Six months after my switch, an update

I'm now just past the six month mark since tentatively purchasing my first Mac and beginning to switch away from Windows. At the time I bought my MacBook I had a number of machines in the house, all running either Windows or Ubuntu. What I've tried to do on this blog is provide a kind of running commentary on switching, hitting on some of the challenges I've encountered, the native Mac applications I've found and the general feelings I've had about making the switch.

What I find interesting after 6 months is the impact buying that little MacBook had not only on the way I handle my personal computing but to a large degree the influence it has had on the way I do my development work. You see after I bought the MacBook I found myself doing more and more with it. I had a Windows XP development / gaming rig parked directly in front of me but I was constantly sliding my hands over to the MacBook.

My entire development platform—at the time Visual Studio—was completely set up and I had my after-market libraries installed and was using it to build my next online service business. Even with all of my development experience being Windows based I constantly found myself pushing away from my XP system and over to the MacBook. This was not helping my productivity, at least on the development front.

I rationalized that if I bought a Mac Pro that I could install VMware Fusion on it and use that as my primary development platform. I was obviously hooked on OS X and the idea of having a machine with 8 cores and 12GB of RAM running it was pretty cool. I bought the Mac Pro, placed it in the position of being my primary workstation (pushing the Windows XP machine off to the side) and I was off and running.

I was quickly able to get the Mac Pro up and running with Windows XP and my development environment in a VMware Fusion instance. With a couple of minor exceptions it worked great, providing me with everything I needed to build my web based solutions just as I had been on my native Windows XP machine.

Not long after all this I started to look at Ruby on Rails as an option for development, something that would serve as a replacement for my Visual Studio environment. Why? Much like with Windows itself, I had been doing the same kind of development for a very long time. Given the recent sale of my last company I have the luxury of defining fully the tools I could use to build my next generation of products and I wanted to see if there was an easier way to build Web 2.0-like web applications.

Though it took me a month of getting up to speed on Ruby on Rails I found it to be a fantastic platform for building what I needed to create. With a very English-like language, an extensive library of free plugins, nice Ajax support built in and the ability to get a basic application framework up and running in a matter of hours, RoR was exactly what I was looking for. In two short months I've made far more progress than I did in the 4+ months I spent building my solution in VS .NET / C#.

On top of all that, it turns out most of the core Ruby on Rails guys are Mac people too. OS X already comes with RoR and the fact that I could use TextMate, easily one of the best programming editors I have ever experienced, was a huge plus.

I suddenly found myself using my Macs exclusively. I wasn't even firing up the Windows XP instance because I only needed it for Visual Studio. The Windows XP gaming rig was powered down and resting in the corner, serving mostly as a device to crack my knee on if I swiveled my chair too quickly. Fortunately I was able to find a buyer for it, leaving me without any native Windows hardware (well, my wife and son are still using XP).

Selling the XP rig gave me the money to purchase a MacBook Pro, giving the MacBook to my youngest daughter. She couldn't be happier ditching the Dell she had for it and is constantly using the machine. Photo Booth alone has provided her with endless amounts of fun and she's using the iSight camera to do video chats with her cousin in California.

Then, suddenly, the iPhone became part of our digital lives. When Sprint dropped the ball and our service failed miserably I bit the bullet and bought my wife and I both a couple of iPhones. It's been a fantastic device and my phone reception (contrary to many reports I've read) has been excellent. The best part of getting the iPhone though was watching my non-technical wife not only use it but embrace it completely. Between pulling down her e-mail and doing some web browsing while out shopping, I was shocked by how quickly she took to it. This from a woman that had up to this point in time never sent a single text message. She sends text messages regularly now with our daughters.

She now finally wants a Mac of her own and is going to get one for her birthday next month. I'll be writing about how she adapts to using it as well. Now that summer is winding down and our extended vacations are coming to an end I'll have a little more time to commit to blogging.


SimpleLife said...

I love your blog because in many ways it has been a very similar experience for me also. I started with Boot Camp, moved to VMware Fusion, and now, I very, very rarely use Windows at all. I try to avoid Windows at all costs.

I've also become hooked on Apple's hardware: the aluminum keyboard, Mighty Mouse, a MacBook Pro, iPhones, iPod Touch. And soon a Mac Pro and Apple Cinema Display also. I know you have blogged about these issues too.

At first, it was a bit of change coming from Microsoft software and third-party peripherals. But then it slowly sinks in how good Apple stuff is and how everything is so integrated. Just like the iPhone & iPod Touch.

On the surface, everything is so simple. But dig deeper, and the entire Apple experience is so flexible and yet so stable. Not perfect, but leaps and bounds better than Windows software & hardware.

Like many people I can't wait until Apple releases their new Apple Cinema Display line. To me, the display is one of the most overlooked components of a rig. It's also one area in which Apple has wonderful integration of software, hardware, and design. Yeah, there are better "paper specs" and cheaper stuff out there and there are super high-end displays, but overall I'm just hooked on the whole user experience of Apple's stuff.

Just take the iPhone & iPod Touch. The 160 dpi high resolution display is amazing. Obviously so is the UI. It's still a bit immature, but the potential is there.

The Mac laptops have amazing displays and keyboards too. I hated the new style keyboards. I gave it some time. Now I love them. I love the older style Macbook Pro keyboard too, but there are some unique benefits to the new style keyboards. This is a whole different long winded subject, but exemplifies how bold & daring Apple is.

They design stuff that they find to be superior. They stick their necks out & release it knowing full well people will complain of things being "different." Then it happens. The user finds that things just work better.

I'm not being a fanboy, just sharing my experiences which happen to be so similar to yours. Your blog is definitely one of my favorites. It reminds me of Chris Pirillo's journey to switching also.

That's why Apple is getting big. Because many people want basically the same things on a fundamental level, and Apple serves these needs while the Microsoft landscape has just seemed to lag behind so badly in so many ways.

Using Macs, I've also become much more creative in my life and workflow. I know it's a cliche, but it's true for me. I'm not wasting my time playing tech support geek all day. It fosters imagination, and it shows in my work.

Please keep up the blogging. It's great in so many ways. I love the tips and experiences from the commenters too. Very useful and insightful information.

Also, my household is practically all Apple now as well. Again, a very similar transition that was gradual yet very quick. Not a contradiction. One thinks about it gradually, then it just happens. Again, very similar to Chris Pirillo and his household's transition also.

Love the blog, please keep it up as time allows, and as long as you enjoy it.


SimpleLife said...

One more thing that I think many people should not overlook in the process of switching is AppleScript.

Overall, it's a less than ideal language with many annoyances. However, with the "new" GUI capabilities, it can enhance productivity and workflow greatly.

There are many free internet resources and docs on it, and it is integrated with OS X so well.

Used with TextExpander, I find it invaluable in my workflow, and it automates very repetitive tasks that I do often, like opening and modifying specific system and app preferences on the fly, finding window size and position, resizing and positioning windows, converting files, opening apps, and on and on.

Like any other productivity enhancement, it slowed me down at first having to learn it and applying it to my workflow. But now, I can't live without it. I mouse and type so much less. Simply amazing.

I bring all this up because I just read some of your older Ruby on Rails posts, and it just got me to reflect on AppleScript.


tek said...

I really like to read your posts, David, not because I need to be convinced about Mac but because it adds to my enjoyment. Personally I like to tinker with hardware and have advanced to the point where I'd like to build a PC, except for Windows. My G5 PowerMac only lets me change hard drives, RAM, PCI and graphic cards, which I do as often as I can think of a reason. But that's not very much, I know. Maybe I'll try to do a hackintosh project. What do you think? Is that a potentially worthwhile project?

Robert said...

n 1982 I was using an HP machine running a program called context MBA for my family’s company’s budgeting purposes. In 1983, I submitted a ProForma for an agricultural project for a publicly traded company’s RFP, competing against large corporations. For this new project, which I perused on my own, I purchased a Mac 512k and using Mac Project and Jazz (the first office suite for the Mac) to put together the proposal and a 5 year budget and labor plan. Needless to say, not only did I win the contract, the CFO of the company was ordered to come to my office to see how I had put such extensive proposals together. I never showed him my kitchen table where it all came together.

As my company grew, I always had a DOS or Windows machine cranking out payroll checks and monthly P & L’s, but my business always ran on Macs.

I have been telling people for over 20 years about the advantages of the Mac (ease of use, networking, and yes it does do MS Office, etc.) and now with OSX, I just appreciate reading stories such as yours as validation of my long ago decision.

David Alison said...

@SimpleLife: Great story man. I will be keeping the blog going. One of the best parts is getting the feedback from others, whether it's in the comments like these or through e-mail.

@Tek: If I could run OSX reliably on some of my remaining Intel hardware I would in a heartbeat. I just don't think it's the right way to go; no auto-updates, possible driver problems, some of the same reasons I left Windows in the first place. I think a better solution is to give Ubuntu a try. It's a great operating system for any of the older Intel boxes you may have around.

jango74 said...

Do you still remember that your post is being translated into Korean? As a translator I thought you might wanna know this: your articles have been read over 27,000 times in our forum and the number is increasing everyday.

People just love to read your posts and it seems some of them (who cannot wait for my translation) are often visiting your blog to read other articles. It's not easy to find switcher like you in Korea, so your blog is really fun to read.

I've translated 52 of your mac posts and you can find it here:
You can also see the translated article by clicking on my name.

I'm still working on your May post, and looking forward to translate what had happened between you and your daughter. :)

Thanks, David.

David Alison said...

@Jango74: Thanks so much for taking the time to translate my blog posts - that's really cool.

My daughter has been fascinated by the attention she received after she wrote her guest blog entry. I'll point her over to your forums so that she can see her words in Korean once it's translated. She'll love that.

Bill said...

Hi Dave. I use Windows [XP and Vista] and Mac, but prefer my Mac. Now with Leopard, I can do almost all of my work related stuff on the Mac. It's been rock stable. Vista nice, and has much fewer crashes than XP, but iLife is one of my favorite apps as I make DVD's of the family. Many of my friends are now buying Macs, especially those who have had viruses, Trojans, and malware hijacking their computer, but this was all XP of course. Occasionally, I need to use one app for work that uses a windows only Active X control for a browser, but I loaded Vista on my Pro Tower to use it and can use VMware. Also, I use Entourage [2004] with our Exchange server and was actually unable to get Outlook to work with it on XP. Go figure. Now with the iPhone 3G, I can use exchange for the same functions. There are some iPhone apps that can load many Office formats an other files to your iPhone over your WiFi network. I tried Mobilefinder first since it was $1.99 and it works pretty well. there are a few gliches, but I transferred 104 Word docs in a couple seconds. Bigger files can cause it to hickup, but will open. I sent pics and music and all opened. Next version supposedly will support landscape mode. But other apps can do this stuff too.

Anonymous said...

Love your blog, I am almost exactly like you except I started earlier switching, and have moved slower, spend less time in .Net/C#, and switched to Python + Django instead of Ruby + RoR. You beat me with the iPhone as I am about to get my first one, the iPhone 3G in a few weeks.

There is nothing I can add to your blog that I have not already experienced and understand myself. It is good having another good person aboard and I wish you the best.


David Alison said...

@PN: Thanks for the comment - glad you like the blog. I also considered Python + Django, mainly because it was the default platform for the Google App Engine, but ultimately found RoR more to my liking. Not sure if you've looked at the App Engine but if you're into Python it may be a nice hosting model for you.

David Orriss Jr said...

Thank you for your efforts on this blog. It's one of my favorites and I always make a point to read it. I made the switch just over a year ago to Mac. Since then I've bought an iMac for the kids and will be buying a Macbook pro later this year. I have both Parallels and VMWare but have transitioned to VMWare and will probably stay there. Of course, there are only one or two tools I use in the Windows space any more when I use my home machine. I've moved over to tools that will run on the Mac whenever possible.

Your journey has mirrored mine a lot. Now that I'm using a Mac for my home and personal development and work efforts my only wish is that I could use one for my office machine as well... Maybe someone my employer will see the light...

Keep up the great work...!

David Alison said...

@David: Thanks man - I appreciate that. Rarely a day goes by that I don't use the Google machine to look up something to solve a problem, often because someone else took the time to write down something they learned that can benefit others. In part this is my way of giving back.

Kate said...

I'm excited your wife is finally making the switch! When she does, I have one big piece of advise. Get her a One-to-One membership! I'm pretty sure you've heard of Apple's one on one training program they have in their stores. Believe me, it's worth it's weight gold. For an hour a week for a year for $99, it's the best deal in the house. The program is largely tailored for people new to macs who don't have a lot of computer savvy. And believe me, she will appreciate learning from a patient teacher who isn't a family member (I'm crap at teaching my mother). It will make her feel more independent and in control of her technology. And you get to be back up support, not her primary teacher. Trust me on this one, she'll thank you for it.

David Alison said...

@Kate: Thanks for the advice. The challenge for us is getting my wife (a ridiculously busy High School teacher) to attend anything outside of her own classes. Fortunately my youngest daughter got the techie gene from me and took to her Mac incredibly fast. She's also very patient (amazing for a 13 year old) and has offered to help my wife out once I get her machine.