me with a list of things that I can do with that file e.g. Copy/Move/Rename/Open With/FTP etc. I can access my clipboard history, Address Book, command line and Gmail all from within Quicksilver with a few keystrokes. To see it is to not quite believe it, and then you see it some more and then you want it.
- You can still run Windows. It’s easier than ever before to run Windows and Windows software on a Mac. When Apple announced they were switching to Intel processors in 2005, many of the Mac faithful got upset. They liked the fact that their beloved Macs were differentiated from PCs right down to the non-x86 architecture PowerPC processor they used. However, moving to Intel has worked out just great. The latest Macs use Intel’s brilliant Core 2 Duo processor which is perfect for running virtual machine software such as Parallels or VMware. I often run Windows XP on my iMac in a Parallels virtual machine to which I’ve allocated 256 MB of RAM. It flies along and is no slower than running Windows on the bare hardware. The latest version of Parallels comes with a thing called Coherence Mode. It’s a wacky name for a killer feature. Essentially it lets you forget that you’re running Windows in a virtual machine because it presents your Windows programs as if they’re native Mac OS X programs. So you can have Excel 2007 nestling amongst iPhoto and GarageBand. Talking about mixing business and pleasure! You can even set it up so that clicking the Parallels Dock icon opens up the Windows Start menu. It’s like they took Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder out of the Ebony and Ivory video and replaced them with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Now everyone can get along in perfect harmony!