PC to Mac
June 10, 2004 11:43 AM   Subscribe

I'm contemplating the Switch. It's been 10 years since I've used a Mac, is it time to go back? Looking for advice from longtime Windows users who switched to Mac, and no I'm really not trying to make a commercial... [mi]

I'm due for an upgrade at work in a few weeks. Besides the basics (Office, web, email), I will use the machine for Java development (I like IntelliJ IDEA), Flash development (which I am new to), and some basic graphics work (more along the lines of Visio than Photoshop.) So, I'm debating between a Mac G5, and a Dell Precision 650 Workstation.
posted by badstone to Computers & Internet (31 answers total)
The one thing I don't miss about my Windows machine is the constant barrage of viruses. I'm sure there are some Mac ones out there but I haven't encountered them.

I'm not sure it really makes a difference which system you use for graphics—I don't believe that's a realm one handles better than the other these days. I do know this, the macs of today (OSX) are much more stable then what you used in the past.
posted by btwillig at 12:00 PM on June 10, 2004

I use a PC at work and recently bought a mac to replace my pc at home. I grew up using Apple 2s, and later Macs. Because of work, I've been 100% PC for about 8 years and decided I wanted to go back. After doing it, though, I dont think there's any real reason to preference one over the other. I really like the interface on the Mac, having BSD Unix, GarageBand, Office on the Mac is great, a very nice form factor (I have a g4 powerbook.) But I like using Win 2k3 server (I'm in IT) at work and Mac OS X at home. I was going to start writing some java apps on my mac, but havne't yet. I think it'd make a nice dev platform.

It is nice to not worry so much at home about viruses, but I have already had to reinstall everything from scratch on my mac already. I still don't know why, but the OS became corrupted. Mac support was awesome, though, so I can't complain. So go for it!
posted by drobot at 12:15 PM on June 10, 2004

Switch. OS X is great. You won't miss anything from your PC unless you a) Play lots of Computer Games or b) Use Autocad. I don't think there are any other compelling reasons to use a PC, so if you can afford a Mac I'd get one.
posted by chunking express at 12:19 PM on June 10, 2004

I used PCs by preference from 1987 to 2002, the last time I had to replace my primary work machine. I switched because of the unixy goodness inside, basically. I do find that some of the apps feel like throwbacks to earlier versions of the PC counterparts, and that has been incredibly frustrating sometimes, but Apple has a lot more "design as if people matter" on every level, hardware and software, so most of that is forgiven.

I did use Macs fairly regularly during The Before Time, but other than feeding Raffi songs into Talking Moose in the 80s and about a half hour in 1990 playing a beguiling game called Darwin's Dilemma, I basically have no memories of using pre-OSX Apple machines that don't degrade into frustration, fresh as the day I felt it. They were toys, not tools, to me; having one at work (late 80s, mid 90s) was torture.

I know how to type, and OSX is still too mouse-intensive for me (the "keyboard access" thing absolutely doesn't come close), but generally I find that my OSX box does so much so well that I do more than ever with a computer now. Hmm, maybe not a good thing, but I enjoy it, anyway. Well, hey, I still enjoy it, so that counts for something. I wouldn't consider switching back to PCs as they are today.
posted by caitlinb at 12:33 PM on June 10, 2004

badstone, I was a PC user for eight years before I switched to Mac about three years ago. I absolutely used to abhor Macs and was a hardcore PC advocate. Macs running OS 9.x? Toys. Lousy. Etc.

Then OS X came out, and I gave the Mac serious consideration. So serious that I ended up buying one. And truth be told, it's one of the best computers I've ever owned. I was actually excited about getting it - something I never felt with a PC, frankly.

I prefer Macs because the OS tends to get out of my way more, instead of being a barrier to doing things. I find that I'm able to get work done more intelligently on both personal and professional projects. And being able to run Apache out of the box is pretty nice for web development.

I've not had an issue with software lust, as I don't play computer games.

If you have more specific questions, ask them. But I have no problem recommending a Mac to anyone, particularly in light of viruses, popups, spyware, and all the associated crap that goes with Windows nowadays.
posted by hijinx at 12:34 PM on June 10, 2004

People who are used to Visio on Windows tend to be impressed by OmniGraffle on OS X, by the way. At one point it was bundled along with new machines -- don't know if that's still true or not.

(and yes it's an extremely dumb name for an app)
posted by xil at 12:39 PM on June 10, 2004

Yes you still get OmniGraffle, but it's v2.2
posted by nathan_teske at 12:44 PM on June 10, 2004

Just as a point of information: there are zero reported viruses for OS X. There have been some reported vulnerabilities and innocuous proofs-of-concept in just the past few weeks, but A) no actual exploits using them, and B) Apple's been pretty quick about releasing security updates to close the holes.
posted by adamrice at 12:53 PM on June 10, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice all! No, I don't play computer games and I don't do CAD, so I guess that means I'd be just fine on a Mac, from what's been said. On the other hand, I do a little Java3D development here and there, and occasionally other visualization intensive work, such as GIS. So, that brings me to some of those "specific questions":

1. Anyone have experience developing Java3D under OSX? Are there any issues?

2. In general, are there any major Java issues of real concern anymore? (The prime reason that I've stuck with PCs for so long is Java support, especially Java 3D, but apparently that's not supposed to be an issue any more.)

3. I am all about a 2 button mouse. Any time I see something in Windows that I want to do something to, I right click on it, and 9 times out of 10 the thing I want to do pops up. I know Macs are 1 button-centric, but I hear that they nonetheless support 2 button mice well. How does that work out?

4. Is the difference between a dual 2.5 GHz machine and a dual 2.0 GHz machine significant?
posted by badstone at 1:03 PM on June 10, 2004

get yourself one of these: macmice
posted by grimley at 1:13 PM on June 10, 2004


I've hardly ever used a 1 button mouse with the Macs I've worked with. Most 2+ button USB mice will work with Macs, methinks.
posted by hackly_fracture at 1:16 PM on June 10, 2004

I have to second, third, and fourth most of the above comments. I was a home Linux user, until I realized that I spent almost as much time making my box at home work right as I do maintaining the Unix machines at work. FreeBSD goodness + crunchy candy coating was an irresistable temptation for me.

My 17" PowerBook is inarguably the best computer I have ever owned, and I do more with it than I ever did with any of my Linux boxen -- and I say that as an inveterate geek.

To answer two of your questions above:

I know Macs are 1 button-centric, but I hear that they nonetheless support 2 button mice well. How does that work out?

Transparently. The OS is button-agnostic. Plug in a two button mouse, and it knows what to do with it. I haven't used a more-button mouse, though.... I know that some of the four or five button mice require special drivers, and might not work the way they do on Windows; someone with experience with them will have to answer that.

Is the difference between a dual 2.5 GHz machine and a dual 2.0 GHz machine significant?

Significant? Yes. Worth the additional cost? Depends what you're doing. If you're not an ubergamer, or into intense graphical design, the 2GHz will probably be more than enough machine for you.

This lowendmac.com report on the G5 value equation might be helpful to you.
posted by jammer at 1:18 PM on June 10, 2004

Oh, and unless your java/flash work is crazy intensive, you might want to save some cash and get the dual 2.0. My wife has gotten a lotta design/flash/photoshop juice out of our now-lowly 500MHz G4, so I reckon the 2.0 G5 (running Panther) will be pretty dang unstoppable.

on preview: yeah, like jammer said.
posted by hackly_fracture at 1:20 PM on June 10, 2004

Hmm...this got sort of rambly...

badstone: Yeah, Apple still insists on following the one-button mouse path, often claiming that two-button mice are confusing. (And besides, the argument goes, you can just CTRL-click.)

My lovely Apple mouse (with its incredibly short cord -- all my Apple-branded peripherals have short cords for some reason) is still wrapped in its packaging. I simply took a Microsoft two-button optical USB scroll mouse and plugged it in when I got the computer. It works fine.

Right-click support is spotty at best. There doesn't seem to be rhyme or reason to which applications provide robust two-button mouse support. (Or scrolling support.) Most Apple-branded applications have passable right-click menus, though the ordering of the menu items is sometimes bizarre (especially in the finder, or OS, itself). Third-party apps, though, sometimes have no support at all. I just installed Eudora the other night and was puzzled to find that there's only one option in the right-click menu, and that's always greyed out.

All this is to say: I wouldn't say that Macs support two-button mice well, but they are usable, and if you like two buttons, use them!

RE: other Mac stuff.

I used apple products from 1978 to 1998, but then switched to the PC. I found the Mac too slow, too unstable, and too limited. Eighteen months ago, I switched back. Partially. I love OS X for the most part. There are some strange GUI choices, and sometimes I pull my hair out trying to figure out how to do something that should be obvious, but mostly it's very pleasant to use. And the shareware apps I pay for -- BBEdit, Mailsmith, NetNewsWire, Acquisition (for file-sharing), etc. -- are wonderful. Each is better than anything I've found on the PC.

Now I use my G5 at home, and a PC at work. I use them both equally, I'd guess. They're both fine, they do the job. The Mac is more pleasant to use, but often it's easier to get something done on the PC.

Rambling over.
posted by jdroth at 1:24 PM on June 10, 2004

And grimley, that mouse you mentioned looks pretty keen. I want one! :)
posted by jdroth at 1:29 PM on June 10, 2004

Response by poster: OK, that's what I really meant about 2-button mic, jdroth, is how well they are supported software-wise. what you say is disappointing to hear. like I said, right-clicking is my first instinct when I don't know how to accomplish something. context-specific menus trump every other GUI functionality, IMHO. So, I guess that means the rest of Mac's slick GUI will have a lot of making up to do!

I'm also pretty used to a scroll wheel now, and I'm guessing that since that spiffy mac mouse has one, that the Mac OS at least supports that. :)

Overall, I am now sufficiently concvinced. Budget-wise, it turns out I will have to go for the dual 1.8 GHz, but at least I can afford to upgrade it's default 256MB of RAM to 1GB. Actually, is 1GB more than enough for a Mac? It's how much I would expect to load a PC, but that's because of the Microsoft memory black hole. Should I bother with 1GB, or would 256 MB or 512 MB be enough?

Oh, and I will be able to use my old Dell monitor, right? I dropped big bucks on a 24" 5 years ago, and it's still going fine, even though it's a CRT and takes two people to lift it. ;)
posted by badstone at 1:45 PM on June 10, 2004

Stay away from MacMice
posted by mkultra at 1:46 PM on June 10, 2004

Your Dell monitor will work fine, and 1GB should be plenty. I do beg to differ w/jdroth, though, about contextual menu support- it's fairly pervasive, and there are lots of add-ons.
posted by mkultra at 1:51 PM on June 10, 2004

Whatever you do, don't get the BTO RAM. Get it yourself through some other vendor. Apple has always overcharged horribly for RAM.

Also, if you're looking to save a bit of cash, check out Apple's refurbished machines. The previous generation dual 2.0 Ghz G5 is now $1999, which isn't half bad.
posted by Remy at 1:56 PM on June 10, 2004

badstone — don't be too disheatened by the spotty two-button mouse support. I find that it's still sufficient for most uses, it's just no anywhere near as mature and robust as on the PC. And, like I said, sometimes there's an application that just doesn't support it.

There's some app I use all the time that doesn't support the scroll wheel, but I can't remember what it is. It's driving me crazy. Of course, I'm at work and on my PC now, so I can't check...

I second the refurbished machines option, by the way. I bought a refurbished 1.8Ghz single-processor machine in January, and have been pleased with it. (Though iTunes freezes the whole damn thing sometimes. I think it's a software issue, others tell me they think it's the refurbished machine.) I got mine through Powermax.
posted by jdroth at 2:07 PM on June 10, 2004

Stay away from MacMice

Does anyone have an alternate source for a good looking multi-button scrolling mouse like that?
posted by gyc at 2:27 PM on June 10, 2004

Also, check out this tactile keyboard... clickety clack and tactile feedback that we used to get with spring-loaded keys.

posted by silusGROK at 3:01 PM on June 10, 2004

When you plug a two-button mouse into a Mac, it binds the right button to "control-click" (this is how one-button users get contextual menus). Flaky contextual menus have nothing to do with Apple's one/two button mouse thing, but rather with flaky (usually small) software developers, and the same problems would exist for PC users. My experience with a two-button mouse on my mac has been wonderful. All the software I use (which is generally big-name stuff: Word, Camino, Eudora, Graphic Converter, Photoshop) has great contextual menus, and within OS X, contextual menus are just fine.
posted by Marquis at 4:00 PM on June 10, 2004

I was a mac-shunning PC user for many years, and then I switched to an OSX machine, and it really is another world.

Just one thing: if you buy a new mac, sign up for applecare, their extended warranty system. Not doing so is condemning yourself to a lot of money down the line. That's the trouble in paradise, but most mac users I know just consider applecare part of the cost of the machine.

(My powerbook is busted, and I don't have applecare, so I use Linux at home now.)
posted by bingo at 4:03 PM on June 10, 2004

If you get a portable, yes, get AppleCare. Otherwise, not so much. I just ordered a dual 2.5 G5, and the two-year warranty (one from Apple, one from the credit card) seems like it'll hold me fine, considering I've never had to use the warranty on any Apple I've previously owned.
posted by kindall at 4:52 PM on June 10, 2004

I just switched, sorta (they're forcing me to use a G5 at my new job), and the interface is very glossy and pretty. Uhm, the only problems...

...There are two delete buttons and NEITHER OF THEM DELETES THINGS OFF OF THE DESKTOP. Isn't there some way to just click on a thing, hit a button on the keyboard and delete it? I use the clear button when deleting things in Photoshop, but I have to click it twice otherwise the keyboard stops working. I learned that the hard and embarassing way.

All the buttons (close, minimize, etc.) are on the opposite side. WHYYYYYY.

I can't figure out yet how to have a nice plain photoshop gray background behind the image I'm working on. All of the programs seem to have been reduced to a toolbar across the top of the screen, and then content windows on the desktop (strangely distracting.) And why is it that the symbol for the option button looks like a shopping cart? And the symbol for the shift button looks like the UP ARROW. And who came up with the design for that stupid mouse, huh?

Whine whine whine, bitch bitch bitch. Change sucks.

...Okay, so it's nice that it hasn't needed to be rebooted once in the week it's been running. Nothing crashes. I can have several adobe products open at once and the system doesn't slow to a crawl. Vaguely annoying that when you close a program, you aren't actually -closing- it until you quit, but kinda cool at the same time. Also, Suitcase is the shit. And apple+shift+3 (and 4) are pretty frickin' nice, I must say. Also, it's very pretty.
posted by precocious at 6:43 PM on June 10, 2004

Isn't there some way to just click on a thing, hit a button on the keyboard and delete it?

Open-Apple and Delete at the same time. Yes, it isn't as intuitive as Delete by itself, but it actually saves you from accidental deletions.
posted by gen at 6:59 PM on June 10, 2004

mkultra. i hear you, but it sure is pretty and I haven't had any issues with it. I wouldn't install the mouse driver and just let OSX handle it, or USB Overdrive.

gyc. I haven't had any right click issues in OSX. it works fine for me.
posted by grimley at 7:53 PM on June 10, 2004


Command-Delete. (The Command is the key with the Apple or the propeller-thingy on it, I don't know what they're using these days.)

Delete by itself is for deleting text.

Note that what Mac users call Delete is called Backspace on the PC. The PC's Delete is known as Forward Delete on the Mac.
posted by kindall at 9:02 PM on June 10, 2004

While OS X has support for multi-button mice and scroll wheels, I've been using Kensington mice for years because the software allows button customization for individual apps.

For example, my generic default configuration has the contextual menu on the third (scroll wheel) button, with the right click sending command-w (close frontmost window). In web browsers I've set the right button to command-left arrow (back to previous page), etc. The Kensington software also gives much more control over the mouse tracking acceleration curves.

Short list of 'essential' OS X freeware:

Notational Velocity - Beautifully designed note storage/retrieval app. The simplicity and power of the interface is sublime.

Butler - Highly customizable utility which puts many useful functions in your menu bar. This is non-crippled 'donationware', and worth paying for. Don't be afraid of the current version being in Beta -- it's stable.

MenuMeters - I just use this as a network activity monitor, but it does more.

TinkerTool - Easy control of many hidden system settings.
posted by D.C. at 11:40 PM on June 10, 2004

All the buttons (close, minimize, etc.) are on the opposite side. WHYYYYYY.

I can't figure out yet how to have a nice plain photoshop gray background behind the image I'm working on.

These are basic issues. The close, minimize buttons have always been on that side on the Mac. You just have to get used to it.

In Photoshop, there are three little buttons that look like different desktops at the bottom of the toolbar. Toggle between them to get the gray background. By default, PS uses the No Background option. The Apple menu bar is one of the primary ways in which the Mac OS is better than Windows. Every Windows app has its own menu, although you can only access the one that is active.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 4:16 PM on June 11, 2004

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