Switching to a Mac


This blog post was published on Tuesday 23 December 2008.

Well it’s been about five months or so since my shiny new MacBook Pro arrived, and I thought I’d share some of my thoughts, as an experienced Windows user of many years switching to OS X.

My first thoughts were that it looks, quite simply, amazing.  The graphics are smooth, the way it displays fonts is miles better than Windows.  Spotlight works better than Windows Search, it’s faster and more accurate.  The various features like stacks, Time Machine, Spaces, Exposé make it great to use.  I have to say I prefer navigating files and folders in Windows Explorer than in Finder, but I’m getting used to it.  And anyway, I’m mostly using Spotlight to find things anyway.

As with any new thing, there are certain annoyances, things that OS X does in a strange way, that I find difficult.  There are also things that I find helpful to deal with the different Mac behaviour.

Home/End Keys

In Windows, the Home key jumps to the beginning of the line, and Ctrl-Home to the beginning of the document.  Likewise the End key with the end of a line/document.

On a Mac things are different.  To get the same behaviour you have to press the Apple Key+left arrow/right arrow.  Even on a keyboard with Home/End keys.  So I downloaded Double Command, which has an option to use PC style Home/End keys.  Much more sensible.

Forward/Back

Now, this is really stupid.  To navigate forward or back a word, you press Alt (which is also called the ‘Option’ key) and left/right arrow.  To select text at the same time use Alt+Shift+arrow.

To delete a word backwards, use Alt+Backspace.  But to delete a word forwards, you have to use Apple Key+Delete.  Now, can someone enlighten me as to the reason for that?  On a PC, pressing Ctrl with an arrow or delete button affects the whole word.  Simple.

The Mac behaviour isn’t difficult to get used to, it just annoys me.

App Cleaner

One of the best things about OS X is that there is no registry like Windows.  When you install an application, usually you just have a single file (which is actually a folder, though you can’t see its contents) for your application, and maybe a preferences file or folder in your Library directory.

This makes for a much cleaner operating system - but it means that there is no ‘Uninstall’ app in OS X.  To get rid of an application you just delete it from your Applications folder.  But that leaves any preference files/folders in you Library directory.  Hence the very useful AppCleaner, which searches for those and deletes them too.

Mac Office 2008

It might seem strange to get a Mac and install Microsoft software on it, but I actually like Office, it gets the job done and it’s cheaper on a Mac anyway.

Word 2008 is ok (except for a really annoying Word Count bug where the ‘live’ word count is WRONG), it’s like an updated version of Word 2003 for PC.  This is because OS X forces the use of a toolbar (the grey thing at the top of the screen), so the new Office 2007 ‘ribbon’ wouldn’t work on a Mac.

Excel is terrible.  I used to use Excel a lot for work, so I know it backwards.  And Excel 2008 for Mac is just awful.  It doesn’t have Visual Basic support for a start, so none of macros works.  The default layout is awful, and I just hate using it.  So I use Excel 2007 on a Windows Vista Virtual Machine instead.

Don’t even think about using Entourage - Mac Mail, iCal and Address Book are so much better.  And PowerPoint is fine, but not as good as KeyNote.

So, overall, do I wish I had bought iWork?  Probably, yes, but when one of the ‘great new features’ of Pages ‘08 is that it ‘automatically formats lists as you type’ I was a bit suspicious.  It also seems heavily based on templates - I prefer to have my own layouts.

I may get iWork to see what it’s like - I’m a technophile after all - but at the moment I’m sticking with Word.

Stability

One of the much-vaunted benefits of having a Mac is the inherent stability of OS X.  I would agree, in general - however I have noticed complaints among seasoned Mac users that OS X 10.5 (Leopard) is the least stable Mac OS.  I can confirm I have had a few crashes - one last night in fact as I tried to turn my laptop off.

However, I have had far fewer problems than I have had with Windows.  For example, updating a driver last week caused my PC to die spectacularly (it was a graphics driver), and I had to do a full repair (reinstallation over the top) of Windows - and that was even XP, which is far more stable than Vista!  Overall, I have had far fewer problems than Windows, but I am looking forward to OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard), for which Apple are concentrating primarily on performance and stability.

Printing

By far the biggest problem I have had with the Mac is printing.  I am using a Canon MP 610, which is one of Apple’s recommended printers for Mac.  However, the Canon driver is simply not good enough, especially when trying to print double-sided.

Actually this raises a bigger point: the reason Apples are so much more stable than PCs is that Apple has total control over BOTH the hardware AND the drivers.  Windows, on the other hand, is expected to work with pretty much anything.  So, I have noticed that third-party drivers (e.g. for the Canon MP 610) are significantly more stable on Windows than Mac OS.

For ‘more stable’, read ‘they actually work all the time.’  I use booklet printing for my sermons, and I have had such trouble printing them out - sometimes identical settings work, sometimes they don’t work.  Grrr!  Hear the frustration!

Conclusion

Overall, however, I love my Mac.  The user experience is (almost always) a joy.  Occasionally I miss Windows (especially Office 2007) - running it on a Virtual Machine (VMWare Fusion) is ok, but nothing like running it natively.  However, I can cope with it given the rest of the experience.