After 20 years, a PC user tries a Mac-only life for 7 days

Hardcore PC user highlights his 7-day journey with a Mac for work and play

By , ITworld |  Hardware

The set-up

It could rightfully be said that the best salesman for Apple is Microsoft, because frustrations with Windows, especially Windows 8, have driven many people to embrace the Mac. "It just works," they say in refrain.

I am a new MacBook owner as well, but I approach the Mac differently. For me, there is no emotion or dissatisfaction involved. As I said in a recent blog, my machine operates without a hiccup.

However, an old itch returned. In my younger days, I could program in BASIC on my Apple IIe and in C on my Amiga. Not very well, but I could. The lure of iOS development was very strong, but the price of a Mac remained an issue until I did some poking around on Craig's List, where I found nearby stores that sold inexpensive, used Macs.

So on a slow Friday, I took a trip to Santa Ana. It's funny. I live in Yorba Linda, one of the more affluent cities in Orange County, and there isn't a PC dealer for miles, save for the Fry's in Anaheim. Yet Santa Ana, a largely Hispanic, working class city had at least four mom and pop computer stores, and those are the ones that I saw. Go figure.

I scored a 2011-generation MacBook Pro with a quad-core CPU, 15-inch monitor, with 4GB of RAM, 500GB of storage with Microsoft Office 2011 installed for $1,149 total. The MacBook is cherry. Whoever owned this before me didn't use it much.

That said this presented the perfect opportunity for the ITworld 7 Day challenge. It's not like I have a new product just hitting the market, but it does give me a chance to show people considering such a move what it's like moving from the PC world to the Mac world.

Day 1: Getting set up, impressed with the Mac's speed

It's get set up day. I dislike using laptop keyboards and trackpads on the PC, so I don't want to do it on the Mac. Add one mouse ($49.99) and one external keyboard ($49.99) to the purchase. In OS X's control panel, I change some mouse settings so I have right click and scrolling.

The MacBook has a beautiful screen but it's 15-inches. I have a 24-inch Asus monitor sitting on this desktop, so I'm going to use that. Another $24.99 is needed to get an adapter from DVI to Thunderbolt.

I’m rather surprised that there is a DVD drive in this laptop, given Apple’s penchant to jettison what it considers obsolete technologies. I’d rather the right side of the laptop offered more ports, because there are too few for the laptop crammed into the left side.

Next came the software. Mac OS has its own App Store, but I learned quickly that it's not the sole source for apps. I couldn't find Google Chrome, Skype or AOL Instant Messenger, for example, and those were must-haves.

Once I installed Chrome and logged in, my bookmarks showed up after just a few seconds. All my stored passwords showed up as well. AIM for Mac looks radically different on the Mac vs. Windows, but I got around easy enough.

I'm impressed with the speed of the Mac, especially given that it falls well short of my PC. My PC has 16GB of memory and a high-end SSD C: drive. The MacBook uses a standard HDD and 4GB of memory. Yet there is a nice snap to everything. I rarely find myself waiting for much of anything.

In the course of the day I write two blog entries, one for ITworld and one for Network World, start the process on feature stories and begin this piece. So far, there has been little impediment to my productivity. I just have to learn that the close window buttons on the top left, not the top right.

Day 2: Learned the MacBook is surprisingly upgradeable

The differences between Mac and Windows versions of Office are becoming glaring and annoying. I had figured developers would use the same commands across both platforms but they do not.

On Windows Outlook, sending an email is done with Alt-S. In Mac Outlook, it's not Command-S like you'd expect, it's Command-Return.

The F2 key to edit cells in Excel is missing from the Mac version.

When I do a send/receive in Outlook, there is no progress meter to tell me what's happening.

And on it goes.

I had done a little reading and found that the MacBook is surprisingly upgradeable, despite the conventional wisdom that all Apple products are closed off and inaccessible. The iPhone maybe, but not the MacBook. After powering it down, I removed the bottom plate and there was everything: the battery, which was removable, memory and the hard drive. This thing is as upgradeable as a PC, maybe easier.

I picked up 8GB of memory, making darn sure it was certified for Mac, and upgraded from 4GB to 8GB as easily as any PC. Seeing how easy it is to remove the hard drive, I may look to a SSD upgrade someday.

Memory upgrade

Day 3: Memory upgrade hasn't paid off (yet)

The 8GB upgrade hasn't really paid off. Start time is about the same, as is load time. That's a first. Since when does a computer not get faster from doubling the memory?

Ran into my first serious software problem. I tried to shut down the Mac and it wouldn't because AIM was running. So I went into AIM and selected Quit. It would not quit. Despite several tries, it would not exit. So I did a hard restart. I later figured out there is a connection to Outlook, and I had to close Outlook first, then AIM. Odd.

So far I'm acclimating to the keyboard controls fairly quickly, but there is an annoying difference between PC and Mac in that while almost all keyboard commands on the PC use the Control key, the Mac sometimes requires the Command key, other times Control, and I screw them up a lot.

Some elements of the Mac make no sense. For example, Command-Tab is the Mac equivalent of Alt-Tab on a PC for switching between apps, except on a PC, you get the full screen app. On a Mac, the only thing you get is the app's menu bar at the top of the screen. I've learned if you Command-Tab to the app you want and then press Option with a second hand, the app will be restored to full screen.

I'm all for thinking different but leaving the app window minimized when you switch to it is silly.

Day 4: Starting to miss my music library

I've started to miss my music library, and this seemed like a good time to test the external drive function. Already I was using an NTFS-formatted USB drive but for my music library a bigger drive was needed. So I sank $70 into a drive enclosure from Macally that supports both PC and Mac and popped a spare 1TB drive in it.

The enclosure is designed to look like the old Mac Pros, but it has USB 3 and Firewire ports. Neat, I thought, I can keep the PC and Mac both connected to it. Well scratch that one. The Firewire port would not see the drive for anything. When I connected the USB port to the Mac, it saw it instantly. I have to determine if the fault is actually a bad FireWire port on my part.

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