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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  • fxparis - Wednesday, October 13, 2004 - link

    FinalFantasy also wrote in #151: " a lot a stupidities "

    it doesn't matter for him. but please FinalWhoever don't misinform people that need fair information to make their choice ! specially when it come to audio video pro

    some young people will make a living from it. and they'll make a better living if they choose Mac since the beginning to work.
    it's IMPORTANT !
  • chrisnorth - Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - link

    Regarding post #172 by Digstra, RIGHT ON! I think you have said, eloquently, what I was thinking. Of course, an open mind means that people need to recognize the good and the bad; nothing is perfect including OS X and the Mac. Having said all that, using XP may be subjecting yourself to unnessissary torture :-)
  • melgross - Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - link

    Student/Teacher Office for the Mac sells for $135-150, and you don't have to show that you are anything other than willing to pay for it.

    About security. While I completely agree with those who say that we should all get a router, firewall, virus protection, and several spy-ware prevention programs, it just doesn't work for the average person.

    When I help someone with a PC who has a seriously infected machine, I find several things of interest.

    Most have an anti-virus program, but have let their subscription lapse. When I mention this, they get angry about the idea that they should HAVE to pay for a subscription. They feel as though they shouldn't have to pay for something on a yearly basis to use something that they have already bought.

    The idea of getting two or three anti-spy-ware programs is also something that they can't understand, or like. When I explain that even having these programs doesn't mean that they won't still get infected, even though the probability is much less, they are bewildered. They don't WANT to understand that they have to be proactive about these problems.

    They just want to use their machines.

    If you rarely buy anything, go to obscure sites (and with the new fly-by trojans...), not open e-mails, etc., you won't likely get infected. I suspect that those who have all of the protections, and claim to never get infected, don't really do as much as they have us think they do. I don't see Anand web surfing frivolously, downloading questionable files from newsgroups, and subscribing to porno sites etc.

    Most people do at least some of those things.

    No matter how you look at it, OS X is far more secure, for the average person, than XP. If we all played by the rules, and Microsoft did the right thing, it might be different.

    One reason that SP 2 is having as many problems as it has been, is because even though it's got a number of services turned off by default, when you use .net, or need certain services from office etc. they have to be turned on again. OS X doesn't need most of those services to accomplish the same things. FreeBSD is also one of the most secure UNIX variants. Linux, by the way, is turning out to be not that much more secure than XP is, going by all of the successful exploits reported.
  • Digsa - Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - link

    Just wanted to say that - as a long-time Mac user - I really respected this article for its honesty of approach. I was really impressed. While of course I might quibble here and there about some things (Windows security, adware and virus issues were strangely absent;-)) I can genuinely trust the writer's attempts at balance, and I give his opinions the weight they deserve. he's done a fine job.

    At the moment I am travelling in the opposite direction to the author - I've just started using an XP machine for course work - and this article has helped me to see my experience in a more balanced light. Some of the criticisms he has - and my own criticisms when using XP - are based upon long-established working habits and prejudices. The clever trick is to see through those prejudices to look to the root of the system. What is the system trying to achieve? Does it do it better or worse? Honestly?

    OS X is a wonderful system, and I recommend those who haven't looked at it to do so. I'm enjoying the journey of discovery with XP - and trying to keep an open mind when it does something I'm unaccustomed to. However, the best lesson is perspective. If we don't give the other system a proper try, how can we make justified comments upon it. The author of this piece set out to do just that - and the results speak for themselves.

    I suppose my one crucial point is this - if we all keep open minds about the possibilities for innovation from different computer systems, and don't let the zealots on both sides take over the asylum, then we are all winners. Because the market in ideas can function without prejudice, and a good technology implementation can be seen for what it is - rather than through the prism of reality distortion fields or slick marketing.
  • chrisnorth - Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - link

    In reply to post #167 by Victor, thanks for the commentary.

    Yes, I could have been much more specific. So perhaps I should have reworded my thoughts to read "10 most popular software requests" or some such thing. Also, I was playing "Devil's Advocate" to some degree as I believe a somewhat critical eye represents the best approach when you want to improve something.

    I agree, Mellel is a first rate word processor and an excellent deal. I've been using it since its early days. I think it cost $19.95 when I purchased it. Instead of BBEdit, I use skEdit, which is reasonably capable and has great potential. As for Filemaker Pro, it is an expensive option as is Keynote, given that they represent the equivalent of only a single module each from the Office suite. Mesa 3 from P&L software is a top rate spreadsheet and at $30.00 a great value.

    Hadn't heard of Blogwave Studio. I use the freeware MacJournal, which is an excellent Journal hampered only by its limited functionality. Haven't heard of Quicksilver, and can't use it anyway since I'm waiting for Tiger before upgrading from Jaguar. As for the other suggestions, been there and not terribly impressed generally.

    Any other thoughts on great Mac software deals anyone?
  • victorpanlilio - Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - link

    FinalFantasy wrote in #169: are a hehe ;D

    My 4-1/2 year old son likes to have me pretend I'm one... :-)

    I'm just a regular guy who thought he had finally overcome his addiction to discussion forums...not... well, it's better than video lottery terminals, I suppose. Anyhoo, I'll probably wind down my posts because I *really* need to get a life... :-)

    If this were a group in physical space and I'd just won at the VLT I'd invite y'all for a round of brewskis... make that a keg, on me. Oops, maybe not everyone here is of drinking age... :-D

    Hey Anand, ever tried Stella Artois?
  • FinalFantasy - Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - link are a ;D
  • victorpanlilio - Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - link

    Re: inexpensive alternative to MS Office

    If you really need ALL the functions of Office, the total cost of the apps listed above would exceed the price of Office 2004 for the Mac (C$560 Std, C$700 Pro). So, at this time there seems to be no inexpensive substitute. One avenue you might try is to enrol in a community college course and use student status to purchase Student/Teacher Edition of Office (about C$225), which would allow you to install on up to 3 machines.
  • victorpanlilio - Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - link

    Chris North wrote in #166: How about the top ten most needed apps on the Mac

    Top ten most needed from what perspective? CAD? Web design? Database development? 3D Rendering? Business intelligence? Customer relationship management? Seismic data interpretation? Medical imaging? Small business collaboration?

    Anyway, some suggestions based on your list:

    Advanced inexpensive OS X native CSS Editor

    Advanced inexpensive OS X Native XML Editor
    Hmm... they all seem to be Java-based, so no go...

    However, for text editing, instead of BBEdit, try

    OS X advanced personal journal with photo and file wells
    BlogWave Studio,

    OS X native advanced but inexpensive alternative to Photoshop
    Stone Design Stone Studio,

    OS X native advanced but inexpensive alternate to MS Office
    Word: Mellel,
    Excel: MarinerCalc,
    PowerPoint: Keynote,
    Access: FileMaker Pro,

    Oh, and if you're on OS X 10.3, you should try QuickSilver:
  • chrisnorth - Monday, October 11, 2004 - link

    Further to my last post, here's a thought for Anand: If you are looking for a followup article to do on Macs, how about the top ten most needed apps on the Mac? You could take a poll or something then describe where the biggest deficiencies lie and which apps would best fill them. Maybe, you could help convince a few companies like Jasc, or Xara to port their products.

    Here is a quick list to start with:
    Advanced inexpensive OS X native CSS Editor
    Advanced inexpensive OS X Native XML Editor
    OS X advanced personal journal with photo and file wells.
    OS X native advanced but inexpensive alternative to Photoshop
    OS X native advanced but inexpensive alternate to MS Office.

    Please no multi-platform java apps.

    Just a thought...

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