(here's a momumentally long personal review of my switch to Mac. Perhaps I'll find more editing time later. But I hope you can enjoy it, as is ) Motivation I've used computers almost as long as there were personal computers; each one is more a marker to a period in my life than mere tool. A Timex Sinclair 2k near third-grade, brought home by dad, kicked it off for me. A borrowed Apple IIe revealed incredible new games. An Atari 800XL in Junior High / High School brought M.U.L.E., BASIC programming, and intense arguments with my C64 owning best friend. Late high school, an Atari ST gave me Infocom, reprieve from the typewriter for reports, and a Mac-like GUI. Then in college, I spent several summers developing physics simulations and educational software on NeXT computers (a computer 5-10 years ahead of its time, and the spiritual forbear to today's Mac). Into grad school, I have my first Windows PC: a screaming 486 DX2-66. Many, many hours spent doing emails and Sunday School research. And late in grad school I bought my last computer, a Dell PIII 450 MHz. On that computer I ran optical simulations, wrote my thesis, become a serious web-dev hobbyist, and waged war on my roommate via StarCraft and Unreal Tournament. Each computer I have loved. But my last computer was bought in '98, and was limping along at 9 years old (!) when I retired it this year. Though outdated, it worked great for my needs post-grad school until WinXP gave it a stuttering problem. I needed a new PC. I postponed it as long as I could, waiting on the shift into dual core and then to the Core 2 Duo technology. And then I got married, further postponing the purchase. While waiting, two watershed events happened: Vista was released stripped of all the exciting features previously promised; and Apple astounded the market with a new Intel-based system that could dual-boot Windows XP! Moreover, I realised I wanted something different. I'd been using Windows for 15 years; it was stale. Windows should be a phase, not the steady state, of my computing experience. Moreover, I had to suffer sub-par Windows machines every day at work, and Vista felt like XP reheated. Were I rational, needing simply a toaster, an appliance to write my email, balance the checkbook, and buy the occaisional airplane ticket online, I'd buy a $600 cheapie WinXP from Dell. But I enjoy computers for their own sake. I wanted, needed, something fun, something new, something to bring me back to the joy of computing. It was time for a change. Action I waited another two months for the expected Mac Book Pro refresh, and finally on a dull Tuesday in the start of June, the revised MBP is released. I spend the week puzzling over options, features, needs, and my corporate discount and that Friday, post-weekly pizza dinner, I hop in the car with my hardware list printout (and wife) and head to the Apple Store. One hour and $3000 later, I'm home with a whole computing world to explore! I went all-in. I bought the stock, mid-level MacBook Pro (15", 2.4 GHz, 2 GB RAM, 160 GB HD), 3-year AppleCare, Airport Extreme, and a Canon Pixma MP600 (woo-hoo! $100 rebate). And leave it to Apple to make me actually pay for Windows: Windows Home OEM and Parallels for the safety net. Rounding it out are two new USB 2 hubs, and an external hard-drive case with re-used 160GB drive from my old computer. (Alas, the Microsoft Wireless Laser for Mac didn't work correctly so I returned them. I'm looking for a new keyboard and mouse). Know this, if nothing else. Let me make it clear that I thoroughly enjoy my MacBook Pro. I have no regrets about the switch. It took two weeks to struggle, heaving and groaning, through the transition from my old PC to the new Mac. And nearly 6 more weeks to really settle in and feel comfortable with the system. But two months later, it's a great machine, a fun new computing experience, and a switch without regrets. A beautiful system The MacBook Pro is a high-end laptop computer, and feature for feature it compares well on price to top-end laptop Windows machines. At the time of purchase, it used the fastest Core 2 Duo CPU, the 2.4 GHz and should rival even high-end desktops for raw computing speed. Frankly, this machine is overkill for my desires, but the MacBook felt equally insufficient to my tastes so I bought up rather than down. I wish Apple had a mid-range laptop, in the realm of a $1500 Dell Inspiron with 15" screen. But they don't. That's just how it is with Apple and there's no use griping. Apple's fantastic aesthetics start with the packaging. If you've bought even an iPod, you've experienced the elegant minimalist packaging. I was taken aback by the briefcase-like box. Perhaps all laptops are like this; but this is my first. Accustomed to the beefy boxes of tower cases, this svelte package, dwarfed by the printer box, took me aback. Where are the posters, reams of documentation, multitude of CDs and awkward styrofoam from Dell 1998? Similary, the Airport Extreme had minimalist packaging; a tight box with just the essentials. The Canon was standard packaging with large styro-surrounds to buffer it. Initial setup is trivial. I read the first five pages of the "Everything Mac" booklet, plugged in the MBP, connected the ethernet cable to my (current Linksys) router, opened the computer screen and powered it up. After a little movie, it walked me through an attractive and elegant setup process asking my name, language, and Apple ID. Apple ID? I gave it my iTunes login and it was happy. Granted it's newer, but this was simpler, faster, and prettier than what I remember of a new Win98 or XP install. Ten minutes I'm a Mac user! I've no reference for laptops, but this hardware is very appealing to me. The keyboard is comfortable; my preference is an ergo keyboard, but this is good for extended use too. As I described earlier, the trackpad is exquisite. There is a weird quirk where, following file deletions, I lose cursor control for full second. An OS X thing? Don't know. The screen is uniformly lit, and can be cranked up to too bright. The built-in speakers are adequate. Ports on the side give what's needed: two USB, speaker output, ethernet, Firewire, and some expansion thingy that I don't know what to do with. And the mag-safe power plug. Very sweet. I don't need it for protection, but it makes reconnecting to power easier. And bluetooth. Bluetooh sync to the PDA, and life has one less wire. Always a good thing. I wish Apple made a docking station, but connecting power, USB (hub) and speaker is not bothersome when I want to disconnect from the office. There's a small camera built into the lid; I played with it for a few minutes, laughed at silly pictures in PhotoBooth, dabbled with Delicious Library, and haven't used it since. One design aspect I don't like is the squared edges. This can become comfortable using on a desk after typing for a while; my hunch is that the drab rounded plastic curves of a Dell would be more comfortable. Also, and this is a tiny but niggling thing, is that the seam between cover and edge is imperfect and tends to grab my arms; surprisingly painful when it happens. Battery life has been good. Energy saver is set for better battery life with unplugged, and I turn the screen to the lowest visible setting and I get 3-4 hrs for lightweight work like text editing. While traveling, I watched Finding Nemo, and episode of 24 (both on DVD) and had 24 minutes of text editing before running out of juice. This is enough to entertain me on a cross-country flight. Making travel better, the power adapter spits in half and comes with an extra outlet adapter. I keep the disconnect half on my desk (not under) so I can unplug that half, no scrounging under the desk, toss it in my satchel where I keep the extra plug and go. Equally easy to reconnect back home. And the 15" model fits perfectly in my general-purpose satchel--no need for a new computer case. The weight, to me, is modest. I had no problem carrying it around airports on a recent trip. Extreme networking After my initial setup, I moved to the Airport Extreme. My opinion has evolved with experience. Two months of use and I love it. Its management software is superb, far exceeding the web-based tools in my 2002 Linksys router. I now find it trivial to set up an external hard-drive, tweak the printer, or jump from 5GHz draft-n to 2.4 GHz -g usage. But, it didn't start so easily. I didn't find it to "just work" as I hoped from Apple hardware. Perhaps the moral is that networking is still complex, regardless of vendor. But after some early frustrations, a careful re-read of the advanced instructions and trouble-shooting section, I stumbled onto the need to reset my cable modem while configuring the AX. It took maybe an hour to bumble through it, but I configured the AX with only its provided instructions and a bit of trial and error. I didn't have to do weird things or go online to find hidden patches. The sparse instructions could use more detail, but I've been through worse. And as I've said, after working with it for a while, I'm quite impressed with it and recommend it without reservation. I'll also note that non-Apple equivalents are available for about 30% less, but I don't know how well they support Macs, and I'm glad to have gotten something with such well crafted Apple-specific software. And I didn't need to spend endless hours researching alternatives; I knew this would work and the decision was easy. The Airport Extreme is necessary for a full laptop experience, for me. With a simple unpowered USB hub, I connected an external hard-drive and my new printer and I've got networked storage and networked photo printer. The hard-drive setup was trivial; plug it in, and the Airport Disk Utility comes alive, asking if I want to use the printer. That's it. Connecting the network printer was a bit tricker -- the Airport Extreme instructions didn't exactly match the printer configuration tools. But after some trial and error, I had the printer networked. And now, after accidently deleting my printer installations (printer reset does that: obliterates all printer installs, settings. everything) I was able to reinstall it in minutes. This is magic to me. There are three weaknesses with the Airport Extreme, in my view. First, I do wish the network harddrive access was faster, but that's the state of hardware today (approx 8 GB / hr write speed). Second, all-in-one printer features do not work through the AX: no scanning nor memory card access. This seems to be a technology issue, not printer specific. Third, the Airport Extreme doesn't support Gb ethernet -- a mismatch as the MacBook Pro does. While my primary usage is wireless, I would connect by ethernet for occaisional fast intranet copies if the AX supported it. In all the Airport Extreme is a device that nails it. Attractive packaging, compact and easily hidden. Excellent performance and easily managed. And the networked drive and printer bring a new level of home convenience. I recommend the AX without reservation! Mac OS X Rules! (though Steve Jobs can be cruel) I found the transition to Mac challenging. It was not love at first sight; it's taken several weeks of courtship and a few strong arguments to cement our relationship. I'm a near Windows expert compared to most computer users. In particular, I use keyboard shortcuts extensively and have a strong working knowledge of managing large documents in Microsoft Office. I use Alt-I-F (insert figure) and Alt-0181 ("mu" Greek letter) in Word as naturally as breathing. I navigate file folders often typing file names to jump alphabetically, and I think by file type. And I'm a compulsive Alt-Tabber to juggle windows within the same application. Mac OS X renders my 15 years of habits, shortcuts, and knowledge obsolete. The first couple weeks were painful as I relearned new habits. It's often said that the Mac is easy to use, and is the best choice for the typical computer user or office worker. I'm beginning to understand why people say this, and to agree. But for the computer expert, I think that makes it all the tougher. But, having toughed it out, I'm finding the system to be largely smooth and simple to use. There is evidence throughout of a thoughtful design and a desire to help the user smoothly manage their workflow in a more humane manner. As I learn to use the Mac I find that Apple's historical silliness about one-button mouses is fortunately overcome with their wonderful trackpad system. Enabling the various trackpad Gestures in System Preferences and it works in what I extremely natural manner. Normal cursor movement as expected; single-finger tap to click; two-finger tap to right-click; and two-finger drag to scroll in vertical or horizontal directions. I rarely use the single (traditional) trackpad button. The trackpad system is perfect to me. Oh, and those System Preferences I used to enable the enhanced trackpad features really show Apple at the best of its game, compared to Windows. The system preferences are always available from the menu under the Apple icon in the top-left Menu spot. The options are better organized and better iconified. I have no qualms with Windows Control Panel. But the Mac system is better. The window management tools are the start of my difficulty in the transition: with experience it's hard to lose them each day at work. But initially, I was banging my against the Mac way of doing things, and it took an extra utility to make things fell write. First, there's Expose, another marvelous, user-centric tool. It's wonderful on a laptop. A flick of my finger to the upper left and my open windows shrink and arrange, all eager to be selected in Apple's version of red-rover (red-rover, please send Firefox over!) It's also a handy way to check status bars; I've got a 33 GB copy to my network drive running in the background. Expose shows the real windows, so a quick flick and I can see the status bar updating to check on my copy operation (3 hrs to go, in case you're wondering). Expose especially is missed on my office PC. Cmd-Tab is Apple's copy of Window's Alt-Tab; it cycles through all open applications. And it's arguably better: the icons are larger, prettier and can be mouse-clicked (Microsoft: why have you not allowed mouse-clicking in Alt-Tab for the past decade?) But this leads to an immediate frustration. Alt-Tab actually cycles all windows; I can toggle between windows of a single app. Apple's Cmd-Tab toggles whole applications only I can juggle multiple Excel spreadsheets with it. And Expose, while cool, is not as fast or efficient at toggling two same-app windows. Moreover, Alt-Tab rotates all open applications, while Expose is only open windows. Any hidden or miniaturized windows are inaccessible through Expose. This leaves a big gap for me in managing applications and windows. Fortunately, I'm not alone and the sublime little utility "Witch" fills the void. It provides Alt-Tab to Mac, listing all windows of all applications, with mouse-clickability. It out-alt-tabs Alt-Tab! In general, I'm now persuaded that, with Witch, the Mac is a better window juggler than WIndows. But, I wonder about those extreme cases, at work, where I've got 20 - 100 windows open and I can manage them with a mixture of Alt-Tab and the taskbar. How would Expose or the Dock handle these? Are they up to snuff for the hardcore cases? I don't know. Next, then is the Finder, key to application and document management. In WIndows 95, Microsoft introduced the "My ..." functionality. "My Documents" as a default document location. "My Music" for audio, "My Pictures" for photos, and so for. I hated it. They've persisted, and I still dislike it. I want "C:Fischer" to store my documents, thank you very much, not some infantilized organization pablum. Worse, user settings are also scattered into "Documents and Settings" which are links to places that I've never really understood. It makes it difficult to track down key information, like email or photographs, for backup. I've fought against this for 10 years. And here comes Apple with the "Username" structure. Not knowing any better, I just accepted it, like many ignorant Windows-users took the "My Documents" approach. Except, this makes sense to me. It uses my username, just like I want. Everything is under "Fischer"! And therein are the Movies, Pictures, Music, etc. folders. Even Applications. Even the Library, which is like the "Documents and Settings" for storing application meta data. Except it just makes more sense to me. It fits my mental model and methodology to file management much better. I just created a new sub-folder, under my new username folder for all my personal files, a direct copy from my Windows machine, and went from there. Pictures, Movies, Music all go where Apple wants them and I'm a happy camper. The Finder itself, though, I am still not thrilled with, and it is here that Windows shows the strength of flexibiilty. The Finder is limited to Steve Jobs's view of user-oriented simplicity, and it's taken too far. In Windows, I use List View, Arrange By...Type. I think by file type, not alphabetical organization. I want folders clustered. I want icons small and densely packed, and I don't want to be distracted by creation date or other meta data. While I like the navigation approach of Columns in the Mac, my love ends there. It's stuck in alphabetical arrangement. There is absolutely no provision made to arrange files in Column view according to my desire. File Type is availabe in Icon or Details, but not Columns. And those modes are even worse to me. Icons are too large, and don't auto-arrange to maintain the grid. Details, well, I don't use Details in Windows either. Except for once in a while, and Windows remembers which folder uses Details and changes for me. Mac, is a file-browser amnesiac. It doesn't keep track of how I view individual folders. Worse, the desktop is part of the Finder. If I hide Finder windows to reveal the desktop, and then click on the desktop to, say, open a file or rearrange icons, the hidden Finder windows all pop back up invariably covering what I meant to work on. In my view, this is hostile window management, doing the exact opposite of what should be done. I hate it. Finally, I can arrange the Dock and desktop to my liking. On a 15" laptop screen, I want the dock on the side to maximize the limited vertical space for working. I'd prefer it on the right, and icons arranged to the left. Simply, OS X does not let you move icons flush to the left side with auto-gridding on. Why? Beats me. And on the right, the Dock overlaps the icons even when they're set for the greatest gap. So, I'm forced to have the Dock on the left and icons on the right. Sure I'll adjust, but I'm baffled how Apple has missed such simple and obvious user options. Because OS X is so powerful, and Apple sells itself as the most user-friendly system, I find these weaknesses more damning than similar problems on Windows. All is not worthless with Finder. The left-hand column shortcuts to my folder, the desktop, Movies, and so forth, are great. I use them a lot. And easy access to other drives is great. And Spotlight is superb. Windows search through 98 was a joke. It just didn't work; I've had it fail to find files even given the exact filename. XP is better, but it's slow and klunky. Spotlight in comparison is sweetness and light with fast, relevant results spanning the entire filesystem and organized by type, be it application, music, or personal file. When I use it, I'm almost always pleased with its behavior. The last two big main filesystem features are the Dock and that top-of-the-screen application menu. First, the menu. I've long had doubts about this approach, but it works. Sensible people can argue about its merits compared to application-window level menus, but my old critiques have fallen away with use. The Dock, though, still gives me some pause. I like it, with caveats. As a tool to organize and make accessible my most used applications, it's smart stuff. In Windows, I use the Quick Launch bar to keep my most-used apps for easy access and loading. The Dock meets and exceeds that need. But as soon as I need an application not on my Dock, I miss the Start menu. A key human-factors concept is that of consistency and precision to reach a tool. The greater the consistency in placement, the easier to remember and re-use. The lower the precision to reach a tool, the easier to access to it. Expose, being placed in a corner is unchanging and requires almost no precision to reach. You barely need to aim for the corner, wing your cursor in that direction, and you'll hit it. Every time. It's extremely usable. The Start Menu in Windows is similar. It's in the lower left hand corner and a push of the mouse and a click and it pops up. And there are all your program applications, in the same place everytime. Easily searched to launch what you need. Apple completely missed this with the Dock. If an application is no on the dock I have to hunt for it. I click a Finder icon, and a FInder window appears whereever I last left it -- no consistency. Then I have hop to the Applications folder and search (alphabetically, in my Columns) -- no custom organization like I can with the Start Menu. And then I launch it. It then inserts its icon in the Dock, scrunching up my regular icons, which harms the consistency of the Dock. There are so tricks which partially mitigate these problems: The Apple Menu has Recent Items sub-menu, which starts with the last 10 applications I ran. Often what I want is there. But if not, I wasted time on a fruitless check. And Spotlight does a banh-up job of finding applications. I'm learning to use it as my Start-Menu replacement. For me, this is a glaring weakness in application access in OS X. At a minimum, a user-customizeable pop-up folder anchored in the dock should list all applications for getting to the secondary programs. Getting work done I had several goals for my new Mac, in no particular order: Transition (and improve) my normal computer tasks like iPod / iTunes usage, email, web surfing and Palm Zire syncing. My wife needed to continue handling our finances, presently in MS Money 2003. And I wanted to explore the new pursuit of DVD production of my Toastmasters' club meetings. Two months in, and computing life is peachy. The key step really was upgrading from a Pentium III system to something made this millenium. With USB 2, my iPod syncs in seconds, not minutes; likewise the speed boost for photo downloads from my camera. Surfing the web and work like writing this review are made more pleasant with the wireless network; I'm on the couch watching House as I write this. So, any laptop could do this. Not any laptop can run iMovie and iDVD. With the help of MPEG StreamClip, to convert my digital camera's MPEG1 video to DV format, I can go from raw video to a DVD disk image in less than 4 hours. With a bit of practice and a few editing tricks, iMovie and iDVD make short work of movie making. If you have some interest in making movies, and don't know where to being, start with iLife. It's brilliant. iPhoto...well...I miss Picasa on my PC. It's simply better, taking the best concepts of iPhoto and adding a few crucial improvements. Ironically, the hardest part of moving from my Windows PC to the Mac was dealing with the Apple programs iPhoto and Mail. iPhoto doesn't understand folder-based organization, and when I initially imported my Picasa folders, brought in single pile of hundreds of photos, leaving me to re-organize them all again. (sigh). After some hours of fighting, I found a script someone online created to import photos into iPhoto and create folders for them automatically. This helped a great deal, but more work was required than I expected. Once photos are iPhoto, it's a good organizer--without Picasa it would probably be the best around for the home user--and I really like how easy it is to crop and print photos to my Pixma MP600. Printing in OS X is a revelation, be it iPhoto or Word. You can create and save custom printing presets, using all features available in the print setup. I don't recall seeing a similar feature on Windows. This is a real time-saver; having found the best settings for a common task, I save them as a preset with a verbose name. I've got two: one for normal printing on inkjet paper drawn from the cassette feeder and one for 4x6 borderless, glossy photos fed from the auto-sheet feeder. The other major hurdle was switching to Mail. On its own terms, this is a quality email client, especially with the three-pane configuration via a script online. However, importing my Thunderbird email base, with its 4 years of emails, was agony. It's not just that Mail doesn't properly read Thunderbird, it's that it thinks it can, succeeding with maybe 10% of the messages, and silently losing everything. This is extremely bad: the unaware could lose their entire email history by this Mail fluke. Again, thanks to the craftiness of another Mac user, there's a free utility to prep-process Thunderbird (and Eudora) email so Mail will correctly and fully import it. That accomplished, Mail reads my Gmail account without concern and it's a dandy program to use. To my surprise, the easiest transition was for my Palm. I downloaded Palm Desktop and the appropriate Mac versions of my desktop programs (SplashID, SplashShopper, and Documents To Go), set up my Palm username to match my PDA username, and synchronized. It worked flawlessly. There are some quirks with Palm on the Mac, and unfortunately the Windows system is a bit fuller featured than the Mac, but so it goes. Regardless, I have everything I had on my PC working nicely. Life in a Parallel Universe Initially uncertain if moving to Mac would be sufficient, I bought insurance via BootCamp, Parallels, and a new copy of WIndows XP Home OEM. BootCamp and Parallels are fairly easy to install. I had some quirks with XP Home that I didn't have with a borrowed copy of XP Pro. Most important, XP Home needed an obscure patch to use the wireless router with WPA or WEP enabled. With BootCamp, I've had some multiplayer StarCraft goodness with an old friend. With Parallels, my wife runs MS Money 2003 to do our finances. These tools also let me fully decommission my old PC, and remove it from the office, even though I've not fully moved some files to OS X; they're on my machine and I'll convert them later via Parallels. Though expensive, a new copy of Windows and Parallels really eases the transition process. Split Personality My wife uses my machine for the finances, running MS Money 2003 in Parallels. So she could configure the system for her tastes, I created a user account for her and enabled Fast User Switching. This is a killer app for the Mac. Click the silhouette, choose her account and the screen rotates to her account. My active system, open documents and all, are put into a hibernation. I can log back into my account and continue as if there were no interruption. It took a couple hours to figure out how to get some files working correctly in her account, but I was trying some esoteric things. I think this would be very easy for most people. I understand that fast user switching was first introduced in WIndows XP; Apple copied it into OS X. I've never seen this in use in Windows. But I think it's a phenomenal tool for families or perhaps the college dorm room, to share a computer without fighting over who gets to call the dock location or background image. Everyone wins. Time to close the lid Moving to Mac has been a new computer exploration for me, renewing the fun and pleasure of computing. An operating system is a complex beast, no matter what, and no single vendor gets it all right. And so, not everything Apple touches is gold. I use Firefox instead of Safari for its superior extensions and tab handling. I wish Picasa would be released for the Mac, so I could drop iPhoto. And can someone explain to me why its best for me to not be able to sort files by Type in Column view? Or in a open or save dialog box? And why can't the desktop image rotate images in an iPhoto album, like it can using a regular folder? Strange, senseless, limits pop up in Mac OS X. But its strenghts abound, and out weight the problems. BootCamp and Parallels make the move from Windows risk free. Expose is a tool immediately missed when unavailable. The aesthetic touches abound: the default desktop images are not brain-jamming herring bone, but attractive swooshes of color or soothing pencil sketches. The little poof a program makes when it's dragged from its seat on the Dock is always a pleasure. The username-driven file organization achieves what "My Documents" has failed at for a decade. The way file-copy dialogs stack up neatly. These touches come together and at best create and elegant system to work with, making it easy to work, create, and doodle. The provide "creative" suite of iLife is amazing, if you're interested in video editing. I assume GarageBand would scratch the itch for a would-be composer. I've switched. I'm loving it.