From PC to iMac
The article below was published in 2007 as the first installment of my Mac chronicles. See this page for updates.
This page outlines my experience as a PC user incorporating a Mac into my network for the first time. I should mention that I have used a Mac at work and I was somewhat familiar with the OS before I began this exercise, so this test doesn't quite reflect how it would be for someone completely new to the Mac. I'm also a Linux user which further affects things, as the Mac OS shares many similarities with Linux.
I purchased an iMac in October 2007. The specs were: 2.4GHz Intel Core Duo; 2GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 320GB SATA hard drive.
Before purchasing I asked both the store clerk and a couple of Mac users how the iMac would work with my PC/Linux network. I actually had a fair idea already, I just wanted to see what they would say. They all said basically the same thing: "Just plug it in and away it goes".
It's not quite that easy but it's certainly no more difficult than adding another PC. I spent a bit of time configuring the network settings but it was soon up and running. The bad news was that it was very slow—transfer rates were too slow to move large video files to the iMac. I Googled the issue and discovered that this was a common problem with Macs on a PC network. There were a few suggested fixes around but for various reasons I put this problem off for the time being.
The iMac came with Tiger and a free upgrade to Leopard. I ran Tiger for about a week to get the feel of it before installing the upgrade. The upgrade itself was quick and painless, but the pain wasn't far away. I rebooted after the upgrade and the first thing that happened was.... a crash! Yep, my beautiful new Macintosh computer crashed. My PC hadn't crashed for about two years so this was a shock. The only option was a hard reboot. That went okay and I started enjoying the new OS, however I began experiencing about one crash per day in which the computer completely froze.
Fortunately the first Leopard patch was released soon after (10.5.1). Software updates are available from the Apple menu and are very easy to install. The patch fixed the crashing problem. I was free to enjoy the OS as it was intended, but I have to say this was a poor first impression. Given that the most common recommendation for the Mac is stability, I was wondering if I was in for a big disappointment.
Anyway, I set up a few things to do on the iMac: Added my favourites to Safari, imported some videos and photos to work with, set up the iCal calendar, etc. The plan was to continue doing my main work on PCs and use the iMac whenever I had a few spare moments.
The tiny but fully-functional keyboard is great. It's at least as easy to use as my PC keyboard but takes up a lot less space.
One of the first things new Mac users notice is the Dock, which is similar to the taskbar in Windows but offers simple one-click access to programs whether they are already open or not. It's much better than the taskbar, in fact it's surprising how much it improves your work experience. You can add and remove applications and customize things like icon size.
Dashboard is a feature that lets you overlay a customized set of widgets over the current workspace. The widgets are similar to those available in Windows Vista, but the Mac version is much better. I actually stopped using this feature on Vista but I find the Mac one very useful. Like so many things on the Mac, it is easily accessible and slides in and out of view very elegantly. I can see why Windows wanted to copy this but they missed the mark—dashboard is far superior.
Working with Windows
It took a while to get used to moving windows around, resizing and arranging them. The first thing to hit me was how limiting it is to only be able to resize a window from the bottom right corner. This has a large nuisance factor for me and I think it's a ridiculous limitation. Apple needs to swallow their pride and follow the MS Windows example of draggable borders and corners.
On the plus side, the feature that allows you to see all windows on screen at once is awesome. A single button-click on the side of the mouse shows all windows, allowing you to mouseover and click the one you want. I didn't think it would be better than Alt-tabbing but it is.
The first thing I started using regularly was Safari. As a web designer it's a huge bonus to have a real Mac running Safari to check web pages (as opposed to using the Windows version or a simulator). Safari is a nice enough browser. The interface is clean, stylish and intuitive. Apparently it's fast but let's be honest—the difference in page rendering speeds between browsers isn't a huge issue. Despite the nice feel though, I don't like Safari as much as Firefox. It doesn't feel as powerful or customizable. The toolbar, for instance, has a limited number of buttons and strangely has no "New tab" button (I Googled this and found it to be a much-complained about omission). I haven't downloaded Firefox for the Mac because Safari is still good enough, but if the Mac was my only working computer I'd probably ditch Safari and go with Firefox.
It's a relatively small feature but I do like iCal. I'm terrible at using calendar software (I always forget to keep it updated) but the ease of use makes iCal the first such program I've stuck with in years. [Update 2008-01-20: I've now stared using Google Calendar and it's even better. It supports the iCal format too.]
I was initially excited about organizing my family photos with iPhoto but unfortunately it turned out to be unsuitable for my purposes. With no way to physically rename or move files, iPhoto is a dud as far as I'm concerned. More details here.
Mac OS comes with a built-in terminal for accessing the underlying Unix operating system (Darwin). It's a fairly standard terminal so it's hard to explain why I like it more than Windows alternatives such as Putty. Of course being part of the OS helps, and having it available with one click from the dock is fantastic. I couldn't get used to the default black-on-white text so I changed the theme to a more traditional white-on-black. There are a few interesting features to note, such as tabbed windows, window groups, and the ability to drag files from Finder into the terminal window (to add their complete path). Linux users will certainly appreciate the terminal.
Summary and the Future
On the whole I am loving my new iMac. If things keep going well I will consider migrating my main working computer to Mac, but that will be a big move. Having to re-purchase software such as the Adobe Master Collection adds a lot to the expense. Also, the high-end Mac Pros are very expensive—I can source an equivalent PC for about half the price. We'll see if the Mac turns out to be twice as good so I can justify it.
Note: Updates to this story are posted here.