I’m not a Mac, nor a PC

28 10 2008

I’ve been using a Mac laptop for work since October 2006. Even two years later, every time I go to a work event, internal or external, people ask me how do I like it, and why I do it, as many still link IBM to PCs or Thinkpads. Others just assume that I’m a big Mac/Apple fan, as I also carry an iPhone and sometimes an iPod shuffle.

As some of you know, Apple’s ongoing ad campaign stereotyping Mac and PC users has been fought back by Microsoft’s ads “I’m a PC”, which were ironically made – at least in part – using Macs. All this discussion created an artificial dichotomy between PC people and Mac people. Apparently, you can’t be both, the same way you are either a dog person or a cat person.

When people ask me if I’m a Mac, I wish I could answer in Portuguese, or Spanish, like in “Eu estou Mac”. It’s not a permanent state of mind. The reason I prefer to use a Mac as my work machine is mainly because in an Intel Mac I can run both OS X and MS-Windows, and I can’t do it in a PC.

I really don’t get the fanboyism around Mac products. I do think they are more visually appealing than their PC counterparts, but they are far from perfect. Sometimes I have the impression that some Mac users use it as a way of saying: I’m a Mac, therefore I’m better than you, and just ignore or dismiss a number of Mac annoyances.

My MacBook Pro freezes from time to time, and has poor battery life and wi-fi performance compared to my Thinkpad. It feels uncomfortably hot to actually place on your lap, and it gets cold like ice after a walk outside during winter time. I can’t close the lid without putting the system to sleep. I tried InsomniaX, but the machine was so hot after a while that I was afraid it would damage the screen.

There are things Macs do better but the same can be said of Windows. For example, every time I need to write text in Portuguese, Spanish or French, I switch to Windows. The Mac way of dealing with accents using a standard US keyboard is just cumbersome. To write an “a” with a tilde, as in “São Paulo”, you have to type “Option + n” in Mac OS. In Windows, you just type tilde. No matter how much of a Mac fanboy or fangirl you are, you gotta admit that “Option + n” in not intuitive. The acute accent (as in “passé”) is “Option + e”, and the circumflex (as in “château”) is “Option + i”. That’s ok if you only type them once in a blue moon, but not ok if use them all the time.

Also, there are some freeware or open source programs that are only available in Windows. One of my favourites is the super-useful Bulk Rename Utility, very handy to rename digital photo files and adjust timestamps. Other good utility only available in Windows is IrfanView, with its batch conversion feature, free for non-commerical use. The list goes on and on.

Of course, by the same token, there are lots of utilities only available on the Mac side, like Skitch, a nice tool to annotate screenshots, and, of course, Apple’s Keynote, the best program to create presentations out there. Movie editing is also much easier in the Mac using a combination of iMovie and iMovie HD, compared to Windows Movie Maker.

Finally, there are areas where both sides could do better. As an example, the Mac OS Finder and Windows Explorer could borrow some features from each other, as both come out short in easy of use.

All in all, I slightly favour the Mac, due to the combination of SW & HW integration and overall user experience, but it’s far from being a slam dunk. I still think that the Thinkpad is a better piece of engineering, just not as pretty. The switch to Intel was a major factor in my buying decision, as it basically mean that I don’t need to give up on one in favour of the other.

Of course, I admit I may be the exception, or just a bad Mac user, so please let me know if I’m missing something here, and if there’s any easy way to address the Mac issues I mentioned above. Being a person who likes both cats and dogs, I just can’t see why you have to love or hate Windows or Mac OS X.




8 responses

28 10 2008
Archimedes Trajano

Cool article Aaron. I see both benefits on Mac and PC as well. What I do find is for most people that are not in IT the Mac is a better choice. For people like you and me who have the capability of fixing their own IT problems a PC tends to be a better choice.

That being said, I like how most things just work in the Mac environment. On the other hand, when things do not work like your tilde problem or in my case:

* using the keyboard to see what’s on the menu (Windows is just an Alt key)

* the constantly moving icons on the dock (bad UI design IMO for the trash which should stay put)

* no maximize button (although the spaces feature in 10.5 is a good replacement, but that only came out in 10.5). My wife still complains about this.

* your UI is dictated by Apple rather than you. Although most of Windows is not changeable especially not to the level of Compiz-Fusion, I find it more customizable. I especially like LunaVX theme for windows XP. However, the Vista default is something I am happy with 90% of the way.

Well assuming I get my first Mac on March I may go the other way. So far only my wife has the Mac.

28 10 2008

Good points Archie. Better keyboard navigation is also high on my list of Mac pet-peeves. I haven’t thought much about the tech vs non-tech thing, but I think you may be right, even though my wife in not a techie and she prefers Windows. I need to test it with my mother: I gave her a Windows laptop and she finds it too complicated, maybe I should try again with a Mac.

28 10 2008

nice post. See, I actually think Apple’s are scarier if they don’t work. I’m not an IT guy and don’t really understand tech more than the very basics. But if my PC gets buggy I can usually do a few things to get around it or find the problem. But if my Mac gets buggy, I’m totally freaked out because the Apple back end (not UI) seems less transparent and intuitive than a PC. Now, some of that may be because I’ve worked more on a PC. But I’ve had a Mac off and on now for 5 years… it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out. Thankfully it’s fairly rare that something doesn’t work right on the Mac, but when it doesn’t, I get a LOT more worried than I do with a PC…

28 10 2008

Great post, Aaron! I like Apple products for alot of reasons. But I have never felt the need for the either/or. I have seen the benefits of using many different platforms, depending on what I wanted to do, from the Palm OS to zVM. It’s much better to be inclusionary than exclusionary. The goes for many things in life, not just IT. 🙂

29 10 2008

Hey Adam, I also feel more equipped to deal with Windows problems than Mac ones. On the bright side, the two times I had problems with my Mac, I took it to the Genius bar and in both occasions the issue was resolved in less than 10 minutes. That’s definitely a plus on the Apple side.

Bernie, sometimes I’m not sure if I’m inclusionary or incapable of taking a stance 🙂 But at least I know that I’m not a mainframe guy.

30 10 2008
Rodrigo Borges

Nice post Aaron. This post is a good start to people like me that is thinking about on buy a Mac….

Regarding the “Eu estou Mac” I was trying to find how to say this in English… lol…


30 10 2008

Rodrigo, I love “ser” and “estar”, and can’t explain how most languages survived without them 🙂

If you buy a Mac, consider buying one with a Brazilian keyboard to avoid the nightmare of “Option + “!

15 12 2009
Buying cheap laptops « The bamboo raft

[…] to Canada, and it’s now our secondary home computer, at least for the time being. And since I’m not a Mac, nor a PC, having both at home is actually a good thing. I do run Windows XP on my MacBook using VMWare […]

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