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Switching from PC to Mac

I finally made the switch from PC to Mac. My previous machine was an old Sony Vaio purchased in 2005. It was top of the line then, and actually worked great until about a year ago, when it inevitably began dying a slow, complicated death. The time to finally buy a new computer was fast approaching..

Evolution, not revolution

The decision to switch to Mac/OSX after years of working on PC/Win happened gradually, beginning with a small MacBook I purchased in 2006 for cross-platform/browser testing. At 13.5 inches (or whatever), the screen was too small to work with full-time, but whenever I did use it, it felt like flying an airplane or something. It was just so sleek and fast and cool, much more streamlined and elegant, a real pleasure to use.

Then a few years later, I pick up an iPhone and more recently an iPad. Those devices are also sleek and intuitive, so much so that my 7-year-old daughter has mastered (and claimed) both of them. So despite having used PCs forever, the decision to switch to Mac was easy, more like a natural progression or next step than some sort of a giant change.

Decisions, decisions

At first I had decided on a Mac Pro, but after reading through forums and thinking about it, I realized that I just don’t need that much of a machine. Every now and then I might get crazy with some video editing or 3D rendering, but mostly I would be doing stuff like:

  • Web design: browsers, file editors, file management, backups, email
  • Graphic design: PhotoShop, Illustrator, InDesign, and similar software
  • Music & multimedia: media players, editors, mixing apps, etc.

I also enjoy watching movies, streaming media, and playing games, but I really don’t need a mac tank to do what I do. Even if I worked ten times faster, buying a Mac Pro would have been wasteful. Seriously, I did (just about) everything I needed to do on that old & busted Vaio, so something faster and better yes, but also something that I could really use and get the most out of – something worth the time and money.

My new iMac

After much thought and research, I was pretty much decided on getting an iMac, but not sure of which model or configuration. There are many options/upgrades available, including awesome stuff like two internal drives and a 27-inch monitor. I wanted everything, but my budget was locked at $3,000. So I really spent some time formulating the best possible configuration for my needs. Finally, on Black Friday 2010, I pulled the trigger on a 27″ iMac with the following configuration:

IMAC 27"/SD
PROCESSOR 065-9450 3.60GHZ INTEL CORE I5
MEMORY 065-9452 8GB 1333MHZ DDR3 SDRAM - 4X2GB
HARD DRIVE 065-0187 1TB SERIAL ATA DRIVE + 256GB SSD
GRAPHICS 065-9456 ATI RADEON HD 5670 512MB GDDR3
OPTICAL DRIVE 065-9458 8X DOUBLE-LAYER SUPERDRIVE

I think this configuration is perfect for my needs. The wide screen and ample memory enabled me to eliminate many devices and really optimize and streamline my office space. Here is a quick photo of the new setup:

[ Photo: iMac in repose ]
iMac – 27in, SSD, 8GB RAM (click for full view)

Amazingly, my old machine completely died literally the day after I had finished transferring all files to the iMac. Now that I’ve had a couple of months to dial it in and really use it, there are a number of things worth mentioning. Let’s start with the good stuff and go from there.

The good stuff

Overall, everything is great. The iMac is much faster and quieter than my old Vaio. As an all-in-one machine, the iMac requires fewer cables and less space. And the display is just beautiful, plenty of space for really setting up shop. Here is a screenshot showing a recent workspace setup:

[ Screenshot: iMac workspace ]
iMac workspace, typical day (click for full view)

As you can see, plenty of space for everything I use during a typical day of web design:

  • Browser(s)
  • Code Editor/FTP
  • PhotoShop
  • Email
  • Music

Plus with 8GB RAM, there’s plenty of memory for running other programs/apps as needed. As a side note, it would be cool to get an app that shows you in real-time how much system resources were in use. But I digress..

Virtual Windows

Switching to a Mac, I knew that I would need new software, but there are few programs that I use that simply aren’t (yet) available for Mac/OSX. A good example is the application used for Stamps.com, which we use for postage for Digging into WordPress. There is no Mac version, but by running a virtual Windows environment using Parallels, I can run the Stamps.com PC software, plus everything/anything else that is Windows-only or that I don’t feel like re-purchasing. There are other virtual-windows apps available online, but Parallels works great for my needs, which includes running Windows XP, Windows 7, and several flavors of Linux. I have to say it, running Windows on Mac is a trip!

Solid State Drive

The one luxury I afforded myself for this machine is the 256GB SSD drive. It serves as the primary drive for the machine, and is where the operating system is installed by default. Running the OS and apps on the SSD makes everything lightning fast. Once again, the machine waits for the user. For example, on my old PC, something was wrong, and it took literally five minutes for a complete boot. And because the shutdowns required equal time, the frequent task of rebooting the computer was utterly hellish. The irony is that I now enjoy a 30-second reboot, but rarely need to do so.

Other good stuff

Before getting into some of the difficulties I’ve experienced, here are a few other awesome things worth mentioning:

  • Security – From what I’ve read, there is much less to worry about security-wise on a Mac. It almost seems too easy.
  • Installing apps – It could not be easier to install new apps, and they seem to install faster than on Windows.
  • FTP/SSH – Transferring files also seems to work better, with fewer interruptions and disconnections.
  • App prices – I am delightfully surprised to see that most Mac apps are a fraction of the cost of Windows alternatives.
  • Zipping/compressing files – I love the way OSX handles compressed files, which are a breeze to zip, unzip, and manage.
  • Password management – One word: 1password. How did I live without this?

There really are too many good things to mention here in this post. If you already own/use a Mac, then you know what I’m talking about. For anyone thinking about switching to a Mac, these are just the highlights of the good things, which far outnumber the following list of annoyances and other issues I’ve personally encountered.

Inevitable “Needs Improvement” category

As with any new machine, there are things that work and things that just don’t. Customizing your machine is a process of using it, fine-tuning preferences, and finding workarounds where necessary. Most issues are easily resolved with a little searching around, but there are some that will just leave you stumped. Here is my working list of such baffling Mac conundrums (in no particular order):

Playing media
Until I discovered VLC, I had a terrible time trying to play all of my different audio & video media formats. VLC works great for most of the non-Windows media I can throw at it, and then I guess there’s virtual Windows for the WMA/WMV stuff. I can play Quicktime on Windows, why can’t I play Windows media on Mac? Further, as great as VLC is, it can’t do one thing that is easily done on Windows: play multiple instances. As far as I can tell, there is NO way to loop multiple instances of video (any format) on a Mac (without virtualizing).
Update 2011/01/21: As mentioned in the comments, Windows Media files are playable in Quicktime (up to 7) with Flip4Mac. Thanks to rick and Louis for the tip!
Time Capsule & Time Machine
As mentioned, my iMac has two internal drives. The 256GB SSD is used for the OS, aps, and settings; and the 1TB SATA drive houses all of my working & archive data. Unfortunately, the built-in backup app, Time Machine, refuses to backup the built-in SATA/data drive. It does a great job at backing up the primary/OSX drive, but after countless hours online and on the phone, there is still no way to include that second internal drive (the one with all my files on it) in Time Machine. The workaround? Manual backup via external drive. Ugh.
Calculating sizes/counts of large folders
Ridiculously long waits to get the properties of large folders. I thought this may be something more specific to something on this machine, but after reading around in the forums, it seems that “Get Info” slowness is a common problem. Hopefully a fix or solution will present itself.
Right-click, new file
The ability to quickly create a new file would be awesome. Windows makes it look so easy, from virtually anywhere. If there is a way to do this, please share with a comment.
No cut?
The closest I have been able to get to Windows’ “cut” command is dragging files to their destination while holding the command button. It works, but it feels sloppy for some reason. Sometimes a new finder window will popup while you are dragging to destination. I would love to be able to “control-x” again!
Update 2011/01/21: Solved! Check out TotalFinder for tabbed Finder browsing, cut/paste, and tons more good stuff. Thanks to v3c, Helen, and Priit for the tip!
Copying/pasting folders
In Windows, when pasting a folder into a directory that contains a folder of the same name, nothing is erased (in either folder). If the two same-named folders contain different files, at least one copy of each file will exist in the resulting folder. In OSX, similarly moving a folder results in a complete replacement: the existing folder is erased and replaced with the moved folder. This behavior probably has its own merits, but it doesn’t seem as flexible when it comes to file management.
And last but not least..
No Blu-Ray! Bummer.
Update 2011/01/21: Transferring files from iPhone/iPad to Mac
I totally did NOT expect something as simple as transferring my iPhone photos to my Mac to be virtually impossible. After 2+ hours trying everything short of jailbreaking my phone, I finally threw in the towel and cracked open Parallels. Virtual WindowsXP let me plug in my iPhone/iPad, transfer my photos, and delete the originals from the device with a few simple clicks. Yes, you can use iPhoto to import the camera-roll photos, but any non-iPhone-origin files will not be imported. Then, after importing with iPhoto, you don’t actually have access to the files themselves until you export them out of iPhoto. What a nightmare. Not only is this is waay too complicated, there is also no way to delete your photos from the phone after the transfer. I honestly hope that I am completely wrong about this, and that there is an easier way to manage iDevice files from a Mac.

And finally, some app-specific issues (because I just can’t help myself):

  • Scanning – can’t scan into PhotoShop CS5 (use Preview instead)
  • Memory Cards – needed to purchase USB card adapter (less than $10)
  • Changing Icons – candybar is the way to go, but refuses to work for the Time Machine icon
  • Can’t Kill It – despite uninstall, Suitcase Fusion Core icon stuck in System Preferences – Solution: right-click, remove icon. Thanks to Rob Smith for the simple solution.

If anyone knows how to fix/resolve/workaround ANY of these issues, please leave a comment. Hopefully, there’ll be some easy/good solutions & tips that can be assembled and fleshed out for a follow-up post. That is the goal.

Final thoughts

I hate to end my fancy “switch-to-Mac” article with a bunch of second-hand annoyances, but really, that’s all they are. The iMac itself is an incredibly powerful, capable, and beautiful machine. It is so much more than a replacement computer – it has improved and elevated my entire working operation. From someone who works constantly on the computer, it’s the best arm & a leg I ever spent. </rimshot>

Jeff Starr
About the Author Jeff Starr = Web Developer. Book Author. Secretly Important.
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62 responses
  1. Here are a few tips from my experience:

    A better finder program – Pathfinder – free trial and worth the money
    http://cocoatech.com/

    I use textmate and coda and recommend them both, though over the last year I am more often in Coda now. http://www.panic.com

    Panic also make Transmit which is top notch. I second Alfred for launching, I use Timelog for time keeping http://www.mediaatelier.com/TimeLog4/

    Littlesnapper is a must have and I think it is only 4.99 in the app store atm. It snaps a full webpage and stores the code in a web archive. Perfect for a reference file.

    A free open source SQL program i like is http://www.sequelpro.com/

    Adium for IM

    OmniFocus for GTD/To do list

    MAMP for local server

    And Aperture for $80 is a great deal (in the app store)

    Carbon Copy Cloner is an open source backup (like super duper, that can be scheduled). I use it with Time Machine.

    Dropbox is a must have of course – I store my MAMPs htdocs folder in it and it syncs with my notebook so development files are synced and backed up off site.

    Delicious Library is fun and I have made a good bit of money reselling my old books/dvd on amazon directly from it.

    I suggest staying with Suitcase, while I like Fontcase and its UI the dev team is 1 person I think where as Extensis is a large company (in Portland I believe).

    Linkinus for IRC (the WP room is usually hopping)

    Pixelmator (App Store) is inexpensive, moving up on PS and has a couple of nice filters that PS does not – I think of it as filters and supporting a small company.

    Skitch – Must have! Screenshot -> annotate -> Email – saves a ton of time with clients

    Supercal – shareware monitor calibration

    Versions – SVN client if you need it

    1Password you mentioned (great on iphone/ipad)

    StarCraft II – just awesome!

    Cheers,

    Eric

  2. @Eric:

    SequelPro -> Querious is great too. Very close call. It’s a paid app though.

    Linkinus -> Colloquy is great too. Very close call. It’s a free app though ;)

  3. Jeff,

    If you use the terminal a lot then you’ll like Visor from the same people who created TotalFinder.

    http://visor.binaryage.com/

    Also, I can’t help with speeding up “Get Info” but sometimes it’s nice to be able to get a consolidated info window for multiple items, just select multiple folders and files while holding down cmd (or shift) & then hit cmd+opt+i.

  4. Been falling in love with wunderlist lately (http://www.6wunderkinder.com/wunderlist/) They have an iPhone and Win/Mac app. Lovely UI.

  5. Awesome! I make my switch in 2008 and I have enjoy my MacBook since than and reading your post really brings back my thought and happiness and most of all.. The coolness having one of Apple product. :D

    I like the fast booting but I even love the fact that I don’t really switch off my Mac for months and months and still run like champ every time I wake the system up.

    I envy your iMac I am going to save up for this one hahahahaha

    cheers

  6. Linux is the dream OS, lots of free software at the touch of your finger, amazingly powerful command line, and a noninvasive, unrestrictive, meddling-free, transparent system.

    But the GUI is as stable as the Zimbabwe dollar.

    Then along came OS X which provided an awesome GUI and support for the irreplaceable Adobe Suite. To bad Mac hardware costs 2-4 times what building the machine yourself costs.

    To combat this, Intel teamed up with the hackers and one of the worlds greatest products – the Hackintosh – was born.

    And they all lived happily ever after.

  7. Cut and Paste Files, Merge Folders = moveAddict : http://kapeli.com/

    Right-click new document = Neu : http://www.elegantchaos.com/neu

    transfer files from iPhone/iPod to Mac = iPhoneExplorer : http://www.macroplant.com/iphoneexplorer/

    Please read customer reviews before downloading at : http://www.macupdate.com/

    Best of luck !

  8. Amber Weinberg January 22, 2011 @ 5:28 am

    Congrats on your new Mac and welcome to the family :)

    Did you know the iMac has a built in sd card reader already? It’s the tiny slot above the cd player slot.

    You can also play windows media as well. I believe they make a Mac version of the app

  9. Dave Sparks January 22, 2011 @ 6:13 am

    “but whenever I did use it, it felt like flying an airplane or something. It was just so sleek and fast and cool, much more streamlined and elegant, a real pleasure to use.”
    You sir have never flown a plane ;-)
    Most of the time is something plays up we do the classic – turn it off then on again fix!

  10. I totally agree with Milan Petrovic, even if he talks about Windows. :)
    Jeff, basically you throw away a PC which could have lived another 5 years with the latest bleeding edge version of Ubuntu. :P The cost of a Mac is not worth it, in any way you want to put it. I’m talking about hardware, don’t want to talk about Mac OS X the kind of “pay-for-what-you-could-get-better-with-Linux” thing…
    I know because when I do volunteer work with k-12 kids I have to deal with Macs… It’s atrocious.

    Yes now you have a better machine than before, but at what price…
    By the way it’s funny you need to install 10 apps just to get basic functionality such as cut, create new file, and so on. :P

  11. Fresh Mac user here also, around 8 months and counting. One thing I miss the most from Windows is a proper image viewer a la ACDsee/IrfanView/XnView. There is a beta ACDSee Pro for Mac that does the job but still a far cry compared to Windows version. I recommend XnView MP for mac (http://newsgroup.xnview.com/viewtopic.php?f=60&t=21616) that is awesome but still a bit buggy

  12. @ Dusan

    As a lifelong Mac user I’m not familiar with the merits of IrfanView, but you may want to take a look at :
    Xee = http://wakaba.c3.cx/s/apps/xee (free)
    Photo Mechanic = http://www.camerabits.com/site/ (commercial)

    I take it you’ve fully explored the possiblities of Preview & QuickLook ( both Mac OS X )

    Finally a Mac graphics stalwart : GraphicConverter = http://www.lemkesoft.com/content/188/graphicconverter.html (commercial)

    And I’ve seen various reports that IrfanView can run on the Mac with the help of WineBottler = http://winebottler.kronenberg.org/
    Instructions here : http://en.irfanview-forum.de/vb/showthread.php?5925-Irfanview-equivolent-for-the-Mac

    Google is your friend ;-)

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