Mac Attack

Is it too much to ask your PC just to work? Apparently so. I have been living in the Microsoft universe almost universally since 1988. Why did I buy PC after PC and keep putting Microsoft on it? Was it because I thought that MS-DOS or Windows was the neatest and most reliable operating system in the world? Ha! I was never that naïve. No, I stayed with Microsoft all these years like most of us because I needed the applications that ran on it.

Around 1995 I did briefly flirt with OS/2 Warp. I installed the sucker (it came on something like a dozen 3 ¼ inch diskettes) and enjoyed its nice snazzy features. For compatibility, I ran my Windows 3.1 programs in protected memory. It did not take too long though before I was running Windows 95. Did I hate OS/2 Warp? Not at all. It was a cool operating system. The problem was that its applications, if you could find them at all, were generally crap compared to the Windows equivalent.

The reality was that until I could run applications that were the same or as good on another operating system, I was stuck in the Windows universe. After spending a couple hours yesterday with my friend Jim Goldbloom learning about his Mac, I realized: I do not have to take it anymore. Soon Bill Gates, it is gonna be see you later sucker. I just hope this time I do not have to come crawling back because of some killer applications that are just not available for the Mac. (Even so, I can now run a Mac in dual boot mode and run Windows on it, or buy Parallels and run Windows Vista at the same time.)

Currently it takes three to four minutes to boot my machine. It is a couple years old, and has plenty of memory and CPU and runs Windows XP. My wife built it for me (she does these things for friends and family.) I am not entirely sure why it takes so long to boot up. When it was new, it only took about 45 seconds. It is probably because when you have to build a software fortress around your PC every time you use it, it just takes time. There is the ZoneAlarm firewall. There is the free Avast! Antivirus software. There is my Webroot Spy Sweeper program. However, there are all sorts of other stuff, much of which I am only dimly aware of getting loaded and entertaining my CPU. Likely, some of it I do not actually need anymore. Perhaps there are tricks I could learn from a Windows Secrets book on how to speed up things. Perhaps it is just getting old. Booting my PC in 2008 takes longer than it took to boot my Commodore 64 in 1984 and load a program like PaperClip off my floppy disk. That took about two minutes, which seemed intolerably long back then.

I have enough PC savvy to know what the real problem is: Windows is an operating system that is about as lithe as an elephant. Windows was never engineered. It started out as a rickety shack in the backyard. The Microsoft “engineers” kept adding rooms, only they learned carpentry from Alf and Ralph Monroe from Green Acres. Bill Gates was the oily Mr. Haney. We were the foolish Douglases. No matter how crappy their operating system and software was we kept buying because we had to have those compatible applications. Moreover, we needed those applications because we had to share stuff with others, and they were running those applications. There were times when Windows 3.1 would GPF on me every fifteen minutes. Windows Me, released in 1999, was nearly as bad.

We got some relief with Windows 2000. It looked like Alf and Ralph had finally figured out how to add a room to the house without the rain coming in through the roof. It was somewhat acceptable and my applications ran okay. Gradually I could go days or weeks without getting General Protection Faults or BSDs (Blue Screens of Death). Windows XP proved that Alf and Ralph could even put up wallpaper right.

Still, Windows annoyed me. It is like my first car, a 1970 Toyota Corolla. Back then, they were cheap and crappy cars. The good part was that the car was elementary enough that I could do a lot of its servicing. Windows is like that. If you are not part PC geek, running Windows is like driving a car around with the oil nearly out. You can do it, but you are being stupid.

You should not have to be a hardware geek to run a desktop computer. You should not need to subscribe to an online newsletter like Windows Secrets because, well, there should be no secrets between you and your personal computer. Moreover, the damn thing should just run, and run reliably. There is a reason I drive a Honda Civic instead of a Yugo. I have better things to do with my time than take the damn thing into the shop all the time. All these years I have wanted to say the same thing about my PC, but could not.

I avoided a Mac for years not just because my software wouldn’t run on it but also because there were still a few kinks in the machine. They are gone. The OS/X Leopard operating system is as solid and reliable as UNIX, because it is UNIX. It is UNIX with a highly optimized graphical user interface that will finally enable me to do my work without much thinking, instead of a gadget I have to regularly fuss over. I do not think about how a screwdriver works. Why should my computer be a mysterious black box that occasionally requires some guru skilled in a black art to fix it?

OS/X Leopard is slick and effortless. I needed Jim there though as my tutor. The problem with learning the Mac is you have to unlearn Windows. You have to erase the idea that computers have to be mysterious or obscure. Need to find something? Click on Spotlight, type what you are looking for and see the results instantly appear. Lost something but you have not backed up your files recently? Not a problem. Time Machine, sitting in the background, can find it for you. Do you want the version of the file on November 5th or December 8th?

Where is that big rectangular box with all the hardware stuff in it anyhow? There is no box. The computer is built into the monitor. What sort of special cable do I need to get the photos off my cell phone? You do not need a cable; the Mac is Bluetooth enabled. Just where do I attach my web cam? Umm, it is built into the monitor, along with a microphone. It’s just there because it should be there. You have just been trained by Microsoft to spend your odd hours plugging in things to your PC and fussing with drivers. With a Mac, most of the time you just assume it is already there.

I went with Jim through all my myriad software requirements. Can I get Microsoft Word for the Mac? Yeah, you can buy it if you want, or use the Word processor that comes with it, or install the free OpenOffice suite, which is compatible. Browser? Safari is bundled with it, but you can run Firefox for the Mac, keep all your bookmarks and still use its many neat extensions. I am a web developer. Can I run Dreamweaver? Of course, you can get a Mac version. I keep all my financial stuff in Quicken. Yes, there is a Mac version for it too. What about my whitelist software? I hate spam and need a challenge-response system for people I do not know. The Mac Mail program will probably suffice with a little tweaking of the rules. If not, there are doubtless many free applications written for the Mac that can be your proxy that you can download from Apple’s website. Is there the equivalent of Webdrive, which lets me write to a web site as a Windows drive letter? Umm, drive letters are so PC. You do not need to remember drive letters anymore. You simply mount the sucker, and a SAMBA mount pointing to a server on the Internet will suffice. Will it recognize my printer? Just connect it. Unless it is more than a few years old, it will work transparently.

Bottom line: I do not need to put up with Windows anymore. I can finally be liberated.

I will not be rushing down to my Apple store to buy a Mac but I am making plans. I am wondering: will the Mac mini be all I need? After all, I already have an excellent monitor. Whichever Mac I buy I know that my desktop computer will be one less thing about which to worry. I will be driving a Ferrari, not a Yugo.

Sadly, I still will have to use Windows at work. I cannot escape Windows entirely until I retire. I do look forward to the day when I can purge Windows from my brain. It is impossible to have zero latency between my ideas and executing them on a computer or on the web. The Mac is likely the closest I will get to getting there.

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