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Why Mac?

Sunday 7 March 2010

I have been using Microsoft-based computers since I first started desktop computing back in the late 1980s. I have also been using Macintosh computers regularly since 1990. Over the last 20 years I have seen all the iterations that Microsoft and Apple have brought to the desktop computer. So before you try to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about and am simply a Mac fan-boy – I have used both systems continually over the last 20 years and have explored a great deal more in computing than the average user.

It’s funny that I don’t actually remember my early experiences with Microsoft except that it was a DOS environment filled with white type on a blue screen and myriad special codes needed to get anything to work. In contrast, I will never forget the first time I sat down at a Mac all those years ago. It was a Mac SE or  Classic and it was as much an epiphany as watching that first sheet of exposed photo paper go into the developer blank and gradually appear as a black and white photo. If you’re a photographer and you’ve never experienced a moment like this then  – well I’m not quite sure what to write because the days of experiencing a darkroom certainly seem to be numbered.

[Aside: A similar epiphany moment happened the first time I used Google, literally days after it was first “on air” in 1998. I clearly remember marking a student’s term paper – I got the feeling that some plagiarism was going on so I input a phrase that seemed too good for a (then) Grade 13 student into Lycos and found nothing. Then I tried AltaVista. Finding nothing still, I tried Google. It found that exact phrase, and subsequently much of the student’s paper, in milliseconds. I was sold on Google. Google is great because it works and it’s fun – same thing with Macs.]

I remember sitting down at the Mac Classic 20 years ago and discovering how, for the first time, I could actually see on-screen what my page looked like. In retrospect, it seems bizarre how we went backwards from a typewriter – the original wysiwyg device – to a blue screen with pixellated characters that didn’t look anything like the output, then back to true wysiwyg. What’s more bizarre is that the non-wysiwyg blue monster would go on to become the more popular of the two. It is truly amazing how one thing – price – can make all the difference in the world. I am sure glad that Apple has not succumbed to the inane notion that popularity equates to quality (as is all too often the case – tonight being a good example  with the Academy Awards!)

And this mouse-thing – what a concept! And fonts galore – cool fonts with Dingbats and things – all  without silly cartridges for the printer. I have to admit at being a bit of a font geek since my high school days and Letraset. Sure Macs were twice the price – but I never got tired of computing on a Mac. And now with gestures and trackpads and music and photos and productivity all at my fingertips and anytime. I don’t know how many Windows users still shut down every time they finish. They are amazed that I don’t shut down my Mac for weeks despite intensive computing sessions with 8 or 9 apps open and dragging and dropping and communicating between them. I just do the same thing with my Mac as I do with myself every night – I put it to sleep.

So, why Mac?
Simply – Macs work, Macs don’t get viruses and Macs are fun.

Macs work right out of the box. Macs work whenever I plug something into it. I had my wireless system at home set up in minutes with my $99 Airport Express my printer and two laptops. If,when I plug something in, the driver isn’t “on-board”, my Mac goes and finds it, downloads it  and, with my permission only, installs it. No .exe files that carry nasty little bits of code that ruin machines. In fact, Mac’s can’t get infected unless you allow it by entering your password.

Did I say fun? Did I say easy to use? Take this example. As a photographer I like to create slideshows of images. I have two options

  • Option 1: the absolutely free, intuitive and excellent slide shows from within iPhoto – complete with Kens burns Effects if I want them, or not;
  • Option 2: Open a Keynote template > go to iPhoto and select the photos you want to display > click and drag them to Keynote (Option-Tab will take you there or to any other app immediately) and drop them onto the Slides pane – Voilà – the photos are instantly put in as separate slides that keep all the attributes of the template.

Oh yeah – Voilà reminded me of that other great Mac feature – decidedly unimportant to the vast numbers of unilinguals (read monoculturals) – the easy way that Macs do accents.

A note about Apple Keynote (part of the iWork suite) – I do presentations in lots of different places as part of my photo courses & workshops, at schools, at churches, … and I am always asked what software I used to create them. Invariably those that ask recognize that my presentations aren’t made with Powerpoint, but are amazed when I tell them Keynote is part of a $79 suite of apps from Apple.

I know, I know – by publishing this I’m going to piss-off a number of users who don’t agree and  I’m opening myself up to all the users out there who have wonderful things to say about Windoze. But lets face it folks, while Windows does a few things better than a Mac, Macs do a pile of things better than Windows including all the populist things like games and all the highly specialized things like linking hundreds of machines together for super-computing.

But it’s the everyday things that are made easier and more fun like writing an email, word processing and browsing the net. My Mac easily talks to and exchanges photos, music and other files with my wife’s Mac over our home network. I must admit that Windows has caught up to Mac in many ways and they are cheaper. My sister claims that she can buy three Windows laptops for the price of a Mac (not! unless they are three little netbooks) but the next time you want to do a cost comparison, ask yourself how much your time is worth – finding drivers, downloading incessant updates and security fixes, protecting your computer from viruses and restoring data after a blue screen affair or after a virus has wiped access to your hard drive.

Oh and cheaper? I think not. compare the price of OS upgrades even before Snow Leopard ($29). Mac Mail is Free. iChat is Free. iDVD is Free. iLife with iPhoto, iMovie, iWeb and GarageBand is Free. And, unlike most freebies, these things actually work! But what about Office, you say? 90% of what 90% of us use in Office is in iWork – just $79 for Pages, Keynote and Numbers together – and I can vouch for them all being wonderfully easy and fun to use – even for power users like myself.

[Still not convinced, check out the objective reports on productivity differences between the average office worker using Mac vs Windows. Macs are quicker to learn and quicker to be productive with and, because they are fun, people want to use them so they are more productive. IT people certainly don’t want to switch to Macs because it’s been shown that fewer IT people are needed to support the same number of Macs because they have fewer problems. So, the ones making the decisions are perhaps not the most objective. Lastly, looking at total cost of ownership, Macs still come out on top for year-over-year costs.]

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