Age 70 and ready for new technology, I think.
May 6, 2012 8:54 AM   Subscribe

I am anticipating switching from a PC to a Mac Book Air, please help me understand any downsides and address several concerns.

I am quite satisfied with my 13.3 inch Toshiba Portege R705 but have been very impressed with the display quality of my daughter's Mac Book Pros an Air. I have used a PC for 20+ years and I realize my major apprehension about the change is change itself. At age 70 I do not want fear of change and predictability to stop me from doing new things. I am very comfortable and relatively competent at handling most Windows problems and often help friends with minor installation and operating problems. As I travel extensively the most important issues for me are weight, reliability, display quality and the ease of customizing such things as font size, display characteristics and user customizable features. I plan on getting a Mac Book air 13.3 with 256 GB. I comfortable with the absence of an optical drive and cost is not an issue. What I would like you to do is identify any problems/concerns you think I might encounter in the transition to Mac. Please do not try and convince of why I should make the transition--I am already there. If anything, try and convince me why I should not. I have minor vision problems (age 70) and can not stress how important minor customization of the display is. I do not need specialized accessibility but minor personalization is important. Thanks
posted by rmhsinc to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There is a lack of system-wide customization options when it comes to OS X's font size. They do offer zooming tools but this is not the same as being able to increase the default size. Some applications do offer you a way to change font size within that application but again, this is not the same as changing it across the whole system.

The only real option is to decrease the display resolution and when you do that you lose all the advantages of having such a nice display.
posted by Loto at 9:00 AM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I switched last year from a lifetime of PCs to a Macbook Pro. The switch was relatively painless, but there was an adjustment period. I had to look up how to do various things - for example, I had to google how to take a screenshot, how to force close a program, etc.

It wasn't a problem for me, but it's good to be aware that there will be an adjustment period if you are new to Macs.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:04 AM on May 6, 2012

I think the font size thing isn't as big a deal as it used to be, because of safari's zoom features and Reader.

I have just awful vision without my glasses and I use safari all the time. I just tap to zoom in, or use the reader option to really blow up the text if I need to.
posted by empath at 9:06 AM on May 6, 2012

I teach a lot of beginner Mac classes and a lot of the people in my class have had PCs previously. The most major points that they seem to encounter, speaking generally, are these. Please note, none of my students have had Macs running Lion so it's possible some of these no longer hold true.

1. A Mac program can be running with no active window and closing the active window doesn't mean you have quit the program. There is a program running all the time in the background called the Finder which is the thing that controls the look/feel of your desktop and some other presentation things that you may not realize you have control over. You can keep a eye on your dock [which I encourage you to customize] to see what is running and you can access every program's preferences (for the ones that have them) by bringing the program to the foreground [you can click on its icon in the dock] and then going under the menu with the program name which will be right next to the Apple Menu [which is always the leftmost menu] and choosing preferences. This is also where you can quit the program if you wan tot do that.

2. Unlike the PC, it's not a general safety thing to not allow yourself to use the computer as an administrator. The bulk of things you will need to do that require special permissions, you can just authenticate at the time to do it, so when you sent yourself up on the computer, allow yourself to be an administrator. The constant fear of viruses and spyware is much less of a concern (though not absent entirely) in the Mac world. it will jsut take up much less of your time.

Loto is right that the lack of font size customization is a pain but if you are like me and spend a lot of time using your browser, you can do a fair amount of customization of the program itself. But yes, changing some of the default look and feel at the OS level can be challenging with the Mac. Apple has a very helpful Switch to Mac set of help files that you might find useful and I often recommend the Missing Manual series which also has a switch to mac book. Feel free to email me if you have other questions that may not come up here.
posted by jessamyn at 9:06 AM on May 6, 2012

Just want to nth the Missing Manual, Switching to the Mac. It helped me a lot.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 9:12 AM on May 6, 2012

I have been using the PC for about the same length of time as you and have given this aspect of switching to a Mac some thought from a different perspective from the insightful and helpful comments already offered here.

I used the Apple IIe with no problem along with the TRS-80 side by side (Dos) in the early 1980s, and then I used a Mac in 89, again with no problem. Today however I find that I get extremely frustrated using the Mac and quickly retreat from the attempts. I believe this is due to having used the PC system almost exclusively, yet extensively, over its evolution from the Windows 3.1 (almost full user control over Filemanager and the C:/ drive) and haltingly through Win 95 and now the Win XP system.

Macs offer little to no control in quite the same way as they've always tended towards an ideal of ease of use for the end user, but that is a tradeoff made as much of the controls and fine tuning are thus behind a glass wall. An example is there are no file extensions saved by default nor will you discover this until you attach and send the file to a PC user who is then unable to open it directly or discover which program to use to open it.

Your muscle memory will be another one of the barriers to the ease and time it will take to switchover. Perhaps if you are able to borrow a Mac for a few days and evaluate how much of this will be a problem for you, how much it will act as a barrier to your ability to feel in control of your virtual real estate (a huge issue for me) and how frustrated and helpless it makes you feel then I think you will get an aspect of your answer of how challenging the transition will be.

I am sure that I could probably eventually learn to make it if ever I had to do so, but I'm in my mid forties and seek efficiency in my output rather than invest time and energy overcoming the learned expert behaviour behind the keyboard of a PC (if that makes sense)

I don't see it has being stuck in my ways or fear of change so much as a pragmatic assessment of what do I truly want from my computing experience - seamless, painless and pleasurable - it is the content that matters in today's era, not the programming. Thus my decision not to make the transition.

I hope this helps you decide.
posted by infini at 9:39 AM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Have you considered getting a Mac and then loading Windows onto it? I love the Mac hardware, but I am not yet ready to make the OS leap, and the one time I had a Mac configured this way, it was a great experience.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:44 AM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh god the file extension thing is HUGE, I'm surprised I forgot it. You can turn this on in the Mac universe but by default the Mac will not show you file extensions. This is great when it just works but can be a super headache when it doesn't. It also means there is a bit of trial and error figuring out which programs will add them automatically and which ones won't. Most do, some don't. A few more things I thought about

- Programs are generally all in one place without DLL files all over the place, so installing a program usually is opening the installer program [and that's its own weird system that is totally un-PC like but pretty learnable] and dragging the application to the Applications folder. Deleting a program is as easy as tossing it in the trash. You'll still have some lingering preference files but that's about it. That said, what you see as a "program" is actually a collection of items all smooshed together that you can actually dig around inside of, but it's a bit of a pain to do that, but not impossible.
- You have access to a unixy command line, similar to the old days when Windows had more things you could do from the command line. There are a lot of things you can do in here and if you're someone who likes that sort of thing, it's useful.
- Applecare - since Apple sells the hardware and the OS they have support for the whole kit and caboodle. You can buy Applecare, essentially an extended warranty, and have an American/Canadian tech support person help you with your things [including getting to mail the thing in for repair with a provided box] for the first three years you own it. This is nice and worth the extra money in my opinion.

My dad made the switch when he was about your age and enjoyed the freedom from the warning messages and malware and a few other things, but there was a learning curve for him. Again, feel free to contact me, etc.
posted by jessamyn at 9:53 AM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

As most users spend most of their time in the browser these days, I doubt you'll have much of any difficulty adjusting. If you were using IE before then you'll have some changes ahead. The biggest areas of change are the system configuration/preferences and the file management.

Since system configuration isn't something you do all that often, it probably won't be a big hurdle.

File management will be pretty different though. You probably memorized hotkeys or button locations that just won't work in the Finder. Finder is plenty capable of doing everything the standard windows File Explorer can do but you may have to google a bit or read a book.

Be sure to play with the Mac's accessibility options. The integrated quick zoom is a godsend for me.

Rest assured that if you don't like the Mac, you can just install Windows on it and it'll be a great Windows box.

Lastly: It might be a good time to wait. I understand if you have other priorities than getting the lastest shiny thing but it would be remiss of me not to mention.
posted by chairface at 9:55 AM on May 6, 2012

As I travel extensively

With regard to this aspect (and taking Cool Papa Bell's excellent suggestion into consideration) here is my own assessment of the hardware issues wrt extensively intercontinental travel.

Unlike any old PC, the Mac needs specialized parts for almost every conceivable thing you can think of barring a USB drive. Because I travel to less developed parts of the world where Apple Stores are rare, if at all existent, it is practical to carry a cheap netbook that any old repair guy can hack a solution to if the worst ever comes to worst. Finding spare parts or cables or printer drivers as well as software compability is less of an issue.

Again, this may not apply to your travels, but it another thought.
posted by infini at 9:57 AM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I want to say--what great responses--to the point, address the specific issues and very helpful in thinking this through. BTW, I am not adverse to waiting for a while, just my own impatience once I build momentum. Tomorrow I am going with my youngest daughter to buy her first Apple ( Mac Book Pro/Air). Please continue with any responses tha extend or strengthen those already posted.
posted by rmhsinc at 10:13 AM on May 6, 2012

My kids all prefer their Macbooks to my Thinkpad, so maybe you will too. However, the biggest Mac irritation for me is the inadequate and inconsistent keyboard mapping for shortcuts. You're too often forced to use the trackpad or mouse.

The very worst is not being able to cycle through the options in a Yes/No/Cancel box by using the tab key, but not being able to move through text using shortcuts (like ctrl+right in Windows) to skip a word is close behind.
posted by anadem at 10:39 AM on May 6, 2012

The very worst is not being able to cycle through the options in a Yes/No/Cancel box by using the tab key, but not being able to move through text using shortcuts (like ctrl+right in Windows) to skip a word is close behind.

System Preferences. Keyboard. Keyboard Shortcuts. At the bottom is an option for Full Keyboard Access that allows Tab to move between text boxes and lists only, or all controls. Choose the latter. Now you have what you want.

Holding down option while using the left/right arrow keys moves between words.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:49 AM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

For me, the biggest pain in the neck was the simple, muscle memory stuff -- getting used to the fact the the idea of closing an application is different in OSX, the little icons to hide/close an app is in a different corner, and that the Ctrl-key for the most part is now the Apple Key. It took a while to "train" myself of the subtly different ways of doing the basic things. It's not hard, more of a pain in the ass in the beginning.

And if you care about such things, note that the Air's are due for a refresh soon. The original estimated date was March, however it's now June due to the lateness of the IvyBridge processors from Intel. Of course with Apple nothing is ever 100% guaranteed until it's announced (so i you really need an Air now, get an Air now), but I too am anxiously waiting for this update to hurry up and get here already so I can purchase a shiny new laptop as well.
posted by cgg at 10:53 AM on May 6, 2012

A friend of mine in her mid-to-late 60s just switched to a Mac (she got a desktop) and she loves it. One thing that she did, which is only an option if you live relatively close to an Apple Store, is to sign up for their one-on-one classes (I think that she said it was a $100 for unlimited classes). They also offer free group classes and whenever I've been in the apple store (in Bethesda, MD), there's always a class going on. Most of the participants seem to be in their mid-50s and older.

I recently purchased an iphone directly at the Apple store and found the staff extremely helpful. The guy did everything to set up my new phone from offering advise on the right plan, porting my number from my pay as you go trakphone and even putting on the protective film and case. It was a great customer service experience. I went back recently to ask advise about getting an ipad vs. a macbook and again, the staff was exceedingly helpful. On the other hand, my friend, who is a PC person and has a part-time side business helping people (generally seniors) with computer issues and training, claims that she's had issues with staff at one of the apple stores in Chicago when she has gone in on behalf of a client to set up their new macs. So perhaps all apple stores/apple store staff aren't equal.
posted by kaybdc at 11:14 AM on May 6, 2012

There really isn't a huge leap anymore. Take a look at Apple's Switch to Mac tutorials and you'll be fine. If you're tempted to make something more Windows like, give the Mac way a try for a bit first. Only thing I miss is having folders on top in finder. I know there are tools/apps to change that, but I haven't bothered.

I use Divvy for window management/placement. Moom is another popular (and cheaper) one, but I've yet to try it.
posted by backwards guitar at 11:38 AM on May 6, 2012

You use ctrl-click as you would use the right mouse button on a PC. The OS and many applications seem designed for a two-button mouse even though there isn't a second button on the trackpads.

Footnote: I got a MacBook Pro a year ago, and have been planning a "What makes you all think OS X is so good? I have to be missing something." AskMe question.
posted by springload at 4:47 PM on May 6, 2012

The new Airs have an option for two finger click as right click, which is what use.
posted by empath at 4:54 PM on May 6, 2012

I helped my mother, who was about your age at the time, switch to a Mac Mini about six years ago. She's found it much easier to use than a PC, for what it's worth.

One potential problem I haven't seen anybody mention:
Do you use any software that might not have a Mac equivalent? As Macs become more popular, this is less and less of an issue, but some specialised software is still Windows-only. There's ways around this problem (running an emulator like Parallels/Fusion or dual-booting with Boot Camp) but they can be a little fiddly to set up. You may need to get a handy friend or relative involved.

Two other thoughts:
Yes, definitely purchase AppleCare for your new Air. Laptops are delicate, and we tend to bang them around a bit no matter how careful we try to be. I've had three Mac laptops and always ended up saving money in the long term by having AppleCare.

If you have an Apple Store near you, they generally run free group classes for people new to Mac.

Hope you enjoy your new Air!
posted by Georgina at 11:44 PM on May 6, 2012

You use ctrl-click as you would use the right mouse button on a PC. The OS and many applications seem designed for a two-button mouse even though there isn't a second button on the trackpads.

I had to think about this because I unconsciously "right click" (secondary click) all the time on my Air- as empath said, it's a two finger tap. It's worth going into preferences on any Mac with a trackpad and setting them up. The other option I use a lot is 4 finger right/left swipe to switch applications.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:55 AM on May 7, 2012

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