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Can a PC Guy Become a Mac Guy?

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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?" 

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About Bruce Kratofil

  • http://www.accmanpro.com Dennis Howlett

    I moved to Mac after 24 years of being on PC. Never looked back. I don’t even work with Microsoft files any more. I simply import to something like Zoho and share the resultant files with colleagues. Or I request clients upload and I’ll take it from there.

    Saves time and money. So even though the initial investment is relativley high, the payback in productivity is incredibly fast + I have the benefit of being able to use shared applications without worrying about client file usage.

    One tip – buy as much memory as your machine will take. You’ll appreciate the performance improvement.

  • Bruce Kratofil

    Thanks, Dennis.

    On memory — that’s a tip that works for both Mac and PC. IMO, its more important than processor speed.

  • http://www.istherefood.com Daniel Woolstencroft

    Looking forward to the next installment Bruce.

    I’d agree with Dennis in terms of memory; I ditched my last Mac recently because it’s just not cost effective to upgrade, and the sorts of things I want to do – so called Power User stuff – wasn’t running at an acceptable speed with 1gb of ram.

  • http://oakhaus.blogspot.com Bill Sherman

    As another PC guy who’s also looking to get a new computer this year – who’s been wondering about the Macs, too – I’ll be following this series with much interest. Great start!

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com Christopher Rose

    I’m also on the verge of buying a new computer and, as I wanted to avoid the problems that can come with using the first iteration of any software, such as Vista, I checked out my mate’s fairly new Mac laptop.

    Frankly, I was shocked at how clunky and un-user friendly it was. Apart from it’s possibly greater stability, there was nothing about it at all that was any better than my three year old PC.

    There’s tons of software and hardware that just isn’t available for a Mac. And Safari is a rubbish browser compared to Firefox. And it was white! It looked like a cheap transistor radio.

    Skeptics and cynics please note: Yes, I know it’s less prone to virus attack and you can get Firefox for a Mac too. I don’t work for Microsoft either!

    Microsoft and Apple ought to be forced to merge and try really fucking hard to make just one computer that actually works properly…

  • Bruce Kratofil

    “Frankly, I was shocked at how clunky and un-user friendly it was”

    I’m not an expert Mac user (for I haven’t bought it yet), but in my experience of using it, it’s not that it’s clunky or unfriendly — it’s just different.

    If you are used to moving up to the top right of the window to click close — then it will feel somewhat awkward to move up to the left. Multiply it by lots of other common tasks that are a little bit different, and it will feel awkward.

    Ultimately, what you want to be, in an OS sense, is a switch-hitter.

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com Christopher Rose

    Hi Bruce, I guess it’s just that I was expecting so much more. After years and years of subliminally picking up the message from my arty mates about how much better Macs are, I wasn’t expecting to find it so, well, the same really.

    Until computers work like they do on Star Trek, my phaser is set to kill not stun!

  • http://www.sitekreator.com/crucible/index.html Howard Dratch

    Good article. For me the wrong question. Can a Mac guy become a PC guy because the Macbook Pro is so expensive?

    The answer is that I couldn’t. Vista seemed harder and less friendly than even Panther — I have Tiger now. I liked the prices but not the software or the machines. Only the money hurt — enough to wait a while for more than the 1gb of memory that came with it.

    Safari is better than it was by far but Firefox is much better (I use BonEcho which is Firefox optimized for Macs). Try NeoOffice freeware or OpenOffice to replace Word — although I have never used Microsoft anything except in the store.

    The disappointments are upgrading or replacing some software to Mac Universal Intel versions and my wallet.

    I don’t think Mac guys have a chance as PC guys which might say something. But I wait for more of your choices and articles.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    Funny story about walking into the Apple store looking like the PC guy Bruce.

    Cleveland is the closest Apple Store for me too, they should build one in Toledo already.

    I can’t wait to read part two, and hope you get a Mac :D

    I find it helps greatly to have both platforms at your disposal. I have a PC laptop I use to check my web sites on, but my main rig is a G5 tower.

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com Christopher Rose

    As Ken’s story demonstrates, if it’s necessary to have a PC and a Mac, both suck! But at least there’s more stuff for a sucky PC than there is a sucky Mac.

  • Bruce Kratofil

    Wow, this may just become my most commented story ever, after only about 12 hours online.

    But then again, talking about switching operating systems is almost like talking about religion.

    Ken – it’s good to see you would rather come to Cleveland to spend money instead of Detroit; maybe Eric Olsen will have another Blogcritics party and you can kill two birds with one stone.

    Howard – at this point, expense is the only thing that may tip the scales to Windows

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    Chris, despite your claim, I find very few applications on Windows that I cannot get on the Mac. The apps that are only for Windows are specialty apps that the developer never brought to the Mac.

    I can do everything work-wise on my Mac or my PC. I just get it done a hell of a lot faster on my Mac.

    Yea, I hope that EO has another party, the last one rocked! And… I don’t like driving to Detroit.

    I have been to the Apple Store in Columbus, but thats a drive too!

  • http://apileofblog.com Glenn

    I recently picked up my first Mac (a MacBook Core Duo) and I’m practically sleeping with the damn thing. It’s got some sort of crazy cult powers over me.

    As far as MS Office goes, if this is just clients sending you their web page designs or content, and you are converting it to other formats, I’d just use one of the many web-based Office equivalents to open the documents. Zoho, Ajax13.com, Google apps, etc. Save some $ for RAM. :)

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    Oh yea, Text Edit open MS Word documents. There is also OpenOffice!!

  • http://mondoproject.com Mark Saleski

    i don’t understand this “more stuff for the pc” thing. sure, in terms of titles that’s true.

    but list some things you can’t do on the mac that you can do on the pc?

    and yea, i realize this is a religous war thing, though my wife bought a mac this year and misses nothing about her pc.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    see, Mac guys don’t know what they are doing. Saleski posted the same comment twice.

    [Yikes, sorry for spoiling your punch line El B. Dupe deleted by Comments Editor]

  • Bruce Kratofil

    Actually, it may be cheaper to get Parallels and a copy of XP (which is probably in the clearance bins right now)

  • Mark Saleski

    bicho: see, Mac guys don’t know what they are doing. Saleski posted the same comment twice.

    i posted that from a pc, mr. smartypants.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    CR, the attribution and Saleski’s response still get the joke across. Just be glad you didn’t let Saleski go in and remove the comment himself or you would not hear the end of it. heh heh!

  • http://daslob.blogspot.com/ Pico

    A very relevant article to me, as I’m considering jumping back to the Mac (I once had a Macintosh SE until 1995). I’ll be looking forward to reading more about your experiences.

  • http://amritarajan.blogspot.com/ Amrita

    I’ve been trying to resist the lure of the PC and so far the expense has stopped me. but i’m due for a new laptop pretty soon and mac … is…calling… my … name.

    Count me in as one of those people who’re going to wait and watch for your posts with interest.

  • http://nukapai.typepad.com Nukapai

    Thanks for the timely article (just as timely as having the MAC guy/PC guy advert coincide with the launch of Vista…).

    I need a new laptop – have needed one for a long time – but haven’t decided what to do yet.

    Can’t wait for part 2!

  • http://stopdoingnothing.com Patrick Allmond

    Amazing that I just discovered this useful article. I am considering the same. Even though the posting are 7 months old so far it is great information.

  • Skillz1333

    Ok so I have beyond mastered windows.Thers nothing I cant do on it.I recently bought a powerbook g4 1.67ghz 100gb hd with 2gb of ram, I have to say for almost $2,000 i should have just got a maxed out windows laptop.I do a lot of programming for the iphone and i thought the sdk (which can only run on a mac )would be great ,so i took the chance!!!, I am now deciding how much i will sell my mac for so i can buy an xps or alienware laptop(although i believe alienware is now under dell)I think for the prices,programs,adjustments,and future upgrades the PC to me is a better investment.Besides a mac costing as much as it does compared to a PC There is really no huge difference except anything worked on my windows laptop, Now my wallet screams when I see an apple logo because with a mac apple makes sure you need apple.I dont care Ive learned my lesson variety is better.Have been using my mac for 3 weeks now and hopefully this will be its last !!!!!!