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After years of using Windows, I recently did what I regularly advise others to do: I bought a Mac. So far, it’s been great, and to my surprise, relatively painless. I have had to solve a few problems, but none particularly difficult.
For Windows users interested in switching, here’s why I switched, what’s awesome about my new Mac, and what I miss about Windows.
Why I bought a Mac
Except for my high school photography and journalism classes, I have always used Windows PCs. Despite all the hype coming from Cupertino, Windows has always “just worked” just fine for me. So, unlike many misguided switchers, I did not decide to buy a Mac because of an ignorant impression that Macs are faster or more secure or even easier to use (for a proficient user, anyway). I guess I bought a Mac mostly because I was getting bored with Windows. Besides, my iPad has been a great experience, as has my recently-purchased iPhone 5. (Also: beautiful hardware.) Whatever the main motivation, when Windows 8 failed to impress me (and annoyed me a lot), I ordered a Mac mini.
First, the jury is still out on whether I have “switched” to Mac. I’m using one, and that is all. I still have Windows 7 on my ThinkPad and on my Dell desktop, both of which I still use frequently. That said, my Mac will be my primary computer for the foreseeable future.
What I like about my new Mac
I am not generally wowed by speed. A new computer had better feel way faster than an old one, as a general rule. Still, I am impressed by all the go-fast bits Apple squeezed into this little container. It has a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, and I maxed out the memory at 16 GB (I ordered a Crucial memory kit, though; I’m not paying Apple’s ridiculous memory prices). The 1 TB Fusion drive is one part speedy solid-state drive, and one part regular spinning platters. Everything is satisfactorily zippy. (I paid well for this, of course; my Mac mini was just under $1,300.)
The only real sacrifice, as far as I can tell, is the graphics. Apple is now using Intel’s integrated graphics instead of a separate graphics processor. It’s fast enough for me, though, and it works very well for wasting time playing Minecraft. If I ever become a hardcore PC gamer, I will get a suped-up Windows rig, anyway, so whatever I’m missing out on in the graphics department is not missed.
But really, the hardware is just a different box to set on my desk. The real difference comes from using it, and that means OS X.
Getting along with a Mac
I don’t like running emulators or virtualization, if I can avoid it, so I am trying to stick with native software. It has not been difficult. Most of my work is done in Google Chrome, Microsoft Office, or Evernote, and all are available for Mac. In fact, Evernote for Mac is nicer than its Windows sibling. I cannot say the same for Office for Mac 2011, however.
Office for Mac 2011 has almost nothing in common with Office for Windows or with any other software written for OS X. Instead, it exists on its own with a clumsy user interface. It works fine, even if it is not pleasant to work with. I have not had any problems creating or editing documents and sharing them with Windows users.
I have a copy of Acrobat for Mac, but I didn’t bother to install it until very recently. It was easy enough to find and install the ScanSnap software for Mac, and I found that it works just fine without Acrobat installed. Since OS X’s built-in Preview software does some basic PDF editing, I probably could have gotten along without Acrobat indefinitely.
I have not installed QuickBooks yet. I am trying to decide whether to switch to the Mac version or the cloud version, QuickBooks Online. But either way, I know it will work just fine. Although just like Office, I have heard the Mac version of QuickBooks leaves much to be desired.
It is obvious that designing software for OS X is fundamentally different than designing software for Windows. Companies that get that, like Evernote, make software that is a pleasure great to use on both systems. Companies that don’t, like Microsoft and Intuit, have me looking for native Mac alternatives, or else cloud-based options.
One of my favorite thing about Macs is the prevalence of keyboard shortcuts. This is a system that favors the mouse and trackpad, but leaves all the keyboard shortcuts in place, too. That means you can type things you use all the time, like em dashes, the ¶ and § symbols, and much more, just by using Option and Option+Shift plus the appropriate key. On a Windows PC, you have to memorize complicated Alt codes, which only work in some software, or set up shortcuts in Word that aren’t available in anything else. (You can also use text expanders, of course, which is what I do in Windows.) Legal writing is sometimes easier on a Mac, due to the ease of accessing special characters.
What I miss about Windows
There are not many things I miss about Windows, actually. And the things I do miss are probably low on most users’ lists. I miss being able to FTP into my websites from Windows Explorer. When I try in Finder, I can’t upload any files. I don’t like using traditional FTP tools, which are clumsy, as a rule, and I liked this easy shortcut when I needed to quickly get files on or off my websites.
I also miss the wide variety of free software available for Windows. I have used the free Notepad++ as my primary text editor for years, but I couldn’t find a good free text editor for OS X. Not one with code highlighting, anyway. Eventually, I spent $50 on BBedit. I’m not sorry, since it is a very good text editor, but I don’t feel like it is $50 better than Notepad++.
There are also a couple of things I thought I would have to do without, but I found solutions as good or better than what Windows offers.
One of my favorite features of Windows 7 was the Aero Snap feature, which makes it simple to resize windows so they take up half the screen. All you have to do is drag a window to the left or right edge, and it will resize itself to take up half the screen. I use this feature constantly in Windows.
In OS X, resizing windows is a lot more fiddly. You can finally drag from the edges, instead of just the lower-right corner, but it’s still a pain to get two documents to take up half the screen apiece. Fortunately, there is BetterSnapTool, which brings Aero Snap to OS X, plus some additional features, like resizing to quarters and sixths, if you want. There are a few other utilities that do this, but I went with BetterSnapTool because it offers the most features and the best price.
A lot of the typing I do winds up being repetitive. Like signature blocks, HTML link tags, our weekly top posts roundup and other stuff. Plus, I really like having access to special characters like en dashes and em dashes without memorizing Alt codes. On Windows, AutoHotKey makes this pretty simple.
But on OS X and iOS, TextExpander is even better. Unlike AutoHotKey, a scripting tool, TextExpander has an actual interface that makes it easy to create text snippets. Of course, it is not as powerful as AutoHotKey, either, but I wasn’t using all the fancy features, anyway. I also love being able to sync up my text snippets with my iPhone and iPad.
What I don’t like about my new Mac
Apart from badly-adapted software like Office and QuickBooks, the keyboard is both a pleasure to use (see above) and a complete pain. I’ll never understand why it requires finger contortion just to copy and paste using the keyboard. Or why it takes two keys to get to the end of a line, but only one to get to the end of a document. Or why there is no forward delete key on the wireless keyboard. Or why the Home and End keys work differently in Office than in everything else, kind of like Shift+Delete in bbEdit, which screwed me up all the time until I figured out how to turn it off.
In the user interface, it bugs me that I cannot cut and paste files; I have to open two Finder windows and drag the files from one to the other, which requires quite a few additional steps. Or that I cannot administer files through a file open/save dialog.
But really, those are fairly minor quibbles. I have gotten used to the keyboard and its inconsistent behavior, and I have gotten used to the different ways the interface functions.
Should you switch?
I cannot think of any compelling reason to switch to Mac. As I have always said, there are good things and bad things about the Apple ecosystem, but in the end, it’s just a different computer.
Now that I have a Mac myself, though, I cannot think of any compelling reason not to get one. My migration has been relatively easy, and I none of the problems I have had took more than remedial computer knowledge to overcome.
So if you are interested in switching, go ahead. You will probably be glad you did (confirmation bias and all). If not, you will be just fine using what you have now.