Lessons From a Mac OS Switcher

Sep 10, 2009

I used to be a total Macintosh user; however, over time, various places I worked depended on Microsoft Windows and other MSFT technologies so that I was forced to use Windows for much of what I do. I still kept using a Mac, mostly for creative work and where business use allowed, but I had to have Windows in my life. Over the last few years, Apple has created a new line of machines that more closely match my laptop needs and have made a lot of changes to their core platform OS X. The result is a combination that makes for a very compelling argument to use Macintosh full time.

Over the past month, I've spent a lot of time with Apple's Snow Leopard. As part of this project, I put aside my PC and switched over to using a Mac full time. For the sake of the project, I settled on a 13" MacBook Pro as I needed the greatest portability/power combination. The 15" MacBook Pro was a little too big to travel with and the MacBook Air a little too underpowered for me. In addition, I installed both Windows XP and Windows 7 under VMWare Fusion (although I found that I had little need for either of them). Here's what I learned.

Hardware: The MacBook Pro is a fantastic piece of hardware. The attention to detail is amazing, from the MagSafe connector that makes it virtually impossible for anyone to trip over your power cord to the integrated iSight camera that makes video conferencing a simple task. At a travel weight of 4.5 lbs. it’s not the lightest Mac you can get but it's light enough for me and I'm willing to trade the extra performance and capacity over the MacBook Air. The latest MacBook Pro finally adds an SD expansion slot so transferring photos was much easier. However there's still less model choice than you'll find in the PC world. If you like the form factors Apple offers, you’re in great shape but if you’re looking for more choice, especially in smaller form factors, you might not be happy with Apple’s decisions.

Web Apps: All the web-based apps I used just worked. While some apps did not love Safari, I was able to fix that with a quick download of Camino, a Firefox based browser that is optimized for Mac OS. I could see where running a particular app could be an issue but it’s not something I encountered.

Productivity Applications: For the most part, I used the Mac version of Microsoft Office to collaborate with the rest of the organisation and it mostly worked out OK. App launching is slower than I'd like but it does work. In general, I find Office 2008 for Macintosh to be best version of Office that MSFT has done for any platform, but there's still a lot Microsoft can do to make it better. In general, I found I preferred using Apple’s tools such as Pages and Keynote where possible. On at least one occasion, a PowerPoint presentation I spent hours on in the Mac version was unable to be viewed properly on Windows machines, necessitating going into VMware and using Microsoft Office 2003 under Windows XP to properly get things working again. For the most part, knowledge workers should have no issues going back and forth and staying compatible but the more complex the document, the more likely there are going to be issues. Graphic Art apps, particularly the Adobe Creative Suite line, ran flawlessly, as expected.

Exchange Synchronization: Working with Exchange was one of the biggest issues for me. At the moment, Microsoft’s own Entourage application simply didn’t work well in practice. Calendar times didn’t sync up and all-day appointment’s were often - but not always - a day off. This is where Snow Leopard really shined. I found I was able to totally avoid Entourage and simply use the native OS X apps for mail, contacts and calendar. The only catch is you need to be using Exchange 2007 at the server level. If you're not, the best way to get to Exchange support is to use Outlook itself, under a virtual copy of XP or Windows 7 with VMware.

The bottom line is that the Mac platform today is not the Mac platform of old and there’s a lot of benefit for going with Apple and relatively little hassle for doing so. The ability to run Windows seamlessly via dual booting using Apple’s Boot Camp, or virtually with programs such as Parallels Workstation or VMware, means that Windows applications demanded by enterprise are only a click away. Combined with Snow Leopard, and the ability to have native Exchange support, I plan on staying with my Macbook for the time being.

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