The Switch Back
February 11, 2011 12:08 AM   Subscribe

ComputerBuyingFilter: My beloved iBook is on his last legs. I haven't owned a Windows computer in nearly 7 years, but I'm considering buying one as my next computer. What would you tell a longtime Mac user who's considering going Windows?

I've decided that I want my next purchase to be Windows-capable, since a lot of the software I use for work/school is Windows only (or is available cheaper/free for Windows only through site licenses.)

I've always been of the philosophy that Mac and Windows are basically equivalent for 90% of tasks, but I'm balking a bit at the prospect of switching back. The Windows computers I've used at work/school have all been XP. I dislike XP, though I'm sure that a lot of the little things that irritate me with XP would irritate me less if I had regular exposure (and admin privileges.) In any case, anything I buy now would have Windows 7 on it, which I understand is worlds better, but haven't actually used.

I've narrowed my options down to a Thinkpad (T series) or a Macbook Pro (alternate suggestions are also appreciated; budget is $2000.) I want to know:
How difficult/annoying/problematic is it to run Windows 7 on a partitioned Macbook? What are the key differences between XP and Win7? what are the key/most noticeable differences between Mac OSX and Win7? Anecdata welcome.

More intangible, but still important things: I like longevity/durability (i.e., I'd prefer to buy a $1500 computer and use it for 5 years, rather than buying a $750 computer now and then again in 2.5 years.); this'll be my primary computer and see pretty heavy use (hauled around a lot, rarely shut down.) I'm not going to be running cutting-edge games or large-scale calculations on it, but it needs to be able to run software a fair bit more demanding than just Office and Firefox.
posted by kagredon to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I woudn't go far as to say that Windows 7 is "worlds better than XP". Many users still use and prefer XP to 7. The differences are mostly cosmetic...
posted by lakerk at 12:21 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Every current MacBook is Windows compatible. Windows runs very well. You will want Win7.

The MacBook is the correct choice because, all other thing being pretty equal (ThinkPad T's and MacBooks both have high build quality and are solid choices), the MacBook gives you the option of using either OS in a nice supported manner, either everyday or for one-off tasks.

On my current Mac, I spend most of the day in OSX because I find I am much more productive there, a personal foible no doubt. For small tasks that require Windows or a Windows-only app, I run VMWare Fusion and run my Win7 partition in a window. Or sometimes, using their Unity feature, I run individual windowed Windows apps on my OS X desktop, mixed with my running OS X apps. This is a feature so mind-jarringly cool that I still boggle at it sometimes, years later.

For bigger tasks, such as an evening playing a videogame or things that will require me to use Windows all day, I reboot the whole Mac in Windows instead, using the same partition VMWare uses. This gives it access to all the hardware (no sharing resources since there's no MacOS running anymore). In this state, it's a perfect Windows citizen all day, complete with drives for fancy Apple hardware bits like bluetooth, webcam and microphone.

So, yeah. MacBook.
posted by rokusan at 12:48 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

What rokusan said.
"How difficult/annoying/problematic is it to run Windows 7 on a partitioned Macbook?"
Assuming you go for VMWare / Parallels for virtualisation, & share it with a dual-boot Boot Camp partition, not at all - except for the occasional time something turns out to be too slow / unsuitable for virtualisation, and you agonise whether to put up with the slow(er) speed or boot Windows and start again. A little bit of planning ahead saves too much of that frustration. Example: I run XP under VMWare to talk to my dataloggers, but use Boot Camp to run ArcGIS.
"What are the key differences between XP and Win7?"
Not much really, apart from the fact they've changed the UI*, moved some things**, and slapped on some more security***.
What are the key/most noticeable differences between Mac OSX and Win7?
For all the restrictions****, things just feel to be better organised under OS X. IMHO, as someone who's used computers since pre-PC days, including almost every personal computer OS under the sun, that's something MS***** has never really grasped. Sure, you get used to the way Windows does/handles/organises things - but those things are just never as logical as they are under OS X. You may not agree with the the way OS X decides to do things, and you may rankle at how the particular choice made restricts you - but there's almost always some logic to it. The same can't be said about Windows.

That said, the T-series Thinkpads are reasonable machines; certainly one of the better cheaper-ish consumer laptops available, hardware-wise.

* Why? Dunno. Allegedly to be more usable and user-friendly, but to me it seems to be a bunch of added bling. YMMV.
** I dunno why either. The places they've moved things seem even less sensible and justifiable than they were before. Again, YMMV.
*** Personal opinion: done with good intentions but in practice, due to a need to keep things backwards compatible and not to annoy too many users, it's ended up being more like walpapering over cracks.
**** There, I said it - in many ways, the choices made in OS X restrict you more than the choices made in Windows. The difference is that most of the time in OS X you hit a restriction and think "yeah, I don't agree, but it makes sense, and I can do what I want this way" - where, in Windows, you tend to go "WTF?! These similar things work this way, this doesn't, and there's no sensible reason why it shouldn't!". And that leads to frustration…
***** Not particularly singling out MS there either - all the others had/have similar issues, with the possible exception of BeOS and the Unices. (Popular Unix GUIs, OTOH … sheesh! Where do I start…)

posted by Pinback at 1:33 AM on February 11, 2011

What would you tell a longtime Mac user who's considering going Windows?

As soon as you connect a new Windows device to a network:

• Run Windows Update and reboot, repeating this at least three or four times until no further updates are available to install.
• Install antivirus, anti-spyware and anti-malware utilities immediately before doing anything further. Keep these updated.
• Never run Internet Explorer, ever.
• Set up two accounts, one with Administrator-level privileges and one with regular user privileges. Always run with the regular-user account, and only use the Administrator account when you need to install an application or driver.

These practices will help keep your computer from getting compromised. Security compromises often fill the system registry with all kinds of gunk in hidden places, which help viruses, malware and spyware evade removal attempts.

It is usually impossible to guarantee being able to remove this gunk, and so a guaranteed fix often requires backing up data, wiping the hard drive, and reinstalling the OS. This is a lot of work, so you want to avoid this if you can.

Long-time Mac users rarely know about these practices, which help keep a Windows computer running with less maintenance and fewer OS re-installations.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:36 AM on February 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

I say MacBook Pro, which is what I am using now.
posted by dougrayrankin at 5:19 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

You call your iBook "beloved". I can tell you that the MacBook Pro is in every way better than your beloved computer. It's similar... familiar, but better.

And yes, as others have pointed out, with the MBP, you have the freedom to use both OS X and Windows if you choose. This freedom you will NOT have with a Thinkpad.
posted by inturnaround at 5:35 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Many users still use and prefer XP to 7. The differences are mostly cosmetic...

There are huge differences between these two operating systems, as Vista and its much improved sucessor Windows 7 are near complete rewrites of the kernel and overall archetecture. Mainly you'll find yourself much less a victim of malware with 7 and UAC.

• Never run Internet Explorer, ever

This is a waaaay outdated paradigm. IE shows up the US CERT alerts much less than Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari (for windows). You also get a sandboxed protected mode with IE which prevents malware from reaching the live system. IE is probably the most secure browser you can have on Windows 7 at the moment, its the add-ons you have to be careful about...especially Adobe.

• Set up two accounts, one with Administrator-level privileges and one with regular user privileges. Always run with the regular-user account, and only use the Administrator account when you need to install an application or driver.

^^ this is great advice on the other hand...and is somewhat how OSX is out of the box. (and how Windows 7 should be)

As OSX gains popularity, it too is seeing the threat of malware become more of a reality, and is not immune...its just not the low laying fruit that Microsoft has become due to its saturation in the market. But even with Windows 7's UAC, you'll still want to make sure you're covering your bases and securing yourself from web based exploits. Here are some suggestions for software you'll want right away:

Secunia PSI - To ensure all your 3rd party applications are patched and secure
Web of Trust - To help protect you from malicious websites
Microsoft Security Essentials - A free and decent virus scanner (Avast! and AVG are also great free scanners and sometimes have better detection rates)
Immunet - Is a cloud based (DAT-less) virus scanner that can run along side your main anti-virus or stand-alone and is very resource friendly.

As for the laptop itself. I highly recommend going to a Best Buy, Staples, etc (your local computer depot) and get some hands-on familiarization with the systems they have to offer. You don't have to buy it there of course, but you'll get some real feel on the aesthetics and quality of the computers, as well as some of the Windows 7 interface. (You'd never buy a car without test driving it first right? Same goes for PCs!!)
posted by samsara at 6:03 AM on February 11, 2011

I don't mind using Windows 7. It isn't quite as slick as OSX, but I feel like the comments before about it being only a cosmetic upgrade from XP to be incorrect; The thing that annoys me most about XP is the OS getting in your way to tell you things that you do not care about or one of the 50 applications in your task bar grabbing typing focus away from you when you're working on something. This does not happend on W7.

If I had lots of cash to spend on computers, I would undoubtedly get the macbook pro and pay out the nose for aesthetically pleasing programs that may or may not have the full feature set of their PC equivalents. Because they work better and become transparent to the tasks that I am working on. I also like audio editing on macs. But I don't have lots of cash..

I think the HP Envy series looks pretty good, though IMO kind of overpriced for a PC. Asus seems like it has a good reputation. I haven't had a good experience with ThinkPads, though I think it is because my former employer insisted on Lotus Notes and whole disk encryption on an already underpowered laptop. The keyboard makes a satisfying typing sound, so if that gets you off, go for it.
posted by dobie at 6:55 AM on February 11, 2011

I had a forced switch (more or less) from Mac to PC. At first it was fine, actually the pc I'm using is pretty top of the line (thinkpad) as these things go. Over the years, it's just... well, I can't wait to have a solid reason/means to switch back. The countdowns and forced reboots, the need to reinstall windows, the things that start not working and aren't quite a big enough deal to really figure out and address but over time add up to a major pain and a need to reinstall, little things like the lack of a keyboard viewer, etc... If you really have the budget for it, and especially because you want to spend more on a computer that you'll keep long term, definitely go for the Mac, which seems to me the best of both worlds now that it can run windows.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:58 AM on February 11, 2011

I recently spilled coffee on my Macbook Pro. The sky turned grey, lightning shot forth from the sky, and I wept. I've been a Mac user for around five years.

I then bought a Windows 7 desktop PC. In some shape or form I've been using Windows machines for the past twenty years. In no particularly order, here are my observations:
  • Ignore everyone who suggests there aren't any tangible improvements from Windows XP and Windows 7. Some of the highlights include taking better advantage of multi-core systems and, of course, User Access Control.
  • Regardless, Windows is more difficult to use and maintain than a Mac. By all means follow Blazecock Pileon's advice, but it's a hassle to stay on top of it. You need to follow Blazecock Pileon's advice and set up a pair of Admin and regular user accounts, and this will be annoying to use (of course, it's also annoying on a Mac, but I've yet to meet a Mac user who understood the idea of having a pair of Admin and regular user accounts). As to whether or not to use Microsoft Internet Explorer, the evidence is astoundingly clear - avoid it like the plague. Maybe the people recommending it didn't notice the unpatched MHTML security hole that affects all versions of Windows, discovered a few weeks ago.
  • Mac is prettier and the GUI is easier to use and results in a higher productivity. This is my subjective opinion. Moreover, since Mac OS X is historically based on the BSD operating system, if you're a Unix programmer you're going to be orders of magnitude more productive than attempting to use Microsoft Visual Studio or cygwin on Windows. Of course if you're not a programmer this is irrelevant.
  • You're aiming of longevity and at the same time don't need to run calculation-intensive applications. In that case sacrifice CPU speed for RAM; get as much RAM as you can afford, ideally 4GB or more. If you get 4GB or more RAM then you'll need a 64-bit version of the operating system you settle on, which may not place nicely with old applications or hardware devices. With the same reasoning, don't buy an expensive graphics card.
Hope that helps. Windows 7 is incredible, but that might have something to do with the 12GB of RAM and quad-core CPU on my box.
posted by asymptotic at 7:11 AM on February 11, 2011

I've been using Win 7 since it came out. I have found it is incredibly stable; it has crashed on me maybe twice in that whole time and I'm pretty sure those were both hardware related because I have a crap HP laptop.

I use a Mac Pro in my lab and I have more issues with OSX10 than I do with Win 7 at home. I have not had a chance to use Snow Leopard but I don't really care; Win 7 does everything I want these days without fuss and it does it well. I use PDFs daily and I have not had problems with Adobe. The boot time is still a little slow but I haven't completely optimized what auto-runs at boot, so that could be improved I suppose.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:21 AM on February 11, 2011

Buy a Lenovo. I've been running Windows on a MBP for over a year.

It sucks.

- Battery life is half of what it is under OSX and much less than my colleague's similarly equipped Lenovo.

- The trackpad is all but unusable in windows. The drivers suck, and clicking is an exercise in frustration. You'll need a wired mouse.

- The bluetooth driver routinely bluescreens the system. I ended up removing it entirely.

- The keyboard doesn't include keys like PgUp, and Home, so lots of windows shortcuts are just unavailable to you.

If you're going to buy a laptop to run Windows, you should buy one from a company with more than a passing commitment to supporting that. Apple isn't that company.

Also, you can get an accidental damage warranty from Lenovo so that when you drop the laptop, it's covered. Apple doesn't do that, either.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:33 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

What would you tell a longtime Mac user who's considering going Windows?

posted by mhoye at 7:50 AM on February 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

Ok, so that's snarky, but as far as I'm concerned the multitouch trackpad is a must-have. Getting around the OS is just so much more natural with it that going back to not having one is like going back to a computer with a monochrome monitor and a shell.

If your time has value, get a Mac.
posted by mhoye at 7:52 AM on February 11, 2011

I am in a semi-similar boat. I need to be able to use Windows fairly regularly but do the vast majority of my work in OS X. I'm more comfortable there and I don't get aggravated by Windows foibles and annoyances.

I used to use VMWare Fusion to run Win XP or 7 in emulation mode (i.e. not dual booting) but have since moved to Virtualbox. It isn't perfect but it works well enough for me to get it done and get back to my happy OS.

The MacBook Pro is a beautiful piece of engineering. It is elegant, powerful and works very, very well.

In regards to your longevity issue, before my new MBP was delivered two days ago (this has been a good week!) I was plunking along reasonably well on an 8 year old Powerbook G4. It couldn't do everything and wasn't fast anymore but it still works really well and looks awesome (seriously, people kept complimenting me on my "cute" laptop).

Macs just plain last longer and are more useful throughout their lifecycle. This may be less apparent against a higher end brand like Lenovo but its incredibly clear against Dells and most HPs I work on.

You can probably tell that there is simply no choice to be made for me. I'm a Mac guy, I'll likely always be a Mac guy. I can use Windows but I only do so because I have to and because I have to fix other people's Win machines regularly. The Macs? They just work.
posted by fenriq at 8:07 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm kind of blown away that you've been using an iBook all this time. And by "kind of blown away" I mean you just shattered my worldview, in which the last iBook was thrown away in like 2006, and everyone has been using not-awful laptops since then.

But anyway, if you have the money it's hard to advise against getting a MacBook Pro or Air (an aluminum one, basically), as the build quality is really just way above anything else. Really, really important for laptops, but unfortunately something you can't really appreciate until you've had both a Lenovo/HP/Whatever and MacBook for long periods of personal use. People with only minimal exposure to MacBooks say this advantage isn't a big deal.

Bottom line: as you are comfortable with OSX and have the money, get a Mac.
posted by Patbon at 12:20 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

As someone who considers longevity/durability to be #1 in laptop purchase, I say get a Thinkpad.

For the same amount of money, you could probably pick up a Thinkpad for way better specs than the MBP, especially if you sign up for Lenovo's shareholder purchase program. They don't check whether you're actually one, and the discounts are pretty steep. Better specs will last longer since your laptop will be able to handle the latest software for a longer period of time.

I recently got a Win7 Thinkpad as my main computer, and it sees quite heavy use. It replaces my 6-year-old XP laptop, which is still alive and well but running a little slow nowadays. So far, I'm really happy with the Thinkpad's construction. It's lighter than its screen-size peers, yet feels really well built and solid. And I'm a huge fan of the keyboard -- typing feels so much better compared to typing on Macs. I don't have to treat it as though it's made of glass, and it's given me no problems.

As for Win7 vs OS X, I've used both, and I think that productivity-wise there isn't any significant difference. Also, you could always make a Hackintosh.

But that's just me, ymmv.
posted by swimmingly at 11:34 PM on February 11, 2011

If your're still going for a Windows laptop, Lenovo has an outlet store ( Lenovo outlet ). They come in all conditions, including new. The trade off is, aside from the wear and tear, you have no say in the configuration. At the moment, they appear to have a sale.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:20 PM on February 12, 2011

Forgot to add, the price savings at the Lenovo outlet seem to be quite good.

If it were me though, I'd just get a MacBook and make it run Windows as described above. However, that choice would be influenced by the Windows apps that you're looking at running.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:22 PM on February 12, 2011

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