Friday, June 20, 2014

A Windows Guy Buys a Mac: The Final Entry

Yup, it's come to an end. I have owned a Mac for one week now, and so my first week impressions are wrapping up. I didn't post a day seven update yesterday because, really, there was only one thing to say. And I will begin with that.

I bought the Mac for homework and studying. It will help in a couple of specific classes and will generally be better suited to portability than my other laptop. The only new revelation that came yesterday is that there is not a native client to for Visual Basic. While I realize that Visual Basic exists primarily for Windows programming, I'm sure there are programmers using Macs (poor souls) who at least occasionally need to do something with Visual Basic. The only way to get it to run natively on a Mac is to do the whole Boot Camp thing, install Windows on its own partition, and then install Visual Basic Studio in the Windows environment. I have the free space to do that (I'd need around 30GB free, and the Mac has around 85GB), but I don't really want to do that. I may consider just doing a remote connection to one of my Windows machine from the Mac. I think that would just be easier than going through a bunch more installations. And that's all that came up on day seven.

This all brings me to my conclusions. Let's summarize the past few days with a pros and cons list for the MacBook Air 13":

Pros:

  • Outstanding design and construction with premium materials
  • Weight and profile thickness make it easily portable
  • Solid hardware that can handle everyday tasks with ease
  • The keyboard is comfortable to type on despite the small form factor of the laptop
  • Surprisingly decent sound from a laptop
  • Battery life is absolutely amazing and I have not had to take the charger with me once
  • Initial setup is quick and relatively simple
  • Instantaneously wakes from sleep
  • Spaces is well implemented and incredibly useful, especially given the small amount of screen real estate available in this form factor
  • Includes a lot of useful software that is more fully-featured than the included software you find in other operating systems

Cons:

  • Far more expensive than similarly equipped laptops of the same form factor constructed from similar materials
  • The automatic brightness for the keyboard and screen are rarely set appropriately bright or dark enough for the environment
  • Time Machine is not a robust backup solution and cannot take advantage of existing network shares without a lot of ugly "hacks" that do not result in a reliable, elegant backup solution
  • Adding a true network printer is not a straight-forward procedure as it is on every other modern OS
  • When it is needed, the cooling fan is far too loud
  • The touchpad requires too firm of a click compared to other laptops I have used
  • The OS is way too dumbed down. "So easy, a child could use it" is why I often refer to Mac OS as a "PlaySkool OS" 
  • Apple has sacrificed intuitive controls and easy access to things power-users want all in the name of "user experience"
  • "Apple's Way" of doing things is often contradictory to what the rest of the industry is doing making OS X unfriendly for those who need to use multiple operating systems
  • Outdated Microsoft Office suite (blame on Microsoft for this one)
There may be more pros than cons, but the con's far outweigh anything the Mac has going for it. That's a shame, really, but Apple has it's head way too far up its own cult-like ass to do anything about it. From everything I've read so far, the upcoming Yosemite update is really going to make matters worse (so I will probably skip it; I've already turned off automatic updates for that very purpose).

At the end of my first week, I simply cannot recommend a Mac to anyone unless they have been lifelong Mac users that have never touched a Windows machine. The cost, the counter intuitive OS and it's inability to play nice in a multi-OS, Windows Server based environment are simply too much to overlook.

Now that my first week is over, however, I'm going to dig into a lot of the support documentation to set this thing up the way I really want it to work. Anything with code can be modified, even if it isn't always easy to do. So I will find workarounds for all of the things that annoy me about OS X. My only concern is that they may not be very elegant or robust in their implementation. I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it, if only to keep my sanity in check. This is, without a doubt, going to be the computer I spend time with in class and for homework, so I need to invest the time to make it less irritating.

And that, my friends, is the conclusion of a Windows Guy Buy a Mac. I'd love to hear your comments and opinions on what I've written or on the MacBook Air 13". You can leave them on any of these entries, or contact me via twitter or facebook. And be sure to check out the "infographic" at the very bottom of this entry.

If you've linked directly to this final post and want to read the previous entries, here's some handy links (or you just click the header at the top of my blog to be taken to all posts):

A Window's Guy Buys a Mac: Intro & Day One
A Window's Guy Buys a Mac: Day Two
A Window's Guy Buys a Mac: Day Three
A Window's Guy Buys a Mac: Day Four
A Window's Guy Buys a Mac: Day Five
A Window's Guy Buys a Mac: Day Six

I stumbled across the following little gem the day after I originally wrapped up this series. Here's one easy graphic that properly summarizes what I spent the last week writing:


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Windows Guy Buys a Mac: Day Six

Today has been much of the same with the Mac. Took it to class. Did some homework. Wrote a blog entry. Cursed the annoyances of OS X. Marveled at the battery life.

One thing was out of the ordinary, however. I met a good friend for lunch. As we were leaving his house, he asked me, "So how's the new Mac?" I offered to bring it to the restaurant. Once we arrived (Celito Lindo, in case you're wondering) and ordered, I got the Mac out of my bag and handed it to him.

He commented on how nice it looked and then ask, "What's this feel like?" The aluminum chassis reminded him of something, and I knew what it was. "My phone," I replied. I have the original HTC One that uses the same type of aluminum finish as the Mac. He agreed that's what it reminded him of, and moved on to doing... something. I couldn't see the screen so I'm not sure what he was doing. He did remark on seeing the Chrome icon. I didn't really say much to him about what was on it or what he could do, I just left him alone to tinker. This is a guy who grew up with Windows machines in school and went on to work for HP in tech support for consumer notebooks. He and all of his family use Windows machines in their home. He is by no means a power-user, and he often turns to me for assistance with his computer. He is definitely far above a typical computer user though. His dad had a Mac for a short time, but sold it after after a few months. Yet in under five minutes, my friend was bored with the Mac. You could see a look of confusion on his face as he tinkered around, not really sure what to do with it. He handed it back to me and I put it back in my Powerbag. We talked for a couple of minutes about battery life and I summed up a few of the points I've made over the past few days on my blog. And that was that. He was not at all impressed.

This encounter brought me to something I really wanted to evaluate with this Mac. Could I recommend a Mac to someone who has grown up using Windows computers? The short answer: No. The long answer is that someone already familiar with the Windows environment can get a computer with the same functionality, performance, and form factor for a few hundred dollars less and not have to completely re-learn a new OS, especially one that I have a rather low opinion of.

With that said, both Apple and Microsoft, along with the various vendors building Windows machines, all donate millions of dollars worth of computers to schools each year. While many see that as a lovely philanthropic gesture to support education, I do not. I see it as Apple and Microsoft ensuring marketshare. If you can get a child using your product early on in school, they will most likely become your customer down the road. Whether it's their parents buying a computer for them to use at home or their own purchases as adults, people are going to buy what they're familiar with. And that's what my recommendation would come down to. If you're already used to Windows, as most people are since they have a larger presence in both schools and business, buy a Windows machine (and save yourself a lot of money). If you have had more experience with a Mac, however, then shell out a few hundred bucks more and buy a Mac (and then walk around with a feeling of superiority for being in some elite group).

But what if you're someone who doesn't have much experience with computers at all? Well first I want to know exactly which third-world country or cave you've been living in. I was talking to my neighbor the other day about computers. He's around my age and has a couple of kids. He remarked how his kids seem like absolute experts with computers compared to him. He never had a computer in his home growing up, never used them in school - I can relate, I graduated in 1991 and had very limited exposure to any type of computer while in school - and never really used them much in his job as a mechanic. He said his kids began using computers in school and for homework in kindergarten, however. That's what lead him to his first computer purchase; his kids needed one at home for homework. He told me that his daughter made her first Power Point presentation in the second grade. So yeah, if you're someone without much experience with computers, where have you been living?

Anyway, for such a hypothetical person, I would recommend a Windows computer. There are two reasons for that. The first is cost: you can get a perfectly acceptable Windows computer for a few hundred dollars. You will be able to browse the web, watch videos, and send e-mail plus your kids will be able to get their homework done. You're going to spend several hundred dollars more to get an entry level Mac (I think the Mini is the cheapest that Apple offers, and even then you'd still have to shell out cash for a monitor, keyboard and mouse). The second reason is that Windows offers a better chance for people to become more advanced users. Mac OS X is way too dumbed down, engages in far too much hand holding, and does not offer as many options to explore more advanced features as a Windows computer does.

And that's what came from day six. Lunch with a friend helped me make up my mind on which computers I'd recommend to which people. And for the majority, that's going to be Windows.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Windows Guy Buys a Mac: Day Five

I'll begin with something that really should have been included yesterday if I hadn't been hasty with the Publish button.

After installing Steam, I decided to install Civilization V from my Steam library just to see how the Mac handled it. It's a game with which I'm very familiar and have played across many different machines, so I know what to expect in terms of performance. I loaded up a game, leaving all the graphics options on their defaults (the game is typically does a good job of detecting the hardware and adjusting the settings accordingly), and started out playing. All went well, though the fan in the Mac made itself well known. That little fan can get LOUD! I had the system volume around the 50% mark which made the background music fairly loud. There were times, however, that the noise from the system fan completely drowned out the in-game music. The longer I played, the loud the fan became and the hotter the Mac began to feel. It was sitting on my desk but if it had been sitting in my lap, it would have been very uncomfortable. Of course the MacBook Air doesn't have discrete graphics, so the CPU was pulling double duty of the game and the graphics. I was expecting it to produce some heat, but nothing like that.

After about an hour, I was surprised by a low battery warning. When I fired up the game, the battery was at 94%. When I exited an hour later, it was at 9%. I guess I was pushing it to it's limits if it had that kind of impact on the battery. I've never attempted to play Civ on a laptop running off battery power before today, but I'm sure it'd hit anything that hard. Since I've haven't yet used the Mac while it was plugged in, it didn't even dawn on me to plug it in first. I'm not knocking such a hit to the battery. Quite the contrary, it has inspired such confidence in its battery life over these past few days that I just took it for granted.

I'm curious to see how it would handle even more demanding games, but for now, it's resting and recharging. Maybe when summer classes are over I'll actually throw some true benchmark utilities at it and see what's what. Until then, I know it can handle Civ V, at least the early game (the late game taxes even my beast of a desktop). I'm sure more casual games won't be a problem for it.

Now, onto day five impressions.

I completely abandoned Outlook on the Mac. It's inability to import my Google Calendar was the deal breaker. I need to be able to create and edit events on the calendar with my devices. Yes, I could launch a browser and do it from there, but that's adding in unnecessary steps. I could even grab my phone, or tablet, or if I'm home use my desktop or other laptop. But that's not that point. I want my calendar available to me no matter which device I'm using. Same goes for e-mail. So I reverted back to the Mail and Calendar apps built into OS X. This is where I ran into a problem however.

Like most computer problems, this one existed due to the user (that's me). When I installed Outlook, I forged ahead with gusto and set it as the default mail and calendar app. Why? Because it sounded so sad when the little popup appeared saying Outlook wasn't the default, and would I like to set it as such. OK, that's not true. But I did jump into the assumption I'd want Outlook to be my default because it's what I use on my other computers. When I ran into the problem of Google Calendar not syncing, I opened up the native Calendar app in OS X to see if there was something there that might help me figure things out in Outlook. Of course, it too now sounded very sad in a popup informing me Calendar was no longer the default calendar app, and would I like to change it? "No way! Get out of here," I thought, and not only clicked No, but I also clicked that "Hey, shut up and don't ever ask me again!" box. I then proceeded to spend way too much time trying to figure out a way to make Outlook 2011 for Mac play nice with Google Calendar.

Fast forward through that bit of frustration to my decision to give Outlook the heave-ho and switch back to the native apps in OS X. Only there's a problem. I told Calendar to shut up and never ask me again about being the default calendar app. At first I didn't think that would be a big deal. Windows has had a Default Apps settings panel for as long as I can remember (one of the service packs on XP, I believe). I opened up System Preferences fully confident a couple of clicks would take care of the problem. I couldn't find one damn thing anywhere about setting default apps. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I thought I had to be overlooking something because surely a modern OS would have that functionality. I thought maybe it was set within the app itself but, nope, nothing there either. At least nothing that I could find. Maybe it's hiding somewhere underneath some of Apple's "magical" user experience. I don't really know.

So off to Google I went. I found two solutions, and neither are very elegant or robust. The first is to find a file that can use the app in question, right click (or two finger click in the case of the trackpad), and select "Open With." OK, fine. I'll go with that, right? Wrong. As I read the rest of the thread on Apple's support forums, I discovered that this doesn't always result in that file type being opened by the app you selected. Apparently, for reasons no one seemed to understand, OS X will sometimes decide to go back to the previous default app. And it won't be consistent in its choices. Users reported opening the same file, over and over, and getting random results. So I looked for another solution. The only thing I found that appeared to work properly is a third-party app. That's right, someone else had to write the app to include a rather basic feature that Apple left out.

So are Mail and Calendar now my default apps? I have no idea. I recalled that Outlook on Windows has options within the application to remove the default status, so I headed back to Outlook. I unchecked the boxes for Outlook being the default for mail and calendar, and hoped for the best. I'm still not really sure if the Apple apps automatically resumed handling things. When it comes to actually finding useful settings in OS X, it seems Apple's goal is to deceive, inveigle and obfuscate. More and more, Apple's "magic" is just so much smoke and mirrors.

Another rather small annoyance I ran into today had to do somewhat with a calendar, though nothing with scheduling events or editing them. One of my instructors realized he had made a mistake on the dates for exams listed in the syllabus and was trying to correct those. A few of the dates didn't sound quite right (and they weren't, he caught his own mistake), so I did what felt natural to get a quick peek at a calendar: I  clicked on the date in the Menu bar. Windows and every Linux distro I know of pops up a nice little calendar right then and there. OS X doesn't. WTF?! I had to open Calendar instead. Clicking on the date and time that stares you down from the Menu bar is a pretty obvious thing. If the people who put together other operating systems realize it should be there, why doesn't Apple? The only thing clicking on the date and time in the menu bar gets you is the option to change from a digital to analog clock or adjust the system date and time settings. Pffffft.

By the way, the definition of operating system is:
  1. the software that supports a computer's basic functions, such as scheduling tasks, executing applications, and controlling peripherals.

I suspect Apple takes the "basic" part way too literally.

I have also come to realize that if my fingers have the least bit of moisture on them, using the trackpad is quite difficult. I first realized it this afternoon when I had just washed my hands and then went to use the Mac. I noticed it again when I took a drink from a cold Dr. Pepper bottle and then tried to use the Mac. Nice, dry fingers glide without effort across the surface of the trackpad. Slightly moist fingers may as well be covered in superglue.

I do remain impressed with battery life, however. I have two classes on Tuesday's and Thursday's, so the Mac was in use for an hour during the afternoon class, about an hour at home after that, around three hours in my evening class and another 90 minutes or so tonight. Each time I stopped using it, I simply closed the lid and let it sleep. Sleep mode still drains the battery a little bit on any laptop. Yet without being plugged into the charger once since I grabbed it to go to my afternoon class, the battery is a strong 70% as I write this. Well done Apple. To compare, my phone is down to 44%, despite being removed from its' charger only about 30 minutes before the Mac was unplugged (granted a phone's battery doesn't have the capacity of a battery found in a laptop).

Finally for today, a classmate/former co-worker pointed something out to me in class tonight. I needed to move the Mac out of the way for a moment, so I picked it up with one hand, with the screen open, by the front left edge and moved it. His "WOW" lead me to ask what he was so impressed by. His wife owns an ultrabook (I forget the brand) of similar design and materials as the Mac, though it's a 15" model. He said if he would be afraid to pick up her ultrabook in the same manner because it's not very rigid. The chassis would flex and shift around, increasing the chances of dropping it. That's not the case with the MacBook Air. There is little to no flex in the chassis at all. Apple definitely didn't cut corners in design or construction. Though if it's true that each one of these is milled from a single block of aluminum, their manufacturing process is quite wasteful. Still, another kudos to Apple for a rigid design that looks and feels nice.

So that's day five with a Mac. In two more days I will finally read the manual and explore some of Apple's "get to know your Mac" videos and documents on Apple's support site. I am intentionally ignoring such things right now for two reasons. The first is everyone I know who gushes about how awesome Macs are claim that they are the most simple computers to use. The second reason comes form having worked in tech support for HP's consumer notebooks. Users never, ever read manuals, help files or support documentation. NEVER EVER. I wanted to see how much I could accomplish in assuming the role of a typical user and find out how accurate the fanboy's claims are. Typically, though, I RTFM.

By the way, you're my new best friend if you caught the X-Files reference in this entry.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Windows Guy Buys a Mac: Day Four

Today was the first day I used the Mac in a classroom. As I expected, it was much nicer having the lighter, thinner laptop in my bag. I didn't even really notice I was carrying it around. It also left a lot more space on the desk at which I sat. Taking notes was a routine affair, though once again Spaces came in handy as I switched back and forth between one space with Word in full screen and Chrome in full screen.

One cool feature I discovered by accident related to the back lit keyboard. When the ambient light sensor detects that there is enough light in the room to see your keyboard clearly, it disables the back light completely. I noticed the back light wasn't on, so I hit the keyboard button to turn it up. Instead of the usual adjustments I see, it just had a "NO!" symbol over the onscreen display. I thought something was wrong at first, so I Googled it and discovered this energy saving feature. Little things like that impress me. And the light sensor was correct, there was ample light to see the keyboard. The room not only has overhead fluorescent lighting, but I sit directly in front of a huge window.

I noticed that the keyboard on the Mac is louder and more "clicky" than the one on my Acer laptop. I hadn't really noticed it here at home, but sitting in a classroom, it was suddenly really loud. There's not anything I can do about that really. Maybe once the thing is out of warranty I will investigate to see if anyone sells a third-party replacement keyboard, open the thing up, and swap out the keyboards. But I'm not opening it up until it's out of warranty since I don't want to void the warranty.

The automatic screen brightness setting was still a bit too dark for my taste in the classroom and I found myself once again needing to manually adjust it. Maybe I'm nitpicking here, but if Asus and HTC can perfectly nail automatic screen brightness on my tablet and phone, respectively, why can't Apple get it right on the MacBook Air? Maybe people who prefer Macs have a different genetic makeup that makes their eyes more sensitive to light. In case you missed the subtlety, I just inferred that people who prefer Mac's might be mutant freaks. You're welcome.

A friend told me I'd wind up wanting more storage space than the 128 GB that's built in. He may be right, but so far I've installed Office, Chrome, Google Apps, Steam and Skype and I still have 85 GB free (and that's with one of my larger Steam games installed as well). Since I store all of my school documents on Google Drive in order to access them from all my devices, I won't need document space. I don't create videos or edit photos, and even if I did, those things would be stored on my server along with all the other photos and videos I have. My server has remote web access, so I don't need to tie up space on any of my computers. So I'm not really sure I'll wind up filling up the hard drive. My Acer has a 256 GB SSD (formatted, and with recovery partitions set aside, it shows as 214 GB in Windows), I have way more stuff installed there, and I still have 102 GB free there. I'd guess 15 GB of space is currently taken up by random installation files I haven't deleted or torented media I haven't yet moved over to my server. So I'm guessing the 128 GB was a good choice for the Mac.

If I do wind up running out of space, the Mac has an SD card slot and several companies make SD cards that Mac OS X will recognize as permanent storage instead of removable, and they're not really expensive. It's something I will keep in mind if storage space does get full.

Other than that, it was fairly status quo today. An hour of taking notes in class, three more hours of homework here at the house, and about an hour installed Steam, a game, and Skype. I still find myself annoyed that I'm forced into doing various things Apple's way, but that's not going away. And it will give me reason to continue grumbling about Apple and their PlaySkool OS.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Windows Guy Buys a Mac: Day Three

Despite several people telling me to change the scrolling direction on the Mac instead of doing it "Steve's way," I've left it in the default. I find that I keep scrolling up when I meant to scroll down and vice versa. I'm undecided as to whether or not I will wind up changing the scrolling. Scrolling works the same way on Android, so I'm not sure where my disconnect is in remembering that it works this way in OS X. Maybe I just associate scrolling on a computer one way and scrolling on a mobile device the other. If I'm still making the mistake at the end of the week, I will probably change it. I'm guessing that's done in Settings > Touchpad.

I'm also missing the backspace/delete key separation. There are times when I want to delete from the cursor back, and backspace is great for that, on Windows. But sometimes I want to delete from the cursor forward, and delete jumps into play. Delete on the Mac works like a backspace key. Yes, I know there's a keyboard command that let's me change the functionality, and I looked it up on day one and used it once or twice. But I've since forgotten what it was. FN-Del? Command-Del? That's a big gripe I'm running into already - secondary functions for keys should always work with one modifier key (like the ALT or FN key on Windows laptops). But there seems to be no rhyme or reason to which modifier you'll need to use to get to secondary or tertiary functions on the Mac. Sometimes it's going to be the Command. Sometimes it'll be option or control. And sometimes it will be a combination of multiple modifiers at once. This could be another example of me missing something obvious, but second functions should always be one modifier, tertiary yet another and so on and so forth. But when it comes to the delete/backspace key separation, I cannot think of another modern OS that does not have it other than Mac OS. Steve Jobs, you were a stubborn old goat. And your turtlenecks looked stupid.

I take class notes, do the majority of my homework and write papers in Word on both my desktop and my other laptop. I had intended to use Pages to accomplish this task on the Mac since Pages can open Word documents. In fact I used Pages for all of my homework yesterday. One thing that annoyed me, however, was when it came time to save the document. In every other word processing application I know of, you can change the format to a different application through the "Save As" option. Not so in Pages. To save a document in Word format, you have to use "Export To." That wouldn't be bad in and of itself if it that took care of everything. But it doesn't. When I close the document I'm working on, even if I've just done the "Export To" to save in Word format, Pages wants to save the file as a Pages file. I don't need duplicate copies, thanks Apple. Pages should be smart enough to realize that I haven't made any changes since I did the Export to a Word file and just close when I want it to close.

To avoid this minor nuisance popping up every time I want to save a file as a Word document, I just installed Microsoft Office on the Mac. My student subscription to Office 365 lets me install Office on two computers for three more years (at which I can renew it for another four years at the student price). Since the Acer has become more of a leisure time laptop now that the Mac will be taking over school duties, I deactivated the install on that machine and moved it to the Mac. The process was simple enough. Download, then install. There was a huge update to run once I had Office installed, but that's not a big deal. What I dislike, however, is that the version of Office for Mac is nowhere near as modern and easy to use as the version for Windows. Blame Microsoft on that one. Again, this is 2014, a unified experience across platforms is a given. Shame on Microsoft for neglecting their Office users on Macs.

More shame for Microsoft has me sounding like a broken record with another "this is 2014!" complaint You cannot directly sync a Google Calendar with Outlook in Office 2011 for Mac. Wait, WHAT?! Haven't I been able to do that on my Windows machines since Office 2007? Maybe it was the version after that, but I know Outlook and Google Calendar have been playing nice together for years. It's rather unacceptable that Microsoft wouldn't bake this feature into Outlook for the Mac. I found a rather clunky and alleged (I say alleged because I followed the instructions I found, but nothing is showing up in Outlook's calendar yet) workaround of syncing Google Calendar to the OS X Calendar and then selecting the option to sync the OS X Calendar to Outlook. Oy vey! Microsoft, get your act together!

After homework last night, I poked around on the Mac some more to continue getting more acquainted with it. That lead me to tinkering with the Dashboard. Can anyone tell me the purpose of Dashboard? It let's you add a bunch of widgets such as a small calendar, clock, weather, and various utilities. But you have to scroll to a different screen to actually see any of that information. Granted, it's an easy three-finger swipe to the left to get there, but I've never been a fan of desktop widgets. I've had them turned off in Windows since they reared their ugly heads in Vista days. I prefer a clean desktop with as little on it as possible. I don't really know who had widgets first, Microsoft or Apple, but I don't like them on a computer. They're great on mobile devices where they can display a quick look at useful information, but I don't want them cluttering up my desktop. I will probably look to see if it's possible to turn off the Dashboard all together because I really can't see myself using it. If anyone knows of a good reason for it to be there, please tell me (scroll down a few posts and you'll find tons of ways to get in touch with me).

And that's really it for day three. I've not used the Mac much outside of homework today or yesterday, and I think that's going to be fairly true going forward.

Day Three: Part Two

OK, so that wasn't really it for day three. I have a confession and a couple of analogies.

First up, the confession. I had originally pledged to update all of these Mac related posts via the Mac itself, but I'm writing this bit on my desktop. The Mac battery was dangerously low and I do not yet have all the cables run about my desk in a manner I can use the Mac while it's charging.

One thing I keep running into with Mac OS X is that many functions are not intuitive for a Windows guy. I can jump into any given distro of Linux and most things are going to be very intuitive and similar if not exactly the same as they are in Windows. That's just not the case with Mac OS X. Apple has itself way too invested in doing things their own way and it leads to a frustrating experience. It also makes me question whether I could ever recommend a Mac to someone who all of their previous computer experience on a PC.

I won't go into the dozens of little things I've been annoyed by with the Mac, but I will say they are all things that should be more intuitive. In all of this, I'm reminded of the second grade. My family moved from Ohio to Texas in the middle of my second grade year. When my new teacher discovered I was left-handed, she insisted that the only proper way for a lefty to write was by turning the paper 90 degrees to the right and, essentially, writing sideways from top to bottom on the page. She insisted this made a lefty's handwriting appear "more normal" and that it would avoid the dreaded smear many lefties experience as the side of their hand drags through the graphite or ink. For me, though, it made absolutely no sense to do that. I've never had the best penmanship, but I had learned enough to keep my hand elevated a bit so I didn't smear the very letters I had just written. I spent two or three weeks with her smacking my hand with a ruler every time she saw me without the page turned 90 degrees (yea, she hit me. It was the early 80's and Texas. Not only did they still have corporal punishment, but I'm fairly certain they also had a firing squad for the really bad kids). I don't recall what made her finally give up her crusade, but I do remember that I spent those weeks utterly frustrated as I tried to relearn how to write. Her system simply was not intuitive to me and it impeded my ability to get anything done. And Apple is just like that second grade teacher. They stubbornly insist that there is only one right way to do any given task, and if that's not intuitive to you then you're just doing it wrong.

Beyond the lack of intuition is the lack of choice. You will do things Apple's way ("Steve's way" as some say) or you won't do it at all. That ridiculous. Completely, totally ridiculous. And here's where I turn to another analogy. I do not take the fastest, shortest route on my drive to campus each day. The route I take is slightly longer, by maybe half a mile, and slower, but I like it. Why? Well, because I do, that's why! There's lovely old homes lining the street I drive down, it's a nice tree covered street, and there's a lot less traffic to deal with. But if there's a problem with that route - one of the big trees fell and blocked the road or a lovely old home is burning to the ground - I can take three or four others that are all comparable in distance and time and they all get me to my final destination without really going out of the way. The point being: people like options. Sometimes I want to do something one particular way simply because it's the way I want to do it. It might not be the most efficient or may even seem ridiculous to someone else, but it's the way I want to do it. And I like that Windows, Linux and Android really do provide a multitude of ways to accomplish tasks. I'm already losing patience with Apple because they have very narrowly defined the "ideal" user experience and, as a result, frustrate users who want choices that are more intuitive than "Steve's way." Steve's way reminds me of the old "you can't there from here" joke.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Windows Guy Buys a Mac: Day Two

I've used the Mac for homework today for around five hours. In that time, I've really come to appreciate Spaces. Once again for the non-Mac users, Spaces allows you to create multiple desktops that you can switch back and forth between, much like Workspaces in Ubuntu and other Linux distros. It really comes in handy for me while doing homework because I tend to full screen the app I'm working in so I can see more of my work at once. On this small screen, this really helps. To aid that, I've also set the Dock to auto hide. I was a bit concerned about response time at first, but the Mac is speedy and the Dock pops up instantly when I move the cursor to the bottom of the screen and immediately disappears when I move away. Another nice feature when using full screen apps is that the menu bar auto hides. I don't know if that's a setting that can be changed or not, but I like it as it is. Like the Dock, it's there when I need and out of the way when I don't. So kudos to Apple for not only a slick implementation of full screen apps and hiding the Dock, but also for making it very easy to switch between desktops with Spaces.

One thing I noticed last night; after using the Mac for the better part of the day, I kept making a lot of typo's on the keyboards for my desktop and laptop (the laptop sits in a dock most of the time, with a wireless keyboard and mouse attached). The MacBook Air's keyboard isn't quite full size, so after using it for several hours, muscle memory kicked in and I kept missing keys on the full size keyboards for my Windows machines. I can't really fault Apple on this, however. On any "ultrabook" form factpr, you're going to get a slightly cramped keyboard layout. I could just as well experience this same problem if I were using a Windows ultrabook. It's just something that I will have to get used to.

To keep my brain from frying during homework, I take breaks every couple of hours. Today that meant catching up on some of the YouTube videos from channels I subscribe to. While I wouldn't really watch movies on the Mac - and why would I since my desktop monitor is actually a 32" TV that has a Chromecast connected, all with a few hundred watts of surround sound - this little machine is fine for watching YouTube videos. I was impressed by how loud the speakers can get, and that they can do so without distortion. My Acer's speakers are pretty much worthless, truth be told. And that's been true of pretty much every laptop I've ever owned (this Mac makes the 5th laptop I've owned, but my last job had me surrounded by literally dozens at any given time). They're good for hearing the various OS notification sounds, but not much else. With the Mac, however, the YouTube videos were sufficiently loud and clear. I even tried turning the volume all the way up to see how loud they could go and it was just too uncomfortable. The videos were loud and clear with the system volume only half way up. Granted it's still sound coming from tiny speakers in a very small form factor, so you don't get the very full sound and stereo separation is almost nonexistent. But still, for laptop speakers, I'm very impressed.

I'm also really pleased with the size of the MacBook Air. It weighs practically nothing (2.38 lbs compared to my Acer's 5.7 lbs), and the thin profile makes it easy to store out of the way when it isn't in use. I plan on getting a stand to keep it on my desk (and a wireless keyboard and trackpad) when I'm at home, but for now, when I'm done with the Mac I can close it and slide it into one of the document trays I have sitting on my desk. It'll also be a lot nicer when I carry it with me since it's so light and thin. When I put my Acer into my Powerbag messenger style bag, I could definitely feel both it's weight and size. It's a 15" laptop that measures at 15x9.9x1.3 inches, while the MacBook Air measures at a svelte 12.8x8.94x0.68 inches. That's going to make a noticeable difference lugging it around. I also shouldn't need to carry the power adapter with me like I did for the Acer, so that will save even more weight and free up some space inside the bag.

One thing I really miss is a ten-key on the keyboard. With the exception of the very first laptop I owned, every one has had a ten key. Granted, those were pretty big laptops. One of them was a beastly 17" affair, while the other two have been 15". But again, I can't really fault Apple on this one. The whole ultrabook form factor just doesn't have room for a ten key. I've become quite accustomed to having that ten key, though, so it's going to be an adjustment not having one.

For the final part of today's update, I did let the battery completely die before charging it up yesterday. I know that's not as much of an issue as it once was, but I still prefer to let my mobile device's batteries die completely before I recharge them. The Mac held out for 12 hours and 38 minutes on battery yesterday when it finally checked out. It took less than two hours to charge all the way back to 100%. So not bad. I've never really paid attention to how long the Acer takes to charge, since it typically happens overnight, but I know other laptops I've had in the past can take the better part of an afternoon (I'm looking at you, HP and Toshiba). So good job Apple for having a battery that lasts all day and recharges fairly quickly.

Click here to read my Day One thoughts on owning a Mac


Friday, June 13, 2014

A Windows Guy Buys a Mac

Well hello, blog. It's been a while. I just haven't had much to say in a public space that can't fit into 140 characters.

Anyway, something has come up recently and I think it's a good idea to document it. You see, I have exclusively used PC's since 1994 when I bought a lovely old Compaq Presario 5000 series all in one desktop. Good ole Windows 3.1! That exclusivity came to an end at 10:07 AM on June 13th (Friday the 13th!) when I picked up a MacBook Air 13" from Best Buy (gotta love that $150 discount they gave me for being a college student!). Whether for myself or someone else considering a Mac, I thought I'd document my first week with it. To make things interesting, I'm going to write this entire series on the Mac. Oh, and I'm going to try to do as much as possible without consulting the Quick Start Guide or any help documentation.

First up, some specs. Obviously from the name, you know this is the 13.3" model. It has a 4th gen i5 1.4 GHz processor and 4 GB of DDR3 at 1600 MHz (that makes it PC3-12800, eh?), and a PCIe based 128 GB flash drive (technically an SSD, but whatever). I've heard a few people knock the MacBook Air for its display, but honestly, it's OK. The viewing angles aren't are good as my laptop or desktop (or tablet or phone for that matter), but those all have screens that added a premium to their cost. For my purposes, which will mainly be classroom note-taking, the screen on this little Mac is OK. Colors don't really wash out when viewed from extreme angles. It boots in no time at all (note to self: see if my Acer laptop boots quicker) and hasn't really struggled with anything I've thrown at it so far on the first day. With the processor and RAM, it should be OK for my purposes. I will give it kudos for having 802.11ac on-board. The only other device I own with wireless ac is my HTC ONE. My router does ac, so it's nice to get some benefit from that, though I'll only really notice it if and when I need to move files over my network. My ISP is only 30Mbps, so the fact I'm connecting to my router at 1Gbps is really irrelevant.

The initial setup was very simple. The only hiccup I ran into was when it came to the screen to connect to a wireless network. Like anyone with common sense, I do not broadcast the SSID of my wireless networks. I didn't initially see how to connect to such a hidden network. I'm used to an option in Windows and Android that basically says "Connect to a hidden network" or something like that. So I started scrolling through the list of available wireless networks, just to see if one was unsecured. Then, at the very bottom of the list of all the wireless networks (and there are a TON of them in my neighborhood), there was an option for "Other Network" (at least I think that's what it said). That gave me the option to enter the SSID and password for my network. My network is also MAC filtered, however, so I flipped the Mac over to see if I could find the MAC address (MAC - Media Access Control, Mac - the computer). It wasn't there, which I found odd. I'm used to having that information on the bottom of a laptop. On a hunch, I grabbed the box it came in. Sure enough, there was the MAC address. That's not really the best place for it, but now that I have it documented, I won't need to find it again. Once I added the Mac's MAC to my router configuration, I clicked connect and moved on with the setup.

One thing I did find needlessly redundant with the setup was the whole AppleID and computer account separation. I guess I feel if I have an AppleID, that should be enough. I should be able to enter my AppleID account information and not create a computer user name as well. That wasn't the case. I had to create a local account and password after I had entered my AppleID info. Contrast that with Windows 8 setup where your Windows Live account is all you need, and that just felt like an extra step on the Mac that really shouldn't be there in 2014.

And this brings me to a good place to pause for a minute and address the Apple Fanboys. Hello, fanboys. I'm sure you're salivating at the thought of another potential convert to the Cult of Mac. Time will tell. But until then, I have discovered one of your bald faced lies. The initial setup, the out of box experience, whatever you want to call it. For years and years I have heard Apple fanboys decry Windows for being over-complicated for initial setup. While that may have been true for some time, it has gotten MUCH better. Windows Vista was the first to try to simplify the initial setup, Windows 7 made huge leaps and Windows 8 makes things DEAD SIMPLE. In fact, I'd say with Windows 8, Mac and Windows are on even footing. I'd have no problem handing a new Windows 8 laptop to someone who has never owned a computer before (I was going to say never used a computer before, but I'm not sure such people exist in my tiny world). I'd have full confidence they'd be able to breeze right through it. About the only thing they might not "get" right away would be the network connection, but it'd throw them for a loop on a Mac, too. So, fanboys, I'm on to you. Now, back to my initial experience with a Mac.

In less than 5 minutes, I was at the desktop. I've not really used Mac OS X before, but I was able to quickly find what I needed. I hit up system updates first, just because I wanted to make sure everything was up-to-date before I started. That's going to happen with any computer. Updates are released after the thing ships, so you will almost always have some updates to install from the moment you turn it on. Updates took about 20 minutes to download and install.

After the updates were complete, I wanted to dig into computer settings. The big gear icon on the Dock took me right to computer settings where I began to fiddle around and basically see what I could and could not tinker with. It felt very similar to what you'd find in Linux but lacked a lot of the stuff that Windows Control Panel offers. Granted, the Mac scores some points with making it dead obvious how to get into the settings whereas someone brand new to Windows would probably struggle a bit to figure out that it's all in Control Panel. But I was able to change my wallpaper, install my printer (that's shared from my Windows Home Server), configure my Windows workgroup so it'd know where to look for shared files, and then just looked around to see what's what.

I use Google Chrome on everything - desktop, laptop, tablet and phone - so I wanted it for my Mac as well. Downloading and installing was a snap and it gave me something familiar in this strange, new OS. Since I also use Google Drive for almost all of my documents, that was the next install. Drive works on a Mac the same way it works on a PC and Android, so major credit to Google for giving me a unified experience across platforms.

With my Mac Googlefied, I began removing things from the Dock (that row of icons at the bottom, for you non-Mac people) that I didn't think I'd really be using that much. It was way too cluttered out of the box for my tastes and trimming it down made it easier for me to live with. I only want four or five icons on my Dock/Taskbar with everything else easily accessible from Launchpad/Start Menu. I also shrunk the size of the Dock a bit because it was waaaaaaaaay too big for such a small screen.

I do want to backtrack for a moment and talk about the printer setup. As I mentioned, I have my printer installed on my Windows Home Server 2011 box and have the print server service sharing it across my network. On Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Ubuntu 14.04, Fedora 20 (and an older distro, but I forget the version number), and Android 4.4.x, I clicked "Add printer" and they all immediately saw the shared printer. Installation was a "click install" affair and done. On the Mac, however, it didn't really "see" the printer. At least not that I could determine, anyway. This is another "in 2014, it should work this way" gripe, but really if a printer is properly shared on a network, I shouldn't have to go digging through menus to drill down through a Windows workgroup and then select the printer I want to install. I also shouldn't have to guess which driver to use. It should all just work (and did each and every time on the other OS's I mentioned). With the Mac, I found myself having to visit HP's support site to see which of the numerous options given I should choose since my exact printer wasn't listed. Even then, HP's support was obviously written for a previous version of OS X because their instructions didn't fully match what was on my screen. Apple's support website was even less help, filled with just generic information about installing a printer. Will the average user have a networked, server-based printer? Probably not. But I wonder what the experience would have been like if I had the printer setup to to be it's own print server over WiFi (a feature I quit using a LONG time ago because it never knew how to wake itself up when I needed to print). Your mileage may vary, but I found the process for adding a printer to be too cumbersome when I know every other OS I've used in the past year automatically detects the printer and grabs the appropriate driver without me having to do any hand-holding.

The server brings me to my next topic and another "Hey Apple, it's 2014!" type complaint. I have my computers set to backup automatically over my network. To be fair, I'm using Windows Home Server to backup Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, so it's all within the Microsoft ecosystem. But when I had Ubuntu and Fedora installed, they too could take advantage of a network share. With Windows 7 and 8.1, I just download the Connector software from my server and backups happen automagically. I don't have to worry with complete or incremental backups. It all just happens. It wasn't quite that easy with Ubuntu and Fedora, but it was still fairly simple. On each I only had to point the backup software to the the correct network share, set a backup schedule, and never worried about backups again. On the Mac, not so much. I have yet to find anything within Time Machine that allows me select a network share for backups. Adding insult to injury, Googling "backups OS X Mavericks to Windows Home Server" revealed that every version of OS X through Lion not only worked with the WHS Connector software, but also allowed the Connector software to configure Time Machine to work with the network share as its backup destination. Why this changed in Mavericks is anyone's guess, but so far no one in the home server community has found a reliable, robust workaround. At best, I can do some ugly hacks that will allow the Mavericks version of Time Machine to use a network share, but it's going to whine, moan, bitch, and complain constantly the moment it can't find that network share (i.e, anytime I leave my home network). I wasn't really expecting backups to a network share to be as easy (dare I say, "magical?") as it was on the Windows systems, but I expected it to at least have the functionality of various Linux distributions. Hell, even my Android phone and tablet can easily access those shares.

Let's move on to other general impressions. When set to automatic, the backlit keyboard is a bit too bright and the screen a bit too dark for my current setting. We'll see how this plays out in a more brightly lit classroom setting. I know I can manually set the brightness for each of these, but I'd rather set them to automatic and forget it. Granted my Acer laptop lacks a backlit keyboard and, as far as I know, doesn't have an option for automatic screen brightness. But my Android phone and tablet (HTC One M7 and Nexus 7 2013) both nail automatic screen brightness every time. But back to the keyboard, it's mostly comfortable to type on and I like the key travel (more about comfort in a minute). Scrolling on the trackpad is very intuitive, and I've already picked up several of the multitouch gestures. Clicking on the trackpad takes a bit more effort than I'd like. While my Acer laptop does have dedicated left and right click buttons just below the touchpad, I can also do the same single finger click/double finger right click with it, and I don't have to press it down as hard as I do with the Mac. And whether or not this is due to improper posture, I don't like the hard edge on the chassis of the Mac. My wrists fall naturally on that edge while typing and I already have some lines indented to my skin. I don't experience that on my Acer as the front edge of the chassis is slightly rounded off. So while I still wind up making contact with the chassis at the same point on my wrists, I don't get the same discomfort on the Acer that I get on the Mac. I guess what I'm saying is that while the keyboard itself it comfortable to type on as far as key spacing goes, I don't like the sharp front edge of the chassis on the Mac.

And that's all I really have for day one impressions. Overall, it's a decent little laptop that is easy to use. I'm not sure I'll like being cornered into doing things "Apple's way" since I'm used to Windows and Linux giving you a bajillion different ways to make any given feature function. We'll see. I will try to post an update each day for the first seven days of Mac ownership.  I'll continue to update this over the next few days with other thoughts from my day to day use and publish it on the 20th. [I had planned on one big entry with daily updates, but it was getting way too long. You may see some references to this now scrapped plan still scattered about. Sorry about that]

Day One Update

I did a little comparison for wake from sleep and cold boot between my Acer laptop and MacBook Air. I didn't actually time them. Instead, I put them both to sleep, waited five minutes, then pressed their respective power buttons simultaneously. The Mac wins, by about a whopping one second. The Mac woke up instantaneously while the Acer takes about a second. Then I shut them both down completely, waited a minute, and turned them back on. Both the Mac and the Acer are set to login automatically without a password. The Acer won this one, by about two seconds.

I've already listed the specs for the Mac, so here's what the Acer has going for it: It's a third generation i5 (the i5-3210M to be precise), with 4 GB of 1600 Mhz DDR3 RAM and a Samsung 840 Pro 256GB SSD. I'm going to give the cold-boot award to the Samsung SSD since the boot time for the Acer pre-SSD was closer to a full minute.

I also wanted to add some day one battery life impressions. I've been using this Mac without interruption for six hours now. My Acer's battery would be close to dead if not already kaput by now. I'm at 30% battery remaining on the Mac, which OS X is estimating at giving me three hours, 11 minutes more use. I have to chalk a lot of that up to the power efficiency of the 4th generation Intel processor in the Mac and the lack of a mechanical hard drive. The battery life for my Acer jumped up by about an hour when I switched to an SSD after the OEM mechanical drive failed. I would expect that, similarly equipped, a 4th gen based Acer Aspire would get 7 to 8 hours of battery life. Still not the 12 or 13 I can expect from the Mac, but nothing to sneeze at either. Also consider the Acer has a 15" HD screen and a discrete NVIDIA graphics card whereas the Mac is 13.3" inch, 1440x900 resolution using the integrated Intel HD 5000 graphics from the CPU. That makes it difficult to do a direct comparison. But anyway, I am very pleased with the battery life on the Mac. It'll hold up well for my intended use.

And now with all this day one stuff written, I'm going to play games on my beast of a desktop while Netflix plays on the HD screen of my Acer laptop. The Mac... it's going to sit on my desk until the battery dies so I can charge it from empty.