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Caught between computers

Caught between computersIn terms of computing platforms, I‘ve been set adrift.

On the one hand, I don’t really want to return to Windows. Don’t get me wrong; unlike many Apple converts, I like Microsoft’s OS, and I frequently miss features and workflows from that platform.

But I left Windows for a reason; my favorite apps—OmniFocus, Procreate, Drafts—are exclusive to Apple’s platforms. There are no real equivalents on Windows, and I’m tired of “making do” with half-baked imitations.

On the other hand, it’s not a great time to have shifted to macOS. Yes, it’s true that Apple has suddenly remembered to make new hardware (see the new Air and Mini or the promised Mac Pro). But the software platform has stagnated, the App Store is eerily quiet, and Mac unit sales have declined in eight of the last twelve quarters, year-over-year. Settling in “Mac land” now feels like buying beachfront real estate in an era of rising sea levels—OK for now, but unsustainable in the long-term.

So what about iOS? Might I make “landfall” there? The short answer is, “Not yet.” Yes, the new iPad Pros are amazing kit, and the software has slowly matured. But too many of my workflows depend on a ‘real’ web browser (e.g. administering SharePoint) or ‘real’ Outlook (building pixel-perfect email templates).

Besides, even if I didn’t work in the enterprise, iOS would be a frustrating place to settle. I want legit external screen support, more robust keyboard shortcuts, and easier font installation. Hopefully, these power user features are on their way. But until they arrive, I can’t make permanent camp on iPad Island. ■

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Stranger in a strange land: a long-time Windows power user switches to the Mac

I spent decades using Windows as my primary computing platform. I may not love Microsoft’s OS, but I had learned to live with it, tolerating its quirks and forgiving its faults. By the time I had turned thirty, I was comfortable (if not quite content) in the Windows world.

More recently, though, Apple has managed to win me over. Since picking up an iPod Touch back in 2009, I’ve bought nearly a dozen different iOS devices. Then, I installed OS X in a VM, just so that I could run Omnifocus. And finally, this past July, I switched to an actual Mac as my full-time machine.

Adopting macOS wasn’t quite what I expected—hardly the aesthetic epiphany promised in those old John Hodgman ads. Here are some thoughts on switching to the Mac as a long-time Windows user:

The good!

  • After years spent Alt-Tabbing back and forth from a VM, I’m glad to have all my favorite software integrated into a single platform. There’s only one machine to shut down at day’s end, and I can freely shuffle data between apps. For example, I can now use AppleScript to push work emails to Omnifocus in just a few keystrokes.
  • I love that the Mac gets so much attention from design-minded software developers. Drafts, Fantastical, and Tweetbot are now indispensable parts of my daily workflow; none of these apps have true equivalents in the Windows world.

The bad.

  • Windows may lack polished indie apps, but there’s an equivalent problem on the Mac: underbaked enterprise-grade software. Microsoft Office is far superior on Windows: faster, more reliable, and more feature-rich. In fact, I’m forced to keep a PC close at hand, just so that I can occasionally boot into Windows to fix the formatting of an email or a PowerPoint deck.
  • It’s not just Microsoft’s apps, either. Cisco’s Webex is terrible on all platforms, but it’s far worse on the Mac. It takes me twice as long to join meetings as my Windows-running colleagues, and entire features are absent in the Mac app. For example, I can’t choose which display to share when I’m on a conference call.
  • macOS’s native PDF export options are surprisingly sub-par. Back on Windows, the PDF print dialog offers a rich suite of formatting options. But on the Mac, exporting a PDF feels like a guessing game, with no rich preview and a paltry set of levers to try.
  • I miss the ability to pin documents to apps in the taskbar (or the Dock, in macOS parlance). The built-in “Open Recent” command doesn’t cut it—and it’s only available when the app itself is open!
  • Windows is far better than the Mac when it comes to onscreen app arrangement. “Snapping” windows works so well that the Mac’s “Split View” feels like an afterthought. Yes, you can install third-party Mac utilities that imitate Window’s native behavior (I’m partial to Magnet), but that functionality should come baked in, for free.
  • Finally, this isn’t a software issue, but I don’t understand the MacBook’s charging brick. On the one hand, I like being able to disconnect the USB-C cable and wrap it up separately. On the other hand, the pluggable brick can easily fall out of some outlets, depending on the angle and slot design. That never happened with the PC power cords I’m used to.

The ugly.

  • macOS feels slow. Honestly, Windows feels downright snappy. On the Mac, it takes longer to launch programs, switch between them, and close them at day’s end. And macOS’s penchant for animating everything often gets in my way. Windows somehow felt “closer to the metal” (even if that’s not technically true).1
  • The Mac’s window model drives me crazy. For some reason, closing an app’s window doesn’t close the app. Instead, the program hangs around, burning resources in the background. And because there’s no easy way to close apps with the mouse, I often end up with far more apps open than I need.
  • There’s something wonky about macOS’s Bluetooth stack. I can’t use more than one Bluetooth device at a time. When I connect both my Logitech mouse and my Plantronics headset, audio playback stutters and skips. This is apparently a known issue, and there are a variety of proposed workarounds, but this never happened on my PC.

Wrap-up

To be fair, most of my complaints boil down to unfamiliarity. A life-long Mac user would probably have the reverse experience switching to Windows. For me, though, macOS feels like foreign territory; I don’t know the terminology and I sometimes struggle to find my way around. ■


  1. FWIW, my most recent Windows machine and this 2017 MacBook Pro are roughly equal, spec-wise. ↩︎
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Is it too late to switch to the Mac?

After a quarter-century using Windows, I’m finally getting a Macintosh.

Wait, does “Mac” even stand for “Macintosh” anymore? Or is “Mac” more like “KFC”—an abbreviation that eventually supplanted the original name? You’ll have to forgive my ignorance; my last Apple computer was the venerable Apple IIGS of the late 80s and early 90s. Since my early teen-aged years, I’ve computed exclusively on Windows PCs—everything from beige, bargain-bin boxes to high-end portable workstations. I’ve never owned a Mac.

Oh, over the years, I’ve occasionally lusted after the Mac’s build quality, thriving indie software community, and visually consistent interface. And yes, as an iPhone owner, I’ve often wished for a computer that played nicer with my smartphone. But despite the Mac’s attractiveness, switching always seemed financially or professionally impractical.

As my career has shifted into more creative fields, however, the Mac has become a more reasonable option. Among machines geared for creative power users, Macs still cost more—but not dramatically more, relative to comparable PCs. My new 15″ MacBook Pro should arrive within the next week or two.


In some ways, it’s an odd time to shift platforms. I’m swimming against the current; bloggers, podcasters, and creative professionals have grown increasingly frustrated with Apple’s stewardship of the Mac. Some have openly speculated whether the Mac will eventually be deprecated in favor of an iOS-flavored replacement.

So, before making the leap, I considered the risks in terms of both software and hardware:

Switching to Mac software: am I moving to a ghost town?

Depending on who you ask, the Mac ecosystem has either reached maturity—or it’s gone completely stagnant. Whatever your perspective, it’s hard to deny that Apple invests more engineering resources in iOS than macOS these days. Yes, the Mac still gets new OS features (e.g. Mojave’s welcome Dark Mode), but these updates are relatively minor compared to those introduced for Apple’s flagship product, the iPhone.

Third-party software development on the Mac has slowed, too. The Mac App Store may not be a ghost town, per se, but it’s not exactly a bustling metropolis, either.

As a new switcher, the Mac’s decline as a developer platform bums me out. But it’s not all bad news. Most big software houses (including Adobe and Microsoft itself) support Mac and Windows with equal gusto. And the Mac remains a better platform than Windows for indie-developed productivity apps and creative utilities. UIKit’s upcoming release on the Mac (slated for 2019) will likely widen this gap, as devs port over projects that were previously iOS-only.

One particular indie app is almost enough, all by itself, to make me switch to Mac. I’m talking about Omnifocus, the to-do tracker that maps most neatly onto the Getting Things Done productivity method. The app really is that critical to my workflow these days. I’m pumped that I’ll soon be able to use it without hacks or workarounds.

Switching to Mac hardware: did I miss the “golden era”?

The Mac’s software ecosystem may be languishing, but it’s Mac hardware that has Apple bloggers most alarmed. Longtime developers are openly criticizing Apple’s irregular Mac releases. Last year, lamenting the state of the Mac Pro, Sebastiaan de With wrote,

[Apple] let the Mac languish, with a lack of updates to the hardware making it increasingly difficult to use the Mac for demanding work. …. And year after year, without any word from Apple, the professional desktop Macs got older without updates. Four years passed. Four years. An eternity and a half in computers. Creatives started to leave. Most of my friends that are in 3D, film and other creative industries have switched to PCs. And more continue to leave.

The Mac laptops haven’t escaped criticism, either. Power users frequently deride the current Macbook Pros for their shallow, unreliable keyboards and irregular update cadence.

I share their worries. I’ve only typed on the new “butterfly ”keyboard style once or twice (in Apple retail stores), but I’m not a fan of its “clicky” (rather than “clacky”) feel. Plus, I find the Touch Bar (Apple’s little-loved touchscreen function row) distracting and somewhat pointless. Finally, I resent the fact that my “new” machine will have year-old internals. But I don’t have much of a choice—I need a machine now, not “whenever Apple gets around to refreshing its laptop lineup.”

Conclusion

Despite all the concerns and caveats, I’m excited. My very first computing experiences as a kid happened on Apple-designed machines. Adopting the Mac now, thirty-odd years later, feels like coming home.

I’m just hoping the house doesn’t come down around me. ■