Nov 14, 2011

Switching to Mac? Consider this first.

I switched to Mac from Windows 7 about 7 months back. Now that I've given myself sufficient time to adjust to this new OS, let me share my experience with it. Hopefully this will help some of you decide whether you should switch or not.

I got a Mac Book Pro 13'' with dual core Intel Core i7 processor, 500 GB, Snow Leopard. The specs are quite mind numbing compared to some of the other computers I have had before. And because I had a great experience with my iPad and my wife's iPhone, my expectations were quite high already. However, my hopes dashed pretty soon. I am just not able to love this puppy as much as I wanted to. I quite like all the hardware stuff (design, camera, screen etc.). But the software and app support has largely been disappointing.

First 30 secs: The packaging was immaculate. It felt good opening this thing! The aluminum body is beautiful and the screen is spectacular. The overall design, ports, power cable design, the little camera are all amazing! Hardware is just brilliant. The 'get started' screens that help you setup the initial stuff was ok, nothing impressive. It asked me to setup TimeMachine which I had no clue what it was so I just skipped it. BUT don't go by the first impressions as what followed after this was just not fun :(

Things I love:
* Spotlight: This search is "really fast", helps find/start apps quickly, can locate documents quite well, does a pretty good job with various file types including email.
* Body: The aluminum case is a beauty, keyboard's pretty nice and quiet, the backlight is nice, the ports are well designed all on one side, the power cable is so beautiful.
* Camera/Mic/Audio: The quality of camera, mike and audio is superb. I use it with Skype and to listen to music. The audio/video quality is great with this stuff.
* Battery: Battery lasts for hours together at least for now while it's new. Can go on for a busy half-day without having to plugin.
* Preview: It loads PDF documents quite fast, it shows file previews quite quickly for all the documents in Finder. I wonder how it does it so fast!
* Power cord: Like the compact power cord and the hooks to wrap the cable.
* Dictionary: I like the integrated dictionary so I can look up words easily on spotlight.
* Sleep: The laptop sleeps and wakes up very fast. This is something that I hated on Windows (even on Windows 7).

Things I don't love (now comes the gory part!):
* Finder: This is probably the worst thing about my Mac experience and something you need to use quite a bit I suppose. The experience is particularly painful if you are a heavy keyboard person (in my case it used to be almost 90% of usage with keyboard). It's hard to put my finger on the specific issues but let me try: file creation doesn't work, cut/copy/paste are painful (can't use keyboard shortcuts), context menu is not useful, file/folder location is missing, installation windows hide in funny ways etc.
* Heats up a lot! Literally burns that I can't place it on my lap. Seems to happen more so while charging.
* Keyboard shortcuts: These are quite unintuitive and are good for some basic actions. But if you really want to get 90% of your stuff done with keys, forget it. In some cases you have to press 4 keys for an action! Then the keyboard commands vary from one app to another, there is no logic to it, just a lot of memorization.
* Email clients fall short: Mac's Mail app is a non-starter as it didn't even have basic things (like conversations, archiving etc.). Outlook is short on features, UI is kludgy, makes you use the mouse a lot, doesn't support HTML formatting when creating emails, keyboard functions fall short, doesn't integrate with Communicator, conversation view is sub par compared to Windows, signing is missing, email options are missing, and I could go on and on. If anyone can recommend a better client for the Mac I will buy you beer.
* Office apps reduce productivity: Similar to Outlook, the other Office apps fall short on many counts. Doing things on Powerpoint was a lot faster and richer on my Windows 7, same with Word and Excel. I tried switching to iWorks but that software is a non-starter when it doesn't even let you save in PPT format and is short on several features when compared with MS Office.
* Apps crash: Apps crash on the Mac - all the time. Skype crashes all the time on it, MS Office apps crash a whole bunch of times. And "the king of crash iTunes" crashes all the time. I have lost a lot of my work because of this. Mac itself crashed on me once and I had to lose all my work and reboot. And isn't this the number one thing that Mac is supposed to do better than Windows - no crashes and blue screens?
* VPN setup: "It just doesn't work"! Software from Checkpoint and Cisco doesn't install on the Mac. And there are all kinds of geeky forums advising "install version x.x on Mac OS 10.6, but install version y.y on Mac OS 10.5 and then make sure that setting is changed on terminal" etc. etc. Isn't it supposed to be easy?? This is particularly an issue in a Windows heavy environment but is a major issue nevertheless.
* VMWare just doesn't work: I installed VMWare to help me gradually transition to the Mac. But even at the most basic virtual hardware settings, VM runs extremely slow on the Mac. I tried this so many times, turned off apps etc but still - extremely slow. So it doesn't particularly help during your transition from Windows to Mac.
* Standard apps are no better than standard Windows apps: For instance tried using iPhoto and found no compelling reason to use it. I quickly installed Picasa that let's me do a lot more with my pictures. Similarly, iCal or Address Book are such poor featured apps that just don't meet the needs. 
* Time Machine: Can't seem to figure how to use it. Tried backing up on my external drive and it wanted to wipe out everything I had there previously. Retarded!!
* Misfit in a Windows environment: Things feel worse when your corporate environment is all Windows. There is limited support and expertise for many issues you encounter. You also tend to run into a lot more issues because of incompatibilities (e.g. I couldn't change my Windows network password on my Mac and got locked out from my email).
* Maximize: It doesn't do what it's supposed to do - maximize. I believe this is fixed now for Lion.
* Resizing is annoying: You can only resize by holding the bottom right corner. So if you want to expand an app to the left, you first have to move the app to the left and then resize it. Windows lets you resize from all corners and edges.
* Web browser: Safari is quite temperamental. It doesn't want to connect to websites when it's not in the mood. The same link would work just fine with Chrome but Safari will just sit there. It happens at home, it happens at work. And in any case I like Chrome better, although I would say that Chrome on Windows felt faster and was less quirky. And of course, many websites are not designed to work either on Safari or Chrome.
* Filling out forms: It's a pain filling out web forms with a keyboard. Often need to use the track pad.
iTunes: Never liked this software (crashes, numerous popups, sync failures etc). But this sucks everywhere, on the Mac or on the Windows.
* Pet peeve: While editing email/documents, can't quickly move around a paragraph or a line using the keyboard. The keyboard commands change so much from one app to another that it's so unintuitive. E.g. Command + left moves one word left sometimes but on other occasions goes to the beginning of the line.

Things I don't care about:
* Reboot is fast - but I rarely have to use it.
* Multi touch: I liked the multi-touch gestures but haven't taken a liking to it. I particularly miss page up and page down when browsing (and I am sure there are some secret keys). My index and middle fingers are literally hurting because of over using trackpad.
* Dock: Not being a mouse person, I find no need for the Dock and the folder shortcuts on it (Applications, Downloads etc.)
* Gadgets: These are pretty pointless and not any better or worse than Windows 7. These would be more useful if they updated quickly, but its just faster to go directly to a browser.
* Garage band: Don't have much use for this. 
* Spaces: I don't open many windows at the same time so never feel the need for Spaces.

Final word:
It takes a lot of patience and blind love to switch to the Mac world, especially if you are coming from a heavily Windows world. Given that Windows 7 is quite stable and feature rich and promises to get even better with Windows 8, the reasons to switch are almost vanishing. While it is the absolutely best hardware, I found the software come in the way of getting things done. It negatively affected my productivity. I don't see much reason (other than the sexy hardware and the Steve Job reality distortion field) to switch to Mac. And the reason's are even fewer when you have to spend twice as much on a Mac than a Windows.

While I love my iPad and iPhone, I will have to pass on the Mac next time I am in the market for a laptop.

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