A Month with a Mac: A Die-Hard PC User's Perspectiveby Anand Lal Shimpi on October 8, 2004 12:05 AM EST
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This is, quite possibly, one of the most difficult articles to write; for starters, it's not a review of hardware, and it's not actually a review of anything concrete - it is a review of an experience. We all go about using our computers knowing that if we don't like something about them, if they are too slow or too unreliable or don't do something we need them to do, then we can upgrade them, or we can swap out the faulty part and put in a new one. Now, it costs us money (sometimes lots of it), but it is possible. But much like the U.S. election system, although there may be the illusion of multiple options for your OS, in reality, there is really only one. If you want any sort of software compatibility, driver support and don't want to be made fun of, Windows is the way to go. There have been righteous attempts by smaller OSes to gain traction, and some of them have (e.g. Linux), but for the most part, we're dealing with a one-party OS system. Now that's not necessarily a bad thing; quite contrary, in fact. I believe that Windows XP is the best thing to ever come out of Redmond and I have very few issues with the OS. I actually liked the XP theme when it first came out and I've been happier with Windows XP than any previous Microsoft OS (except maybe the good ol' DOS days). When installed on the right hardware with the right drivers (and with an eye to be wary of poorly written apps), I found that Windows XP was just as stable as any other OS that I'd ever encountered. My personal machine would go months between reboots without a single problem. It's not that there is anything wrong with Windows; it's that if you want the option, if there's any particular thing that you don't like about the way Windows works, you're straight out of luck.
I think that a bit of me was feeling, after being a strictly Windows user ever since version 2.0 (with the requisite mix of DOS back then), that there were a couple of things that had started to annoy me about Windows, which I would rather do without.
For starters, heavy multi-tasking management under Windows had caused me a lot of grief. Maybe it's just because of the nature of my work, but I tend to have a lot of windows open at any given time. I like quick access to the information that I need when I'm working and much like a messy desk, there is a method to my window-madness that only I know. When writing an article (especially big NDA launches), I'd have around 20 IE windows open, Outlook with another 5 - 15 emails, Power Point with NDA presentations, Word with my article, maybe Dreamweaver if I was starting to put it into HTML, not to mention Acrobat, some sort of MP3 player, Trillian and a bunch of explorer windows as well. After a certain point, the cramped taskbar became difficult to use as a locator tool, and while I could ALT+TAB forever, I just felt like I was idle for too long. I knew what it was that I needed to get to, and I knew I had it open, but the process of getting to it was a pain.
The other issue was with the way Windows handled having so many windows opened; after a certain number of windows were opened, stability and performance both went down the drain. Sometimes applications could no longer spawn additional windows or dialog boxes, requiring me to close a handful before I could continue doing anything, and other times, applications would simply crash.
It's not that I was dissatisfied with Windows and the PC experience in general, but I thought it might be time for something new - to see what else was out there.
I've always been a fan of trying alternate Oses - I was even an OS/2 user (both 2.0 and Warp) for a little while in my early years. So, a while back, I conjured up this idea to try using a Mac for a month. At first, it started as just a personal experiment, but it later developed into the foundation for the article that you're reading now. After doing the necessary research to make sure that I could actually get work done on a Mac, I whipped out the trusty credit card and decided to give the experiment a try.
What you are about to read are my impressions, as a devout PC user, of the Apple way of life.
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victorpanlilio - Friday, October 15, 2004 - linkFrans wrote in #194: Of course such a remark is meaningless because it’s just that, a remark.
The remark, my friend, is based on 17+ years of experience.
Frans also wrote: For all I know your company used crap PC’s.
Frans, you obviously didn't read ANY of my earlier posts. I have worked for IBM, DEC, Compaq, and Fujitsu. I have worked with PCs for over 20 years. I first started using PCs in 1983 when I was at Royal Dutch/Shell, a company that is not exactly known to buy crap PCs. In fact, I used the original IBM PC and XT, and I still have an original IBM PC on a shelf in my garage.
You also wrote: The reason that PC’s are the vehicle of choice for most corporate networks is very simple: it came about in 1980/1981 and put on the market by a firm of great repute, IBM.
Oh, I agree completely. The corporate personal computers made by IBM are of generally good quality, and I speak as someone who worked for IBM and marketed, supported, and configured IBM personal systems in the late '80's/early 90's. I think that, overall, IBM makes good products in almost every sector they participate in. If OS/2 had gotten more use in corporations than Windows, we might have avoided the security mess we're in today. IBM has a lot of experience building secure, networked computer systems. Microsoft didn't even "get" the Internet until the mid-90's, and the security architecture of Windows was not originally geared to withstand the kind of attacks one finds on the Net. In short, what's wrong with PCs these days is not the hardware at all, but the most popular operating system being run on them. Do not confuse the two issues.
You then wrote: Monday I’ll go to my CEO and tell him we will scrap 140 perfectly good PC’s, sell our Windows 2003 network servers (the one’s we just installed), or install Linux on them and tell him never to bring in his Windows laptop again and I’ll burn all our software licenses and programs
Frans, I work for a Microsoft Business Partner, and I have a Dell PowerEdge Win2K3 server at home. This does not blind me to the security failings of Windows. As for your dismissive attitude towards Linux, why did the Munich city council decicde to dump Windows for Linux on the 14,000 PCs used by the city services, even when Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer offered to undercut any proposed Linux implementation?
You also wrote: the biggest tasks, like rewriting our dot Net apps and our Windows based technical automation in the field
Well, it's obvious then why you are so adamant about defending Windows. You are so heavily invested in the technology that you have to justify your choices no matter what valid criticisms may be leveled. And besides, from a business point of view, if that is how your company makes its money, who am I to point out that there might be *technically* superior alternatives? What is really important here is to recognize that, having made a decision to go with a particular architecture (in your case x86/Win/.NET/C#) you now have to follow through, or else you face a substantial re-engineering effort. Unless application design is sufficiently abstracted from underlying technology and made portable (e.g. model-driven architecture) that's what you're faced with.
Anyway, just to help you calm down and ease your headache, I should add that while we run Windows 2003 internally, we keep our options flexible, and much of our app development is PHP, MySQL, Apache on OpenBSD rather than .NET or J2EE.
As for the US elections -- democracy works if the electorate is able to make sound judgments based on good information. If the voting is based on personality contests and not on issues, then it could be argued that the choice of the electorate is no different from an audience choosing their favorite celebrity.
Best regards, my friend.
GoodWatch - Friday, October 15, 2004 - linkIn #190 Victor wrote a lot about PC’s. His experience is that not even Windows is a bad choice but PC’s break down more often than Mac’s as well! Amazing! It gets worse and worse and there is really nothing positive to say about PC’s. Of course such a remark is meaningless because it’s just that, a remark. For all I know your company used crap PC’s. I could sum up all kinds of figures from my own experience but I have a hunch that is in vain and that all what I say falls on deaf ears. So be it. The reason that PC’s are the vehicle of choice for most corporate networks is very simple: it came about in 1980/1981 and put on the market by a firm of great repute, IBM. There was no alternative then. (Apple ][ machines in a network perhaps?).
Monday I’ll go to my CEO and tell him we will scrap 140 perfectly good PC’s, sell our Windows 2003 network servers (the one’s we just installed), or install Linux on them and tell him never to bring in his Windows laptop again and I’ll burn all our software licenses and programs. Before that, I’ve arranged for all our users to follow a Mac course and told them to forget everything they ever learned about their Windows based programs. After that we will buy 140 Macs and I’ll try to find an alternative for our terminal emulation (our core platform is an IBM iSeries 820) and a firm who can rewrite our custom made apps. Then I’ll try to secure a good deal on Office 2004 for Mac to replace those trashed Windows Office versions. The biggest tasks, like rewriting our dot Net apps and our Windows based technical automation in the field gave me a headache while writing this and made me stop.
Now I only need a good Mac to calculate the payback time on all the above (a mere Wintel PC cannot perform this gargantuan task) and another job please.
Following your logic: after the US Elections are over one can state that the man who gotthe job was elected by a majority who were all wrong. Interesting.
I’ll stop now,
victorpanlilio - Friday, October 15, 2004 - linkdt107 also wrote in #188: I would like a new G5 and I would like my photoshop filters to work a bit faster, but until these machines actually die there is absolutely no need to replace them
In this respect, Macs are more environmentally friendly, since they are replaced less often. Fewer resources consumed to produce them, lower power consumption throughout their life, and fewer resources spent dealing with abandoned machines.
Hmm... sounds like a household appliance, if you ask me. ;-)
victorpanlilio - Friday, October 15, 2004 - linkA follow-up to dt107's observations in #188:
True story: earlier this year, two families that know I "work with computers" asked me what to do about all the spyware etc. that had virtually reduced their PCs to unusable slag heaps. I visited them both (these were not free visits, I got paid well), cleaned up the crap on their PCs, and told them what they needed to do to stay out of trouble on the Internet. Long story short, within two weeks their PCs were acting up again, and they were fed up big time. Both families bought their first Macs, and I helped one of them set up an eMac and an HP laser printer, and I took away the PC to fix when I had time (I reimaged the HD). They sent me email saying "No rush to get the PC back, we don't miss it." The other family, which bought a 17-inch iMac, has now added an iBook G4 and AirPort Extreme wireless network to their home. I get the occasional email with a question about this or that, but both families are now essentially self-sufficient as far as their computer maintenance goes, and they're teaching themselves about MacOS X and its great bundled applications and have even started editing video and making slideshows on DVD, which they never even attempted on their Windows PCs because they were too busy dealing with security hassles and such...
Meanwhile, an eWeek senior editor wrote:
Mac Takes Honors as Best Unix Desktop
Somewhere along the line, we over in the Linux/Unix/AIX/Solaris world seem to have forgotten that Macs are now Unix workstations. Under every bright, shiny Mac desktop beats a Unix heart named Darwin. Darwin, in turn, is built on top of Mach 3.0 operating-system services, which run on top of the 4.4 BSD Unix operating system... Now, as someone with more then 20 years in Unix/Linux, I appreciate what the KDE/GNOME designers are doing, and I know lots of other Linux and Solaris power users do, too... while Linux and KDE make up my preferred desktop, I think there can be really no question that the best Unix desktop for most users is Mac OS X and Aqua.
Little wonder, then, that Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the web) uses MacOS X.
victorpanlilio - Friday, October 15, 2004 - linkdt107 wrote in #188: But the underlying reason is the support contract. No consultant ever got rich by recommending macs. Recommend PCs and there's a gravy train till the day you die.
So funny because so true, based on my 17 years of experience supporting PCs and Macs, in large corporate and academic environments. I now work for a small company that looks after the IT needs of other small to medium size business firms. I tend to see a lot more break-fix and security-related work on the PC side. The Mac side of our business is mostly about HW upgrades, SW installation and configuration, training, and so on. The PC side of the business sees a lot of security remediation, spyware removal, patching, hardware repair and replacement, and suchlike. Needless to say, our revenue from PC care and feeding is more predictable and it is constantly increasing, with every new round of Windows holes that are exploited. Windows means recurring costs for our clients, and recurring income for us. It's sort of like a racket, if you will. We're hardly alone:
Geek Squad has hands full with malware
victorpanlilio - Friday, October 15, 2004 - linkFrans wrote: Thank you for so eloquently proving my point. So I guess the 100 million + Windows users are all wrong? Wow!
There are way more than 100 million Windows sufferers in the world. I am one of them. But in addition to my PC, which I keep fully patched, I also have several Macs. The funny thing about your logic, Frans, is that it is no different from the logic implicit in "Eat at Joe's Diner -- A Million Flies Can't Be Wrong"
In the end, the main reason there are so many Windows users in is because, for many people, Windows is "good enough" at least until the aggravation and inconvenience of dealing with its many security holes becomes literally too much. People have been led to believe that the Mac is not really a much better alternative in many ways; they are misled. Let me quote from Walt Mossberg's Oct 14 Personal Technology column in the Wall Street Journal:
"The Mac operating system is better and more modern than Windows, in my opinion. The Mac's free, built-in Web browser and e-mail program are better than their free, built-in counterparts on Windows. The Mac comes with an integrated suite of photo, music, video and DVD software that can't be matched on Windows."
Now, as for your logic...
If 100 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing. If 100 million people choose to use a massively vulnerable OS, it is still a massively vulnerable OS, and what's more, organized crime will use this huge installed base to build vast botnets of zombies to unleash all manner of evil on the world community. "Good enough" for the millions translates into "good enough to hijack" for organized crime. Sorry to put it so bluntly, but I deal with Windows network (in)security as part of my livelihood.
gankaku - Thursday, October 14, 2004 - linkMac users are often fanatical about their choice of computer hardware and software because we came so very close to losing it all.
In the mid-nineties, Apple couldn't sell many computers, had warehouses full of them. Apple was bleeding red ink (they lost more than $1 billion in one year, I can't remember which). Every corporate decision seemed to be the wrong one (need I mention Copland?) Although it was probably overstated, the media were describing Apple as doomed, and with every drop of ink, it was becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy.
As luck would have it, Steve Jobs came back, from NeXT, just in the nick of time. He stopped the bleeding... Cleaned house. Hired people who have vision and a desire to change the world. And slowly, bit by bit, we started to see signs that Apple was not only going to survive, but it might possibly do something great again.
That's where we are now. I think it's taken all these years just to get Apple back to the place it should have been in 1995. I would once again describe it as a great company.
And now we get to sit back and watch, to see what happens next. It's at once entertaining and satisfying.
dt107 - Thursday, October 14, 2004 - linkAs a long term Macie I was dreading reading this article but persevered. At the end of page two I was feeling a little nervous that this would be a hatchet job. However by the time I had gone a couple of more pages I was warming nicely to the tone of the piece.
At the end I was very happy. It is well thought through (one or two little errors that have been pointed out by others) and overall presents what I would call a very enlightened view.
The fact that Arnand is carrying on with his mac experience says more than the article alone.
The same cannot be said for some of the comments posted afterwards.
Many of the claimed "facts" put forward by the mac detracters are as factual as the poodle in the microwave.
My own two-pennorth (I'm British) goes like this.
I first got into computers in 1967 - they were huge and required punched paper tape to input data and programs. I then went into Avionics and became an end user - didn't have to fiddle. After that I went into TV and finally ended up as a film dubbing editor (from which I retired about 6 years ago). In the interim I worked in an office environment that had both a mac and PC network (separated).
There were about 30 macs and about 60 PCs. A team of 5-10 support people were employed full time to look after the PCs.
A man came in once every two weeks for half a day to look after the macs.
Now work out the costs there. Yes the macs were probably twice as expensive to buy as the PCs but in terms of salaries alone the macs paid for themselves in less than a month.
So why is the PC so entrenched in the corporate world? - the initial answer is obvious, they are cheaper to buy.
But the underlying reason is the support contract. No consultant ever got rich by recommending macs. Recommend PCs and there's a gravy train till the day you die.
I now work as a mac support engineer/consultant for a major mac retailer. They sell every mac they can almost on the day it arrives from Apple.
I have very little support work on.
My main customer base is the home user. I spend most of my time with them teaching them how to use their mac, how to get the best out of it. How to be productive.
At home I am writing this on a 5 year old mac. My wife uses a similar vintage powerbook, my youngest daughter has a first edition imac in her room. My eldest daughter has just taken a brand new eMac to university. At school they use (used) PCs, my wife is a teacher, see is more or less forced to use a PC. At home they use macs because they are more productive, they don't have to worry about all the malware that arrives in the mail every day, they can just get on.
- Oh yes, and we're all using OS9 (except for the emac). It doesn't crash - not on our machines anyway. Our network is robust and doesn't crash either.
Yes I would like a new G5 and I would like my photoshop filters to work a bit faster, but untill these machines actually die there is absolutely no need to replace them.
Just to reiterate Arnand, a very good article written with honesty.
Shame about some of the comments afterwards.
Malkir - Thursday, October 14, 2004 - linkI was intrigued by this article. I am a Mac user and I definitely agree with a lot of what is written in the article. I switched from Windows several months ago. I don't claim to be a Mac fanatic; but, I do find the Mac to be a much more pleasant operating system than Windows. As Anand mentioned, the customization of the operating GUI is an added plus. He also mentioned the drawback in speed. I agree with this in some respects. However, in my experience with sheer number crunching (i.e. gene sequencing or massive calculations), the Power series of chips is way faster-especially in parallel (i.e. less excess heat production, sheer number crunching, etc.). However, as much as I would like to see another permanent fellow Mac user, I wonder whether Anand took away the impression that the Mac system is geared toward-not so much snappy performance-but more of a feel-good, all out excellent computer experience (??). Perhaps, for those who are not inclined to look for a nice GUI and great aesthetics overall, Windows is better. At the same time, I find the Mac an excellent alternative to Windows. The attention paid to subtle things that Anand mentioned so often really goes a long way. Great article.
ishan - Thursday, October 14, 2004 - linkNice article, but more mention (and use) of the iApps would have helped to emphasize the quality and integration of the software bundle that comes with Macintosh computers. I use both Macs and Windows-based PCs, and I favor the Mac, but the speed of scrolling in Windows has always impressed me. OTOH, text rendering is not as legible, particularly at small point sizes, so even though you can scroll faster, you can't skim it quickly while scrolling. Six of one...