Switching to a Mac

What it's really like to move to a Mac

Note: This story is from the archives. It might contain out-of-date information.

Poke around the web for information on switching to a Mac, and you'll quickly get a face full of hyperbole, zealots, platform bigots, feature weenies, and naysayers - from both the Windows and Mac camps. I've been taking mental notes for the past few years, and thought I'd write them up. Before I get into things, I should say that I've been a happy Mac user for ten years, but spent most of the 10+ years before that quite enamored with Windows and DOS as well.

So what's it actually like to own and use a Mac? Here are 20 thoughts on what it's like, without all the whining and hysterics:

01 You'll feel like you're in a little club

When other Mac owners find out you have one too, you'll get a little smile of camaraderie, and you'll likely end up talking about Macs for five or ten minutes - no matter who they are and what the circumstance is. You may or may not find this annoying.

02 People will help you for no reason

Other Mac owners are usually fairly willing to help you get up and running on the Mac. This may be self-serving on their behalf, because it helps sell more Mac stuff which in turn justifies their investment in a company with less than 10% market share, but hey, it's still a perk.

03 Fewer people will try to attack you

Probably not through altruism, but rather because Mac platform is (a) less widely used and (b) based on a fairly robust UNIX operating system, there are almost no viruses, worms, or other nasty stuff for the Mac.

04 You'll be able to ignore most viruses

Each time the Windows community gets up in arms about the next big virus that is circulating around the globe, you can go about your business on your Mac without really worrying. However, you do have to be careful to not forward on infected files from one Windows user to another, and make sure to use anti-virus if you're running Windows under Parallels or VMware.

05 You'll have some compatibility problems

Even though Microsoft Office is 99% the same on both platforms, you'll inevitably find yourself struggling with that 1% late at night as a final deliverable is due to the client. I've found that embedding images and video in PowerPoint is where I usually run into problems, to the point that I'll work under Windows for really important PowerPoint decks. All that said, if you stick to broader standards like HTML and RTF, things work out pretty well.

06 The Internet will be mostly the same

Pretty much everything on the Internet will work like it does on Windows, including your banking site and your favorite home page. However, once in a blue moon you'll find a frustrating page that refuses to work with Safari or Mozilla or some other browser, and you'll have to either find a Windows PC or just give up on the page entirely. This is less and less frequent, however.

07 You'll be amazed at the fit and finish

After a year with my first Mac, I was still surprised at how it made me smile like a schoolgirl at the little things: the design of the power supply, the quality of the keyboard, the lack of dongles and flaps hanging off of it. Even today after staring at them for several years, I still enjoy the simplicity of the design of Mac notebooks. That said, the beauty isn't always long-lasting: white MacBook cases can crack, the black MacBooks get really dirty from fingerprints, and the paint is wearing off the keycaps on my MacBook Pro.

08 You'll have a few "damn it!" moments

From time to time you'll be really upset with yourself for using the Mac, because you're trying to get something done, and the Mac isn't responding like you would expect. Usually you end up realizing that you're trying to get it to respond like a Windows machine would, but you still have to spend the time to figure out the "Mac" way to get it done.

09 You'll have some "ah-ha" moments

From time to time you'll be pleasantly surprised because the Mac will do something that you completely didn't expect, because you're used to how Windows would do things. For instance, you put a picture into the Address Book, and it appears automatically in iChat, email, and on your phone.

10 Keyboard shortcuts will drive you nuts

I spent years honing the craft of keyboard shortcuts on Windows, to the point where it was mostly muscle memory pressing the keys for me. On the Mac, it seems like there are two or three different ways that the various shortcuts are implemented, and it drives me nuts to this day. Even worse is trying to switch back to a Windows keyboard from time to time, once you're half accustomed to the Mac keyboard.

11 You'll regret the purchase, but you'll survive

You'll have a few moments where you really, really wish you had purchased that Dell laptop for $349, and you'll seriously consider taking the Mac back to the store, but eventually you'll get over it and wonder what the hell you were thinking.

12 You'll won't be tweaking it all the time

I was a major tweaker in Windows - registry entries, options, toolbar buttons - and was taken aback at how few things there are to tweak on the Mac. At first it seemed to be restrictive, but I've realized it has actually freed me to do things other than tweaking, like get a life.

13 You'll actually have to plan your reboots

You'll find that you leave dozens of things open all the time - browsers, documents, folders, stickypad notes - and that the need to reboot comes as a surprise. A printer install that requires a reboot will really tick you off. Yes, I'm talking about you, Brother Printers.

As a matter of fact, the power button on my old PowerBook is broken. If I were to shut it down, I would have to disassemble the keyboard and touch two points on the motherboard to turn it back on. However, I just shut the display when I'm done, open it up to start working again, and I've been working that way for over a year now.

14 There isn't much stuff to buy for a Mac

If you go to the local Fry's or Best Buy, you'll find aisles and aisles of stuff for Windows, a few things (like USB Keys or mice) that work on both Windows and the Mac, and if you're lucky, a crappy little shelf of Mac goodies. But you'll also likely find that you don't need to buy all that extra stuff, as a lot of it's not necessary with the Mac.

15 You'll spend more money than with Windows

From the initial hardware purchase, to software, to more frequent OS upgrades, you'll likely end up spending more money than someone with a Windows box - but you'll find you often get good value for your extra money. It's the old adage: you get what you pay for. And Apple will keep coming out with new shiny objects that you really, really want to have.

16 You'll sell your used Mac for a decent price

Apple computers tend to retain their value better in the used marketplace. Even a two-generations-back non-Intel laptop will sell for $250-300 on craigslist.

17 Random folks will talk to you about your Mac

People will stop you in the airport, the hallway, the office and talk to you about your Mac laptop. They'll admire the display, ask about compatibility, mention the Intel processor, and otherwise chat. Sometimes it'll be cool, sometimes you'll be a bit embarrassed. And no, they won't always be jeans-wearing, tousled-hair hipsters. Sorry.

18 You'll get more things done

Once you get over the bouncy icons in the dock, and exploring all the built-in applications, you'll probably end up spending a lot more time getting things done with your computer, and less time doing things to it.

19 Apple isn't Dell when it comes to returns

Lots of people have decent stories about returns and repairs, but the net is full of horror stories as well. If you decide you want to return something at an Apple retail store, there's often a 10% restocking fee (although they waived it for me on a keyboard return). Or if your display goes on the blink, it can take days or weeks to get your machine back. No matter how minor the problem, make sure you back up your Mac before you hand it over to a (cough) Genius.

20 You'll play pretty well on a Windows network

As advertised, I've had very few problems connecting up to Windows servers and sharing files and printers. However, sometimes I'll have to run a client's VPN software within Parallels, and my wife still has to go back to IE for some online banking.

So there you have it. No hype, no bull, just the truth about switching.

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