July 20, 2007

Day 1: Why bother?

I decided a month or so ago that it might be useful for me and some of my colleagues to have access to Macs alongside our usual PCs. The office is actually fairly platform-agnostic already, with most people using Windows most of the time, but a smattering of Linux, Solaris and Mac around the place. But the reasons I thought more Mac hardware might be useful are:-

  1. Some of our customers are Mac users. It’s not a huge percentage – somewhere between 5 and 10% – but it’s enough that there is some benefit in us knowing what OS X looks like and how it works (and in particular how its browsers behave) so that if someone rings us up with a question and mentions that they’re using a Mac, we know what they’re talking about when they say “Finder” or “Spotlight” or “Keynote” or whatever.
  2. Every so often, some of our academic colleagues wax lyrical about OS X apps and their rich functionality and/or ease of use for areas of content creation in which we’re interested – podcasting, audio/video/image editing and upload, recording, etc. It’ll be interesting to see whether Macs offer better or easier solutions than Windows for some kinds of content creation.
  3. As providers of web tools, we’re concerned to make sure that our applications work on as many browsers and platforms as possible. That’s historically required us to keep lots of machines around the place just so that we can check how things look on different versions of IE, FireFox, Safari, Konqueror, etc on different operating systems. The idea of using Parallels to let us see how pages look on lots of browsers across lots of OS’s, all on a single desktop, is immensely appealing.

For extra entertainment, I’ve also decided to to try a personal experiment by switching from using PCs most of time, and Macs just now and again, to using nothing but a Mac the whole time to see how easy and comfortable the switch is. I’m a fairly ordinary user – I use a web browser, I email, I use Word, Excel and PowerPoint (but not in great depth), I have a calendar (using the Palm desktop), photos (in Picasa), music (in iTunes), and I manage my bank accounts with Microsoft Money. I do screen mockups and icon work using Paint Shop, and now and again I do bits of video editing with Windows Movie Maker. Sometimes I watch TV shows I’ve downloaded from the internet. I play casual games of the sort you find at PopCap and elsewhere. Will all those things turn out to have easy, comfortable alternatives on the Mac, or will I find myself using Parallels to run a Windows app or two because I can’t bear to switch? We shall see.

- 3 comments by 3 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. John Rawnsley

    I’ll be interested to see how you get on, as someone who has run the gamut of OSes starting with a PCW8256 with CP/M+ then PCDOS/MSDOS 4, 5, 6, Windows 1, 2, 3 on 8086 thru 80386, Mac Plus running system 6, 7, then 7, 8, 9, X.0, X.1, X.2, X.3, X.4, X.5 on various PPCs and now an Intel iMac running X.4), not to mention using terminal connections to SunOS, Solaris, BSD on various Suns, Vaxes and clones. Oh and I had a period when I ran Red Hat Linux on an original iMac.

    My current setup of an Intel iMac (with the BSD layer of Mac OS X giving me the unix I need to run scripts, latex, cron jobs) with an image I made of my staff PC running under Parallels in Coherence mode upgraded to Office 2007 gives me access to just about everything I could want on a single piece of hardware with pretty good integration (shared directories and clipboard).

    I’m mostly using the PC side of the setup to run the Outlook client to manage my Exchange email but being able to access a huge range of browsers on many different platforms is a big help.

    21 Jul 2007, 11:26

  2. Good luck with the experiment, I’m sure it will be a useful experience if nothing else. I went Mac just before I came to Warwick back in 2002. Even then there were precious few things that caused me problems with the switch. I’d used Dos 3.3 up to Windows 2000 at the time of the switch in every version bar Windows ME. At present I’m Macless and about to order a Macbook Pro to restore the balance. Generally in my side role supporting a Windows network I find that more issues come about on Windows than on Mac in general. Mac issues are faster to correct in lots of ways though Windows has huge advantages when it comes to management. Windows works on an Active Directory domain but generally mac is better otherwise and with the Coherance modes in Parallels and VMWare Fusion there is no problem running both seamlessly on the Mac.

    Like you I manage my accounts in Microsoft Money currently, but there are plenty of free accounts packages for OS.X that equal its abilities now. When I was on the Mac full time I was using iCash but I’m sure there are others too. Most read Quicken files so it’s easy to get the data over from MS Money.

    The key niggles for the Mac are mainly MS related:
    • Browser support – mainly a web developed issue. There is no reason why any site should be hard coded to IE6 and yet many are. Outlook Web Access and Sharepoint both basically need IE6 for full functionality and that’s just rediculous now with the multitude of fully supported standards why use ActiveX.
    • Exchange support – Entourage only supports the basics of Exchange, it should support everything
    • Office 2008 is slated to lose its VBA engine which is already less fully featured than the Windows version

    I can’t think of much else that causes problems really, there’s alternates for everything else you’d do on Windows. You can do screenshots faster and easier on the Mac – Just use Command-Shift+3 or 4 (I think from memory) and you can either grab the whole screen or just the bit you select to a PDF which can be saved as a JPG/PNG etc as you wish. Photo management is nicer in my view with iPhoto than Picasa and Keynote is fantastic for presentations with much nicer effects than Powerpoint and the capability to read Powerpoint files. Given the format change from Office 2003 to Office 2007 anyway moving to Keynote or similar presents little difficulty anyway.

    21 Jul 2007, 12:25

  3. James Taylor

    There is of course the other added bonus (something of a contradiction I know) that now the Macs are Intel based, should you ever need to, you can just boot back into Windows should something not quite work as advertised under OSX.

    I was dual booting Windows XP and OSX on a 1.66GHz Mac Mini.. despite its deminutive specs it ran Windows like a rocket even when pressured with memory intensive applications like Adobe InDesign and Photoshop.

    I think it was a good call to not go for the Mac Mini’s though – rumours are abound that the Mini is going to get axed at the next major Apple hardware refresh. I keep hoping that Apple will release a proper monitor-less iMac though – a sort of mid range, easily upgradable tower for those of us who can’t even consider the sorts of money required for the “full fat” Mac Pro!

    23 Jul 2007, 12:19

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