January - July 2006

This is the story of a journey travelled quite often these days. It describes discoveries, joys and frustrations of one long time Windows user learning how to use Mac OS-X. Many have done this before, many have blogged about it.

The reason why I am writing this down is mostly to remember, and as well because I can. One of the assumes uses of the new MacBook was creative writing so I guess I am trying fulfill the promise to myself. I have no idea whether this will be an interesting read for anybody else but me. But I’ll write it anyway.

This sort of “back-blogging”. I am using my notes from PC and from the Web to reconstruct these events.

Writing of this chapter was started exactly as I have imagined it before I decided to get a Mac. I am sitting in Starbucks (Kanata Chapters, for a change - my home Chapters at Pinecrest will have to have to wait few more hours for the premiere), in comfy-chair a typing into wonderfully simplistic editor Writeroom, in full screen mode, free of any disruptions.

In order to understand it all better, let me present my professional background and bias. I have started to work in the IT field almost 20 years ago in 1987, right after I’ve my Master’s degree in Computer Science. I spent most of my professional life in Windows or other Microsoft-made environments. First contact with Microsoft made operating systems started in 1988 with MS-DOS and continued through MS-DOS enhancements-slash-replacements (such as Windows 3.x, Windows 95). I was using mostly C and later C++, in various incarnations. From Borland’s fantastic Turbo C trough Zortech C++ to Turbo C++, Microsoft C from 5.1 up to 7.0 and then Visual C/C++ from 1.0 upwards. I have had the opportunity to code in Visual Basic, from 3.0 up to 5.0 as well as way too many VBA dialects (anybody remembers genealogy of Access Basic or first Excel with VBA style macros?). All this lasted up to 1998, when I seriously got involved with Java (at that time, the underlying OS was mostly Windows NT). It lasted until 2003 and it sort of loosened the Microsoft link, but most of the time, even in Java, I was using Windows as main development platform and Unix was usually only the deployment platform.

During last 5 years, I made few attempts to feel really at home in Unix and Linux. To certain degree I have succeeded. What I never accomplished was getting to the state where Linux would become my primary or preferred platform. There were always things that were so much easier in Linux, but there was always lots of things that were awkward, hard to remember or just inconvenient outside of Windows. Even as Java programmer, I was still more productive in Windows: the new versions of JVM were available for Windows first and for quite some time, Linux was second class citizen in Java world - just recall the issue around native threading vs green threads. It got all resolved, but it took time.

Corporate environment, office file formats and compatibility issues were always a big deal. Remember, that was early 2000’s and OpenOffice with its capabilities of reading and saving Word documents were still quite far away … Linux (and Unix) was always mostly production or server environment. I was able to do what I needed to do but never made the step to leave the Windows quite behind.

So here I am, locked with Windows for most of my professional career, getting ready to jump to the Mac platform. Couple of years older and (hopefully) a bit wiser than in 1999-2000 when I tried to switch to Linux, I did not plan to switch to Mac and go away from Windows. With majority of my projects coming from .NET space, it would make little sense and would be probably pretty bad for the cashflow. What I wanted to do was to embrace, include Mac into my digital world.

One of my friends did try to really switch to Mac in early days of OS-X (2000) and to use it as his main and only platform inside medium size organization. He bought the coolest looking notebook at that time (17” Powerbook) and tried to merge into corporate world of Windows domains and Microsoft Office documents. After few months, he gave up and went back to Windows. If he had done it today, very likely it could work - with advances in OS-X, Openoffice 2.0 available, he would be able to do most of his work on Mac. Thanks to Intel based Macs and software like Parallels and VMWare, he would likely got over to largest obstacles of Windows defectors: how to replace/work with others who use MS-Project and Visio.

What was my motivation to get a Mac in a first place: curiosity. There was lots of buzz on the Net about Mac software and Mac culture. The people I knew who used Mac, were usually very happy and quite passionate about it. I am happy owner of both Nikon DSLR and Sony HDD camcorder and whenever I tried to google how to do this or that with pictures or video, I ended most of time in software for Mac platform. Even such non-artistic, non-visual area as personal productivity and implementation of Getting Things Done was dominated with Mac tools and Mac people: the best recommended system was kGTD (Kinkless GTD), implemented as collection of AppleScript on top of OmniOutliner Pro.

I started to think about getting the first hand experience with Mac shortly after January Intel announcement and Apple’s introduction of Macbook Pro. I was already toying with an idea of getting another, small, very portable just-for-fun notebook that would be dedicated not to work, but to reading books, surfing web, writing and managing my digital life: pictures, music, video and so on. True - it would be the fourth notebook in the household (in addition to about 5 desktops) - after my 16” Fujitsu N5010C, Toshiba M200 tablet and old P3 based Toshiba - but I managed to convince myself, it would be useful: the Fujitsu is very heavy (7-8 kg) and not exactly portable, with battery life about 70 minutes, tablet is being used and does not have really nice screen (few of tablets have) and the P3 Toshiba barely runs Win98 or Linux. So new small and light notebook with good battery life would really help.

At first, I was looking either on very good looking Vaio subnotebooks (something like Sony’s VGNSZ260PC or similar small notebook from Fujitsu something like P7120 or newer Q2010. The problem was very high price - around $3000, much more than I was willing to pay for the fun. And then, 13" Macbook was announced with starting price of $1500, with of the size I still could consider very portable and it created interesting dilemma: for about 50-70% of the price Sony/Fujitsu, I could get one beautifully made, cool looking small notebook, but not Windows one. I would not be able to do everything what I was doing on desktop and the other windows based notebooks. Or would I ?

I started to compile list of “all I wanted to do with Mac” and search for appropriate software. I was spending lot of time on Mac related sites during April-May, going in circles between two extremes:

  1. Absolutely yes. I have to try it out why are all these people so crazy about OS-X. It must be soooo much better than Windows.
  2. Are you crazy ? Spending almost 2K on a toy that you do not really need ? Besides, all you want to do can be done in Windows and you already know how to do it. If you now get something completely different you will be wasting time getting up to speed and resolving the issues you do not even know you exist …

What was influencing me most were forums and issues people were experiencing with Macbooks. Three main scarepoints - things people were complaining about were

  • Macbooks are loud and make very irritating “mooing” noise
  • the discoloration problem - yellow stains appearing on white surface after 2-3 weeks of use
  • Overheating problem

The discussion seemed to be going forever… and I was still watching them and waiting for fixes … and doing nothing. What won at the end, was curiosity and comparison of pros/cons. If I would buy Macbook and if the Macbook and OS-X would not live up to my expectations, the 2K is probably acceptable tuition fee - and I would get as reward more enthusiasm for Vista and Microsoft in general. By not buying, I may miss great opportunity to learn and enjoy something that is new, elegant and fun - and how often does life give you such chances? What also helped was acknowledgment of discoloration issue as a production problem by Apple and few reasonable voices in forums (which I forgot to save but in a nutshell they were saying that):

  • the loud voices of unhappy owners may represent very little fraction of the users. It may be much smaller percentage than with other products. The happy users have usually less incentives to write about how great are things working
  • Mac community has often much higher expectations and standards and what is being complained about may be not a big deal at all
  • Apple’s supposedly has better quality record than most of PC based notebook manufacturers

Decision day came late July. I logged on to Apple Webstore and ordered white MacBook, 2.0 GHz dual core CPU, 1 GB RAM and 100GB hard disk. I could have saved some money on going with smallest configuration in 2.0 GHz processor class and upgrading RAM/HDD myself - but I did not feel like touching the machine before I learn about it and certainly did not want to exchange the hard drive…

The order was submitted on 25th of July and the wait started ….