Greetings From My New MacBook (a Convert's Tale)

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It came as no surprise that I found myself in need of a new laptop. My Compaq Presario M2000, purchased in 2005, was becoming less sufficient by the day. What was adequate for web development three years ago is no longer usable for such light tasks as web browsing or document writing. I stalled and I stalled, but this past week I found myself blessed with a hard drive crash, and by syllogism, a new laptop.

The surprise was that I chose a MacBook.

Those who know me know that I’m not secretive about my frustrations with Apple. I don’t like the way they tie their hardware to their software (iPod + iTunes). I don’t like that they deliberately keep their platforms closed (Apple refuses to support free and open music formats like FLAC in iTunes). I don’t like paying more for an Apple laptop than I would for a spec-equivalent PC, and (see remarks below) I don’t like having to stick to Apple’s hardware configurations (I can configure a Dell in many more ways than I can configure a MacBook). I also don’t like paying twice as much to upgrade them.

I have my grievances with Microsoft, too. But for all of its failures (Windows Media Player), there are viable alternatives (WinAmp). Sometimes this is true for OS X (I grant there are better editors than TextEdit), but in my experience, third-party software support for Mac OS has always been inferior to that of Windows. Even when developers support both platforms, they often make great concessions. For example, Quicken 2007 for Mac has fewer features than Quicken 2003 for Windows.

These were the reasons why I stuck with Windows for so many years. These are the reasons why I’m now jumping ship:

  1. Apple’s third-party support is a lot better than it was three years ago, and that will continue to improve. Since going UNIX-based with OS X, more and more software publishers have released software for Mac.

  2. A PC is no longer necessary to run PC software. Thanks to Intel chips and VMWare Fusion, I can run all of my Windows apps on my new MacBook. Virtualization is not a new technology, but it has improved vastly over the past three years and is much more reliable now than it was the last time I was in the market for a computer. This is critical because UltraEdit is Windows-only, and I need to be able to use it. The makers of UltraEdit have already announced that a Mac product is in the works, and this will hold me over until that product is released later this year.

  3. . OS X is UNIX-based. This may be a trivial point to non-techies, but as a software engineer and web developer, I am constantly writing code that is designed to run in a UNIX environment. With OS X, I can plan, develop, test and deploy my products on a single computer. That’s a difficult (if possible) feat to accomplish on Windows.

None of these three points are recent developments, and I suspect that you Mac enthusiasts are wondering why I didn’t make the switch sooner. Much as I love being on the cutting edge of technology, I’m not an early adopter. I stick with the tried and true because it’s a lot easier to solve problems when you’re not the first to encounter them. My development environment is mission critical, and waiting it out, to me, was an exercise in risk management.

Of less significance was the overhead of switching platforms: installing and learning new software, memorizing new keyboard shortcuts and configuring new personal settings. I was certain the transition would put me out of my comfort zone (it has), and I was afraid of the inefficiency that would plague me during the first week or two. A week or two doesn’t sound like a long time, but fall a full two weeks behind on your work and you’ll understand my fear very well. However, I overshot with my estimate. I’ve owned Starks (my MacBook is named after the former New York Knicks sharpshooter) for three days and I’m plenty comfortable working on it.

I feel compelled to add that the quality and design of the MacBook far surpasses any other laptop I’ve owned. It’s very sturdy (my Compaq was borderline flexible), its ports are easily accessible and its slot-loading CD/DVD drive is naturally less likely to break that conventional ones with ejecting trays. The MagSafe connector is brilliant in theory and a lifesaver in practice; the days of damaging my laptop from tripping over the power cord are over, as are the days of poor-quality power jacks wobbling out of place. The screen is bright and clear and the battery life is just shy of four hours with wifi on. Bluetooth, webcam and microphone are conveniently built-in, so there are no USB devices to drag around for those of us who communicate on the go. The only accessory I use is the iSkin ProTouch; it keeps the keyboard comfortable, clean and quiet.

I remain not an Apple fanboy. The grievances I mentioned at the start of this post still hold true, and now that I’m a Mac user they’ll bother me even more. But it would be an exorcize in self-uninterest to select my laptop based on company grievances. I judge products for what they are, not for their makers. The right choice is the one that will best serve me, and that’s the MacBook.

Update (7/23, 10:04am PST): Scott Brown noted that while MacBooks may appear more expensive on paper than their PC counterparts, a closer look reveals that this is untrue. For example, this notebook looks to be $100 less than the entry level MacBook with twice the RAM and twice the hard drive space and a larger screen. But a closer look reveals that it is 100 MHz slower, has a smaller cache, has a much lesser dot pitch on the screen, and is half an inch thicker. Resolve those differences and you’re looking at a much higher price tag.