Life as a Dual User

Seeing as I’ve had a Apple Powerbook since November, and a PC since forever, I thought I’d give a bit of PC users insight to the Mac.

A bit of background

I’ve been using PCs since the Microsoft Windows 3.1. My first computer was had an Intel 386 CPU, I think running at a scorching 33Mhz. Infact, I remember using DOS (of the 6.22 variety) as much as Windows back then, seeing as I mostly played games and games only ran in DOS. Manual memory management, scrounging around to find more extended memory, those were the days. Now we live in world of Windows XP and OS X, with great features such as fade out tool tips, click sounds when we click, and slow-motion replays. I pratically hadn’t touched a Mac until I got my second-hand PowerBook G4 in November, never seeing a use for them. However, while I owned a (then) high-end PC, my laptop lack in several departments. It was big, bulky, unsightly, noisy, slow and had a crap screen. It was so bad, that I ended up ditching it and not using it for months. Then, I needed a laptop. I looked around all the usual channels, and nothing piqued my interest, Toshiba, Dell, HP, even Sony. I then stumbled upon the Apple site, saw the PowerBook, and was won over instantly.

Getting used to OS X

I’ll admit, it took me a long time to get used to OS X. Having the menu bar permenatly at the top of the screen isn’t a bad idea, I mean, how many times will you use more than one menu at a time? But I spent most of the first week looking for the menu at the top of windows.

The Dock is a wonderful idea, quick access to my favourite programs and little wasted space. Forcing a program to quit works every time. One of my number one top hates of Windows is sometimes, you just can’t force a program to quit, no matter how many times you click End Process.

Networking between a PC and a Mac is surprisingly easy. I connected both to my router, and hey presto, I can access the Mac through my PC in the same way as I would access another PC. The main problem is, I still haven’t figured out how to do the opposite, access my PC from the Mac, but I rarely need that so I’m not too worried about it now.

OS X seems to force disc cacheing on my external drives and USB memory key, which means I have to annoyingly “eject” them before I can unplug them, or any recently written files won’t appear when you try to use it, or will be corrupted (I’ve had missing audio from video files).

You can get nearly every browser on the PC on the Mac. Internet Explorer (albeit a dated version), Firefox, Opera. However, my favourites are still Safari and Camino, both OS X specific, and it shows. The higher DPI of OS X means that more is displayed for a given resolution, and the much higher quality of text anti-alising in OS X means that text is very easy to read. However, the browsers on my PC always seem a bit more responsive than my PowerBook, even when loading simple pages.

Without a task bar, switching between windows in OS X is a complicated affair. You can either use Exposé, which very sleekly changes the size and position of every window so that you can see every one on the screen, and the one you click on is brought to the forward, or you can Alt-Tab. The Alt-Tab in OS X works differently to the PC however, where the PC switches between Windows, Mac OS X switches between applications, so switching between applications either requires an add-on program, or another Exposé trick where it just shows the windows of a certain application. Either way, I find Windows a harder, but quicker way to switch between windows.

The PowerBook

I have a rather old PowerBook G4 of the TiBook era. It has a 667MHz G4 CPU and ATI Radeon graphics, just enough to run OS X and its Exposé tricks. Admitted it does run much slower than my PC desktop, and OS X is not a “quick” OS as Windows is (everything happens instantly). However, it’s definatly faster than my old laptop, which had an 800MHz Celeron chip and 256MB of RAM running Windows 2000.

At 2.6KG, this is a serious piece of kit at this weight. The finish is fantastic, I don’t know whether it is realy titanium, but it looks suberb. The design is milimilst, and very stylish, and the metal construction makes the laptop feel very sturdy, and much heavier than it is. The new aluminium PowerBook fixes a lot of problems with the old TiBook, such as the protruding hinge, ports on the back, and ventilation, but this TiBook is still a design classic, and has at least a year or two left in her. I will probably most definatly get a new AlBook once I retire my TiBook.

Compatibility

I’ve already talked about network compatability (thanks to UNIX and Samba), now application compatibility.

For web design, the Mac is just as well catered as the PC is. Macromedia and Adobe all make their products for the Mac as well as the PC. Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Fireworks are all I need. Programming wise, unless you program in Java, there isn’t any way to develop PC programs on the Mac. Borland make their excellent JBuilder (Foundation) for OS X free, however, as I am mainly a C# and .NET, I still need a PC.

Microsoft makes their Office suite for the Mac, so office files are no problem. MSN, AIM and Yahoo all make clients for the IM protocols, although I prefer using Fire which has a great Mac style interface and mutiple protocol support, including IRC.

Games wise, the Mac is not a good platform for games. Under the same hardware, games usually run 25% slower on Macs (simiar CPU and same graphics card). Only the top end PowerMacs come with decent graphics hardware, and at huge expense. There isn’t any middle ground. It’s either a nVidia 6800 Ultra, ATI Radeon x800 XT, both in the £300 – £350 region, or a previous generation ATI Radeon 9800 Pro. Also, only the PowerMacs have upgradeable graphics, the iMac G5, eMac, Mac Mini all have integrated graphics, no better than an ATI Radeon 9600.

And…

Well, if you’re primary business is design, web or otherwise, a Mac is a very good investment. PowerBooks are by far the best laptops made at the moment, as long as you don’t want to play games or develop any Windows programs on it. Make sure you get yourself a good bag for it, just in case you scratch or dent the wonderful finish.

While I can’t fully switch to a Mac platform yet (issues such as .NET and games), I definatly will always have an Apple laptop now, and possibly a desktop once some more compatibility issues are solved. However, I will probably always have a PC.

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