Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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2/13/2007
03:34 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Another Windows User Brainwashed Into The Apple Cult

You wouldn't know it from all my kvetching, but I'm actually happy about making the switch from Windows to the Mac. However, if you're thinking about making the jump yourself, you should know that it's an enormous pain in the neck at first.

You wouldn't know it from all my kvetching, but I'm actually happy about making the switch from Windows to the Mac. However, if you're thinking about making the jump yourself, you should know that it's an enormous pain in the neck at first.

It's been about a week and a half that I've been using a Mac as my primary PC. Until then, I'd only used Macs for a few hours, compared with about 24 years on Windows and DOS systems.

At first, the transition was rough. Everything is slightly different on a Mac. Instead of using the control key for most keyboard shortcuts, you use something called the command key, which doesn't even exist on the PC. Except some of the time on the Mac you do use the control key -- just enough to keep you confused at first.

On the Mac, application menus appear at the top of the screen instead of as they do in Windows, in the titlebar of the active window. Most of the time. Except when they don't.

And the Mac kept locking up on me hard when I ran Second Life -- and only when I ran SL -- and required a reboot.

By the end of my second full day as a Mac user, I had a screaming headache from having to think about, and remember, how to do things that just came automatically to me on the PC: Cutting text, pasting text, moving the cursor a few words in one direction or another, and more.

But, gradually, I got things straightened out. My fingers learned the new keyboard shortcuts. I found new software equivalents for some of my favorite PC utilities. On the advice of some Mac Second Life users, I started using the new, experimental First Look client for SL, which solved my crash problem. And, a week and a half after switching, I'd have to say I'm happy I did it.

The key to understanding the difference between using a Mac and a PC is to first understand the similarities.

The most extreme Mac enthusiasts will lead you to believe that it's not just another brand of computer, it's another kind of machine entirely. That changing from Windows to Mac isn't just switching brands, it's a lifestyle change.

Neither of those things are true -- the Mac is just another kind of computer, and changing brands still leaves you the same person. The Mac does the same things as the PC: It runs word-processing, browses the Web, runs spreadsheets, does instant messaging, and so forth.

It just does those things better.

By "better," I mean "without quite so much hassle."

More than 10 years ago, I asked a Mac user why he preferred the platform to the PC. He said that it just seems to take less fuss to do things on the Mac. The PC requires more keystrokes and mouse clicks than the Mac does. I have found that to be true. It's an accumulation of about a million small things, that add up to a big difference.

Examples:

  • The PC seems to throw up error messages of one kind or another a couple of times an hour. It often grabs the attention of the mouse, keyboard, and screen to let you know it thinks it needs to talk to you right away. The Mac doesn't mess around like that. It just works.

  • Let's say you're changing the name of a file. There are some characters, such as the colon (:) and question mark (?) that are illegal for file names on both the Mac and the PC. If you use those characters to name a file on the PC, Windows waits for you to finish changing the name, then gives you an error message with an obnoxious sound. The Mac doesn't let you type the character in the first place -- it just gives you a small error message, and makes a discreet little error sound.

  • Spellchecking is much smoother on the Mac app I'm using for writing, BBedit, than it is on Windows. With Windows apps, it's too easy to add misspelled words to the spelling dictionary; BBedit just flags the misspellings at first, and leaves it up to you to ask whether you want suggested corrections or to add the word to the dictionary.

  • When a Mac application wants your attention, it doesn't grab the focus of the screen and keyboard like Windows applications do. Instead, the Mac app's icon, which normally sits in an area of the screen called the "dock," flashes and bounces up and down a couple of times, like an enthusiastic child trying politely to get the attention of his teacher.

These are small things -- but there's about a million of those small things in the day-to-day use of the computer, and the Mac is just better at them.

But still, I would not recommend that PC users switch just for the heck of it, simply because it is a pain in the neck. It takes a while to get used to doing things differently -- I'm still figuring out a lot of things. You have to either invest in new software licenses for your applications, or find equivalents. Windows is good enough for most things.

However, if there's some application you really need, and it's only available for the Mac, or if you really want the added stability and ease-of-use of the Mac, or you just want to try something new (and the nearest skydiving school is all booked up), then give the Mac a try.

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