The Switch

Danny is pondering what path to take on buying a new computer.

I’m not sure how an older dual G4 will compare to a single G4 1.42, but a Mac Mini might be a better investment for a Mac switcher. The higher end Mini is $599 new, plus you’d need to add 1GB of memory. Sometimes stores that have a demos will have them loaded with extra memory, so check the “About this computer” option out under the Apple menu at the top left of the screen. Take the opportunity to mess with the iLife applications in a store and see if the system is fast enough to your liking. If the memory is the ridiculous default 256, make sure you don’t open tons of applications for the test. This is the biggest problem with the stock configuration, 256MB is simply not enough. Other downsides include the fairly weak video performance, and a slower bus. However, the box is possibly the most silent desktop you will ever own. Unless you are really pushing the processor with audio or video editing applications, you barely know it’s on.

I made the switch to Mac around the time the Mini came out. I bought a Mini, unfortunately with insufficient memory, and quickly upgraded myself to owning an iMac G5. The processing difference is notable between the two. Admittedly however, I let the slowness due to limited memory weigh in on me too much, yet, I don’t regret purchasing the iMac.

Beyond the beauty of the hardware design of the Apple computers lies the real gem though: OS X. Why do I like OS X? It feels to me as if it merges what I like about Linux and Windows together. With Linux, you have easy access to a great deal of open source development tools. Yes, many of the same important tools (python, perl) are available for Windows, but it just doesn’t seem quite right (especially perl). Think about it this way (assuming you know some programmers), how many perl coders are Linux/bsd users, and how many use Windows? You also get a Linux like command line on OS X, which I truly relish. GUI apps are great, but if I just want to rsync my harddrive to and external device, a simple perl script running as a cronjob is the way I want to do it. That’s easy for me on Linux, tougher on Windows, and easy on a Mac. However, with Windows, I get easier access to a wide variety of peripheral devices, and audio and video codecs. Yes, I can get these things working on a Linux box, but it often feels like arm twisting. And then even if I can get it to work, having the filetype handled cleaning, system wide, is sometimes difficult. I could always get my palm pilots to work with Linux, but, it was nowhere near as easy for me to do and more importantly, work with, as Palm Desktop on Windows.

So along comes OS X, and it does what I want. My iPod works both flawlessly and effortlessly with it, as does my digital camera. It has excellent photo library capabilities via iPhoto. I can burn to CD without jumping through hoops. It comes loaded with tools and software I live by, such as rsync, openssh, sendmail, perl, python, command line shells, grep, find, and vi. GarageBand is a blast to play with. I’m sure even with my limited visual creativity skills, I’ve got a good shot of putting out something decent with iMovie should I ever try.

In addition to the default OS X shipped applications, the Quicksilver launcher provides about the most insanely quick and intuitive human to computer interface I have ever used. It is so good that many of it’s devotees have questioned if it has lessened the importance of the Apple search technology Spotlight, found in the upcoming OS X Tiger release. For a further look into what you can accomplish with QuickSilver, I’d recommend you check out the 43folders QuickSilver category. Once you use QuickSilver, it’s merits are obvious. You will find yourself on a box without the launcher, absent mindedly hitting the launch hotkey, much to your frustration.

What are some factors that could get me to switch back? Price, for one. If your Dell blows up, you can replace it and not have it cost you an arm and a leg. Apple has good customer care, but nothing can ever assure you won’t have to go for total system replacement on your own dime. Perhaps this influences the typical trait of Mac users to feel more of an affinity with their computers. Also, were I to once again develop a strong craving for desktop gaming, Windows could pull me back. I don’t think so though. I’m trying to stick to gaming on consoles. I bought one too many brand new, pushing $400 video cards, only to have it valued at $100 and outdated a few months later. Not to mention, games are such a time sink. Now I’d much rather read anyway.

There’s more I could rave about regarding OS X, but this is long enough. Perhaps another day.

One final note. There are many out there would tell me, “Almost everything you’ve listed is easy (or better) to do on a Windows box.” In fact, I even used to be one of those people! But there’s a few problems here. First, “easy” or “better” are subjective. It probably would be easy for me, but, I’m enjoying doing it on the Mac. “Better”, well, who can really tell me what computer is best for me, other than myself? I’ve often enjoyed using Linux boxes, rarely enjoyed a Windows experience, and currently enjoy using a Mac. The experience is pleasing to me, you see, as it’s not just about what I’m doing, but how it feels while I’m doing it. That is something not easily influenced by a price point. A lesson learned from this of course, is, never to roll my eyes when someone skilled at using their platform of choice tells me they like it. Now, if it’s a grandmother with 3 months of keyboard time under her belt, I will of course doubt she is making such an informed choice. But I’ll still try to keep my eyes in place.

—Apr 26, 2005