biting the apple

All throughout my adult life I have been an avid Windows user. Even so, I once thought Microsoft was evil. Remember those days? That aside, their products were always easy to use and ubiquitous. When Windows 95 came out I was hooked on the interface. I never even considered another operating system for my personal or professional use.

Apple has enjoyed a strong following in the tech world. For me, they were closed-minded and oppressive. Apple always touted their products’ user-friendliness and simplicity, but I saw it more as a cult with a “my way or the highway” mentality.

That brings me to.. the iPhone. I’ve had a smartphone since before the iPhone came around, and was even creating Apps for it before anyone know what an App was. I did like the iPhone look and feel and made a Windows Phone version of it, but never had a desire to switch. By the time Android was available, I was so annoyed with the lack of support for Windows Mobile that I decided to get an Android phone. I’ve never looked back.

When my wife wanted to upgrade to a smartphone, we decided on the iPhone because of its so-called simplicity. Wrong move. My wife would constantly ask me how to do things on the iPhone to which my answer, after fumbling around for a bit, would be I have no idea. Her inability to figure out the phone was exactly the opposite of what I expected from a non-techie using an Apple product. Paul Stamatiou wrote a great post about it and I pretty much agree.

My antipathy towards Apple changed a few months ago. Sort of.

Although I love Android and dislike iPhones, when it came to portable personal computing my belief in the Windows ecosystem was starting to falter. Windows 8 was a dud in my eyes, and the hardware it ran on was not that appealing. That’s when I started reading about something called the MacBook Pro. It looked great, had amazing battery life and a touchpad that you can actually use. Finally, something I can carry around that has the power of a workstation without too many downsides of a laptop.

After much consideration, I bought one. When the new 2015 models came out, I found an older version at a great price and took the plunge. Then I set about learning how to use it.

Although at first it may seem similar to Windows, the Mac does have some major differences. Using the MacBook at first felt like moving into a new house. Everything that used to be rote and straightforward suddenly seemed foreign to me. Working on the Mac was like trying to drive in England. It’s similar to driving in the US but different enough to always keep me on my toes.

The biggest difference for me was the distinction between Applications and Documents. In Windows, an Application can have multiple windows but each one is treated the same by the operating system. This means I can tab through them (ctrl-tab), or look at them in the taskbar. In OS X, task switching is done at the Application level. This means that even if I have separate windows for Chrome, each with their own tabs, when I use ⌘-Tab I only see one Chrome icon. I think Apple have realized that this makes it hard to navigate between documents in the era where documents are first class citizens. Their solution is Mission Control, where you can see all your windows on the screen at the same time and pick which one you like. This works, but is a lot slower than using shortcuts like ⌘-Tab.

Modifier keys are something else that drives me crazy. In Windows, there is Ctrl, Alt, and Windows. Most keyboard shortcuts that have modifiers use the Ctrl key. If I want to copy, I use Ctrl-C. If I want to move the cursor to the previous word, I use Ctrl-Left. You get the picture. On the MacBook, there are four main modifier keys: Command (⌘), Option (⌥), Control (^) and Fn. If I want to copy, I need to use ⌘-C. If I want to move to the previous word, however, I have to use ⌥-Left. The list goes on. As I use it more, my brain remembers what keys I need to use for which OS, but it’s taking a while.

My last gripe is about what Apple calls mnemonics. If you are a Windows power user I’m guessing you use this all the time without even thinking about it. That is, until it is not there. If you have ever hit Alt-F to get to the File menu of your application, you are using mnemonics. I use them all the time to get to menu items that do not have specific hotkey combinations. It is a great time saver to not have to use the mouse for these menu items, especially when coding. Alas, Apple has decided that they are not a good idea and frown upon their use. This is another example of Apple thinking they know what is good for users but fall short.

So reading this you may be thinking that I regret my decision to buy the MacBook. I don’t. I love my MacBook and here’s why: Multiple Desktops, UNIX terminal, and the hardware. Yes, it is taking me a while to learn how to maneuver in OS X but the multiple desktops are a key feature and I love being able to use UNIX commands from the terminal. Yes, I’m a nerd.

But most of all, the hardware. It just works. The trackpad is so seamless that I don’t even need an external mouse. Multi-touch gestures work amazingly well. The Retina screen is gorgeous. And did I mention the battery life? It is amazing, like all day amazing. A lot of this has to do with OS X not being a power hog like Windows. You can run Windows on the MacBook, but from what I’ve read it goes through the battery much more quickly. I can improve the battery life even more by switching from Chrome to Safari, but I’m addicted to my Chrome bookmarks and, well, I just like Chrome better than Safari. Lightroom is a huge battery hog but I can’t live without that for maintaining my pictures. More on that in a later post.

The MacBook is such a great looking piece of equipment that I wanted to protect it’s delicate aluminum skin against the elements when I take it with me from place to place. There are lots of sleeves available for it, but the Acme Made Skinny Sleeve is my recommendation. There are no zippers to scratch the MacBook, it is sturdy, and it is easy to get the laptop in and out.

I’ve been sitting on this post for a few months and in the interim, Microsoft has released Windows 10. It already has a higher adoption rate than Windows 8. Maybe it will make me change my mind about Windows. But until someone can make hardware to match the MacBook I’ll stick with my evil Apple product, thank you very much.