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To Buy Or Not To Buy An Apple

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I've been doing a lot of research lately because I'm looking at buying a new laptop. I've got this terrible dichotomy in my head. On one hand, I love Macs, and I'd love to get a Mac, but on the other hand, most of the work I do (web development stuff) is still handcuffed to Windows. It's not minor stuff, either: Access, SQL Server, ASP, ASP.NET.

Yes, I know, I can run Windows on the Mac with Boot Camp now, but have you taken a look at the caveats? Apple's had to write the Windows drivers for the Apple hardware, and certain things simply won't work. Among them are: the Apple Remote Control, the Apple Wireless Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, Apple USB Modem, the sudden motion sensor, the ambient light sensor, and, most importantly, the built-in iSight camera.

The very reasons I want to get an Apple – fantastic design, tight integration when it comes to software and hardware, obsessive attention to detail – are stopping me from getting one. Since I'll need to run Windows on it, and my cool Apple hardware won't work with Windows, what's the point? I'll be forever shutting down either Mac OS or Windows XP in order to use the features I want out of each system. Want to use iChat to talk with my wife? Oops, need to boot up in Mac OS. Need to do a bit of development work? Oops, got to boot up in Windows. Got to use Skype Video Chat? Double oops there, since only the Windows version can use a webcam, and iSight doesn't work in Windows!

As if laptop hard drives aren't small enough, I'll need to partition the drive and share it with Windows. Not cool! On the one hand, I want to handle photos, music, and videos on the Mac, filling up the drive with that stuff. On the other hand, I need to do development work and create large graphics in Photoshop and sites in Dreamweaver, both of which are Windows licenses, by the way. I work with large files there as well, and I know I'll fill up that drive. What am I supposed to do? Shuffle files between the two operating systems using an external drive? Sounds easy enough, until you realize that Mac OS doesn't read NTFS partitions and Windows doesn't read Mac drives. Huh? Yup, it means you can't copy files bigger than 4GB to that external drive, since it needs to be formatted in FAT.

Oh yes, let me not forget about virtualization software…or rather, let me forget. I still shudder at the dismal performance of VirtualPC on my ex-PowerBook G4. Yuck! Everything crawled, including the web browser. Copying files back and forth between the operating systems, although it was only a drag-and-drop operation, was excruciatingly slow. Running software like Dreamweaver took forever, needless to say. Although the speed should improve if virtualization software is run on the new Intel Macs, I don't hold high hopes for it. There are plenty of caveats with virtualization, other than performance. Software doesn't always behave as expected, because it's not a real computer, and certain things simply aren't available.

Then there's that always disappointing jump between the real OS and the virtual OS. Although it's as easy as Alt+Tab on Windows or Command+Tab on the Mac, the performance hit is depressing every time one needs to use the virtual machine. I tried other virtualization software as well. Q, was one of them, and although the interface was nicer than Virtual PC's, it still disappointed. No, no thanks. I'll let Parallels brag about how fast their virtualization is all they want. I'll believe it when I see it encode video and run Photoshop at near the full speed of the CPU. Meanwhile, I've had enough of virtualization. It may be good for servers, as VMWare is proving with their Enterprise suite of products, but it's not good when one's computing needs involve lots of high-availability graphics, memory, and processing power.

It seems like I'm hopelessly caught between Scylla and Carybda, not knowing where to turn, part of me wanting Mac OS and part of me needing Windows. What to do? Nothing to do but to hold off for now, and hope either Apple or Windows get their act together for people like me.

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About Raoul

  • Orchid

    It seems what you really want is a Windows computer that has all the advantages of a Mac. If you wait until the day arrives when that happens, you’ll be waiting a terribly long time.

    I think your expectations of Apple completely integrating its hardware with Windows are more than unrealistic. Apple probably wasn’t all that keen in the first place about having Windows run on Macs. After all, that takes them one step closer to being just another PC manufacturer.

    As for your issues with file-shuffling, the solution is rather simple. Network a Mac to a PC physically connected to an NTFS formatted external drive. When you plug the Mac into the network, it can read from the shared disc with no problems. I do this everyday. The other option, of course, is to buy one of the many increasingly cheap disk key/pen drives with a huge capacity and use it to transfer huge files or to use re-writable DVDs. It’s not all that complicated.

  • I think you ought to look more closely at Parallels. Apple is excited enough about it that they’re promoting it themselves, and Ars Technica has reported it’s pretty amazingly fast. There’s a huge difference between emulating a completely different chip — as VMWare does — and emulating the Windows API on the same chip, as Parallels does.

  • Oddly, OSX handles FAT32 better than Windows XP. While XP limits you to a 32GB partition when formatting a FAT32 disk, OS X will let you format it at any size, after which it is readable by either WXP or OS X just fine. Still, you’re right, FAT32 has a 4GB filesize limit.

    Of course, you could run those design apps on OSX, but I guess the new licenses would increase your cost dramatically unless you could somehow trade licenses with someone looking to migrate to Windows.

    I’m pretty sure that the rest of the drivers for Boot Camp are coming, eventually.

  • Eytan

    I use Parallels in work and am amazed by how fast and transparently it works. Much faster than my full-time windows machine right next to it.

  • Matt

    I use Parallels myself on a MacBook Pro, and the difference between it and the old Virtual PC is amazing. Win XP on Parallels is MUCH faster than the 2.8 ghz Dell PC sitting on my work desk.

    Granted, 95% of my Windows use involves accessing two work-related websites w/stupid .net/activeX proprietary crapola that won’t load properly on a Mac, but I have used Parallels to watch some Windows Media videos online and the performance is just fine. In general, the WinXP virtual machine boots up in just a few seconds and is very responsive…it feels like you’re using a “real” PC. But I’ve heard it doesn’t work on games that require hardware accelerated graphics (FYI). I have a shared folder set up between my OS X and Parallels do I can swap files back and forth. Also Copy/Paste works between the environments. Copy some text on the Mac, paste it in to Windows and vice versa.

    Parallels is what allowed me to finally be able to use a Mac at work all day instead of being chained to a crappy PC because I am required to access two non-Mac-compatible websites at my job.

  • Terrin

    Sounds like you really do not want to use a Mac. You are complaining about every little thing not being perfect. You complain Bootcamp does not support, “Apple Remote Control, the Apple Wireless Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, Apple USB Modem, the sudden motion sensor, the ambient light sensor, and, most importantly, the built-in iSight camera.”

    Well, no suprize there. All those things require OSX to be running the show, not Windows. I see no reason why Apple should make the things that make its OS unique, work on Windows. Next you will complain that iLife applications do not work when you are in Windows. If you are going to buy a Mac, buy it because you are going to spend most of your time in Mac OSX, not Windows. Otherwise, the purchase seems silly to me.

    Then you complain that Parrallels is offering you nothing to bolster your optimism. Come again? Besides not being able to run video games very well (since it does nto yet suppor the Mac graphics card), and some minor inconveniences involving networking, it seems to answer all your complaints. It has received nothign but rave reviews, it is light years above Virtual PC, and Apple is even promoting it.

    For what it is worth, it does run Photoshop near 80% speed since Photoshop largely does not rely on the graphics card, but the processor. The roughly 20% loss of speed should be no problem since if you are updating your laptop, the increased speed of the new machine should more then compensate for this loss (unless you are the type of person who updates your machine every year). If you want it to speed up even more, try running Windows 98 instead of XP.

  • AJB

    I think you are confusing virtualisation with emulation. Do your self a favour and find a way to try out parallels. Your former experiences with VPC & Q have no bearing on how parallels will perform.

    And have a look at your list of features that you are worried would not work with boot camp. With parallels that becomes a different story. Since OS X is running, the keyboard back light will work, the remote control will still control front row (do you really need it for XP?) and there’s a strong chance that the bluetooth stuff will work if parallels abdstracts the hardware interface. If not there are plenty of wireless keyboards and mice that will work with both platforms, and to not buy a mac for that reason alone seems more like an excuse than a reason.

  • Al

    Remember, Boot Camp is a beta app. It will be integrated into the OS in the next OS X release.

    Apple just updated boot camp. I don’t know if any features were added with the update or not.

  • Moctod

    I would agree with many of the previous posts.

    You seem to want Apple to make you a Windows computer.

    You are yet another ‘journalist’ that admires Apple’s great ‘looking’ hardware, while bemoaning the lack of full Windows ‘compatibility.

    You really, really need to reconcile that Apple makes their hardware, and they choose to install an OS that isn’t Windows.

    If you were an Apple stockholder, would you want a person like you as a customer?

  • In the real world, customers want to buy something that will do all the things we want it to do. We know this can’t always happen, but that doesn’t stop us from asking for it in the hope some company will realize how much money it could make by producing the things that so many people want to buy.

    Only in the bizarro world of the Apple fanatic are we asked to think about whether or not we are worthy to give our money to a particular company.

    Apple has made a lot of good products, but they still need to earn their customers’ patronage, not the other way around.

  • Moctod

    [Only in the bizarro world of the Apple fanatic are we asked to think about whether or not we are worthy to give our money to a particular company.]

    Care to elaborate?

    BTW, has MS earned their customers’ patronage?

  • Just Trying to Help
  • As “Just Trying to Help” pointed to that link, I’ll do a quick timing test.

    Using a wall clock, I timed it at 11 seconds to bring up the Visual Web Dev main window within the Mac desktop on a 2Ghz MacBook. Just to clarify – this time includes logging into Windows…and typing my password (but not booting Windows) and also includes starting of X Windows on the Mac and starting of a terminal window on the Mac.

    Parallels is fast, partly due to the VT support on Intel Core chips. I would prefer if the Windows kernel was allowed to dispatch instructions onto two virtualized CPUs, but even without this it’s still easily fast enough for web development.

    And remember the web technology du jour (RubyOnRails) has most of it’s proponents developing on Macs.

  • Wise Guy

    The great solution. Buy two. One running Windows, the other running Mac OS.

  • Well you’re developing in ASP, that’s your problem! Having long worked on windows doing Java development, i can’t wait to get my hands on a new intel mac. Then i can FINALLY have ONE machine to do all my development work in, and not have to turn on my mac simply to check web pages.

  • MikeKG

    I have just bought a MacBook and I can’t believe I took so long to switch, I run my bussiness with this computer and the programs that I need that run in Windows I use Parallels. I don’t have to restart for unknown reasons no adaware or spybot what the hell took me so long to switch it’s a no brainer

  • Charles

    All you have to do is buy this new software from apple called VMware Fusion.