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Mac: After two months of Mac, here's why I switched

When I started this blog two months ago I began recording my initial thoughts on obtaining a Mac. While I am not a card carrying Mac fanboy (it does have issues like any piece of technology), I wanted to try and summarize why I like the Mac so much now that I've been using it heavily for the last two months.

I have been a Windows user and software developer since 1992, and a DOS user and developer since 1984. I used to hate Macs and as recently as 9 months ago my avatar on one of my forums was John Hodgman (the PC guy from the Mac ads).

Now I really enjoy using my Mac and am drifting away from Windows as a platform. Here's why:

User Interface
The biggest draw for me is the way the Mac UI works.  For me the user interface is about usability, integration and aesthetics.  From a usability standpoint the Mac interface does not force you to see all of the options directly from the surface level. Most of the applications have very light menus and options. Initially I thought this meant that OS X was a light weight - what I learned was that I just had to spend a little time digging and suddenly a much larger number of options were available. UI folks refer to this as progressive disclosure. I refer to it as clean and uncluttered.

In OS X I can pull down a menu and while it is displayed press the Option key and suddenly my menu choices change to reflect more advanced options. The Command key modifier opens up a huge array of options, especially in text editing surfaces. If I want to enter characters outside of what's on my keyboard I have memorable key shortcuts to get to them, like Option-E, E or A to create é or á. Want the Registered Trademark ® symbol? Option-R. In Windows I needed to hit Alt-0174 or use the Character Map application.

This use of the Option/Alt key as a base modifier is a key difference with Windows. The Alt key in Windows is used primarily in short-cuts for menu mnemonics. This is also one of the areas I dislike on OS X: in most editing surfaces I can use the keyboard almost exclusively but as soon as I need to access a dialog window (preferences, etc.) I have to use the mouse. In Windows I have mnemonics to jump between settings or I can tab between controls, moving the focus from one item to the next.

Well it turns out that I should not have been so frustrated by this. Windows users that miss the ability to tab through their dialogs on Mac will find that there is a simple setting that gets almost the same behavior in OS X. I found a great little article by Alex on the Lowe Tech Labs site. If you go into System Preferences / Keyboard / Keyboard Shortcuts you can set the keyboard to work with All Controls. Alex created a nice video that walks you through it. I still don't have the mnemonics I'd like for quick jumps but at least now I can tab through web forms.

Before I got my Mac I was concerned about Right-Click mouse support. I remembered when all Mac mice were of the single button variety and it was something that seemed crazy to me, given the value of having at least 2 mouse buttons. Well, right clicking is very much available and useful on a Mac and in fact I use a 5 button Logitech mouse every day.

On the aesthetics front OS X Leopard is just a really nicely designed OS. Though some don't like it, I love the Dock's 3D look and the "fit and finish" of the surfaces are really clean. There seems to be a very high level of attention to detail in the OS, though I feel someone missed the UI boat on Disk Utility. Even though I think Windows Vista has made huge improvements in the aesthetic quality of the user interface it doesn't have the crisp look that OS X does.

From an integration standpoint Macs have amazing drag and drop support. A good example of this is how I put images in this blog. Very often I will grab an image for a product I am writing about. I simply click on the image in a web page and drag it to my Desktop. Since I use Blogger I click the Insert Image button and in the resulting dialog I drag the image from my desktop to the Choose File button. No navigating through a directory tree to find my file, no specifying the directory I want to save it in.

Performance
OS X runs really quickly on my Mac, a 2.2GHz MacBook. For a 5 pound machine, it rips through most tasks incredibly fast. This speed is apparent in most, though not all, of the applications I run. The well written apps, and that includes all of the ones Apple provided with my machine, are very snappy. I have found a couple of dog-slow applications so it is possible to write inefficient code of course, though they have been very rare for me.

When I started using my Mac I opted to give Safari a try. Safari has been the bane of my existence as a web developer so I was quite skeptical of whether I would be able to use it full time. Though I have Firefox and Opera on my machine too, Safari is extremely fast and it is now my default web browser. Pages literally snap open and large, complex tables render very quickly. The fact that I am using Safari as my default web browser is probably the biggest shock to my system.

The only place where I have seen a dip in performance is when playing videos. The MacBook does not use a dedicated graphics card like the MacBook Pro so when I use Flash based applications or play video the CPU tends to spike a bit. This is only an issue when I am running a lot of applications at the same time though. At any given time I am running a Safari instance with at least half a dozen tabs open, Mail, TextMate, Adium and NetNewsWire. Very often I'll throw VMWare Fusion and a Windows XP VM in there too and it all runs great on this little machine.

The performance issue for me goes beyond just the speed applications run. 

My MacBook boots up pretty quickly, though I rarely restart the machine. I don't restart it because the sleep function is perfect. I've had many laptops running Windows over the years and had difficulty getting machines to actually sleep correctly. Sometimes I'd close the lid thinking the machine was asleep and try to open it later only to find either the battery was drained because it didn't really sleep or that the machine had rebooted when entering sleep mode, requiring a restart when it was opened.

After two months with my MacBook I have not had a single problem with this aspect of the machine. I close the lid and it goes to sleep and uses so little power that after letting it sit unplugged from power for an entire evening I see hardly any drain on the battery. I open it up and within 2 seconds my display is active and about 5 seconds after that it has reestablished network connectivity.

Compatibility
Since I have not been able to move completely to Mac for everything - specifically my development environment - I still need to run Windows occasionally. By loading up VMWare Fusion I can run Windows XP in a window and can load Microsoft Visual Studio and get excellent performance. I can use Unity mode and have Windows applications share the desktop with my Mac applications.

Portability
This MacBook provides the perfect balance for me. Large, bright screen, excellent keyboard for touch typing on, a built in DVD burner and a nice low price. My battery life has been outstanding and with the Sleep capabilities I mentioned earlier I don't hesitate to just snag the machine off my desk and take it with me.

Even the little things that Apple promotes pretty heavily, like the magnetically attached power cord come in handy. When I was out visiting my parents recently my Dad rounded the table and tripped over the cord and it just popped out. No thunderous crash, no bent adaptor.

While my Mac's white surface has been well maintained the palm rests are already starting to show signs of wear. Not excessive, but it is noticeable.

Software Availability
Over the last 2 months I have downloaded nearly 50 different applications and utilities, though that's not even scratching the surface of what's available. The range of applications is staggering and covers just about any category I could think of.

As I set up my Mac I searched around for applications to take the place of my old Windows standard apps and found things like iStat Menus, CSSEdit, Pixelmator, VLC and many more.

When you look at what is included with OS X, especially iLife 08, out of the box the machine is ready to roll. Though it took me a little time I've nearly weaned myself off of Picasa for iPhoto and I'm still playing with iMovie, though I'm more comfortable with Windows Movie Maker at this point.

One of my favorite applications comes with OS X though and that's Time Machine. Seamless hourly backups of my machine that took minutes to set up and just happens without me doing anything. I love it when computers do the work for you.

The Compromise
The closed nature of the Mac means that my choices are somewhat limited, unlike the PC where I can tweak the hardware all I want. Unless I want to violate the terms of the EULA for Mac OS X, I'm only going to be running it on Apple provided systems. I can purchase aftermarket hard drives and RAM to save some money but newer motherboards, processors and graphics cards are off limits. This hasn't been a deal killer for me because the hardware that is provided works really nicely and I never have to worry about driver compatibility issues.

So there you have it. After two months I still find the machine fascinating. I don't hate my Windows XP machine, nor the Vista laptop or Ubuntu workstation I also have at my desk. I just don't use them all that much anymore. 

I'm having too much fun exploring my Mac and scheming to get a Mac Pro.

72 comments:

Kel Miller said...

Nice article. Good to hear you're loving the Mac! I can't say I'm surprised though, I've been using them since I was three and adore them.
You should try venturing away from the mouse though-- all the right click and scroll functions are available on the track pad, if you turn them on. Tap to click, tap with two fingers to right click, use two fingers to scroll... it's nice.

David Alison said...

@Kel: Some habits die hard and my using a mouse is one of them. I do love that trackpad though - the two finger scrolling is much better than a scroll wheel for me.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave, thanks for the article. Just a tip Mr. Clean sponges do wonders for white MacBooks/ibooks. Just buy one and rub on the discolored spots, your laptop will magically appear new. Enjoy your mac.

PS. I also recommend googling the following
inquistion+mac (spotlight for safari)
quicksilver+mac (a better finder)
VLC+mac (universal free video player)..

Cheers

Anonymous said...

You may have explored AppleScript and Automator already. There may be some advanced power user solutions to avoid mouse use available through these related technologies. I've seen demos of them; and there are many support sites for them outside of Apple's. Automator may surprise you with what you can achieve without actually programming.

http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/automator/automatorvirtualinput.html

Anonymous said...

Evidently I have to split the long url to get the full content exposed. Make sure to take out the return "blank" space of the combined lines of text.

http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/
automator/automatorvirtualinput.html

Anonymous said...

The ability to upgrade hardware depends on which Mac you get. You're not going to upgrade the processor or the graphics card on a Macbook or a PC laptop. A Mac Pro has excellent expandability. Even my seven year old Power Mac can take processor, RAM, hard drive, and graphics card upgrades.

And, as mentioned, nothing wrong with using a teo button mpuse, but the two finger right click and two finger scrolling work really well on a Macbook. Until I started using them, Ctrl-Click really frustrated me, now I'm annoyed using a computer where they don't work.

David Fields said...

David,
I don't know if you caught my post when you were discussing iMovie '08 but in the event you're interested, you can still download iMovie '08 and use it completely separately from '08.

Regretfully, they are not compatible, nor are the files interchangeable, but if you are looking for something a little more complete while still simple to use, '06 is a very good choice, sort of an Express version of Apple's Final Cut Express. The best part is, as far as I know it is still a free download.

David Alison said...

@David: I did indeed download iMovie HD (06). It is more familiar to the Windows Movie Maker model with Timelines but one can only learn so many new things at once. Thanks for the tip though!

@Anon about Automator: Here is a direct link in case anyone else wants to see it:

Automator Virtual Input

Thanks!

@Anon on HW upgrades: I knew that my MacBook, like any laptop, was limited but didn't think about Mac Pros. Thanks...

@Anon on Mr. Clean: I'm actually using Inquisitor and VLC all the time - have blog entries on both. I've been so happy with Spotlight I didn't see a big advantage in moving to Quicksilver though. Thanks for the Mr. Clean - I appreciate it.

Hendrik said...

Nice post. It is pretty similar to my own experience and sentiments. Not being able to use the keyboard to answer standard dialogs drove me nuts. I believe this might have been added in Leopard. Or maybe I just discovered this option after installing Leopard.

One thing you didn't mention is the consistency across applications, which I love. Every application (except for the frickin Finder) can be quit by Cmd-q. Cmd-w closes a window, Cmd-p prints, Cmd-, gets me the preference screen and so on. One of my favorites is the Cmd-e Cmd-g combination for finding repeated occurrences of some selected word.

Two tips for you:
- As a many-button mouse user, check out Steermouse. It is not free, but allows you to configure all mouse buttons. You can even for example map the same 2 buttons to back/forward when in Safari and to Copy/Paste when in your text editor.

- Especially with 4 GB of RAM you probably want to disable the 'safe sleep' feature. What safe sleep does is to always save all memory content to disk when you put the computer to sleep. However it is only actually read again when you take out the battery or when you happen to completely drain the battery (which takes something like 6 hours after the laptop goes into sleep due to low battery). In other words, never :)
See here for more info:
http://tinyurl.com/29n9u6
Short version: Use
sudo pmset -a hibernatemode 0
After doing this the Macbook will go to sleep pretty much instantly when closing the lid instead of first writing 4GB to disk.

Mister Ron said...

Do your best to get a MAc Pro. Apple makes the most difficult machines to get into (Mini, iMac, MacBook, etc.) and the easiest computer in the world to get into (Mac Pro).

SATA hard drives just screw into the tray (even the screws are provided), then you slide it in and there is no need to connect a wire!

Ram is a bit pricey, but getting cheaper all the time. You get TWO ethernet ports, and lots of other things as well.

Have fun!

David Alison said...

@Hendrik: That's a very cool tip - thanks for the link man.

@Mister Ron: I've had the thing in the Apple shopping cart more times than I can count but just haven't pulled the trigger yet. I'm a little behind on my development schedule and I know that getting the Mac Pro will have me off playing for days on end. But count on a blog post when I do get it!

Eytan said...

Hi David,
I took the plunge last month and got a MacPro - the 1st new desktop Mac I bought in 9 years (my old one just outgrew its life, even after upgrading the CPU, RAM, Video, HDs, adding 4 more drives, USB 2.0, Bluetooth - etc., just shows how upgradeable the desktops TRULY are).
The beauty of the Mac Pro is that the 1st thing I did was sell my Pentium machine running XP, took the Serial ATA drive out of it and popped it into one of the bays, installed XP using Bootcamp on it, and then made it work with VMWare. With the 6 GB of RAM, and 2 cores and 2 GB devoted to Windows under VMWare, I still have the fastest of all worlds for Mac and Windows simultaneouly - and for the rare times I might need to have a "real" PC, I just restart it in Windows!

Anonymous said...

David, have a look at Quiksilver again, it's much more as an application launcher. Just the beginning is a bit difficult, there are nice tutorials however.
typing ps in spotlight will not open PhotoShop, it does in quicksilver after some training....

keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify on the tabbed keyboard thing: the blogger, Alex, posted that article, but the site, Lowe Tech Labs, belongs to Adam.

David Alison said...

@Anon: Sorry about the mixup on the Lowe Tech Labs reference. I've corrected the article to make it clear. That's what I get for mixing up Alex and Adam!

William said...

I saw this over at lifehacker.

"Spark Creates Mac Keyboard Shortcuts"

http://lifehacker.com/376924/spark-creates-mac-keyboard-shortcuts

David Alison said...

@William: Thanks for the link. I've added LifeHacker to my newsreader - I get so many people referring to articles from them it's about time I kept up on it too!

Anonymous said...

An even better solution to the safe sleep issue than using the Terminal is to install the free preference pane "SmartSleep" (available by searching www.versiontracker.com/macosx/leopard/). This allows you to automatically use sleep when the battery level is above a certain point, and hibernation below that point. It will also remove the sleep image if one already exists and you wish to save that disk space. I've been using it for several weeks with no problems on my 4GB MacBook.

Anonymous said...

Here's a few advanced tips:

When viewing a Save/Don't Save/Cancel dialog, you can use return to save, esc to cancel, and Command-D to not save.

When typing in most text fields and text editors, Option and Command can modify movement and deletion by one step:

Left and right arrow keys move by a single character. Up and down arrow keys move by a single line. Delete deletes a single character.

Option-left or Option-right arrow moves by a single word. Option-up and Option-down move by a single paragraph. Option-delete deletes a single word.

Command-left or Command-right arrow moves to the beginning and end of a line. Command-up and Command-down move to the beginning and end of the document/field. Command-delete deletes an entire line.

You'll also find a few emacs-style commands using Control, such as Control-a and Control-e to jump to the beginning and end of a line, and Control-k to kill (essentially cut) anything past the cursor to the end of the line, and Control-y to yank (paste text cut with kill).

Have fun!

Anonymous said...

A couple of more tips. Sometimes when the laptop is in a bag bouncing around the lid can partially open causing the system to wake. This site describes how to set the power manager to only wake from sleep when you press a key.

http://www.macworld.com/article
/55527/2007/02/nowakelid.html

Another tip is a fast way to launch an application. Press command-space to open the spotlight search field. Type the first three letters or so of the application name and press return. With Leopard Spotlight puts the application as the top hit if there is one. Pressing return causes it to launch. For example,
command-space then "calc" return launches the calculator.
command-space then "ind" return launches InDesign

and so on.

Down the road you should look at iWork. Keynote is awesome for presentations.

David Alison said...

@Anon: Thanks for the MacWorld tip - very handy. I did a write up on Spotlight back in February. One of my favorite features and my preferred method of starting apps.

Anonymous said...

One more, when viewing a window in the finder you see a small icon at the top of the window next to the name. This is called the proxy icon. If click and hold it for a moment you can then drag this icon. Finder windows and many applications will respond to a proxy icon much as if you had dropped the folder icon itself on them. This is much shorter than navigating up the in folder hierarchy, finding the folder and dragging it. For example, if you are viewing a folder of images you can drag the proxy icon to Graphic Converter and it opens that folder in the image browser. If you drag a proxy icon to a Finder Open/Save dialog it is the same as navigating to that window.

I'll disagree with an earlier poster. Clicking command-D in an Open/Save dialog is a shortcut to the desktop.

Eric said...

In any Save As dialogue window, Cmd-D changes the save location to the Desktop

In Finder, hold Option+Command and click on the white pill box in the upper right corner. You can customize the Finder window UI

If you accidentally launch an app in the dock, you can right click on that dock item and Force Quit to close the app quicker.

Anonymous said...

After using your Mac for a while you can't help but realize the misinformation you've been fed about them over the years is staggering.

Patrick Desmarais said...

Just a precision, Cmd-D does activate "Don't Save" but it's not in Open/Save dialogs, it's when you close a window with unsaved content.

David, I don't think this will really help you but anyway: Ctrl-F1 activates Full keyboard access. Once that's done, you can use Ctrl-F2 to access the menu bar and move through it with the first letter of a menu to acces that menu. Once in a menu, same thing first letter to acces a menu item. It's not as efficient as the windows way, but it is there. Ctrl-F3 accesses the dock and there's a few other ones.

You can view those shortcuts within System Prefs in Keyboard in the Keyboard Shortcuts tab

David Alison said...

@Anon: I don't know that the misinformation is staggering as much as a lot of it is really dated. I don't think people realize how far the Mac has come, especially in the last few releases of OS X. That and the fact that Apple has a style about their advertising that really sets some people off the wrong way. Hell, I'd like to think I'm pretty open minded but it took a lot of people using Macs to get me to even consider trying them.

@Patrick: That is actually very helpful for me! I didn't know you could keyboard navigate the menus. Cool tip man - thanks!

RON said...

Mr. Allison, welcome to my world of Mac. You might check SmartScroll. A really handy app.

Regards. Ron.

Johannes25 said...

David, do you use exposè? Is very useful for switch through windows/applications especialy when you have open a lot!
One tip fantastic for me: hold command and press once tab; you see a strip with the active applications; pressing again tab or shift-tab or left-right arrow (or with the mouse) you can select the application you want. Release command key and the application you have chosen open in front. I have a mouse with a lot of buttons and I have assign at one button the shortcut command+tab so wen I press it the last application I have before in front switch in front and again... Is useful if you want switch quick between two applications in "circle"; for exemple for copy-paste or so.
Nice article!

Anonymous said...

Ctrl-F2 , then use the arrow keys to navigate the menus !

RASTERMAN said...

David,

Nice blog entry. Glad things are going relatively smooth.

Before pulling the trigger on another Mac purchase, take a look at the Apple Refurb section:

http://tinyurl.com/2x3g4x

I've purchased six systems now from Apple's "Special Deals" (Refurbished) section and found the quality excellent.

Went over each system, literally, with a magnifying glass in search of imperfections. Not so much as a smudge or a scratch.

Only downside that I've found so far is that they come shipped in generic cardboard packaging rather than the fancy boxes you get with all new systems.

It would be a challenge to beat the savings though!

Cheers!

---RASTER

Simon Elliott said...

You can get a load or free software for your mac as well at www.thefreemac.com (there are lots of programming resources there). Just click on the "Free Software" button.

A direct link is at:

http://web.mac.com/simon_elliott/simon_elliott%40mac.com/Software.html

PS. Don't forget to try the two finger trackpad movement whilst holding the ctrl key - zoomerific.

Anonymous said...

Hey David,
I was wondering if you intend to explore Xcode and Interface builder. As you are a Mac convert and a developer it might be fun for you to explore Mac development.

Paul

Nottingham,
England

Anonymous said...

An excellent counterpart to the graphical window navigation with Exposé is "Witch":

http://www.manytricks.com/witch/

It lets you navigate all windows (or just those of the active application) by their window titles instead.

Exposé + [CMD]-[TAB] + Dock context menus + Witch is a very powerful combination!

David Alison said...

@Simon: You know, after 2 months I still keep getting cool little tips. Ctrl+Scroll = Zoom. Love it.

@Raster: I would go with refurb but I never seem to find Mac Pros in there.

@Paul: I've only played with Xcode briefly - mainly after downloading the iPhone SDK. I have plans for a Mac based client application as an add-on for my next product line, which is an internet based service, but that's a little ways off right now.

Paul said...

Ok, time for an English professor to chime in with some cool writing pointers for Mac users:

1. Amazingly enough, the built-in Mac dictionary is the New Oxford American Dictionary. It's one of the best dictionaries you can buy, and it comes free with OS X. It provides excellent definitions that also use the word in a sample sentence, and, best of all for us word geeks, gives the origin (etymology) of the word! Yes!

2. You can easily look up words in Safari, Mail, and other native Mac programs by right-clicking (or Ctrl-clicking) on a word. A little pop-up menu appears with the options to search in Google, search in Spotlight, or look up in the Dictionary. (This doesn't work in MS Office, unfortunately.)

3. Buy TextExpander or TypeIt4Me and create an infinite number of automated text-expanders that turn a keystroke combination such as "daea" into your email address (David Alison's Email Address in this case) . You can write up to a whole page of text for each one. Saves a ton of time! (I use it for comments I write over and over on student papers.)

Best wishes,
Paul

Anonymous said...

one of the best hints must be to use the "s" button upon pressing the sleep/wake button. no need for a mouse to get it to sleep in two little steps (if you don't want to close the screen, or, have a non-laptop mac)!!

Anonymous said...

Mr Clean Magic Eraser is great for cleaning the white MacBook. You can have it looking like new in just a couple minutes.

Anonymous said...

"one of the best hints must be to use the "s" button upon pressing the sleep/wake button. no need for a mouse to get it to sleep in two little steps (if you don't want to close the screen, or, have a non-laptop mac)!!"

You can also make it even easier by just pressing [CMD]+[ALT]+[EJECT]: Instant sleep, no questions asked!

Gand said...

Enjoy also OSX screen capture:
http://tinyurl.com/3dews9

RASTERMAN said...

David,

Things must have changed since your last visit to the "Special Deals" page partner...

At the time of this posting, there are at least seven different Mac Pros listed...

They range from the Mac Pro Quad 2.66GHz Intel Xeon ($1999) to the latest Mac Pro 8-core 3.2GHz Intel Xeon ($4099.)

http://tinyurl.com/2x3g4x

Be sure to scroll nearly 2/3 down the page to find the MP's. If you make it to the Xserves, you've gone too far!

Anyway, like you, being self employed we've found that being thrifty or frugal where you can is a major asset to the stability and longevity of our business.

This is just one area that we've found that contributes measurably to our bottom line.

Good hunting!

---RASTER

aka
Jeff Koffel, Technologist
Takena Technical Services
Albany, Oregon

David Alison said...

@Jeff: Thanks man! When I wrote my earlier comment the Apple store was down for maintenance so I couldn't double check. I'm shopping now!

Hopefully you'll find some value in some of my other posts on the business side; I'm trying my best to share the challenges of starting business and would really like to get more comments on those posts too.

@ALL: Folks, I really appreciate the tips. While I know some of them and have covered them in other blog posts I still find gems all the time.

The other element that I have found with the Mac community in general is that there are a lot of people that are very generous with their time and willing to share the cool things that they have found. It's another top reason to enjoy owning a Mac.

Anonymous said...

Great to have you on board, David! Welcome!

A couple comments on Mac software development. If you join Apple's paid developer program you can get significant discounts on hardware (like that Mac Pro). If you're a serious developer, that might be worth considering. Most say the discount pays for the membership so it's a bit of a wash, but if you're thinking of doing it anyway, it could be worth it.

Also, I noticed you mentioned Visual Studio, so you might check out REALbasic (http://www.realbasic.com). It's a cross-platform (Mac, Windows, Linux) development environment that's similar to VisualBasic. (There are some conversion tools, but aren't that effective from what I understand.)

Some people like to poo-poo RB as a toy, but like any tool, you can create crap with it if you want: it's all in how you use it. There are some amazing applications out there developed in RB (like XSilva's Lightspeed Point-of-Sale software, http://www.xsilva.com/). For people who want to develop cross-platform apps from a single code base, RB is pretty awesome. You should check it out if you haven't already (they are based in Austin, too).

RASTERMAN said...

David,

I'm new to your blog... I found you last night from MacDailyNews (Longtime Microsoft Windows developer switches to Apple Mac.)

I know this reply may be a bit off topic for this blog entry, so I apologize in advance for it's length, lack of organization and content if I've offended. I will try in the future to post it where appropriate.

On Self Employment...
I'll be sure to check out your other blog entries on starting and running your own business. It's always helpful to have additional insight from folks that have or are faced with similar challenges.

If you haven't looked into it, check out FreshBooks. An excellent, simple and cost effective web based time tracking, billing and invoicing tool. It works great in the office, on the road, or even from an iPhone. It won't work for everyone, but it sure has made life for us easier.

With our business, we make 90% of our living keeping Windows based systems up and running... It's a good business. (Insert wink!)

We use the Mac for 95% of our business stuff and 100% for personal pursuits. The flexibility and stability has been difficult if not impossible to match.

On Platform Recommendations...
Our usual recommendation for businesses is to get Windows if it's needed... If not, seriously consider the Mac.

My attempt at being platform indifferent! (Insert grin!)

For family and friends, I take the Andy Ihnatko approach, which is roughly...

"Get a Mac unless you have a real and valid need for Windows.

If you get Windows, you can call me exactly three times for free assistance (Use those three wisely!) If you get a Mac, call me pretty much anytime day or night within reason."


The primary reason for that is of course, without doubt, I know at some point in the future they'll be calling on me for help, usually without the expectation of any compensation for my time. They are family and friends after all!

There are many good reasons for not getting a Mac, but truly valid reasons are dwindling fast! For the vast majority of folks, it's getting to the point where it simply does not matter what you get, so why not consider a Mac?

On the Mac Community...
It is interesting about how vocal, helpful and sometimes otherwise, the Mac Community can be. There are times that I'm proud to be a Mac user and other times that I'm embarrassed. Like I said, the Mac Community can be very vocal.

Maybe a Little Too Long in the Tooth...
I've used almost everything imaginable, from the DEC PDP-8 to Vista Ultimate. I've been involved with building or built my own systems from a MITS Altair 8800 in the late 70's to the latest Windows Gaming and Multimedia systems.

I've just started to seriously revisit Linux -- Ubuntu (Gutsy Gibbon.) Previously I messed around with various distros like Red Hat, Mandrake, Suse, etc., but it was just too time consuming, and to be frank, not all that enjoyable.

Since 1984, I have always been able to rely on my Mac. Not always a happy reliance, but for better or worse I've never gave up on Apple, and in return, their products have never let me down. Obviously your mileage may vary.

Regardless, welcome to the Mac Community! I hope you enjoy it as much as I have for nearly 25 years.

---RASTER

David Alison said...

@Anon: Thanks for the info on RB. Looks like an interesting product. Over the years I've done a wide range of development tools and languages, though I've become quite consumed with C# lately. It's outstanding for the kind of web development applications I am doing today.

I looked pretty closely at Flex (from Adobe) as a cross platform client side tool as well. Right now my needs are to build high performance web based applications that support high transaction rates in a public server environment.

At some point after the release of my product I do plan to look at building custom client interfaces for it so that people will not only have a web browser interface to it, though that is down the road.

One of the challenges I've had with cross platform solutions is the compromise on the UI controls. While many standard controls work fine cross platform there are some that really feel funky when simply ported over. As a UI purist I want to see a Mac UI when I'm on my Mac and a Windows UI when I'm on my Windows machine.

Here's a specific example: when you have a preferences style window on Mac you normally close it with the small close button in the top left corner. The saving of any changes to settings is implied.

In Windows that only happens when you hit the OK or, if the dialog is modeless, Apply buttons. The Cancel button will abort any changes you have made. It's a small difference, but a difference none-the-less. It's also a good example of why building those cross platform single source code bases are tough!

David Alison said...

@Jeff (Raster): Great comments - and an interesting history. This is actually not my first Mac - just my first Mac in 24 years! I bought an original 128K Mac back in 84 when they first came out. Loved the little machine but I was limited to a single piece of hardware at that time and sold it in order to get a PC clone for my development work.

As far as the Mac Community goes, I think the vast majority I have communicated with - both through this blog and on some of the forums I frequent - have been great. Sure, you always get the Fanboys (Fanbois to some I guess) that simply troll for people to skewer. It's what makes the world an interesting place (insert large wink here). As a counter to them there are legions of PC folks that do the same thing in reverse. I simply ignore them - works great.

While I hated the Mac at one point in my career it was mainly because when I developed web sites they would simply not work in Safari. It was a nightmare that only recently has gotten much, much better. Other than that experience they just didn't matter that much to me.

Thanks again for reading the blog man - and contributing to the comments!

Anonymous said...

Regarding your REALbasic response:

Native controls: REALbasic uses native controls on each platform. There are some limitations as the built-in controls don't always map exactly across platforms, but you can create conditional code for such situations. You can also use third party plugins or access the operating system's own UI via OS declares. Also note that RB apps are true standalone apps: no DLLs or anything else required, just an .exe for Windows and an .app bundle for Macs.

It's interesting that you mention web development: at the REAL World conference in Austin just last month a brand new product called Yuma was announced (http://www.yumadev.com/) -- it's basically a PHP replacement that uses the REALbasic object-oriented language. The really cool thing about this is that it means you no longer have to develop your desktop app and web app in different languages. For instance, if you've got a desktop app in RB that accesses a database, you can easily reuse that same code within a yuma-based page to access that database. You can also do the reverse: create a yuma-based web app and then resuse the same code to make a desktop app that runs on the three major platforms!

Yuma is brand new and still in beta, but I'm very excited about it. It tackles the same sort of problem that Adobe's trying with AIR and Flex but instead of trying to force web technologies to operate on the desktop, you get a real native application. Definitely worth keeping an eye on. You can use the desktop version of it for free (the server version costs money but it's not expensive).

DaveJ said...

Regarding Refurbs - I bought my MacBookPro over a year ago as a refurb from the Apple Store. It gets used a good ten hours a day, usually more, in my consulting/web design business - and I've never had a moment's trouble with it. For Christmas, I purchased a refurb MacBook for my wife. We couldn't seem to keep it connected to our wireless network, so I called the Apple Store up, explained it to them, and within three days they sent a prepaid shipper label to me - and within a week of calling them, all of my costs had been refunded to my credit card (we then purchased a new MB at the local Apple Store).

But, given my initial GREAT experience, and the follow up GREAT experience with a less than perfect machine, I will definitely try another refurb when I'm ready to replace my MBP.

For webdesign, I use SharePoint Designer (Windows only) because I have to - I use RapidWeaver (Mac only) because I LOVE to (realmacsoftware.com).

Happy Maccing!

Anonymous said...

If you want cheaper RAM with your Mac Pro, take a peek at Expercom.com

Anonymous said...

Very informative and well written. My network administrator at work is highly resistant to allowing Macs onto our network, even though I've demonstrated that I (MacBook Air) can function perfectly fine on the network with no problems at all (using Entourage 2008 to access the Exchange Server, browsers to access our intranet, VPN or Parallels if I really have to use Windows). But he still won't officially allow it. What advice would you recommend? Is there a web site or other resource that can help network administrators become switchers or at least tolerant of Macs on their networks?

David Alison said...

@MacBook Air Anon: Dude, I personally think it is easier to wear meat pants into a shark tank than to get a network administrator that only supports PCs to allow Macs in the door. Dedicated IT guys want as little as possible to create additional work for them.

My advice to you would be to use Bootcamp (or better yet, Fusion) and get XP installed. I know the Air is light on disk space but if you show them that it's really just a skinny little Windows machine you may stand a better chance. Once they do the sign of the cross, bless the machine and leave you alone you can boot up into OS X and use the machine the way you really want to.

Good luck!

Karl C. said...

Great post David. Welcome to the Mac Universe! Its a wide ope space I've been exploring for 20 years now. Here's yet another tip for getting the most out of your battery and wowing your friends- be sure to have towels around for them to wipe up their drool! Using the Universal Access control panel under System Preferences you can reverse the display colors (this can also be invoked from the keyboard using CMD+OPT+CTRL+8). This turns all the white pixels black and all the rest of the colors appear like they do (did?) in color negative film. With the majority of the pixels black (literally turned off) your display will suck that much less juice out of your battery. You can go even farther by checking the box next to the reverse color controls and "use grayscale" which may reduce power consumption even more.
Another cool but useless trick is to hold down the shift key when invoking Dashboard or Exposé to make them open and close in s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n.
Enjoy your continued explorations!

David Alison said...

@Karl C: Thanks man - glad you enjoy reading my blog. You can always throw it into your RSS reader - I try to update it daily, though today seems to be comment day. That slow motion effect is pretty cool.

ALL: I'd like to keep the anonymous comment on to make it easier to, uh, comment, but please just toss your first name in there somewhere so that I and others can respond to you. Thanks!

ping said...

To Karl C.: Inverting the pixels on an LCD screen or switching to grayscale is pointless - the backlight of the LCD which actually sucks the power will remain on full power all the same. That's why the remaining battery time won't change in any way.

It's a cute myth, but just a myth nonetheless.

If OLED screens should become available one day, inverting the screen would actually save power since there only the bright pixels will suck power, but with an LCD even the black ones do. Sorry! ;-)

Editor said...

With regard to Mac keyboard shortcuts , a tip (pardon if covered already). You can set a keyboard shortcut for literally any application, including the Finder. The place to do this is very well hidden in: System Preferences / Keyboard & Mouse / Keyboard Shortcuts. Go all the way to the bottom and "open" the "All Applications" triangle. It probably is pretty empty. What you do is click the "+" that is around there somewhere, choose your Application, and type the name of the command you want to assign a keystroke and then type the keystroke. (I'm telling this from memory because I'm at work, so if you don't see it the first time, keep digging.) This does what the previously mentioned App "Spark" does.

David Alison said...

@Editor: Great tip - I saw it down there but wasn't sure the purpose. Thanks!

Jeff said...

If you're a web developer and you appreciate usability, then you'll realize the value of a point you failed to make when talking about a 1-button mouse.

Yes, the OS now supports secondary clicks, mostly to show contextual menus, but the UI itself was *designed* to function very well with a one-button mouse.

Everyone misses that point, because they just assume that because Windows requires a 2nd-button to be reasonably usable, then Apple's omission of a 2nd button meant that its usability would drop just as much as it would if you were "stuck" with one-button on the mouse.

The Mac ships with a 4-button mouse, and both left-side and right-side buttons are configured as "primary mouse button", meaning out of the box it behaves as a one-button mouse.

and guess what? the UI is still quite efficient.

Since your audience may contain significant numbers of potential "switchers", you might want to make it clear that while *some* may be true, any blanket assumptions that Windows and Mac OS X are basically the same should be avoided.

David Alison said...

@Jeff: Sorry man, I have to disagree with you on your initial premise, that Windows requires a second mouse button to be useable. Windows operates fine with a single mouse button - the second mouse button is truly a secondary level of functionality. In the 18 years since Windows became popular I have observed my wife using it regularly and I doubt she's clicked the right mouse button on her own. She's very capable on her computer but it's purely a tool for her. It's an afterthought for most users, the power users are the ones that really take advantage of it.

When I switched to Mac I didn't struggle with the mouse at all - in fact I was surprised that I was able to use it so easily because of misconceptions on how it could be used.

SlimJim said...

Hi David. I've enjoyed your blog, and have picked up several useful tips. I just got my MacBook Air yesterday, and so far think it's great. Here's a tip that might be useful and will free up about 3.2 GB on your hard drive. Go to Version Tracker and download a program called "Monolingual" which will strip all foreign languages from OS X. It takes a while to strip all that out (maybe 10-15 minutes). I've done this on my new Air and when I upgraded to Leopard on my MacBook Pro. Will be interested to read what you thin about your MBA as time goes on..SlimJim

David Alison said...

@SlimJim: Glad you're getting some useful tips from this blog. I don't have a MacBook Air - just a regular white MacBook. A friend of mine got one a little over a month ago and loves his. He carries it to meetings in a predominantly PC office and generates a lot of interest.

Thanks for the tip on Monolingual. Fortunately I have 320GB of disk on this MacBook so I've just been cranking away and not worrying about it too much.

Anonymous said...

Dig into Textmate and you will be equally amazed about Textmate as you are the Mac. It may be the best software value, second to the operating system bundle itself.

David Alison said...

@Anon: I have the evaluation version of TextMate and it does indeed appear to be a great editor. Coming from Windows my editor of choice was UltraEdit - which I still find a fantastic editor. As great as it is I'm having a hard time justifying over $60 for a text editor (the US $ to Euro is the problem here). Since I'm still doing all of my primary development on Visual Studio the need it not intense yet so I'm waiting on purchasing a license.

Tom said...

…my only problem with mac’s is resizing windows can only be done bottom right corner. Same with shared folders on the network, can’t rename them.

Yes yes alias, but remember new user.

Same with installation of programs. I was totally confused by seeing a ‘hard drive’ image on my desktop when installing or unzipping and then another icon that runs it.

As well how many years did it take Apple to figure out what right clicking does…albeit I love the scroll wheel on the mighty mouse.

One other thing that bugs me. When I close a program I want it closed, not shrunk to the taskbar. I guess apple+q works, but again this is from a newbie used to clicking on the X in the wrong spot ;-)

Pecos Bill said...

Just rummaging around in iPhoto and found that the export command under the file menu let's you pick how the filename will be set. You can use the title, filename, sequence, or album name. You can, of course, use one of several file naming utilities to tweak that output. One of them is built into the OS inside Automator.

Anonymous said...

I too also hated on macs so much back in the day because they were a joke that only the computer newbs used. After seeing vista come out and how horrible it is, MS doesnt have a leg to stand on.

Nick said...

One thing you should really check out is Exposé. It makes dragging and dropping from one window to the other so much easier.
Just go into your System Preferences and choose the Exposé pane. You can set up easy keyboard or mouse shortcuts to make life easier.
I have mine (and many of my friends do too) set up to display the desktop if I mouse up to the top-right corner, and to show me all of my windows if i mouse to the bottom-right. It makes saving things to the desktop a breeze and adding lyrics or album artwork from the internet to iTunes so simple. Congrats on your switch!

David Alison said...

@Nick: Thanks - I use both Expose and Spaces all the time. It's a great feature.

Ben O. said...

One of my favorite things is the expose/hot corner combination. I have the hot corners set so that top left is expose and top right is desktop. Whenever I want to switch between windows, browsers, programs, etc. . . . I just bounce the arrow up into the corner and then click on whatever I want to go to. It's so fast, that I can't even fathom a faster way of switching programs or windows. I hate using a PC (or someone elses Mac that they don't have set up the same way). I go to do my hot corner switch and nothing.

Quicklook is pretty darn cool too. No way you'll find that functionability on a PC in this lifetime.

Nice blog - glad I found it.

Ben O.

donh82 said...

The beauty of Apple's design is combing elegance with simplicity. When Apple decided to go from OS9 to OS10, there was a lot of yelling and knashing of teeth.
Now we know why the change was needed. Microsoft could learn a valuable lesson from Apple's move.

Rendered Cook said...

You will NOT, ABSOLUTELY NOT REGRET THE PURCHASE OF YOUR MAC PRO! I was a Windos user for years,built several of my own, that I really loved, bought Dell's, Digitals, Packard Bells, HP's, Sagers ! None have come close to the reliability, and all out performance of my Mac Pro! However, my Mac book Pro runs a close second, and my wifes Macbook a close third..

Anonymous said...

I own an international web publishing company, been on a windows platform since windows 3.1 and DOS 4.3. The company is taking the steps now to migrate to MAC’s. I and the CFO are sliding over an application at a time, and the COO is taking it cold turkey. We are so new that we will be guying two MAC pros’ and one imac in the next two days. After being on windows for so long this feels like my first date.

another PC guy said...

I have a question to all of you, I'm a software developer and looking for a new laptop. I work in .NET development (VS, MSSQL), so, it is good for me to buy a mac pro? Is VMware a good solution? What will happen with IIS?, windows services?. But I'm also a student, so I need Multisim, Matlab, stuff like that, and sometimes, games. I'm really interested in a Mac, and I'd like as many information as I can get. Thank all of you!

David Alison said...

@Another PC Guy: You may want to browse through the tag list along the left side of my blog; lots of switching related blog posts that may give you some general feedback.

Windows 7 is actually a very competent OS. If you haven't done so, check it out on a comparable level of hardware to a Mac Book Pro. I would not have said this about Vista or XP.

Though I'm a fan of Windows 7 I still feel a Mac offers more for me personally; I can run my OS X applications as well as my Windows applications side by side. It truly is the best of both worlds. I also feel the quality of Mac hardware is significantly better than any of the Windows based options I've looked at.

A MacBook Pro—especially as a college student that may need portability—is an excellent choice. Combine Snow Leopard (the latest version of OS X) on a MBP with at least 4GB of RAM and you'll have a potent platform for nearly everything you want to do.

You have 2 ways you can go for running your MS Dev environment: Bootcamp or virtualization services. Bootcamp requires that you reboot your Mac into Windows, which I am not a fan of. If you are going to get a Mac, booting it into Windows means that the productivity applications you'll want to use will likely not be accessible when you need them. Virtualization works better.

I like VMware Fusion because of the way it virtualizes the processor, though Parallels is highly regarded as well and reportedly faster than Fusion. Performance for me when virtualizing Windows has been outstanding. There is also VirtualBox, an Oracle sponsored free solution. I haven't played with it but it may be worth a look if budgets are tight.

I was able to run the entire MS dev suite (Visual Studio) on each of my Macs using Fusion; the only real issue is with keyboard mapping for some function keys. Performance was outstanding. It's a complete, self contained instance of Windows so you can run services, IIS, etc. I wrote about running Visual Studio on a Mac back in April 2008 and that may help you.

As for games, that remains a tough thing to do, especially on a MBP. FPS games that require high frame rates are generally the ones that suffer, though that category seems to be dying as developers focus on console based games. You'll find games like WoW have Mac versions so those are generally good. I've used Crossover Games with some success as well.

Finally, when selecting a MBP to purchase I recommend at least 4GB of RAM if you'll be doing virtualization and dev work. Go with at least a 15" screen if you are going to run MS Visual Studio—17" is obviously better. Don't worry about processor speed; if you have to balance your machine out the priorities for development are RAM, Screen Size, HD Size then Processor Speed. You can bump the RAM and HD up aftermarket to save yourself some money.

One of my longer comments but hopefully this helps you get a setup that works great for you.