My four-year old laptop is showing definite signs of strain. Even if there isn’t a physical breakdown coming soon (and at four years, it has lasted longer than any other laptop I’ve ever had), it’s having a hard time keeping up with the demands of current software. In fact, if you believe the adage that you measure computer years as dog years, it would be the equivalent of a 28-year old computer.
So it’s time for shopping, and it happens to be at the same time that Windows Vista, the newest OS from Microsoft, is available. And Vista is generating a distinct lack of enthusiasm from me, unlike some of its predecessors. Since I wrote a book about Windows 2000, I actually started using it nine months before its release; for Windows XP, it was a series of online articles at C Net and other sites, so I had it about three months early.
There were no publishing plans this time, which certainly helps lessen the enthusiasm. But in any case, the new feature set for Vista hasn’t knocked me off my feet. There’s a new look, but it’s just eye candy. Security has improved, but it still isn’t as strong as it should be, especially if you are still going to be using your old applications. Lots of the really revolutionary stuff got dropped, and the DRM restrictions are a real turn-off.
So maybe it’s time to look at a Mac.
Why, after nineteen years of using PC products (I was an Atari guy before that) would I consider a Mac? Well, it isn’t because I believe in being trendy (anyone looking at the music in my iPod, or my wardrobe, can tell you that keeping up with what's hot isn't high on my list). It’s a mix of business reasons and technology reasons.
More and more of my billable hours are coming from some sort of multimedia work, often from some location away from my office. That’s more of a strong point of a Mac, with its iLife software. Also, when I look at the user logs for the websites I design and manage, the percentage of visitors using Safari (the Mac OS X web browser) is steadily increasing. Thus I want to easily check the way my sites appear on a Mac.
Technically, there are even more reasons. Mac OS X is more mature and more stable than Windows Vista. The tighter integration of the OS with the hardware also eliminates lots of problems. And while the platform isn’t immune, there just aren’t as many hacker attacks aimed at the Mac (although the Month of Apple Bugs may change that a little.)
Also, I’m not looking for a desktop replacement, I’m looking for a machine to take on the road that won’t cause a backache after a long hike through an airport, or after a full day carrying it during a convention or seminar. The Macbook, at 5.2 pounds, would be about three pounds lighter than the hefty laptop I would be replacing.
There are also disadvantages. The hardware is going to be more expensive than the equivalent lightweight Windows laptop. I’m also going to have to spend money for software, including Microsoft Office for the Mac. (My client base sends me lots of files to be adapted for the web, almost exclusively from Office.) And there’s going to be some time wasted on learning how things work.
Time for Research
This was not going to be an impulse buy; I was going to have to do some hands-on research. Unfortunately, Apple located their Cleveland Apple Store in the “lifestyle shopping center” on the far side of town, instead of the lifestyle center right down the road from me. So I arranged some work appointments on the other side of town that I could combine with the trip to Apple.
That brought up an awkward situation. During my normal workday in my home office, I dress like the Mac guy in the commercial. But since I was going to be stopping in at some client’s offices, I was going to have to dress like the PC guy. Was that going to cause a certain amount of snarkiness from the people at the Apple Store?
I found the Apple Store across from the Crate and Barrel at the trendy shopping center. Inside, it was a minimalist shrine to technology, more like a jewelry store than the jumble you would normally see at a Comp-USA or a Microcenter. No real surprise, but the sales people all looked almost identical to the Mac guy in the commercial, down to the black tee shirts, cargo pants and the beard stubble. (If I bought the Mac, would I have to shave off my full beard and go with the stubble look?)
I decided to use my normal way of getting attention at a computer store, which is to walk up and start using one of the machines. In this case, I started Safari and started checking out some of my websites, which brought a sales guy over fairly quickly. I don’t have a lot of patience with being treated like a newbie in a computer store; normally I avoid it by wearing a Mozilla Firefox hat or some old software beta test T-shirt, and bringing up some obscure configuration screen in Windows that most people can’t find. That wouldn’t work here – I was in corporate dress, and I don’t know where the obscure settings are on a Mac.
So in this case, the first thing I asked was “Is it okay to shop in an Apple store even if you are dressed like the PC guy?” which got a laugh. Then I asked whether, if I bought a Mac now, I would be able to get a free upgrade to Leopard, which is the next version Mac OS X would be released sometime this spring. That got the discussion off on the correct technical level, and we started an extended discussion of the possible switch. (By the way, he didn’t know the answer to the Leopard question.)
From there, the discussion ranged over technical specifications, performance, software licensing, and the like. By the end of my visit, I still wasn’t totally sure. That’s when the Mac guy gave me a coupon. I could log on to the Apple website and use the coupon to set up an appointment with an Apple concierge at the store, where I could explore the Macbook in a one-on-one session. (I don’t think they have concierges at CompUSA or Microcenter.)
So next week will be Episode Two of “Can A PC Guy Become a Mac Guy?"