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Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Switch is Flipped

In my last post I described why I have decided to switch to a Mac. Well a shiny new MacBook Pro rolled up earlier this week, I've had a few days to acclimatise, and its probably a good time to report on what life is like this side of the switch.

Before the machine arrived I noticed an interesting change in my attitude to Windows, I don't know if it was the feeling of freedom, or some sort of psychological post-decision justification, but I finally lost all patience with the old girl. Eccentricities that I had put up with for years...

("your update is complete, your machine will restart in 5 minutes without your permission and lose your current working space and very likely the work that you had spent two hours creating before you foolishly turned your back to get a coffee")

...suddenly became unbearable insults, and bugs that I had learned to live with...

 ("your IMAP folder is at 90%, so I have decided to create a modal dialogue box that snatches focus away from you - oh, and because this is Outlook 2008 the OK button will no longer make this dialog disappear, however please click it in futile horror to create even more indestructible dialog boxes - if the despair doesn't finish you off, please laugh at the irony of it all")

...became hot pins under my fingernails. I think it's fair to say that when the time came I was all too happy to leave Windows before I jumped through it.

Nice Surprises:

The MacBook itself was a really nice surprise. I bought a 17" machine, and was a bit worried that it might be to large, but actually its only slightly heavier (an extra 0.2kg), slightly wider (about 1"), slightly deeper (about 0.5") and actually a bit thinner (0.5" thinner). It's also a beautiful machine, with an overall simplicity which is really appealing, and little touches (like the magnetic power cord and pulsing sleep light) that make it feel cared for and considered.

NOW I can get trough the day!
The software learning curve has been far easier than I expected, things are different - but natural and consistent. The things that are most different are also the things that are much better. I have a WiFi printer, and I've set it up on a number of windows machines. This involves Googling through HPs cryptic website, downloading and installing a HP suite of unwanted applications (several hundred MBs) to get the one driver you do want, and finally struggling to get the setup wizard to see the printer on the network. I started this process on the Mac and then caught myself, instead I opened the Printer config bit of System Preferences and there was my Printer already listed (the Mac had already found it on the network - I didn't even have to initiate the search), I selected it and clicked "Add Printer" and I was done. The whole process took maybe 20 seconds.

I've also really taken to some of the Mac's visual tricks - such as Expose, and the virtual desktop system (called Spaces). I've tried virtual desktops on Linux and Windows boxes before, but it's integrated so well, and the animated transitions are so good, that it just feels a natural part of the system.

I have had a couple of crashes; an open source FTP client called Cyberduck has died on me a few times (otherwise its really good), and the Microsoft Office installer keeled over the first time i ran it. The problem is very different then on Windows. On Windows when a process falls over it goes in an explosion of chaos, freezing great tracts of screen estate and pulling down related processes and often the GUI shell itself, all of which is topped off by a loud boing and another of those damn dialog boxes. On the Mac the application kinda twitches, and then it disappears. In fact the clean up is so elegant that I didn't notice the few times that Cyberduck crashed. One moment it was there, the next it was gone.


There are some negatives, but they don't seem so bad. The built in Web Browser, Safari, isn't so great. It renders pages OK, but it looks cramped, and feels quite basic in some intangible way. I've installed Flock (a version of Firefox) instead - and that's great to use.

The keyboard is US, which means that the " and @ keys are in the wrong place (for my jaded fingers anyway) and I seem to have lost the hash key (see - I cant even type it!). Also the Enter and Cursor keys are weirdly small, the functionality of ALT and CTRL are different (and mixed up with the Mac COMMAND key), and given that the Mac uses context (right) clicks all over the place - why oh why oh why doesn't the trackpad have a second mouse button! I know I can two-finger click instead but its just annoying that its left out - presumably to make a pointless point about simplicity :-/

Story so far?

Overall I'm very happy with the Mac. This is the first computer since my first computer (and thats a lot of beige boxes) that I've actually got excited about. Its fun to learn to use it - it rewards you at every turn - its achingly beautiful - and the community actually likes itself and the products that its based around.

And the killer feature - the thing that its worth switching for all on its own - is that the Mac wakes from Sleep (well, pseudo sleep) in seconds. I got into my office yesterday, and decided to read my email on my Mac laptop rather than my PC desktop, because the Mac powers up more quickly from sleep than it takes Windows to log in.

Three seconds from off to on, and then when it arrives, by god its all so pretty :-)


Clare said...

Ah yes, I lost the hash key when I first switched to Macs! Alt-3 is the key combo you need. Obscure, no?

Macs are not perfect, but what machines are? I switched in 2005, and haven't looked back :) Enjoy.

Alex said...

To me, on a laptop the one button mouse really shines. It's so much easier to use than two because there's never any doubt or hunting around to do a mouse click. Thumb on button, index finger of the same hand on the trackpad and slide both as you need. Change hands once in a while and it works exactly the same.
BTW, I use Camino for web browsing. Based on Mozilla/Firefox but made for Mac.
I switched a few years ago and also have not looked back. Enjoy enjoy enjoy.

Shane Blyth said...

As a PC user for as long as they have existed and switched about 2 years ago I find the think different quote as probably the most telling comment I had to remind myself. The idea of a second mouse button on the track pad is simply what you r use to and your brain has created a deep grove in your memory that your hands hate changing. I felt the same about quite a few things. Now after a decent period of time I cant stand going back to a 2 button track pad and I miss the 2 button "tap" which is a right click and 2 finger scrolling and a bunch of other stuff. My brain has created a new grove for my fingers to follow.
Think about it... you'll see after months we are very adaptable but really the more we use a system over time the harder it is to undo those brain groves.

wonkydonky said...

As a wannabe mac user myself I just want say I'll be keeping a keen eye out for the next post in a few months time when the first major piece of hardware fails (such as the battery) and you experience more mac joy in the form of the Mac Support Team (well you would if it were not a work purchase)

..."sorry, did you say you want us to put the machine back together...that'll cost you extra"

Dave Millard said...

Alex and Shane - you know I might be changing my mind already :-) What I like about the one mouse button is that its easy to whack with your thumb without moving your hand to a new position - one of those tiny things you do thousands of times a day and so a little improvement goes a long way.

I went back to my PC tonight (to get some documents) and kept hitting the right mouse button instead of the left all the time :-) It's also worth mentioning how much bigger the trackpad is on the Mac (about twice the size of the one on my Samsung). It all adds up to make a more comfortable experience.

wonkydonky said...

The single biggest feature I love with Mac track pads is they make the seemingly obvious decision that while typing, that wondering thumb of yours which is randomly pressing on the pad is probably not an intentional command and so they disable the track pad.
In fact this is so amazing that I rather wished they hadn't implemented it, if only because I makes every other laptop designer look so some sort of neanderthal ape in comparison.