After spending most of my computing life exclusively on Windows, I’ve made the switch to a Mac. Why now? Over the years, I’ve become quite adept and comfortable in Windows. I’ve focused much of my career around Windows technologies. So why the switch now, especially with Microsoft’s Vista launching?
Let me try to explain. But first, I know what you’re thinking. Why must every new switcher to a Mac, write about it in their blog? Why do they all start sounding like Apple fanboys from the moment they switch? I’ll tell you why new switchers to Macs get excited – everything just works. After a few days of working through the newness of everything, I’m easily more productive than I was on Windows XP. And that wasn’t a horrible operating system all things considered. But Mac OS X is just smooth, especially if you like the efficiency of using keyboard commands instead of endlessly hunting for applications and menu items. My current Windows laptop had slowed to a crawl (as usual) after less than two years. When I did some research and realized that I would be unable to run Vista well with my existing laptop, I finally decided to look at all the alternatives.
Before switching, I did a lot of research. If anything, I was a Mac hater. I was one of those people who insulted Mac users without ever even having used one for enough time to make an informed decision. My recent experiences lead me to believe that most of those who are so vehemently opposed to Macs are uninformed just like I was. There’s nothing wrong with preferring Windows to Macs. You can’t dispute a personal choice. But to hold such staunch opinions without actually taking the time to use and learn the OS isn’t rational. So after seeing all the positives regarding Macs, I decided to dive in and really find out what was going on.
While I was at it, I read a lot about the Ubuntu Linux distribution and decided to compare it against Windows XP and Mac OS X. The first thing I did was make a list of all the applications I used on a regular basis. In my opinion, this is one of the best ways to evaluate whether you can actually switch and be happy (as well as productive). For the vast majority of users, the applications are the point of using a computer. So I attempted to find what apps already existed for my potential new operating system and which have equivalents. My definition of “equivalent” may be quite different from yours though. For example, from the research I did, there is no equivalent to Quicken. Period. There are applications on all three platforms that help with your personal finances, but nothing comes close to the functionality provided by the recent versions of Quicken.
I installed Ubuntu on a relatively new, low-end Dell box and tried to use it as much as possible for two weeks. While Ubuntu is rock solid (it’s been up and running for a month now with no reboots), the applications are just not there yet for the average user. OpenOffice.org and Firefox run as expected, but that was about it for me. I thought software like Wine or CrossOver, would allow me to run the Windows programs I needed (like FeedDemon), but I had real trouble getting either to work correctly. While I liked the idea of Ubuntu and was glad to hear about many others switching, I found it just wasn’t ready for prime time. Ubuntu may never reach the status of an operating system for the average user and that may be a good thing. But Ubuntu may not have to achieve that goal to be successful. The simple fact that I could consider Ubuntu as an actual option shows they’re made considerable progress with a desktop focused Linux distro. If your needs are basic (web browsing and basic office type apps) or you’re a Linux person, Ubuntu may be for you.
Installing iTunes on my Windows laptop made me buy an iPod. Initially, I couldn’t understand why everyone loved them. If you compare a list of MP3 player features, the iPod never wins. It’s unparalleled in the user experience though and this makes all the difference, Take a technology that is reasonably complex and make it dead simple to use. iTunes just worked in a way that Windows Media Player never could. This finally opened my eyes to what Apple was doing. The same process led me to the Mac. Once again I started seeing all the excellent applications available for the Mac. After keenly watching and learning about Macs over the past year, I became quite envious of the software available.
Going back to my application comparison list, all the applications I needed (plus those that I wanted) were on the Mac. Not only were most of my regular applications already on Mac OS X, but there were numerous ones I found vastly superior to their counterparts on the Windows platform. A short list of these include Keynote, Pages, Adium, OmniOutliner, and ecto. I also don’t miss Outlook, as I now prefer the distributed three piece combo of Mail, iCal, and Address Book much better. I decided to skip Entourage altogether. Interestingly, I find the Mac version of Office just as frustrating as the Windows version so I’m weaning myself from it altogether.
What made the switch to Mac OS X a no-brainer was Parallels. This software enables you to run Windows and its applications on your Mac. I’m not talking about a dual-boot here. You can literally have a Windows app on your desktop right beside a native Mac app. Easily run Windows and Mac on the same laptop. Talk about the best of both worlds. The impact of Apple moving to the Intel chips is just starting to really hit home for me. Windows on my Mac runs better than it did on my Dell. Of course, my MacBook Pro is a more powerful peice of hardware overall, but nonetheless it’s impressive.
Ruby on Rails
The final piece of the puzzle was Ruby on Rails. As my company began moving away from developing software in Microsoft .NET to Ruby on Rails, a few things became quite apparent. Even though Rails development on Windows is fine, there a some better tools available for the Mac. Specifically, TextMate is a superb peice of software that has abolutely no comparison in Windows. Additionally, the Rails core team and many Rails developers work on Mac. Oddly enough, in this community, Macs are in the majority.
Over time, I’ll be following this post up with a few more related ones. I’ll discuss specifically what I really love about my new Mac and another on the drawbacks. Coming from Windows, the Mac transition is not as easy as some would make you believe. So, in an attempt at balanced coverage, I will talk about both after using my Mac on a regular basis a bit longer.
While I’ve switched to a Mac, I doubt I’ll ever be able to completely move away from Windows (though I hope to at some point). This is why I think Parallels is such a game changer. It removes all the final excuses a potential switcher may have. If you’re in the market for a new computer, do yourself a favor and at least check out a Mac. I’ll save my rant on why Macs are not more expensive than equivalent Windows machines for a later day.