My 30 days switch experiment is over. For the past 31 days, I have used a Mac exclusively for all my non-work computing tasks. At work, I also managed to use a Mac for 90% of the time.
A friend recently asked me to let him know when I was ready to auction off my Macs on eBay.
His question made me think – is eBay really the future destination for my Macs?
I did this switch experiment to find out first hand what it is like to use a Mac. I wanted to do this experiment myself in order to remove any external bias from the process. My primary objectives were to learn a new operating system, to discover new ways of designing a UI, and to try out an alternative to Windows. I was also interested in determining which Mac myths are true, and which are false, along the lines of Discovery Channel's "Myth Busters" TV show. More importantly, the experiment was done with my own personal needs in mind; ultimately, I wanted to establish if a Mac OS X machine would be an effective machine for me to use.
Here are some of the myths that I wanted to investigate.
• The Mac never crashes.
• There are no viruses or spyware for the Mac.
• The Mac is a much better multimedia computer.
• The Mac is much faster than a Windows PC.
• The Mac is easier to use.
Crashes - The Mac crashes. In fact, it crashed for me more often than my Windows machine. OS X itself has locked up. Various Mac applications tend to crash; Safari, iPhoto, Firefox, Ecto, VueScan all crash with certain regularity. This problem is unfortunate, but not unexpected; it is a general indictment on the state of personal computing in 2005, and the Mac is not immune from it. Myth Busted.
Viruses and Spyware - There do not seem to be any widespread Mac viruses or spy-ware for OS X, yet. Most Mac users I have met do not run any anti-virus software, and none of them run anti-spyware software. I have yet to install Norton Anti-virus on my systems. It is nice not to have to do daily scans, not to waste precious CPU with real time virus protection. While it might be only a question of time, and market share, for now, the Mac OS X community is virus free. Myth proved.
Better multimedia computer – This myth is difficult to prove or disprove – what does it really mean? For me personally, I wanted to establish if the Mac was easier to use for my multimedia needs: mainly photography, graphics design, and limited video editing. While iLife makes it very easy to publish a web page, share a photograph, create basic videos, it turned out to be very rudimentary; iLife is one app that I hardly ever use now. I ended up using the same photography tools on the Mac as I did on Windows (iView Media Pro, Photo Mechanic, Photoshop, Bibble).
Would the Mac be a better multimedia computer for some? Yes, it would be if the user’s multimedia needs are basic and simple, in which case, they could easily be met by iLife. For someone like me, who does advanced amateur photography work, the Mac is not a better multimedia PC. Myth busted.
Speed - No contest, the Mac is at least 6x slower than PCs. I never did get the dual Power Mac system, as I am waiting for a dual core Power Mac to be launched in September – fingers crossed. However, when comparing my PowerBook G4 with my Windows laptop (Sony Vaio T350/P), Windows was clearly faster. A comparison between my G5 iMac and a Windows PC that costs half as much, showed the PC being 6x faster than the Mac. Scientific tests? Hardly. Nevertheless, they were my real world tests. Doing serious digital photography on a Mac is significantly slower than doing it on a Windows machine. Myth busted.
Easier to use - This myth is hard to measure as well. I am still faster on a Windows PC than I am on a Mac, but that's just 15 years of Windows experience compared to 30 days of Mac experience. More importantly, I enjoy using the Mac, I enjoy the UI effects, I enjoy the brush metal look – it feels new and shiny. Spotlight alone makes the Mac easier to use. Furthermore, in the age of digital photography, music files, and email, any modern PC must have an integrated system level search tool that looks inside files and documents of any type. Due to Spotlight, and smart folders, I am going to say that the Mac is easier to use. Myth proved.
In the end, none of this analysis really matters much. What I liked the most about the Mac was the learning experience: learning a new system, downloading new applications, experimenting, optimizing the machine, being a computer geek once again. Windows hasn’t changed in so long that I stopped looking around for cool new apps, or for cool new software gadgets. Interestingly enough, while learning and discovering OS X, I found lots of cool Windows applications that I wished I had tried before.
My two biggest frustrations with the Mac were its lack of speed, and its limited selection of applications. Most applications are available for Windows first, and then some of them are migrated to OS X. Even web companies like Goggle and Yahoo have many services that are Windows only.
It is difficult to be a good member of the Internet society if you are using a Mac. Issues with web site compatibility, IM, VOIP, email, video conferencing all make it a little bit harder to make full use of the Internet, and a little bit harder to share with friends and family.
To me, these issues make the Mac unsuitable for many. The Mac is not suitable for an inexperienced computer user who just wants to open the box, use the computer and experience the richness of the Internet. It is not suitable for a family who wants to use educational software for young children (Windows has 10x as many). It is not suitable for a family with teenagers who want to use the PC for video games (Windows has 100x as many). To make the Mac work well in the Internet, you have to configure Mac mail in a certain way, you have to download Firefox, you have to ask your Windows friends to use AIM if you want to video conference (all of them will refuse, by the way). You have to put up with a limited feature set on VOIP applications. These challenges can represent huge obstacles for novice computer users, obstacles that these same users would not encounter by choosing the mainstream Windows platform. It’s really a shame, as it is these same new users who would benefit the most from spotlight, exposé, smart folders, virus free computing, and iLife.
What does it mean to me?
I’m reminded of a Mac OS X review I read long ago on Wired Magazine – if memory serves me right, the reviewer upgraded 3 systems to Panther, and 2 of the systems crashed during the upgrade. The reviewer ended up spending a 3 day weekend restoring his old files and installing a fresh copy of Panther. In the end, he asked himself this one question, "Was it worth it?" His answer was that yes, and he would encourage users to install and upgrade to Panther. I couldn't believe it when I read the review; it sounded like a nightmare upgrade situation, yet he recommended Panther without reservation.
I feel the same way as the reviewer. Running OS X has not been without drawbacks. Some of my applications no longer work. I haven't held a video conference call with friends and family for 30 days now. On the other hand, I actually like using OS X. It is difficult to use a computer without integrated local search; smart folders just make sense; Exposé is awesome, albeit slower than Witch.
While in the past, the role of an operating system was to get out of the way, to be transparent to the user, those rules no longer apply today. The OS today is the core application that I want to use. The OS is the computer shell – the OS is the gateway to my data.
The OS UI layer is the heart and soul of the computer. A great UI can hide a slower processor, a great UI can make a complicated operation seem easy, a great UI can make an inferior solution better than a more feature rich solution.
In the UI department, OS X is miles ahead of Windows (some would say that it is also miles ahead of Windows in the core OS department – but at a certain level, the core OS is secondary to the UI – you don’t hear many user accolades for Red Hat Linux, do you? Same core as OS X).
Ultimately, the Mac is just fun to use. Using the Mac reminded me, once again, that computers can be enjoyable. After all, I not only need to use a computer, I want to use a computer.
I have already been waiting 2 years for Windows Vista. Mac OS X Tiger is here now, with features that will only be on Windows a year from now. When Windows Vista finally launches, Apple will have launched OS X Leopard. Will Vista do enough to catch up to OS X Tiger and beat what’s yet to come with OS X Leopard?
Why settle for XP while I could be running Tiger? The Macs in my house are here to stay: they will form the core systems that I will use from now on. Sure, I will dust off my Windows desktop and have it ready to crunch RAW photo conversions, but when it comes to using a computer for fun and enjoyment, I am going to reach for my Macs and smile all the way. Suddenly, waiting for Windows Vista doesn’t feel as painful anymore – I now have a tiger to keep me company.
2006/07 are going to be great years for computer users. A new version of Windows will be available for the first time in 5 years, and Apple with have its 5th generation OS X release running on the faster and more efficient Intel architecture. I can’t wait.
Until then, I will be cruising the information highway on my shiny new Mac!
It has been fun - thanks to those who visited and those who commented.
Photograph by Thomas D Mangelsen