First Impression: Switching From A PC To The Mac - InformationWeek
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Mitch Wagner
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First Impression: Switching From A PC To The Mac

Do I look different to you? More genteel? More elegant? Maybe even taller? I just made the switch from using a PC as my primary machine to using a Mac. As a matter of fact, I've spent more time on the Mac in the last day and a half than I've done in the preceding 24 years of using personal computers.

Do I look different to you? More genteel? More elegant? Maybe even taller? I just made the switch from using a PC as my primary machine to using a Mac. As a matter of fact, I've spent more time on the Mac in the last day and a half than I've done in the preceding 24 years of using personal computers.

Why did I make the change? Well, I was due for an upgrade anyway. My main PC was getting on in years. I was quite happy with it until two weeks ago, when I discovered Second Life, and then suddenly it became inadequate to the new performance demands I was putting on it.

I wanted to learn more about the Mac, because it seems to be becoming a mainstream computing platform again, after years as a boutique machine.

I'd been hearing for years -- decades -- about how Macs are superior and more stable.

Also: Why not?

I ended up with an iMac with 2 Gbytes of memory and a sweet, 24-inch display.

My first impression is that the Mac is, indeed, a significantly superior machine, especially in the set-up. Things seem to be designed to go faster, with less hassle and mousing and clicking and messing around than on the PC. On the other hand: It's still just a computer. Switching to the Mac was not a life-changing decision.

Also, the Mac has frozen up on me, and required a reboot, three times since I started using it Saturday evening. The PC only does that to me once or twice a year. What's up with that? I thought the Mac was supposed to be more stable?

The lockups happen when I'm running Second Life, so I'm sure that software is to blame -- but, still, even crappy PC software rarely crashes Windows XP; you can just take down the misbehaving application and move on.

Setting up the Mac is much faster and more pleasant than setting up a PC. New consumer-grade PCs these days come cluttered with evaluation-ware from America Online and every other vendor who pays off the PC vendor to get their garbage foisted onto your PC. It's a form of advertising -- if it's already installed, they figure, you're more likely to sign up and pay for it. So the first thing that smart PC users do nowadays is to reformat their hard drives and reinstall the operating system with only the software they want to use.

Plus, PCs come with a ghastly amount of wastepaper. The vendors load up the boxes with documentation for the computer, docs for all that software that you didn't want, and marketing literature to get you to sign up for more stuff.

The Mac, on the other hand, comes in a white box that looks like it holds one of those big, square fans that you can put in a window. The iMac display and CPU are a single unit, looking like a flat-screen monitor. The box also contains the keyboard, mouse, power supply, and a nifty little remote control, about the size of an iPod Shuffle, for multimedia content. The box also contains documentation for the system and software, in the form of a slim, pocket-sized book.

To set up the machine, you plug the mouse, keyboard, and power supply into the iMac, and you're good to go. It will automatically discover wireless connections in the area, and walk you through a two-minute registration process.

The first thing I did was surf around the Web for a while, just to get a feel for things. I posted the news about my big change to my friends on the community and asked for recommendations for a Web browser, and any other productivity software people could name. Most of the people who responded said they used Firefox, rather than the Mac's built-in browser, Safari, because they're also using PCs and they want to have consistent bookmarks and user interface on both machines. Those things apply to me as well, so I downloaded and installed Firefox.

Installing programs on the Mac is a real treat if you're used to Windows. In Windows, you need to go through a whole rigmorale of shutting down your running applications, and stepping through an installation wizard that asks you a whole lot of unnecessary configuration questions. Then you often have to re-boot your computer -- sometimes a couple of times.

On the Mac, you just download the software, open the folder it downloaded into, and drag an icon from that folder to your Applications folder. The system takes a minute or so to install the new application, without your intervention. Then you're done. Of course, you might still have to configure the software to your liking.

I didn't care for the new mouse that Apple introduced two years ago. I have a nine-year-old five-button Microsoft Trackball that's still working great; I plugged it into the Mac and it worked right away, with no configuration needed.

I'll let you know how things are working out for me. Watch this space.

Looking for more info?

Have you switched from Windows to a Mac recently? Gone the other way: Mac to PC? How's that working out for you? Thinking about it but decided not to? Leave a message below and let's talk about it.

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