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Old 07-15-2010, 01:00 PM
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Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 118
Default Taking The Plunge - Switching To The Apple World

I'm not an impluse buyer very often. In mid-June I walked into a local electronics store and browsed through the laptop section. As I walked by the Apple section I noticed they had a number of the new iPads set out for people to play with. I had, of course, seen many ads and videos about it online, but this was my first hands-on encounter. I walked over and picked one up and was immediately taken by the clarity of the screen. My first thought was "Wow, that is sharp". I turned the iPad over in my hands and looked at it from all sides. Again, "Wow, it was really well made". I turned it face-forward again and then started tapping on the icons. I opened up the calendar application and thought, "Wow, this is really nicely done". I opened the browser and browsed a few sites. Wow, this really works well. Scrolling, gestures, speed. What a neat experience.

I played with the iPad for probably 10 minutes, and then had a conversation with another customer. He was clearly enjoying the one he was using, and as I recall he commented that he wasn't sure yet if it could replace his netbook, but it might. He wasn't sure yet about the onscreen typing experience and how well that would work for note taking, and he thought it was a bit heavy. But I could tell he was impressed.

I picked it up again and marveled once more about the total package. I am not an impulse buyer by any stretch, but, at that moment, I was almost ready to grab a boxed iPad and head over to the checkout counter. I was very, very close.

Back to the IBM PC, circa 1980

I've been using PCs since the early 1980s when I was an undergraduate engineering student. My father was the founder and head faculty member of the computer science department at the University of New Brunswick in Atlantic Canada where I grew up, and as such we had a few interesting computing devices kicking around. The prize device was a 300-baud acoustic coupler modem in our basement office. With that, I could connect to the mainframe computer at the university over the phone lines from home (for you, ahem, older readers you may remember these fellas - you had to place the telephone handset into a couple of suction-cups so that the modem could pick up the analogue sound). Fellow students were mesmerized by the capability of writing and compiling programs on the mainframe from my house. Were they ever jealous! Scrolling through pages of code connected at 300-baud was not the most time-effective process, but it sure beat walking through snow and cold to go to the computing center.

Sometime around 1985 my father brought home our first "portable" computer (I think it was an IBM 5155). It looked like a piece of luggage, weighted something like 30 pounds, and had a 5" or 6" orange and black text screen. We also had a word processor called VolksWriter from LifeTree Software. I wrote a report on it for a summer job I had in the engineering faculty, and I was hooked on the utility of word processors.

I finished my engineering degree in 1986. My degree was in Surveying Engineering (now known as geomatics) and at that time the discipline was becoming very computer oriented. Calculating elliptical satellite orbits is difficult by hand! I loved the computing side of things, and took extra computer courses as I proceeded through my undergraduate degree. Upon graduation I decided to continue my studies and enrolled in a computer science master's program at the University of Saskatchewan in western Canada.

My arrival at the University of Saskatchewan coincided with their purchase of a number of Apollo workstations to complement their Sun lab. The graphical interface on those workstations was amazing. This was my introductory exposure to UNIX, and for the next 2 years I was immersed in the world of workstation computing, with "multiple windows" for command line instructions (does anyone remember that old UNIX text-based game called "robots"?). It was a huge learning curve, but very exciting. I started to take notice of the beauty of the graphical user interface, and realized that this could make a huge difference in a users' experience with the computer. There were a lot of talented grad students at the university, two of which went on to work for Pixar and were involved in the development of the first Toy Story movie.

I had a bit of an unusual home environment growing up. While my father was a highly-skilled electrical engineer, very scientific, and very astute in technology, my mother provided a very different world perspective. She was an artist, and much of her love for the graphic arts and live arts rubbed off on me. Dinnertime conversations could span from hexadecimal arithmetic to opera. I didn't realize it at the time, but it had a profound impact on my interests later in life.

Figure 1: An SGI Indy.

Back at the graduate program at the University of Saskatchewan, I was fortunate to be exposed to perhaps the most impressive computing technology of that era - the Silicon Graphics workstation. Its sheer power and ability to stimulate the development of software with a strong graphical element was quite unique. I loved the way they used icons and glyphs to provide a way to manipulate program controls. I was doing my thesis on the subject of short-term scheduling in shared-memory multiprocessing systems, but I sure found all the computer graphics developments that were going on fascinating.

Fast-forward 22 years and I find myself co-founder and owner of a management consulting business with my wife. After university I developed software in the geomatics industry (including doing X-windows development), spent 7.5 years with Hewlett-Packard in Ottawa, Ontario as a systems and process architect, and then returned back to Atlantic Canada and joined a national consulting firm. Along the way I developed a love of photography and video, and have developed a fair bit of skill in graphic design, which we leverage in our management consulting work. Our world with clients revolves around Microsoft Office and the Windows platform, and we've been tied to that environment, for one reason or another, for our whole careers.

The Tipping Point

I put down the iPad and walked out of the electronics store. I thought to myself "I'll wait and see what HP does with the Palm acquisition - a WebOS tablet might be amazing". But over the next few weeks a thought was developing in my mind. That iPad encounter has changed something in my thinking. I was still quite caught up in my experience that day. There wasn't one particular iPad feature that I could point to as been better than another feature - they were all good - it was more the "total" experience of using it that was the tipping point.

I have recently started writing for sister publication Windows Phone Thoughts, and while contemplating developments in the smartphone marketplace it dawned on me that the factors that drive people to make a particular smartphone purchase are quite complex. It seemed to me that the factors were multidimensional (including such things as the aesthetic appeal, robustness, core functionality, availability of applications, battery performance, and others), and were strongly influenced by an individual's personal "use scenario". I jotted down a few of the criteria I thought would be in play for most people, and then encapsulated the idea in a metric which I called the Total Experience Index (TXI). I posted an article on Windows Phone Thoughts that explained this concept and then used my own perspective to place the primary smartphone platforms on a comparative scale. At the top of my scale sits the iPhone 4.

Figure 2: The Total Experience Index.

Laptop Total Experience

Thinking about TXI in the smartphone world got me thinking about my impending purchase of a new laptop. Why wouldn't I apply the same logic to my primary computing platform? I thought about my personal "use scenario". While I do spend a lot of time on the core Office applications-type work of word processing, e-mail, and presentation development, I also spend a lot of my personal time taking photos and, from time to time, working with video. To give you an idea of the scale of this, I currently have a collection of around 25,000 photos, mostly sports-related, and they reside on a variety of PCs spanning our home network.

Figure 3: Lightroom 2.

Although I have never owned an Apple laptop or desktop, I have not been oblivious to their profound impact on certain market segments, including the graphic arts community. I have never really had anything in particular that turned me from the Apple world. In fact, I have recommended the platform to friends. For me, the ability to just "build out" my work environment to accommodate my personal hobbies seemed natural. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable and capable in the Windows world, and, in retrospect, have come to deal with its idiosyncrasies in a pretty routine fashion. Yes, I'm familiar with the need to reboot to "clean things up" on a regular basis. I'm familiar with how to restore mysteriously disappearing network drives. I'm adept at troubleshooting and fixing printing problems, restarting hung programs, and adjusting the paragraph style options nested four dialogues deep in Word. I have a network of PCs and laptops running Windows 7 and Windows XP, and few printers, and a Windows Home Server (which has mysteriously disappeared from the network after its last update). I do suffer the odd frustration of my wife and teenage daughter and tween son though!

I mentioned that I'm not an impulse buyer, so you'll appreciate that for the last six months I've been planning to replace my Dell Studio XPS 16 primary laptop. It's been a workhorse, and has worked pretty well. I was all set to purchase a Sony Vaio Z-series notebook (you know those ones with the SSD drives and enhanced components!) when the whole TXI issue came to the forefront. Was this the right thing to do?

So, when in doubt, the non-impulse buyer will research. I read lots of things online about the positioning of the Mac and the pros and cons of the platform. I talked to a colleague in Ontario who is very familiar with both the Mac world and Windows world and who I could trust to give me an honest opinion. You can imagine there are lots of parameters involved in a decision like this. I thought about whether or not I could leave behind my favourite Windows applications like Microsoft OneNote (or, indeed, whether or not I even did need to leave them behind). I thought about the absolute delight of those people in the graphics world who wouldn't think of using anything else, and about the ability to span the two worlds using products like Parallels. In the end I decided to trust my intuition about TXI - it's the total experience that makes the difference, and I do suspect there was a better experience available than what I am enjoying now - and to follow the lead of others who claim the total Mac experience is outstanding. With that, I took the plunge.

My first Mac - a 15" MacBook Pro

A couple of days ago I ordered a new 15" MacBook Pro from the Apple store online. It should arrive in a day or two. I configured it with the 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 processor option, an upgraded hard drive (the 500 GB 7200-rpm option), the higher-resolution non-glare screen (for graphics work I will connect it to a nice Dell 24" true color monitor that I have already), and 8 GB of memory. I ordered Parallels and MobileMe. I also ordered the Magic Mouse and a wireless keyboard.

Figure 4: The 15" Macbook Pro.

I'm excited to dive into this new world. I'm curious to see if the experience I have read about, and others have had, will be mine as well. I'm going into this with the idea that it may be possible to wean oneself off the Windows programs completely, although that may not happen overnight (hence Parallels). I'm not sure yet how to proceed with Digital Asset Management (DAM), and am debating the Adobe Lightroom vs Apple's Aperture decision (does anyone have an opinion on that? - maybe we'll leave that for another column!). I'm sure there will be some hurdles to jump over, but as a technology proponent I think this is going to be a fun adventure. I'm anxious to determine just how good the TXI is for the Mac world.

I'd be interested, if you have had a similar experience, to tell me about it in the comments. How do you think this will go? I will also post about my experience as it unfolds. The total experience really begins all the way back with research and with the actual purchase. So far so good! On to the next step.

Brad Wasson is a self-confessed technology lover and management consultant living in Atlantic Canada. Brad is presently transitioning to the Mac world and is bringing along all his photos, video, and other digital media. He figures he has some work to do to bring along his wife, daughter and son, and Sheltie, but he's up to the challenge!

Do you enjoy using new hardware, software and accessories, then sharing your experience with others? Then join us on the Thoughts Media Review Team! We're looking for individuals who find it fun to test new gear and give their honest opinions about the experience. It's a volunteer role with some great perks. Interested? Then click here for more information.

 
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Old 07-15-2010, 02:06 PM
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Join Date: May 2006
Posts: 367

Very interesting read and story. I've been using computers for about as long as you have (I started with a Timex-Sinclair 1000) and have been through many brands over the years. My two favourite machines were my Apple IIc and my Amigas (owned a 1000 and 500). For the most part during my years of computer ownership, I had avoided MS-DOS and Windows machines for personal use just because I was already married to other platforms (most specifically the Amiga). Time marches on and I transitioned to OS/2 and bought my very first Windows machine in 1992 which I immediately installed OS/2 on. I stuck with OS/2 all the way up to Warp 4, but when it became obvious that IBM wasn't going to follow through on the promises of OS/2 Warp 4, I gave up and bought a machine running Windows 98.

Yuck. The only thing Windows had going for it was the massive quantity of programs available for it and its ubiquity. (Well, that and the fact that I made my living repairing the beasts and building Windows-based networks). I never really liked Windows and kept looking at Macs, but they were just too expensive to justify purchasing one. I found Windows to be a major pain to maintain and it's problems were legion. But I saw no real alternative (I played with Linux for years, but it was then even more of a pain to maintain than Windows, although its stability was rock-solid). I stayed with Windows up to XP. Then in 2005, Apple introduced the first Mac mini for $500. My son had already transitioned to Macs and kept singing the praises of Macs and OS X and I was very curious as to how good Macs were. The Mac mini was cheap enough to be almost an impulse purchase, and I bought it home not really sure what I'd do with it.

I hooked it up, fired it up and was hooked! It was stable, it was quick and it really did "just work". Of course, like all Apple machines at the time, it didn't have nearly enough RAM so I bumped it up to the maximum it could hold - 1 gigabyte. I was so enamoured of the Mini and OS X that I bought a 12" iBook a few months later (and again bumped the RAM up to it's max). And that's all she wrote! I've been with Apple ever since (although I do have a netbook running Windows 7 Ultimate and I maintain a Win7 Ultimate virtual machine in Parallels on my current mini).

The stability and low-maintenance requirements of OS X are what hold me as well as Apple's outstanding support. There are a LOT of things that I don't like about Apple as a company, but their support and products are 1st rate and top-notch. Although I do think that Windows 7 is the best product that Microsoft has ever made and it is as rock steady as OS X, I find that PC hardware is generally not as good as Apple's and the support equation is totally weighted in Apple's favour.

Welcome to the world of Macs and OS X! With the ability to run Windows via Boot Camp and/or Parallels I think you'll find you have the best of both worlds and that OS X's simplicity and stability coupled with Apple's world-class support structure, you'll be very pleased, happy and sometimes, even surprised!
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XBox 360 S, 16GB iPhone 4S, iPod Classic 160 GB, Dell Inspiron Mini 1018; Macs: Mac Mini 2.4 GHz 6 GB RAM; Macbook 2.0 GHz 3 GB RAM; MacBook Air 11", 24" Cinema Display
 
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Old 07-15-2010, 02:57 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 676

Interesting story. I got into the Mac world 2 years ago via the halo effect from iPods and iPhones. I have been a Windows programmer for 12 years now spanning Windows '95 to Windows 7, so I work all day every day with Windows computers. So in 2008 when I was in need of a new personal computer, I thought I'd give MacOS X a try. At the time I was just interested in managing digital media (music, photos, video), email, and casual web surfing, but didn't want to deal with all the hassles of adding yet another Windows box to my arsenal of PC's. So a MacBook seemed a natural choice- I ended up with a fully loaded 15" MBP (much like you have ordered, only 2 years older), which was admittedly much more than I needed for casual personal use, but so be it. I had a pretty hard time of it the first several months just because I knew nothing about MacOS and kept trying to resolve things the Windows way, and ended up getting pretty frustrated. I got a Mac for switchers book, but was mostly too busy with work and family to read it.

As it turns out though, this was about the same time that Apple released the iPhone OS 2.0 SDK for the App Store, which of course only runs on a Mac. So there was actually a potential business use for my new Mac! I had get-rich-quick App Store fantasies but no free time to pursue them with (although I was, and still am, very interested). Fast forward 2 years and my company, which has always been a Microsoft partner and very Windows-centric, is finally branching out into iPhone and iPad programming on Mac. Last year I got a Mac Mini when my wife took over the MBP (now used exclusively to run Windows 7 via BootCamp since my wife is not ready to be a switcher), and for the past several weeks I've been using it for my day job to finally write my first iPhone and iPad apps. There's even talk that my next work laptop will be a MacBook (with Windows installed via BootCamp of course) instead of a PC. That kind of thing would have been unthinkable a year or 2 ago. My boss still can't really believe it himself.

Anyway, I agree with your TXI thoughts, and hope you'll find a higher TXI with your new MacBook. I certainly have been enjoying a higher TXI working these past few weeks in Mac instead of Windows, although maybe that's just the novelty of it all. I still rely heavily on Windows and am nowhere near ready to switch over completely. But I have been examining high TXI aspects of Mac applications and thinking of how I could implement certain concepts in Windows programming.

BTW, I really love my current workstation setup, which is a Dell 24" monitor with USB keyboard and mouse hooked up to a DVI KVM switch (this one) that links my Dell work laptop and my Mac mini. So with a press of a button I switch instantly back and forth between Windows and Mac. (I'd love to try out the Magic Mouse, but that wouldn't work with my KVM switch.) It's a nice setup for someone who needs both Windows and Mac at their fingertips but doesn't want to set up 2 complete workstations.
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Early 2011 MacBook Pro 13" (dual boot with Windows 7), Early 2009 Mac Mini
 
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Old 07-16-2010, 08:08 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 75
Default Congratulations!

I made the switch last year with the purchase of a 17" Mac Book Pro, and I am impressed with the quality and stability of the machine and OS X. I have been teaching Windows programming since version 3.0, and still teach C# and .NET technologies, but when it came time to replace my personal machine, I just couldn't stomach Windows 7. My wife, who has used Macs for her medical research, suggested that I give it try, and I am never looking back.

Our home computing has completely moved to Apple over the last year, and my wife now uses a Mac mini with bootcamp to switch between Windows and OS X. I encourage her to limit web browsing to OS X, for a better margin of safety. The only maintenance I need to do at home is when her bootcamp Windows acts up, everything else works great!

My new hobby is iPhone and iPad programming, and it is fun. I may even get an iPhone 4 next month, and just hold it the "right way".
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