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.

The Basics
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  • phlipper8 - Sunday, October 10, 2004 - link

    Just one question. The author never mentioned the fact that he was using an actual 64 bit operating system, built specifically for a 64 bit machine. Could be the reason behind some of the good speed he noticed. Also, he needs to compare prices of comparable 64 bit windows systems. The pricing would be extremely comparable I would imagine. Reply
  • garfieldonline - Sunday, October 10, 2004 - link

    There are other values of Mac haven't been discussed here. For instance, itsnoise level. Granted, you can make your PC quiet too but at what cost? P4 and new processors are continuously getting hotter and hotter, and keeping them cool is a nightmere to system builders. Big fan and non-traditional cooling systems such as water coolers are options. Big fans causes noise, and for some, like me, would find it very distracting. It is very hard to concentrate when you are sitting next to a noisy machine.

    Until recently, to me, cooling is a weakness in case cooling. You put a fan to suck air from the front panel, exhuast hot to the back. A fan on the top of the CPU and a fan on the chipset. In nutshell, put a fan on whatever it is hot. When it may seem effective. But what about air turbulence?

    It is a double edges sword when you have the complete control of the system design (English isn't my first language) Apple engineers are allowed to take a look into the cooling system in more details. Result, they divided the machine in to cooling zones. Fans are all monitored and controlled. Not one or two fans in the system, but all nine fans (if my memory serves) The whole system is properly cooled but still manage to be quiet. Unlike PC, only the core components got cooled (CPU, GPU, Northbridge)

    As we all known, overheated system can cause stability problems, and I should know it. I used to have a SIS735 motherboard from ECS. SIS735 runs very hot at full load. Since the passive cooling for the chipset wasn't adaquate. The system tends to hang a lot. To getting the system cool is an expensive experience sometime. Not everyone has all the building kit at home. Thermal componetns, fans etc aint' cheap ... For some it is a hit & miss process. (Correct me if I am wrong. I think Dell got cooling problems with their new Prescott machines when they first launched.

    Non-traditional cooling ... first thing comes to my mind is price, and second is difficultly. My friend just tried installed one, and what a disaster! Result, a new machine. While on the topic of water cooling. Have anyone mention the new water cooling system in new Mac? It is an engineering marvel. The big and bulky water cooling systems used in PC is not on the same level, at least not on my book.

    Game is pushing PC design to its boundaries, and often people over-emphasize the framerate. At work, I don't really care about framerate (unless you are a game developer I guess) All I care is if a machine is stable, fast enough to get my job done quick. Many here already mentioned, Mac OSX is based on Unix, and hence inherites the stability of Unix. Time is all we fighting against. I remember few months ago, I walked back to my office, and turned on my P4 2.6GHz HT machine. I was greeted with a BSOD. How nice was it. It told me to take a walk.

    Standard ... As mentioned by the writing. The menu bar is always there on all Apple application. We PC uses like to "hunt" thing. It is "fun". But for new uses, espeically older user, this standard causes much less confusion in using a computer. From the support prospective, this is a great idea too. Try to get someone to work with Windows Multimedia Player 10 over the phone. Skinnable is great if you know you are way around. Otherwise, it is a nightmere to supporting staff. Tell them to go to FILE->OPEN? What FILE-OPEN, I can't see any ...

    I guess things can go on and , and I am not even I Mac user (in that sense, I sure someone can point out few mistake here and there in this post. Please do it kindly.)

    Reply
  • victorpanlilio - Sunday, October 10, 2004 - link

    kmmatney wrote in #111: $2500 for a computer with no monitor and a crap video card. That's the "uncomfortable" part to me.

    What exactly do you plan to *do* with your computer anyway? Play games? Edit digital video? Render 3D animation? Write the next Nobel prize winner for literature? Sequence genes? Design buildings? Develop web applications? Analyze stocks? Visualize seismic data to find oil deposits?

    *cough* Let's try pricing an IBM Intellistation Pro. A single-CPU Opteron system starts at C$3489 from the IBM Canada web store. A single-CPU Xeon-based IBM Intellistation Z starts at C$3209. The dual-CPU capable HP xw6000 starts in a lower price range but only has 533MHz FSB. A Dell Precision 670 with dual 2.8GHz Xeons and configured similarly to an entry level Power Mac G5 is about C$2754 (forget about the single-CPU model with only a 40GB HD).

    A dual-CPU Power Mac G5 starts at C$2799, but this is with only 256MB PC3200 RAM (not enough), 80GB SATA HD, and a 64MB nVidia FX5200...

    Apple's pricing appears to be similar to that of the Tier 1 PC vendors, and in some cases a bit better. I'm sure others more knowledgeable can correct me if I'm wrong. In some recent reports, Dell and HP appear to be taking market share from the whitebox vendors -- in many cases, the price delta between the Tier 1 vendors and the smaller builders has all but vanished. It means that boutique vendors such as Voodoo, Alienware, BOXX, and Falcon are going to get squeezed on margins as well. Such is the risk of differentiating on "speeds and feeds" and then getting stomped on by large competitors with deeper pockets.
    Reply
  • twilson - Sunday, October 10, 2004 - link

    Good article. Probably one of the best articles I have read. And it manages to remain objective.

    However the comments on Safari, are a bit misleading. When it comes to the speed of rendering a page, I believe Safari actually waits until the page is loaded (so that it can check/validate the content [how well it conforms to the W3C standard]). If you have a page that is written correctly/closer to the W3C standard you will find that Safari will in fact load it faster than IE. Also, the time it takes to render a page must from pressing ENTER to when it finishes loading activity (as opposed to having a screen full of info).

    You also refer to Safari's 'incompatibility' with Web sites. Yes this does appear to be the case. But in truth it is actually the web-sites "non-compliance" with the ratified W3C standards. Even the Anand homepage fails W3C HTML 4.01 vaildation (which it claims to be) with 367 errors.

    Safari is quite strict in it's adoption of these standards. If only IE was like Safari in that respect and we wouldn't have the badly written sites we have today. For example, in Safari if you browse a page with an error in a function of javascript, then none of that pages Javascript will work. This is better than IE's everything else works and you only learn that function is crap when you get to it.

    This all stems back to IE/Netscape fight when each side was introducing it's own object model for javascript and their own tags.

    Safari absolutely rules.
    Reply
  • victorpanlilio - Sunday, October 10, 2004 - link

    Correction: I had written in post 120 "dmr9748 wrote in #117" and it should read "dmr9748 wrote in #119". My apologies. Reply
  • victorpanlilio - Sunday, October 10, 2004 - link

    dmr9748 wrote in #117: "The thing is when you when you think of MAC you think of one company"

    No, when I think of MAC I think Move, Add, Change, or MAC as in MAC address. I've worked for IBM, DEC, Compaq, and Fujitsu, and the corporate deployment projects I've been involved with are in the range of 1500-2500 PCs, so I think I can speak to the issue of volume purchasing, and yes, discounts are normally offered for large numbers of identically configured units. One concern a business may have about buying Macs for corporate use is that Apple is the sole hardware supplier, but this does not seem to bother Genentech, a leading biotech firm that runs its business on Macs. Of course, Genentech's CEO is on the Apple board, but I suspect that he isn't buying Macs for his company just because they look pretty.

    You wrote: "It is not that hard to get a bulk deal directly from the company that builds and distributes the entire machine."

    True enough, but Virginia Tech originally purchased their G5s at full retail from the Apple web store, with no volume discount, so the price on their cluster was even higher than it could've been, and yet the price/performance was better than the alternatives they had considered.

    You wrote: "The point that I am getting at is that you should not be suprised that Apple with allow people to purchase a large amount of MACs for a lower price than PC"

    See my statement above. What was your point again? Macs can be purchased directly from Apple. IBM Intellistations and Power5 blade servers can be purchased directly from IBM. I imagine that any savvy purchaser can negotiate a volume discount from either vendor. So?

    You wrote: "In a business you have to purchase machines that is easy to use for all levels of computer users, easy to manage, cost effective, and you can easily get people to control and maintain the system."

    I once worked for a large energy company that had over 2500 Macs. The support staff needed to answer help desk calls and do deskside visits? 12 people. That's 1 support person for every 208 machines, and this was without remote tools like SMS2003, pcAnywhere, or ZenWorks. In another large energy company I worked at, the ratio of support staff to PCs in an all-Windows shop was about 1:70. Do the math. If you're an IT Director who wants to build a large empire, which platform do you choose?

    Of course, now that vulnerabilities in Windows are becoming a huge headache, AT&T -- which has 70,000 PCs -- is doing its due diligence and looking at alternatives: MacOS X and Linux.

    You wrote: "Now, when you take a look at the numbers, 98% of the computer market consists of PCs and 2% are MACS."

    There are also more Chevys and Fords on the road, does this mean everyone should drive a Chevy or a Ford, or that Chevys and Fords are better cars than marques that have a smaller market share? Curious logic indeed. And since we're talking about numbers, why is it that, even with its tiny market share, Apple manages to win kudos from the likes of PC World, which named OS X best desktop OS of 2004, and from PC Magazine, which recently gave the iMac G5 a 5-star rating Editor's Choice rating? Do you suppose they've taken leave of their senses?

    You wrote: "The versatility of the PC is what really wins over MAC." Well, sort of. What "wins" is that even a whitebox Celeron is good enough for a lot of people's basic computing needs, and Apple chooses not to build stripped-down models. When I got my Honda Civic 8 years ago, I could still buy one without a radio; now I can't buy a Civic without a radio. I suppose if I wanted a really barebones car I could buy a Yugo or a Lada... :-D
    Reply
  • dmr9748 - Sunday, October 10, 2004 - link

    #117 My opinions are backed by fact that is why I posted those links.

    So far, the "facts" that I have been confronted with are of listings of a supercomputer consisting of numerous clustered MAC computers that was purchased directly from Apple. It is not that hard to get a bulk deal directly from the company that builds and distributes the entire machine.

    The thing is when you when you think of MAC you think of one company. With your everyday computer, you have numreous other companies competing for your business. MAC has their own line of stores which makes things pretty easy. With the other end of the spectrum, you have to shop around for every little thing and prices as well as performance varies.

    Another you have to look at is the fact that since the PC part of the market is so big, not a lot of companies are going to give people huge bulk deals. The one example with NEC, for example, even though the cost is so high, a company will buy that large number of computers for that price. You have to look at this from various views. The most important view is that of a business.

    In a business you have to purchase machines that is easy to use for all levels of computer users, easy to manage, cost effective, and you can easily get people to control and maintain the system. Now, when you take a look at the numbers, 98% of the computer market consists of PCs and 2% are MACS. With that said, which would best fit this scenario?

    Since PCs statistically better for that scenario, you get those people that spend the extra money for NEC computers.

    I know we have seen companies bend over backwards for people but it usually happens in very few situations. Mostly when they are trying to take hold of a target market. If a company already has a hold of it, they will not barter on their price. Sort of like Walmart. Walrmart will come in and lower their prices to a point they are hurting but it hurts the surrounding stores as well to a point where the competition goes out of business. Once that happens, Walmart will jack the prices back up. The most famous company for doing that is Blockbuster.

    It is a standard business tactic that is seen in the computer industry everyday between Intel and AMD. It is almost the same between PC and MAC except MACs can be purchased direcly from Apple. I am not able to find an option to go to a retailer and purchase a barebones MAC. You buy a MAC you get everything. You buy a PC and it's like buying a car. You can upgrade parts or you can just leave them out. The versatility of the PC is what really wins over MAC.

    The point that I am getting at is that you should not be suprised that Apple with allow people to purchase a large amount of MACs for a lower price than PC. Also, you should not be suprised that PCs sell for a lesser price in smaller numbers. PC companies know they can sell their products in any volume. MACs, on the other hand, do not have a big enough hold on the market to say to a large company "we will not give you a special bulk deal." That does not help them get close to that 3% of the market.

    Like I said earlier, if both PCs and MACs had 50% of the market, things would be different.
    Reply
  • ThatGuyPSU - Sunday, October 10, 2004 - link

    Cindy, you rock. Forget about calming down. You go with your bad self.

    Marry me? How about just a tryst then? (haha)

    =T=
    Reply
  • gankaku - Saturday, October 9, 2004 - link

    It appears that #112 isn't about to let facts get in the way of his opinions.

    So I agree with my learned colleagues. The Dell is, in fact, a cheaper server. You win.

    However... Kindly take a look at the next rankings for the Supercomputer list in November (I think). Two of the top 10 supercomputers (possibly two of the top 5) will be comprised of Apple Xserves. They will also be the least expensive clusters in the top 10, by a wide margin.
    Reply
  • azkman - Saturday, October 9, 2004 - link

    You have to actually read the articles and the background, not just look at the pictures. Basically, VT built the number three supercomputer in the world with 1100 G5s for less than $7M. Number one and number two at the time both cost over $200M.

    http://www.informationweek.com/story/showArticle.j...

    Naturally, you will not accept this as proof. So to discontinue this pointless debate, I concede that the Dell server you chose is cheaper than the Apple server you chose.
    Reply

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