posted by Adam S on Mon 9th Dec 2002 19:10 UTC
IconThere are certain perennial debates amongst the technical community, constantly revisited with differing outcomes for each person. Linux vs. Windows, KDE vs. Gnome, Mac vs. PC - they are unwinnable arguments, and although the outcome varies overtime with each successive release or new piece of hardware, they consistently gain our attention. When presented with the opportunity to borrow a Macintosh for a little over a month, I jumped at the chance to resolve one of these debates for myself. The question was: Can the Mac replace my PC?

The specs: Apple didn't skimp on the unit they sent me: it was PowerMac G4 with dual 1.25 Ghz processors, a 120 GB IDE hard drive, 512 MB DDR SDRAM, a "superdrive," which can record DVDs, a 64 MB video card, gigabit Ethernet, a 17" flat panel studio display, and a fresh copy of Jaguar, Mac OS X 10.2. Total value, according to Apple's website as of today: $4298.00.
The Challenge: Can the Macintosh, with no training, technical books, or prior knowledge, replace my PC running Windows 2000 and Red Hat's Psyche?
The Background: I am not a standard PC user. I'm a network engineer, proficient in Windows, NetWare, BeOS, and Linux. I have set up complete domains from scratch, I understand networking and the components in a computer. I am a power user, and that makes me different from much of the audience targeted by Apple's Switch campaign.
Fair warning: This is a fairly long, honest review in an untraditional sense. I didn't write it in one sitting, it was written over the course of a few weeks and it includes lots of information is a disorganized but linked fashion.

My G4 arrived via FedEx in a beautiful box which pictures the contents in full color. Everything was packed perfectly. Setting up the Mac is easy, there's a monitor that connects via a standard cable, a keyboard that connects via USB, and a mouse that connects to the keyboard. Booting the PC proved the first challenge - it gave me a classy white screen picturing the Apple logo, but it wouldn't boot. I decided that this loaner was likely unused and therefore unformatted, so I set about installing Jaguar from disc. When I couldn't get Jaguar to install, I decided to install OS X and upgrade to Jaguar. That didn't work either, neither install could find a volume to install to. I decided I had to open the case. Painfully scared of voiding the warranty, I found the culprit - the IDE cable had disconnected from the hard drive, probably during shipping. This was the first point against Apple. Because the challenge was from a power user perspective, it was forgivable, but I still marked it in my head.

On reconnect, I successfully booted into Mac OS x 10.2. I was prompted to set up a user, password, and some preferences and then I was let loose in MacOS-land. The interface is not unlike any standard interface, more like KDE than anything else in that the "kicker" resizes itself to fit the icons. The desktop is clean, a la Windows XP default; everything seems to be ready to go.

The dynamic animation present in the OS at each step is immediately noticeable, the system updates icon began "dancing" to notify me that there were updates available for download. The update function works like Windows Update and Red Hat Network, it simply goes out and installs the updates with your approval.

MacOS runs smoothly. That's what I noticed first off. There's very little waiting, very little fussing, very little Ctrl+Alt+Del/End Task for behavior control. But from moment one, I had a some problems with the Mac, most notably - the mouse. The mouse has no buttons - rather, the entire body depresses to function as a single button mouse. The world has accepted the multi-button mouse, either two or three buttons, and scroll wheels are pretty much standard fare. Why Apple insists that single button is acceptable for their elite machines is beyond me, but it immediately annoyed me.

My PC is an AMD Athlon 1700+ that runs at 1540-something Mhz. I have 512 MB DDR RAM. It's got a 32 MB GeForce 2 GTS video card. In following, I'd expect the G4, running dual 1.25 Ghz RISC processors and a video card with twice the onboard memory to be noticeably faster. This was not the case though. My immediate feeling was that, loaded with expensive hardware, the Mac performs about as well as my PC. With all the complaining about Microsoft puffing their system requirements to bolster their relationships with hardware vendors anxious to sell more modern hardware, OS X seems to truly use every bit of what it's given. Let down by the lack of supersonic speed, it certainly didn't feel slow, but I have to acknowledge that this Mac is more powerful than most, and certainly more than I'd ever buy for myself. Certainly, it's fair to assume that I might notice a slowdown on a more affordable machine.

Launching System Preferences, I immediately found that configuring the system was a breeze. The Mac jumped right online, and making the desktop look like I wanted was more than intuitive. Setting up MacMail was also a breeze. Since my webmail account is POP3 enabled, I hopped on and pulled down my mail without a hitch. MacMail is actually a nice program - not so much better than the equivalents in other worlds (Outlook Express, Mozilla Mail, Evolution, KMail), but certainly an attractive and matching app.

Table of contents
  1. "Month with a Mac, Part I"
  2. "Month with a Mac, Part II"
  3. "Month with a Mac, Part III"
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