The Big Switch - PC to Mac - Part 1

I've always been a bit of a hybrid computer user. By that I mean I am pretty much at home on both Windows and Macintosh platforms. Two years ago I made a vow never to purchase PC hardware again based on the effort it involves in installing / upgrading / configuring / etc anything to do with a PC. However - I continued to predominantly use Windows (Vista / 7) for a number of reasons - to list a few:

  • Most of my work is viewed by people using the Windows operating system seeing as this is by far the most popular OS - it made sense to text and view websites on the PC
  • All my software licenses (Adobe Production Premium, Adobe Web Premium, etc) are for the PC platform
  • In the past I used to do a lot of multimedia work utilising Director and often making Director talk to the system or peripheral devices - these sort of antics are so much more versatile within Windows

Recently I have done less and less Director-based work. I was also getting more and more frustrated with Windows Vista and Windows 7 (which, in my opinion, is as bad as Vista for crashing and silly glitches). I was spending most my days fighting with the Windows OS, trying to get it to do the simple things I wanted it to do. Things like opening a program form the ridiculously named 'Start' menu - for some reason most programs would not run by clicking on them. I had to physically locate the .exe file the shortcut pointed to and open it from there. Why this happened I don't know. I had also lost the will to find out. Copying files was also ridiculous - it would sometimes take literally hours to copy just a few hundred megabytes. Other times Windows would cite me 'days' as the estimated time.

The final straw however was when the fully licensed and legit version of Windows 7 I ran on my MacBook using Bootcamp suddenly started to tell me it was not valid. All day, every day I was constantly reminded of this erroneous fact via a popup at the bottom right of the screen. My attempts to call Microsoft and resolve the issue resulted in being competely unable to contact anyone at Mircosoft. At all. I would constantly get referred back to my vendor or to a 'buy a new licence of Windows 7 now' webpage. My choices were a) pay another £150-odd for an OS I had already spend £150 on or, the more drastic approach b) sod it off and move over to Mac OS entirely. I chose to sod it off.

This wasn't going to be a cheap switch but I needed to upgrade a lot of my software and hardware anyway so decided to take the plunge. My plan was to do the following:

  • Purchase a brand new 27" iMac as my main workhorse to replace my almost useless Dell running Vista
  • Invest in a Time Capsule to handle day-to-day backups from the iMac and act as a WiFi base station (I had no ends of issues with communication between my PC, Router and Airport Express)
  • Continue to use my RAID 2 ReadyNAS to archive old projects
  • Upgrade (memory and HDD) and reformat by MacBook for use on the road
  • Use OSX Snow Leopard on both iMac and MacBook as my main operating system. The iMac would then have XP and Vista running on Bootcamp / Parallels partitions whilst the MacBook ran Windows 7 under bootcamp
  • Cross-platform upgrade my licenses of Adobe CS
  • Smash a thousand shades of living hell out of the pathetic Dell piece of crud that had been maing my life hell for so long

I have run out of time now but I will blog soon on how the Big Switch went and the teething problems I ran into.

Computer Hardware - Mac or PC (and a little bit about Boot Camp)...

As an Interactive Designer I've always worked on both Mac and PC - dependant on the application, the software, the delivery platform the but mainly what machine was available at the time. Personally I own a MacBook laptop and also a Dell desktop PC. I can see the advantages (and disadvantages) in both OS's.

This, in my experience, is an odd way to be. Most people in the design industry fanatically champion either PC or Mac... but not both! I know people who would take you outside to 'discuss it like men in the street' if you so much as suggested a PC was as good as a Mac. I know another individual (no name mentioned) that has a tattoo of the Windows logo on probably one of the most painful areas to have tattooed on the human body... now that devotion!

This Platform Fanaticism is a strange phenomenon... almost like the hatred you get between Snowboarders and Skiers - if you are one you automatically have to hate the other. Yet no one really knows the reason why. If you challenge a member of either faction you usually get the response: "Cos PCs/Skiiers are ****!" or "Macs/Snowboarders are just ********!" Not very well thought out, or considered, answers. It’s almost like two separate religions blindly going along with their own individual faith and totally unaccepting of others. Maybe in the future when the human race no longer has need for traditional religions we will begin aligning ourselves with Operating Systems (or ways to travel over snow) instead.

Personally I find that Macs are great for design and video editing. They specialise in throwing graphics around quickly, they are easy to use and (since OS X) they always seem to just work. PCs are more versatile and I find it is much more sensible to develop website and Flash or Director Applications on them. There are two reasons for this: mainly that the chances are the end user will be using a PC to view the finish project so it makes sense to develop and test on one. But also because you have a lot more features available on the PC to help you with development processes.

However – things have changed slightly lately. Since Macs have been using Intel Processors it is possible to run Windows XP and Vista on them. This means I now only need to buy one piece of hardware. Although Macs can be expensive it is far cheaper to buy a Mac and a copy of Windows than it is to buy two whole computers. This brings me on to Boot Camp…

For those of you that may not know Boot Camp is Apple’s way of helping you to install Windows XP onto a Mac creating a dual-boot system that can start up using either Windows Vista/XP or Mac OS X. I have to say – it is excellent. You simply download Boot Camp to your Intel-based Mac. Once run it will create a disc containing all the Windows drivers for your Mac hardware and allow you to partition your hard drive - one partition with the existing OS X and the other for your new Windows install. Once this is done you simply insert your Windows installation disc and away you go.

I have heard people say that it is as easy as installing Windows on a normal PC. In my opinion they’re wrong. It’s easier!

You see once I’d installed Windows on my MacBook I simply put the disc Boot Camp made for me in – it automatically installed all the Windows drivers for my MacBook - even rebooting where necessary and continuing afterwards. It was a simple as that. Everything worked perfectly.

As a comparison I have recently reinstalled Windows Vista on my Dell desktop PC. It was been a nightmare. Yes Dell supplies the drivers but they are bundled with all the other drivers for the current Dell models via a very cumbersome interface - it’s not really that clear which ones need to be installed. Dell also have a useful web-tool where you type in the serial number of your Dell and it comes back with a list of all the hardware your Dell was shipped with plus links to the drivers. Good idea. Except you still need to click on all the drivers separately to download them (even if you add the drives you need to ‘My Download List’ you still can’t download them all in one go). And of course – once you have downloaded them you still need to install them all individually. Time consuming and - compared to boot Camp – irritating. It took me a whole day to get Windows Vista up and running on my Dell.

I have been running Windows Vista on my entry level MacBook (with 2GB memory) for almost two years now. I use the apps from Adobe Master Suite all day, every day and it has been excellent. It runs far, far, far better than my (slightly newer) Dell – which was “Designed for Vista”. It’s almost embarrassing that the Mac can out-strip the PC in terms of reliability when running a ‘borrowed’ OS. Yes it does have a few niggles such as the lack of right-click on the track-pad and no ‘print screen’ button. But I can get round both of these with a piece of free software. Or just plug in a normal mouse.

So – after the nightmare I have had re-installing windows Vista on my desktop Dell I have made a decision… No more native PC hardware. From now on (and unless anything major changes) I’m only going to buy Macintosh computers.