Parallel Desktops

Switching from Windows to Mac – One Year Later

On February 2, 2008 I was a Windows software developer. I had a house full of Windows based machines and was working on building up my next software company using some of them. I am what you might call a heavy…

On February 2, 2008 I was a Windows software developer. I had a house full of Windows based machines and was working on building up my next software company using some of them. I am what you might call a heavy duty computer user; I use my machines to communicate with folks (e-mail, forums, etc), develop software, manage my digital photos, edit home videos, play high end games, etc. Basically I spent most of my waking hours in front of a computer and was fine plugging away on Windows XP.

Something however was missing. It took me a while to figure out but I was simply bored with Windows. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Microsoft seemed to have abandoned any attempt at maintaining a uniform user interface and many software vendors were innovating by trying very non-standard UIs. Every time I installed new software I worried that it was blowing up the size of my Registry, potentially subjecting me to Malware and Spyware or installing replacement DLLs for libraries that other applications were counting on.

Every 6-9 months I would have to reinstall Windows and my core applications and suddenly my performance would return. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was having to put far too much time into keeping my machines running smoothly.

It was at this point in my life that many of my friends started getting Macs. They would tell me how much they loved them and how "it just works". I personally didn’t find that too informative. What do you mean, it just works? Isn’t that just some marketing line Apple wants you to repeat? Are you guys really falling for that?

Still, more and more people, including some highly technical software developers I knew, were getting Macs and raving about them. So on a Sunday afternoon I walked into the Apple store in Tyson’s Corner, VA and started checking out a little white MacBook. A short while later I was home with the MacBook sitting on my lap and I wrote the first entry of this blog: a hardcore Windows guy gets a Mac. I wrote nearly daily after that, recording in detail everything I found that I liked and didn’t like, hoping it would help other people that were making the adjustment from Windows to Mac.

Invasion of the Macs
What started out as an addition to my collection of computers turned into a full scale replacement of my Windows machines with Macs. For a while I had both my Windows and Mac cranked up and running side by side, though I found myself constantly moving my hands over to the MacBook. Suddenly using a computer felt like fun again. The interface was crisp and clean and the little machine performed incredibly well, much faster than I expected from such an entry level Mac.

It didn’t take long before I learned that many of the myths about Macs that I had clung to as a heavy Windows user were just wrong. Things like Macs can only use a single mouse button, that there wasn’t much software for them, or that they were really just for consumers and graphic artists. Turns out I was wrong.

Before I knew it I was running VMware Fusion on my MacBook and playing with my Visual Studio development environment in there. Wanting a little more horsepower and a lot more screen real estate I bought a refurbished Mac Pro from Apple and set that up as my primary workstation, re-purposing my dual 20" LCDs as Mac displays. At this point I really didn’t even fire up my Windows XP machine any longer. Why bother? Between VMware Fusion and a large collection of native Mac applications I had a machine that could run circles around my Windows XP system.

By the middle of the year my patience for supporting the Windows XP machines that remained in the house was wearing very thin. When my wife would yell to me that her HP laptop "wasn’t working" or "is running REALLY slowly" I would look at the machine with disdain and plot to replace it with a Mac. I ended up doing that for her birthday and it’s gone surprisingly well, even though she still hasn’t mastered how to quit an application (she just clicks the close button on the window).

So here it is a full year later and nearly every member of my family is running a Mac. I’ve become the "go to" person in my network of friends and family on Mac issues; if someone is considering getting a Mac they like to call and ask me about it and try to understand what will be different, which machine they should buy and how they should set it up. I don’t even mind the call and often tell them enthusiastically about things like Time Machine and the iLife suite. If they’re more technical I get into Spaces, LaunchBar, terminal windows and half a dozen other "must have" utilities I think they should get.

Not Perfect But Close Enough
My Macs have not been perfect mind you. I continue to get Time Machine errors that correct themselves on the next try (can’t it just auto-retry once and THEN tell me there was a problem if that failed???). From a design standpoint I like the fact that the top level menu is fixed and context sensitive because it cuts down on every window having a menu bar, but it means that on multiple display systems that menu may be a screen or two away from what I am working on.

There are also times that the Mac tries to do a little too much for a power user, like when iPhoto insists that I drop my 25K photos into it’s collection model in order to do anything useful with them rather than letting me keep it in my own folder structure where it can be shared by everyone in the family. I have a couple other minor complaints but I mention them mainly to point out that I’m trying to be objective in the way I’ve approached my Macs.

These issues aside I have been extremely happy with my switch to being a Mac user. I frequently run more than a dozen applications at the same time, leveraging Spaces to create a large virtual workspace and jump between my applications. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been lucky but since I became a Mac user I have not experienced a single kernel panic. I mention this only because I have installed a LOT of software on my Macs, trying out many of the tools and utilities that people have recommended to me through this blog.

The performance I get from my Macs has been as good as it was the day that I bought them. I’ve generally found that all of the applications I get from Apple use a very standardized user interface and because of that most after market vendors have followed that lead and produce applications that look and feel like something you would get from Apple.

Last but by no means least I’ve found that the Mac community is populated by extremely helpful people that have been willing to give me a hand when I had a question or provide a recommendation when I needed to find the right program. This is something I experienced in places like Mac-Forums and many times in the comments on this blog.

What I find a bit ironic is that when people now ask me why I seem to like Macs so much I don’t usually go into all of the details you see in this blog post. I tend to sum up my reason with:

"It just works"



By David Alison

I bought my first Mac almost 24 years ago when DOS ruled the world. I didn't keep it too long though. I was just kicking off my career as a software engineer and needed to go with PCs. I bought my 2nd Mac in February of 2008. I didn't expect that I would find myself using the machine as much as I have. It's not that I hate Windows (well, I pretty much hate Vista but XP is a fine OS), it's just that I find myself constantly playing with this machine.

I'll share with you here my experiences of making the move from Windows to Macintosh. I still have a foot in both worlds, hence the name of my section.

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