Let’s get one thing straight from the outset; I didn’t choose Microsoft. The choice was made for me. Like anyone who had an office job in the late 20th Century, if the office had a computer, chances are it was running a Microsoft operating system. In my case that was MSDOS, which was swiftly followed by Windows 3.1, then Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP …you get the general idea.
When I eventually got a ‘home computer’, it was inevitably a second hand PC, sold out the back door of a small company somewhere in London who were upgrading their office machines. So again, I was saddled with Microsoft.
In those early days I didn’t have hundreds of pounds to spend on computers, but when I finally did, well – I simply bought the fastest, most up-to-date version of what I already had. Why would I do any different?
Then recently, after a lifetime of being a Windows User, I reached that point where Microsoft had annoyed me one too many times and it was time to give ‘the other guys’ a chance – even if that involved parting with more money for a computer than I’d usually be prepared to do. I decided to go Mac.
You might wonder just what heinous Microsoft crimes I’m referring to. Well let’s start with Windows 95. What a hideous operating system that was. Though perhaps not as awful as Windows Millenium edition. Though both pale into insignificance compared to Windows Vista which was the fastest system I’ve ever used when it comes to losing my temper.
Then there’s various versions of Microsoft Office, which in some way reflects Microsoft’s development ethos best of all. Wait just long enough to eradicate the more annoying bugs in your software, and for your customers to familiarise themselves with how everything works (even if that ‘way’ isn’t all that logical), then change it! Beyond all recognition! Rename stuff for no reason! Move it all around! Introduce meaningless elements! How about a nice animation of a paperclip, or a dog scratching at the floor whilst your computer supposedly does stuff (but probably isn’t)?
But what finally did it for me was the day I walked into Harper Collins for a pretty important meeting; I sat down at a conference table with my editor and various heads of departments, started my laptop, and was faced with a blue screen informing me my computer was installing 1 of 32 updates. There was no ‘don’t do this now’ button, no ‘skip’ option – I sat there, embarrassed & humiliated by my computer equipment whilst my colleagues opened their Macs or tapped at their iPads. On that day I vowed to switch to Apple as soon as I could afford to. And when a few months later Microsoft unveiled Windows 8, and I looked at the horror that awaited me, I realised I couldn’t wait that long.
A few weeks later I walked into an Apple store, found a bearded fellow in a bright yellow T-shirt (the beard and the t-shirt over the top of a contrasting sweater appear to be some sort of Apple uniform) and started asking him questions. Thirty minutes later I’d come to the conclusion that my best course of action was to actually keep my existing monitors (plural), keyboard & mouse, and to invest in a Mac Mini which would set me back significantly less than I’d originally budgeted for (circ £500).
I set aside a couple of days (coming from a microsoft background I was anticipating a lot more trouble than I ultimately got), and started making lists; what applications did I use? What did I need my Mac to do from day one? What potential problems could I foresee?
I’ll admit to being somewhat nervous about my decision. Other than a passion to be shot of bloody Microsoft I still had no idea whether I was doing the right thing. All my Mac-user friends had told me that I wouldn’t regret making the jump but, well, they would say that wouldn’t they.
My first thoughts after unpacking the solid, but none-the-less attractive, brush-metal box (other than my considerable surprise that my screens, keyboard and mouse all worked without the need to ‘download drivers’ or anything else) can basically be summarised into four words:
Boy, this is quiet.
I’d been used to living with a computer who’s fan was so loud, I’d spent two days sitting at my desk with noise reducing headphones until I eventually opened the thing up and tightened a bunch of screws. The Mac Mini was, and continues to be, absolutely silent.
My second thought was:
This is quite pretty.
I’m referring to the operating system (which at the time was Maverick). There’s something considerably less clunky about it. You get the feeling that it’s fairly robust. Dare I say ‘finished’. There isn’t that awful sense that it needs the words ‘Service Pack’ after it in order to be reliable.
There was a brief wobble whilst I got used to the keyboard. As a windows user I was used to using the CTRL or ALT keys in combination with letters. Suddenly I was being asked to use the apple ‘command key’, although usually in combination with the same letters I used before. I don’t have an Apple Command key. On my keyboard the ‘Apple Command key’ is actually the button with the windows logo on it. The one that I’d never had to use prior to becoming a mac user. Oh the irony.
Then there was the confusion when I discovered the @ sign and the double quotes had swapped places. There’s probably a way to get these to go back to the key from where they came but I haven’t figured it out yet. Oh, and the hash symbol can only be generated by doing Alt-3, which was, and I confess, still is, slightly maddening. Presumably at some point I’ll figure out a way of fixing this too.
It also took me a while to get used to ‘Finder’. For someone who has a quite a complicated virtual filing system of folders and subfolders, Finder didn’t seem anywhere near as powerful as Windows Explorer, and initially failed to live up to its name.
I realise now, that by using the various buttons at the top of the window, in combination with Spotlight (a sort of google-desktop-style super-search: find just anything by keying a few words you know to be in the document), Finder is vastly superior – although I wish Spotlight would give me the option to open the containing folder, rather than the file itself.
In many ways I came to realise that my Mac (or Max as I like to call him) is a little like a Parisian Waiter. Beautiful to look at, and, if you can forgive Max his breath-taking arrogance, surprisingly efficient. So long as you understand that Max knows best.
Learning a new task on a Mac is like trying to find scampi & chips on a restaurant menu, only to be told that there is there no menu, and that scampi wouldn’t be on it even if there were. However the kitchen can knock up whole-tailed garlic flash-fried shrimp, with a side of potato crochets in sea-salt if Monsieur should so wish? Er ok then. I don’t suppose I could have some ketchup with that? No, no, Of course not. I don’t know why I asked really.
Other than my keyboard conundrums the only real problem I had, if you could call it that, was the initial disappointment that Max wasn’t anywhere near as fast as I expected him to be. I’d click something, and then, after a moment – as if waiting to see if I wanted to change my mind, or perhaps translating my broken-French back into English and then into real-French – Max would finally do the thing I asked.
I mentioned this in passing on facebook and several Mac-user buddies chipped in and told me to upgrade the memory. Four gig of RAM is more than enough in the world of PCs, on a Mac however, that’s barely enough to start the machine. A day or two later I’d installed two eight gig chips and suddenly Max was much more attentive. Which was when I found the second reason for his apparent slowness.
Before I made ‘the leap’ I knew I was going to have a problem writing to my NTFS formatted external hard drive. Macs can read NTFS no problem, but they steadfastly refuse to write to them. All the forums I came across suggested that I get a new external drive and format it as FAT32 which can be read by both Macs & PCs. What they failed to mention however was that FAT32 has some pretty severe limitations when it comes to file sizes or the number of items in a folder. This option wasn’t going to work for me.
Then I came across a piece of software called Paragon that promised to give my Mac the ability to use my NTFS drives unhindered. I purchased a copy and it worked. Sort of. Until one day when I was having trouble transferring documents from one folder to another, and the next thing I knew the Mac was restarting – my first Apple OS crash! When I relaunched Finder, the folder in question, and it’s contents, was corrupted. And whilst I keep daily backups I was stuck with a folder that wouldn’t be moved, renamed or deleted – regardless of whether the drive was plugged into the Mac or my old Windows machine.
This happened two more times before I realised Paragon wasn’t quite up to the task. I bit the bullet. I bought a new external drive, formatted it for Mac, and copied my files across.
The transfer took a couple of hours, but once done my Mac no longer had to speak NTFS, and as a consequence the speed that I’d been expecting from my small grey box was suddenly there. No more pregnant pauses from Max. I’d ask something of him, and it was done. Get me a crocodile sandwich and make it… oh thank you very much. Is that real crocodile?
Max was so fast that a couple of times I couldn’t understand why he didn’t seem to be doing anything. Answer: because he had already finished.
Take for example backups. Now I had an extra external hard-drive, I reformatted my old one for Mac and switched on Time Machine. About ten minutes later Max had copied everything that had taken a couple of hours before, back to the old drive. I was still trying to find some sort of ‘percentage complete’ indicator when I figured out this had happened. What’s more, now I had a backup system that kicked the arse of anything I’d used before. I don’t use this phrase lightly. Suddenly I was in awe of my Mac. My friends had been right.
So is there anything I miss from my old Windows days? Honestly? No.
I confess I did decide to buy Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac. I’m not sure this was a wise purchase but my thinking at the time was as a writer I needed to be up & running, fast, on something that was familiar. What actually happened was that it took me a while to find the correct office product (ie. the one that isn’t expecting me to cough-up for a new license every year), and even longer to get to grips with Outlook and Word which aren’t Mac versions of the current Windows products, but are completely different versions in their own right. All I can say is that google is my best friend. There isn’t a day when I don’t type a phrase similar to “How do I do this thing in Word 2011 for Mac” into the search box. This one purchase probably inoculated me against ever looking back at my old computer with wistful longing.
Of course, I’m still coming up against the odd thing that has me foxed for a few minutes.
For instance; where is the Mac equivalent of scheduled tasks? Answer: buried deep within the built in calendar application.
Or how do I rename a whole load of related files (file01, file02, file03 etc) in one go etc. Answer: upgrade to Yosemite, otherwise you can’t.
And I’m still scratching my head over malware protection. Is it necessary? On my PC I’d scan my entire system every night, along with a lighter, hourly scans. But on the Mac my normal level of paranoia seems less justified.
But on the whole I’m glad I made the jump. Crocodile sandwich anyone?