Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The First Month on a Mac

The first month on my new Mac has been a very refreshing experience. To give a little background, I've been a Windows user for the past nine years. I've reinstalled Windows XP twice, (which was a lifesaver), helped countless people with "simple" things on their PC's (mostly folks over 40).

The week before Christmas I bought a new MacBook Pro with Leopard. Strangely enough Leopard did not come pre-installed. I was really surprised by this because the advertising on Apple's website lead me to believe Leopard would be pre-installed. Tiger was pre-installed and setup very quickly. I installed Leopard in about one and a half hours, which would have only been 45 minutes if Leopard did not need to check the install disc. I would much rather take an extra 45 minutes to check the disc than risk having an error during the installation because of scratches or other wear on the disc.

Even before I had a chance to install Leopard, Mac OS captivated me immediately. iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD, and GarageBand were all pre-installed and waiting to be used. My Windows experience trained me to find a free program to do what I wanted, or otherwise try to torrent good programs for media applications.

After Leopard was installed, it was much more eye candy than I've ever been used to, but I've grown to like it over the past month. Leopard's stacks, Quicklook, and searching features have all saved me time, and helped me to keep a pristinely clean desktop.

I've haven't had a single crash in the last month from either Leopard or any applications. This kind of stability should be prized. Are you listening Microsoft? This is definitely an improvement on the PC experience. Even with a fairly clean PC, I probably would have a few applications crash in that amount of time. Don't take me wrong, though. One of my college friends forgot to save a document on his iMac, it froze, and he lost the essay he was working on.

I can’t imagine where I would be right now if I had purchased a new laptop with Vista. Yes, everything would probably work, keyword probably, but I can’t go back to that now because everything “just works”. I know a few friends who have made the switch to Vista, but most power users I know will avoid it until at least the 1st service pack is released. Realistically, however, I probably would have downgraded to XP Professional at the first sign of trouble. For the most part, XP works just fine.

Even before using the Mac, I had tried a dock clone program for Windows called ObjectDock. I like the idea of having my most used programs only a mouse click away, and I need more room than the Quicklaunch bar offered in Windows.

The dock on the Mac has been great. The only problem is that if you're not paying attention, or if you having several layers of applications open, your RAM can start getting low when all of these applications are still running. Apple should an an option/menu that will show a simple list of all the applications that are running. They could add it as an icon to the dock, or add a small icon to the menu bar that would display a drop-down menu of all the programs that are running. Showing little arrows or circles below the icons in the dock isn't enough. I've even had Mac users tell me that they wish OS X had a feature to show all the programs you're running. Yes you could pull up the Activity Monitor or Force Quit, or even use Command + Tab to bring up the program switcher, but in the end it would be more convenient to see a list.

Exposé has been essential to my developing love of the Mac. Using it I can quickly see any open application (unless it’s minimized to the dock) and switch to it with one click. This is definitely a must with the endless layers of running applications that accumulate on a mac. I much prefer Exposé over Alt + tabbing in Windows.

I love the column view in the finder. It's a real timesaver, especially with deep folder paths. If I'm working with a group of photos in one folder, I can quickly drag them to the folder one level up; without copying and pasting and without opening a new finder window.

Surprisingly enough, I've been able to avoid paying for any software since I've bought my Mac. In recent years enough new developers have created free or lite versions of applications that it's sometimes better to find a free version than to drop $30, 50, or $100 just on a simple application. I do use 1password everyday, but instead of paying $30 for it, I found it free through a Mac Gems promotion. My impression of some Mac users is that they will to easily fall back on paying for a small application, rather than taking 10 or 20 minutes to find a perfectly good free alternative. I think being a seasoned PC user has taught me to not pay for software unless it's an essential program with no decent free alternative.

I don’t miss the balloon notification madness. OS X is great about being fairly subtle with updates and other notifications. Yes, some notifications do pop-up in front of everything else, but in my experience, it’s much more efficient than balloons popping every minute in the system tray and distracting my attention. The animated icons in the dock are a great way to give you an update and a nicer than Microsoft’s approach.

Note to my former fellows on PC’s, I only have a few small problems adjusting to the Mac, but in due time, I’m sure they’ll subside. While viewing the processes in the Activity Monitor, it appears that Mac OS is using more of the RAM than my XP machine did, while only running one or two programs. This is understandable, however, due to Leopard’s core features and the extra eye candy. Using dual monitors with certain applications where the menu bar is needed is somewhat difficult on the secondary monitor because the menu bar is not displayed. Firefox has been a little disappointing on the Mac because of a few quirks. I have to admit, I do miss Firefox on the PC. In the Mac version of Firefox, you have to download an extension just to display favicons (favorite icons) in the bookmarks toolbar. You cannot right click on the bookmarks toolbar to change the properties of a bookmark. I somewhat miss the F-key keyboard shortcuts, which are different on the Mac because of the volume controls. Other than that, Firefox is great. Sorry Safari, the only reason I have to give you a second though is to open separate Gmail or Google Calendar accounts simultaneously.

Apple, you’ve definitely grabbed a new customer. Microsoft, I’ll run your stuff virtually from now on, or maybe dual-boot XP if I feel the need to play some games or backup my DVD collection. Going forward, I’ll recommend a Mac to every disgruntled PC user, and in the end I think they’ll be getting a breath of fresh air. With Vista’s problems I can’t see myself even giving it the benefit of the doubt until its first service pack has cleared up some of the fallout.

No comments: