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 - Monday, October 11, 2004 - linkChris North wrote in #164: I believe that the real high cost of the Mac is found in the need to buy expensive software
Well, it depends on what you need to do. AutoCAD (PC-only) is C$4700, which is not exactly what I would call inexpensive. Its Mac counterpart, PowerCADD 6, while not equivalent feature-for-feature, costs much less (C$1300). MacOS X comes bundled with XCode, a complete dev environment. How much does Visual Studio .NET cost? Paint Shop Pro may indeed offer "better bang for the buck" -- but the Gimp is free, even better, yet Photoshop is the most widely used professional image editing app in the world, not counting the pirated copies floating around. Having said that...
One of my concerns with the direction Apple is taking has to do with the upgradability of their high-end machines. PowerMac G5 towers can only hold two SATA drives without resorting to 3rd party solutions to cram more drives in. PC workstations often have room for 3 or 4 internal hard drives. The much-maligned PowerMac G4 towers could hold four drives (although the earlier models required an add-on ATA controller in a PCI slot). I also don't see how G5 processors can be upgraded, since they are so tightly integrated with the cooling system. On G4 towers, CPU upgrades involve just replacing the processor daughtercard. OTOH, MacOS X seems to get faster with every release, unlike a certain other operating system we all know and love... ;-)
This week, Bill Gates will announce Windows XP Reloaded.
I wonder if it will be immune to spyware...
chrisnorth - Monday, October 11, 2004 - linkAs a long time Mac user, I thought that this was a reasonably fair and unbiased article. Anyone who thinks that one computer platform is the be-all and end-all is nuts. I tend to prefer Macs, but Anand was right in many of his observations. Macs ARE more expansive without a doubt and his observation that it's the little apps that make the difference is dead on! Yeah, I can get Office and Dreamweaver, Photoshop and GoLive on the Mac, but what I really want is Jasc's Paintshop Pro, and EditPlus because they offer a better bang for the buck. I'm stuck with more expensive options. The one Mac app that really illustrates this better than any other is BBEdit. In my opinion, the $30.00 EditPlus on the PC is better, but it isn't available, so I've got to fork out an obscene $179.00 for the same functionality from BBEdit.
Now there are loads of shareware apps being made for OS X. Some are really great, but many are crap. I believe that the real high cost of the Mac is found in the need to buy expensive software. The lack of a practicla upgrade path is another expense. Mac users will tell you that their machines last longer and my long lived Macs support this, but it sure would be nice to buy a new motherboard and processor for $500.00 instead of a new machine for $2500.00.
Ultimately, I love Macs and use mine all the time, while the PC sits unused in the basement. But to dismiss real problems with the platform is like sticking your head in the sand. Great article Anand!
victorpanlilio - Monday, October 11, 2004 - linkDennis Travis wrote in #161: If you read carefully he really likes it and OSX also and is still using it daily for a lot of his work
Well, that's true, but for some reason, this bothers many people who want to find some reason -- any reason, really -- to not evaluate the Mac as a potential part of their learning experience. Gamers, for example. This is curious, to say the least, especially considering that the platform Microsoft is using to develop for the nex-gen XBox is the G5, not an AMD or Intel box. One would think that, if nothing else, curiosity might persuade some folks to check the Mac out on that basis alone.
ceneone - Monday, October 11, 2004 - linkI'm commenting with respect to web browsers and speed. I sincerely must disagree. I've used a number of browsers with my Mac PowerBook G4. Even with only a 400MHz model, but with DSL 6.0Mbps. IE was one of the slowest browser in the speed catergory of AOL. For the most of the time Safari or Firefox clocked over 3.0Mbps, with Safari clocking 3.7Mbps, each rendering the fast webpages. Then Omniweb 4.5/5.0, Camino, Mozilla/Netscape 7.0, IE, Opera 7.54 for Mac and finally AOL around 700+ kbps.
Dennis Travis - Monday, October 11, 2004 - linkI can believe people are still trying to say what Anand said. All Anands Mac article is was "A Month with the Mac". It was not a test, benchmark, it was his hands on with the G5 for a month. If you read carefully he really likes it and OSX also and is still using it daily for a lot of his work. The article was nothing else but that. I wish people would read.
Going to read the Star Wars article now! Thanks Victor for the URL!!!
victorpanlilio - Monday, October 11, 2004 - linkFinalFantasy also wrote: "for people like myself and 100,000 other people, the Mac is useless"
Only 100,000 other people? There are more than 100,000 AutoCAD users in the world, my friend. But just so I can more clearly understand what you're trying to get at, let's suppose that, as you say, most "basic" computer users just "want to play games, surf the net, use M$ Office, and listen to music" -- then for 3 out of 4 of those categories (not games), even the eMac would suffice. For that matter, so would a half-decent whitebox Celeron. The difference is that the Windows PC, while cheaper, would be vulnerable to malware that the eMac would just shrug off. And so your "basic" user finds out that surfing the Net is not exactly a pleasant experience anymore:
"In June, Philippe Ombredanne, a systems administrator and programmer from Menlo Park, Calif., bought a new computer. He said he was feeling lazy so he put off installing security software for a day. When he woke up, the computer was infected with one virus and about 30 spyware or adware programs, forcing him to erase data and programs from his hard drive and reinstall everything from scratch. "A vanilla computer with no protection has no chance on the Internet anymore," he said."
Unless that computer happens to be a Mac running OS X. :-)
victorpanlilio - Monday, October 11, 2004 - linkFinalFantasy wrote: they will want to play games, surf the net, use M$ Office, and listen to music
Let's just tackle two of your points, Office and surfing.
Highly critical' security flaw found in Office
A vulnerability has been found in a Microsoft's popular Office Suite - MS Word in particular - that could give a malicious third party control of your machine...
There is currently NO PATCH for the above vulnerability -- on Windows. The Mac version of Office (2004) is not affected by it. You did know there is a version of Office for the Mac, and that in some ways it's better than its counterpart on Windows?
Surfing the net:
Computer Users Face New Scourge
Experts estimate that tens of thousands of spyware and adware programs circulate on the Internet. For now, the problem of such unauthorized software almost exclusively affects Microsoft Windows users. It's by far the most popular operating system and the same features that make it so versatile also make it easier for intruders to secretly run programs on it.
Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates in a speech to Silicon Valley technologists this month, said that while he's never had a virus infect his computer, he's been surprised to find many spyware and adware programs that he never authorized on it. He said he has directed the company to launch a new project to create a "cure."
You also wrote: "For every John D. Lowry that uses a Mac platform for "some" project...there are 100,000 people using a PC."
Sure. Your statement is just a variation on "Eat at Joe's Diner -- A Million Flies Can't Be Wrong"
Your unassailable logic is impressive. :-D
FinalFantasy - Monday, October 11, 2004 - linkvictorpanlilio
Hehe...you caught me with my pants down man. I really don't have time to pull up links, quotes, reference etc. As far as you Mac facts go (e.g. for use on restoring the Star Wars triology) you've got me beat.
But my Ace card is that Anand was writing this article to appeal to everyday PC users/gamers. For John D. Lowry, the Mac platform he used is phenominal, but for people like myself and 100,000 other people, the Mac is useless. The PC can perform 100% of the task I want to perform where as the Mac will only perform about 20-30% of the operations I want to perform. Not everyone is going to need a computer that can digitally restore the Star Wars triology or other projects of that magnitude. 80% of "basic" PC buyers (counted for people/corp buying PCs not the quantity of PCs sold) they will want to play games, surf the net, use M$ Office, and listen to music. The PC has the Mac beat on games, M$ Office (compatibility and ease of use) and the PC wins in 2 of the 4 categories, the Mac wins 1 and they tie in 1.
Remember...not everyone is going to need a Mac to digitally restore a Star Wars Triology ...hehe...most people just need it to play games and be compatible with M$ products, as M$ products are basically the standard around the world.
For every John D. Lowry that uses a Mac platform for "some" project...there are 100,000 people using a PC.
victorpanlilio - Monday, October 11, 2004 - linkFinalFantasy also wrote: The only way I see a Mac being useful, is if they were a cheaper alternative to a PC instead of being a more expensive computer that is sold by name/brand
Please share your amazing insight with John D. Lowry, whose firm restored the Star Wars trilogy recently released on DVD:
To clean the films Lowry pushed high-definition scans of the original negatives provided by LucasFilm through his proprietary software running on 600 dual-processor Power Mac G5 computers, each with Mac OS X, 4 gigs of RAM and connected via gigabit Ethernet to a 378-terabyte storage array.
“We find that Macs hold up incredibly well, much better than PCs,” he says. “We put them in their own room with their own air-conditioning, as they generate a fair bit of heat.”
Hmm.. I guess he doesn't worry about malware attacks, either.
victorpanlilio - Monday, October 11, 2004 - linkFinalFantasy wrote: Macs are expensive computers that people pay money for cus it's a "Mac", like people buying a "Dell" or an "HP". Mac does a good job at making people waste money.
Hmm, as someone who used to work for IBM, DEC, Compaq, and Fujitsu, I take exception to the idea that buying from a Tier 1 PC vendor is a waste of money. When you deploy 1500-2500 PCs in a large corporation, you first test your in-house apps on sample configs from the vendor, to see if there are any gotchas. Vendor commits to keeping the config the same, so that from start to finish of the deploy, your disk images work. This stability is very important to large corporations, because it saves money. People who have never worked on large-scale PC deployments fail to recognize the importance of these considerations. Apple is now beginning to address deployment and asset management issues in large enterprises with utilities such as Apple Remote Desktop 2.0, but it still has a ways to go -- ACLs would be really nice to have in MacOS X Server 10.3.5, as well as OS-level file locking.