Sunday, August 24, 2008

Almost a Mac Guy

It's been two weeks now so I guess it's official - I'm now a regular Mac user. I realize that by announcing this I'm risking all my true techie credibility, but I'm convinced it was the right choice.

A few months ago I knew I'd be trading in my trusty Compaq for something faster & cleaner, so I started reviewing the options available. I'm a very picky computer user, and I have very specific needs:
  • I keep archives of all my past emails (you'd be surprised how often this is helpful), which means over 20GB of Outlook PST files. Besides needing a ton of storage space, speed & memory is a handy thing (even though I don't have all these files open at once), and naturally I need Microsoft Outlook.
  • I also like to keep a local copy of our FTP server, so I can grab any past marketing document when someone asks for it, so that's another 40GB of space needed.
  • I travel alot, so lightweight is helpful, but strength is good too - I don't need something that's going to break down on me when I'm halfway around the world on a 3-week Computer Troubleshooters road trip.
  • Battery life and easy access to spare batteries and power cables is also a must-have when I'm on the road.
Besides those I need the usual features: multi-core, 802.11g, bluetooth, lots of USB & Firewire ports, an SD slot, good screen, etc. So I started looking a newer Compaq's, Dells, Lenovos, Sonys, and Toshibas - the usual suspects.

I became
intrigued with Macs though for three reasons. First, I read this article from PCWorld magazine last October which showed that the fastest Windows notebook they tested was - a Mac! A Macbook Pro to be specific. Since the introduction of Apple's OSX and Bootcamp it's become easy for anyone to run Windows on a Macintosh, and the advantage of Mac's "closed design" is that the hardware tends to work much better together typical Windows-based PC's. The combination means that a modern Mac can do a really good job of being a Windows machine now.

Second, when I was up in NY earlier this year visiting my friend Jeff Leventhal (founder of, I noticed that he was using a Macbook Pro for his primary computer too. If Jeff, who is one of the smartest people I know and very much a "techie" can use a Mac, I started to think that maybe it's OK for the rest of us.

But the final push for Mac came when I started working on the CT operating plans for 2009 and beyond. Three trends are factoring heavily into our projections for business in the future: "Cloud Computing" / Web 2.0, Virtualization, and the resurgence of the Mac. As we move more towards a "cloud computing" environment where applications are mostly or entirely web-based (i.e. Google Apps,, etc) the local Operating System becomes less and less important. Virtualization is revolutionizing the server side of our business but desktop virtualization programs like Parallels and VMWare Fusion let Macintosh computers run Windows (or Linux) side-by-side with the Mac OS. And with Macs becoming more popular (more and more CT locations are starting to service Apples) I just wanted to see what all the fuss is about.

So I took the plunge last month - I bought a slightly used Macbook Pro on Ebay (I didn't want to spend too much on it since I wasn't sure if it would work for me or not), added memory and a larger hard drive (the latter being much more difficult than on a PC), and added VMWare Fusion. What I've found is that my Windows apps work just as well (actually better) than they did on my older Compaq, but the little things that Mac does so well are making things much more efficient and pleasant for me. For example, when I go to the office the first thing I do is plug in my 2nd monitor. On my old PC this would involve taking a minute or two to go into the Windows display settings and setup the resolutions for both screens, and before leaving I'd have to make sure I didn't have any apps open on the 2nd monitor before I hibernated the PC or else they could be tricky to find again when the PC woke up in single-screen mode. With the Mac, I just plug in the screen, and the system automatically activates the screen at an appropriate resolution. If I unplug it any windows that were open on the 2nd screen automatically move to the first screen - with no work on my part. It all takes just seconds, and works so well it's amazing I put up with doing things the old way for so long.

Other little things that I really like: the magnetic power cord is really amazing. It saves me probably 4 or 5 seconds every time I plug in, which doesn't sound like alot but it adds up. I like the fact that the Mac knows if I have external speakers plugged in or not, so it remembers what volume I left it on for the speakers versus using the internal ones. The double-finger scroll is amazingly useful too. And the overall interface - including the Dock and Expose', are much easier and faster than the Windows OS.

And although it's not strictly a Mac thing, there are some amazing features in VMWare Fusion's new beta. For example, when I'm in Windows and access the "My Documents" folder, it's really accessing the "Documents" folder on the Mac partition. This is amazingly helpful since the two OS'es don't easily see each others' files, and it does the same thing for the Desktop. It also manages sharing drives, DVD's, USB ports, and bluetooth connections for both operating systems.

However there are some things that Windows does better. I still haven't figured out how to do the equivalent of ctrl-selecting multiple files in the Mac Finder, for example. And I like Napster's music library interface better than iTunes. Also it's much easier to fix things in Windows, or to use utilities like FTP on the Windows side of things. And since Microsoft discontinued the Mac version of Outlook a few
years back I'm forced to keep using my Windows version of the app to keep up with all my files. The MacbookPro keyboard is also not as easy to type on as my previous Compaqs and Dells.

Still overall I like the Mac better, and I can see myself migrating more and more to a Mac-only environment in the future. However, as Doug Smith (CT - Newton County, GA) keeps pointing out, the 'newness' hasn't worn off yet so maybe I'll feel differently in a few weeks.

So what about you - is there a Mac in your future?
Screenshots: (top) my Mac desktop including Outlook running in a VMWare Fusion virtual environment.
(bottom) the same desktop "exploded" by clicking on Expose' to show all windows.