Random Thoughts

My Mac Experience

October 2nd, 2007

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve pretty much had it with Windows. The only reason I hadn’t switched to a Mac was because I was waiting for Apple to release “the missing Mac”, something with the same sort of power as an iMac, but without the integrated display. I’ve given up on waiting, and ordered an iMac shortly after the Aluminium models were released. This blog entry is about my experience with my new Mac, from the point of view of a frustrated Windows user.

First, though, a little bit of my history with Windows. I made the jump to Windows once I couldn’t hold on to my Amiga 1200 any more…it was just getting too long in the tooth, and the lack of software and hardware support wasn’t worth fighting anymore. It was that lack of hardware and software support that prevented me from switching to the Mac at that time. Apple’s health at that time wasn’t much better than the Amiga’s (Commodore was long gone at this point, and I believe the rights to the Amiga were in the hands of Gateway), and I didn’t want to jump into another sinking ship. Especially since that ship was significantly more expensive than the (admittedly leaky) alternative, Windows 95. I had already owned a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, a Coleco Adam and a few Amigas at this point (I could sure pick the winners).

I have to admit, it was nice at first to know that I could walk into a software shop and most of the product on the shelves would work on my PC. I stuck it out with Microsoft and Windows for a long time, but never bought an off the shelf PC. I opted to build the PCs myself, as the parts were readily available, and at that time it was significantly less expensive (not to mention the level of control it gives you over your system configuration).

Compared to my Amiga, Windows was a resource hog, but components were plentiful and cheap and it didn’t take a lot of money to make it run smoothly. And it was nice to have access to a real software library again.

I stuck with Windows for a long time, through the upgrades to Windows 98, and eventually, Windows XP (I skipped Me…didn’t everyone?). XP tried my patience for a while, but eventually everything caught up, and I stayed with XP through SP2 right up until I had issues with a patch for SP2 that broke FireWire compatibility with my camcorder. I tried a number of different fixes for the FireWire issue, including forcing the IEEE1394 drivers to an older version, but nothing worked. I tried the on-board FireWire controller on my motherboard, as well as add-in boards. Nothing worked, but nothing was broken. Going online for help told me to try everything I had already done, but eventually enough was enough. I needed it to work, and I needed a system that was stable. I “upgraded” to Vista, and, to make it clear how my Vista experience has gone, a few short months later ordered my first Mac.

It took about 10 days to receive the Mac, with it being shipped from Shanghai, China. The route it took was odd, but that has more to do with FedEx’s logistics than anything Apple did. Regardless, the wait felt like an eternity (I am a gadget junkie, so I hate to wait), but actually wasn’t that long.

Once I received the box, I popped it open to reveal…another box. Apple doesn’t want their pretty boxes getting marred up with FedEx stickers and the like, so the iMac came double-boxed. One a plain cardboard box, the other the familiar white retail packaging.

Opening the actual iMac box revealed a very simple package. There was styrofoam, and in the styrofoam a smaller box with the Apple keyboard in it. Also packed in was the Apple “Mighty Mouse”, a set of OS X restore discs, a simple manual, some Apple stickers and a soft shammy for wiping down the glossy display. Under all that was the actual Mac, packed simply in foam.

Set up was an absolute breeze. It’s obvious that Apple considers the user experience from the moment the purchaser opens the box (you can see this with the iPod packaging, as well) and Apple has thought very carefully about the easiest way to guide the user through set up. From opening the box to up and running was about 10 minutes, including taking the time to snap pictures of the unboxing.

Turning on the iMac revealed a nifty boot sound (better than a beep, anyhow) and before I knew it, OS X was booting before my eyes and welcoming me in various languages.

I created an account for myself (including snapping a self-portrait with the iSight camera for my login ID) and separate accounts for my wife and 5 year old daughter. Once OS X finished booting, it found my wireless network, asked me for the access key and I was connected to the outside world. Then my Mac did the most Windows thing it’s done so far…it reached out and grabbed a ton of software updates.
After downloading the updates (no reboot required), I began installing the applications I expected to use on the Mac. Installation was simple, and clean, typically involving dragging an icon into the applications folder. Removing apps is as simple as dragging the same icon into the trash can. The user interface is clean, intuitive and for the most part helps you work rather than getting in your way.

The Mac’s answer to system security is much simpler than Vista’s. When you install an application or update that will modify the system, you are asked for your administrator password once, and then the installation/change proceeds. If the system is doing ten updates, you only enter the password once. This is much better than the endless pop-ups on Vista.

A few odd things do stand out for me, being a long time Windows user. I understand the red X button (close the window) and the orange minus (minimize the window) button, but the green plus (+) button seems mostly useless to me. In some applications, it expands to full screen, in others it does nothing. I do really like the button in the top right corner that removes the tool bar across the top of an application, though (freeing up more screen real estate for, for example, writing).

In the ensuing weeks, the Mac has been ridiculously stable. The problems I’ve experienced are limited to my 5 year old doing something strange to her profile, causing it to not work with pretty much anything (I deleted her profile and recreated it, solving the problem), one system lock-up (I still don’t know what caused it, but I was running about ten apps at the time, so it could have been anything) and a lock-up when my daughter was watching the Dragon’s Lair II DVD on the iMac.

I’ve captured thirteen hours of HDV video on the Mac so far, and edited a bunch of that video down, and it’s been very stable. Final Cut Pro, by the way, is a beautiful editing application (coming from someone who had been using Vegas and Premiere Pro on the PC side), but that’s for another blog entry.

The one thing I would advise anyone purchasing a Mac to do is to replace the so-called “Mighty Mouse” as quickly as possible. I’m not sure why Steve Jobs thinks this is a good mouse, but it raises concerns that anyone who considers this an intuitive mouse may beat his children regularly.

The user experience is different from Windows, but it’s not like a Windows user can’t figure things out quickly enough. As I see it, the pros and the cons of the iMac are as follows:
Pros

  • simple, user friendly set up
  • very stable computing environment
  • nice form factor (small footprint, runs quietly)
  • decent spec
  • nice software bundle. The apps included (e.g. iPhoto, iDVD, iWeb) are actually useful.
  • beautiful keyboard – when I first saw the new Mac keyboard, I was worried I would hate it. Now that I have it, I honestly feel it’s the best keyboard I’ve ever owned.
  • flexible – because all Macs now use Intel chips, you can run OS X and Windows in Parallels. I haven’t done it yet (haven’t felt the need), but knowing that option is there is very reassuring should I require an app that’s “Windows only” in future.

Cons

  • price premium – comparably equipped PCs are quite a bit less expensive
  • limited expandability. Beyond RAM, you can forget upgrading the iMac.
  • glossy screen. In my environment it’s fine, if you’re in a brightly lit room, I suspect your eyes would curse you.
  • iMovie 08 almost makes Windows Movie Maker look good.
  • Mighty Mouse. A mouse designed in an insane asylum, with a goal toward increasing the number of inmates.
  • Limited software library. Forget games, but if you’re looking to do real work, there are plenty of choices.

So, I guess the real question is, would I recommend a Mac if you’re shopping for a new computer? The answer is pretty simply. If you’re looking to run PC games, probably not. The spec is OK for some games, but it’d be a pain to dual boot just for that. If you’re looking for a computer to do typical computing tasks on? Yes. With no hesitation. The iMac is a much better choice than a comparably equipped Vista machine. It’ll be more stable, and it’ll be easier to set up and use. Just be aware that these computers are for the most part disposable. Once it’s out of date, it’ll be easier (and probably cheaper) to replace it than to upgrade it (aside from RAM).

Photos of the unboxing available here.

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