Crossing the gulf

A journal entry about my move from the Microsoft ecosystem into an Apple one.

Hi, I’m Mark, and I’m a PC. I have been since I was bought an RM Nimbus 286, an IBM-compatible lightening-slow PC so old and forgotten it doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page. As Apple had already been churning out personal computers ten years before I got my hands on my Research Machines beauty, it could conceivably have gone the other way, but I doubt very much whether my dad agonised over the decision, not being “up on computers” as I believe the parlance goes 😉

For various reasons throughout the past few years, lots of people have tried to convince me, either directly or otherwise, to get a Mac. And the truth is, a Mac reflects me, my personalities and hobbies a lot more than a PC running Windows does, so why has it taken me so long to switch?

Misplaced loyalty I guess. I grew up with PCs, from DOS to Windows Vista, and so maybe I thought I should fight their corner somehow, but in truth I think Microsoft and its partners will go on just fine without me. Cost is also a factor, although it’s really not as prohibitive as I was perhaps led to believe. Yes you can go for a meaty PowerHulkBox GWhizz or whatever, but for everyday use a Mac mini - like the one I’m using right now - will probably do just fine.

So why the change now? It’s been coming for a while; I actually made the decision last year, but have been financially prohibited - oh the irony - from acting on it. My initial plan was “get iMac, then iPhone” which has subsequently been turned on its head. My lovely friend Liz gave me this Mac mini to play with, which has allowed me to cut my teeth and familiarise myself with some of the many differences between OSX and the mighty hulk that is Windows.

The differences are many, but unsubtle. My biggest battle is with my own memory at the moment. Remembering what each coloured circle on the left of the title bar does, remembering not to get frustrated when you Command+Tab to a new application only to discover that its “main” window doesn’t open automatically if you’ve minimised it before (small thing but very common for me), remembering the difference between Control, Command and Alt/Option, that sort of thing.

The Apple website has some useful tips on switching from Windows to OSX, but it’s the little hidden workarounds that I like. I do so much on the keyboard with Windows, switching between windows, copying and pasting, tabbing through forms, and while most of that is doable in OSX, I’ve got to relearn a lot of the keyboard combinations.

I think I also finally understand why people say Macs are more intuitive. The more I use it, the more I realise how much of what I think is good about Windows is down to familiarity.

  • Since Windows 95 came out, the Start menu has been second nature, so I’m used to going there for everything, even shutting down the PC. I wrote an app years ago to tidy up the Start menu every so often, as they used to get so cluttered with help files, links to websites, uninstallers and other detritus that always seemed to pop up as a result of installing software.
  • I always liked the way on other OSs, when you put a CD into the drive you’d get a new icon on the desktop. I liked that so much that I wrote an application to do that in Windows (98 I think, so I doubt very much that it’ll work now). That to me is intuitive.
  • Putting the stuff you use most at the bottom of your screen, so it’s only one click away rather than two or more; that’s intuitive.
  • Having your applications in a folder called Applications, and only seeing applications in the Applications folder; that’s intuitive!

I still don’t know if I fully agree with the top menu bar, and the way it changes depending on the app you’ve got open. I could argue that that’s not intuitive, but then it does save space, and you only ever need to see the menu you’re working with, so I guess I’ll let them off for now 😉

Since about November last year I started my Linux journey, and have come a long way. I want to throw my computer out into the street less and less now, as I’m finding that the knowledge Linux developers are too busy or too cool to give you is starting to seep in. There are so many lessons you have to learn with Linux, so many pitfalls and procedures to doing what would seem to be a fairly simple task that it can be massively frustrating and unrewarding. I still get caught on certain things, but I’m a fast learner and could now probably set up a new Ubuntu server - maybe even, but probably not a CentOS box - from scratch, and from memory.

As Linux and OSX are built on the same foundation, this knowledge will stand me in good stead. I can already talk to my Linux server without the need of external software, and upgrading Python and getting Apache running so I could build Django sites was not the nightmare I expected, although it’s early days yet!

As I’m a developer, podcaster, amateur video editor and bedroom musician, my new Mac - when I finally scrape the dough together for it - should be all I’ll need. There’s still no great solution for music on a PC, and although video editing is doable with budget consumer products like Adobe Premiere Elements, I’m really looking forward to getting my teeth into the iLife suite.

So, onwards and Macwards. Gulp.

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