I’m a Mac AND a PC
I’ve been chronicling my adventures switching from a Tablet PC to a Macbook Pro over the last few months here, here, here and here. After using Mac OS for a few weeks now, I have come to realize that I am technologically bipolar – I’m both a Mac AND a PC. There are some things that I like about both platforms and neither is a perfect fit for the way I work. Here are a few random thoughts, in no particular order, on the pros and cons of the Mac vs. the PC and, by extension, Mac OS vs. Vista:
No question, Apple has the edge when it comes to hardware design. Their products are sleek, sexy and just plain well built. After carrying around a solid hunk of aluminum for the better part of a month now I can honestly say it was worth the premium price just to have a piece of technology that is so rock solid. Everything fits together perfectly and it’s obvious that the designers spent tons of time worrying about little details. PC’s, on the other hand, are mostly just chunks of plastic that seem like they were thrown together on a whim (with the possible exception of Sony who does a pretty good job design-wise). Why are there so many protrusions and odd bumps everywhere (HP, Acer, Asus, Samsung, Toshiba)? Why are the materials so freakin’ cheap even on high-end machines (Dell, Lenovo, HP again)? And the displays? They’re all just crap, crap, crap – anyone tried to look at the screen on Fujitsu’s new top-of-the-line tablet lately? Completely unviewable anywhere but a dark room.
Some things that you never thought were important in the PC world suddenly make you question yourself when you buy a Mac. Like power bricks, for example – why does every notebook come with a two pound brick with cords going everywhere when Apple can figure out how to cram it all into a small white square? And the removable power tips? That’s just pure genius. While I’m not a big fan of limited choice, at least the Apple peripherals are, for the most part, as solid as the core product. No cheap plastic keyboards and break-apart mice just solid stuff that holds up to all the abuse I can throw at it.
That being said, the Macbook isn’t the perfect piece of kit. For one, there just aren’t enough ports. Two USB slots in a $3,000 machine? C’mon, Cuptertino, get real. And what’s with the funky display options? Just give us a freakin’ VGA connector and be done with it – we don’t need DisplayPort/DVI/WhateverIsNext on a portable. The old-fashioned connector will do just fine (and it will do a better job of detecting external displays – another one of my big beefs). I should also point out that minimalist design is fine until it gets in the way of doing something useful, so would it be too much to ask for a card reader slot and full PC Card functionality? Oh, and a built-in 3G card would be nice, too. Heck, you can get all that in a sub-$1,000 PC and I know there’s room inside for it all. Just do it and stop telling me I don’t need all that stuff – I do so you should provide it (is anyone in Cuptertino listening? Anyone? Hello?).
This is one area where PC’s slaughter the Mac. I’m sorry but the Mac keyboard just sucks. Sure, it’s OK to type on but where are all my keys? No Print Screen, no Fn options to toggle displays, no Shift lock, no REAL delete key (Just backspace? Really? Apple, are you that stupid that you think nobody ever wants to erase stuff in a forward direction? And no, Fn+Delete is not an acceptable alternative.)? I want a full keyboard a la the Thinkpad and I want it right now. You caved on the right-click thing (finally!) so get over yourself and give me all those missing keys. While you’re at it, swap the left Command key and Fn key so I can use the keyboard shortcuts (Cut, Copy, Paste, etc.) without having to turn my fingers into pretzels. And hurry up ’cause I’ve got, like, real work to do.
Speaking of work, when you work with SharePoint only Internet Explorer will do. I’m tired of having to spin up a VM just to edit a page in MOSS. I know, this has more to do with Microsoft’s misguided use of ActiveX controls everywhere, so this one can be targeted at either MSFT or AAPL, but somebody needs to do something ’cause WINE just doesn’t cut it. Firefox is OK, and so is Safari, but I just prefer IE. I’m used to it, it does what I need it to do, and my life would be fine without any other browser. Oh, except for Firebug – can we please get that ported to IE sometime soon???
Sorry to say, but I’m really starting to prefer Office:Mac over Office 2007 for the core applications, especially Entourage vs. Outlook. Office:Mac is just easier to use – things are better organized, the editing layouts are more robust, and the options quasi-ribbon thing just rocks. I like how Entourage pulls from my address book automatically whether I’ve ever typed that email address before or not. And the Search function is so much faster. My Day is just a brilliant little app but I suppose you can get the same thing with sidebar gadgets in Vista.
Things are not all wine and roses, however; some apps that I really need are missing: Visio, Project, and, more important than anything else, OneNote. Man, do I miss OneNote. Yeah, there’s the Notebook view in Word 2008, but it’s just not the same and I can’t find any of the OneNote alternatives that work as well as the original. And don’t bother suggesting MindManager – I tried it and I hate it. Please, oh please, MBU, give us OneNote for Mac. Pretty please???
This is a tough call because I’m not really that big a fan of Vista but Mac OS has failed to impress me thus far. It does some things better and some things worse. Startup and Shutdown times are leaps and bounds better than Vista and the F3 app switcher is quite addictive. But Finder? Oh, how I hate Finder. Give me the old fashioned, two panel, hierarchical Windows Explorer view anytime over single-pane expand/collapse and the ridiculous multi-pane gymnastics. The dock is cool but it doesn’t really effect how I work – I had RocketDock on the PC and that worked just fine for me.
I still prefer .exe’s over .dmg’s but I’m sure I’ll get used to those over time. The whole mounting/unmounting thing is very Unix-like so I suppose the metaphor makes sense, I’m just more comfortable with the Windows way of managing storage and devices. Speaking of which, stop telling me that the world is about to end because I unplugged my external drive without "Unmounting" it first. Sheesh, even Vista can handle that without complaining. Oh, and in Vista I can turn UAC off and still have a password-protected login – I’m getting a bit tired of having to type my password for everything just so I can have a login prompt and fast user switching.
Third Party Applications
Again, this is a tough call. It seems pretty obvious that there are more third party apps and utilities for the Windows platform so the PC should have the edge here but, as Heather has pointed out to me, there are some utilities for the Mac that make web design a much better experience (she’s right – CSSEdit is wicked cool). All the iWhatever apps are pretty good but Vista has plenty of equivalents to that’s a push. I guess what really makes this a PC win is Visual Studio and .NET. If something doesn’t exist that I need in Vista I can just create it myself (I know, this doesn’t apply to everyone, just the devheads). Yeah, there’s Cocoa and whatnot for the Mac but it ain’t the same. VS still rules the day.
Since Virtual PC is as good as dead there’s no point in trying to ride that horse anymore – it’s VMWare or nothing (unless you’re willing to put up with the poor mobile experience in Windows Server 2008 to get Hyper-V, which really does rock). The Mac gets the nod in this category due to Fusion and Unity. With Fusion, I can run a VM off of a physical partition, which dramatically improves performance. That’s something VMWare can’t do on Windows (although I’m not sure why that feature is missing; I may be wrong here so someone correct me if that’s not the case). Second, and even more important, is Unity – the ability to run apps from my Leopard desktop without the full VM wrapper. This is just killer cool and the folks at VMWare deserve some kind of prize for coming up with it. Sure, there’s a VM running in the background, but I don’t see it and I can switch between windows easily without the Win2k8 desktop clutter. I don’t know if anyone has ever done a head to head comparison of VMWare PC vs. Fusion Mac for regular vmdk-based images but in my experience they’re about the same.
It’s no secret that you have to pay to play in the Apple universe. It’s very frustrating that similarly spec’d machines cost about $500 less on the PC platform than Mac but I guess that’s just the way it goes. I do give Apple props for at least enabling us to run Windows on a Mac via BootCamp, which is something Microsoft wont do, but I’m still not sure that justifies the added cost. And the bundled apps on the Leopard Applications disc don’t really add up to $500 in value. I suspect that nobody who is looking closely at the bottom line is really considering a Mac anyway but it would be nice if Apple would try to step up to the plate and add some more value (see my Hardware thoughts above) to justify the higher price tag.
Another win for Apple here. Nothing is as light and thin as a Macbook. Some manufacturers are trying to do better (Lenovo, Sony, MSI) but so far everyone has fallen short. And I’m not talking about the Air silliness – if your’e worried about fitting your computer into a manilla envelope then you need some real work to do. I’m talking about machines with real horsepower. One of the most overlooked features of the MBP design is the clamshell display hinge, which gives me a full inch or more lower profile when the machine is open than any other notebook. If you think this isn’t important then either you don’t do much flying or you’re one of those privileged few who get to luxuriate in Business Class everywhere you go. Yeah, Apple owns this category, hands down.
So there you have it. A little from Column A(APL) and a little from column M(SFT). If the two could just morph themselves together I would be one happy dude. They don’t have a High Tech Redneck in those Apple commercials so I guess I’m a cross between the slacker Mac dude and the uptight PC guy. I have noticed I stand out a bit in the Apple store – d’ya think it’s the cowboy boots and hat or the Microsoft MVP logo on my MBP lid???
UPDATE: Oh, happy, happy, happy day. May the fine folks at CodeWeavers be granted eternal life and unbelievable riches. Their CrossOver Mac program allows me to run OneNote (along with a bunch of other stuff) from within OSX. My life is almost complete…now, if I could only get a real Delete key…