Are you a long time Windows user curious about the Apple Switch campaign? Are you wondering if you should try it? Read below for my experience with the whole thing… twice. Just over a week ago I purchased a new 12″ Apple PowerBook G4…
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This decision was made after a 12 month agonizing debate over whether or not to try the switch… again. Interwoven into the decision was the fact that almost two years ago to the day I had already tried the switch . I reflect on why I bought my first Mac, why it ended up on eBay, and why I struggled over the decision to buy my second Mac. Did I make the same mistake twice? You can read how I feel about my decision, and what the outlook looks like.
Let me start off by giving you a little background about me. I am a thirty-two year old self proclaimed (and proclaimed by many others as well) geek. I have been using computers to write code since I was thirteen years old. Hammering out Basic and Machine Language on my Commodore Vic-20. Today I am a Software Engineer who enjoys writing Java and can wrangle Vi with the best of them. After my Vic-20 and Commodore-64, I graduated to an IBM PC clone to head off the college with. My only Apple experience had been when I was exposed to them in the 6th grade. We ran the Logo program (the little turtle guy) and a GUI word processor which was amazing to me. Besides this short lived experience with Apple computers, I never used them again. They were always a bit out of financial reach of my family, but I envied the kids that owned such beautiful computers. I stayed within the PC line for my personal computers and have worked on Sun and HP for work. I also started working with Linux pretty early on because I was running a 4 line BBS and was trying to write an application on Linux that could route Internet mail to my BBS.
I am thinking back to when Apple computers recently caught my eye. I recall being a real PC power user (always having the latest and fastest of everything in my PC) and laughing at those crazy Apple users. I remember thinking to myself, “What a boring experience, those people can’t even get to a command line and tweak their setting.” I was wondering when Apple would just go out of business and die. Those thoughts were pretty consistent in my mind for many years. Until… one day I was watching television with my wife and I saw it… an ad for the Apple Titanium PowerBook G4. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow! That is a beautiful machine.” I immediately navigated my web browser to www.apple.com and was in for another huge surprise. Apple had recently released a new operating system called Mac OS X based on one of my favorite OSs, FreeBSD. I couldn’t believe it. I have always loved and admired FreeBSD. I love the elegance and beauty of it. I love the philosophy of it. Unfortunately, I have only been able to be a FreeBSD supporter by way of user and cheerleader, but I admire and respect all of the individuals who put long hours into it.
I poured over all of the specs for the PowerBook and OS X. I was impressed. My wife could tell that I had that fixation about me that could only be cured by one thing… owning one. But alas things would have to be put on hold for just a bit while my wife and I tended to our newly born son. The time off from work tending to baby and mom made me a little stir crazy. I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the amazing things I would be able to do with my new PowerBook. My wife finally said to me, very lovingly, “Honey, go get your computer.” I think she was just tired of me asking her if I should buy it or not. So I trucked on over to the new Apple computer store and introduced myself to my new laptop. The purchase was not quite the fan-fare I thought it would be. I made sure to tell all of the employees that I came in contact with that this was my first Apple computer out of about twenty Wintel PCs. In the end, I think they thought I was more goofy than anything else. While waiting for the final checkout, I started chatting with a woman who had owned Macs her entire life and had that “Think Different… Apple or die attitude.” I couldn’t wait. I just couldn’t wait to be part of a culture that loved their computers so much that they were willing to charge into verbal battles on their behalves and emblaze their environmentally friendly vehicles with Apple logos. I was ready.
I journeyed home and opened it up. I was so excited. I planned to learn all about my new computer, get it all set up, and have my Windows based laptop on eBay within weeks. Then I slowly started to realize something. My new PowerBook that was supposed to be faster than my PC despite the Mhz gap was terribly slow. Then other things started to chip away at my excitement. All of the software that I currently owned and used on my PC was not available in a Mac version or even worse, if a Mac version was available, I was not eligible for upgrade pricing. Purchasing software for a new OS is considered a new purchase in the eyes of software manufacturers. I had heard about a product by Connectix called VirtualPC which would allow me to run all of my PC software on my new Apple. So once again, I returned to the Apple store and purchased a copy. If the computer didn’t run slow enough with native applications, it ran my PC applications even slower, unacceptably slow. So I antied up some more bucks and increased the RAM on my 400Mhz PowerBook to 1 Gigabyte. Surely that old Windows trick would work on the Apple side too. I started to become sad. I had passionately wanted this machine. I was planning on replacing my Wintel laptop with it. I was ready to start my basic training to become a Mac fanatic. Instead, I sat in sadness as the launcher icons bounced mockingly as I waited to get some work done. It became obvious I would not be able to replace my Wintel laptop with my new PowerBook and at almost $3,500 spent so far, this toy was far to expensive to keep around. Sadly, I took the “buy me” snap shots, packed her up and posted her on eBay. I took a bath on the sale because the new, faster and improved PowerBooks had been announced. I made my final “6 month same as cash” payment to MBNA months after my PowerBook was gone.
The humiliation from my Wintel loyalist friends was as painful as the financial and emotional setbacks. End of story? Do Apple and I part ways for good over my disappointment? Thankfully, no. I still kept a more watchful eye on Apple as rumors were circulating that new versions of OS X would dramatically increase performance and that thousands of new software titles would soon be ported or written for this wonderful new OS. Despite my disappointed with my first experience, deep down, I really wanted to believe. I wanted to be part of the “Think Different” culture. I wanted to own a beautiful yet functional computer. Then, Jobs and Co. did it to me again. I do have to this say of Steve Jobs. He is the perfect leader to the group of Apple disciples. I get energized and excited every time I hear him talking about Apples latest products. As I tried to rationalize my disappointment in my first switch, I came to realize that despite my love for the design of the Titanium PowerBook my brain couldn’t get over a false sense of fragility in the laptop. It’s width to thickness ration was weird for me to get over. The Titanium feel of the PowerBook made it feel very brittle to me. So from my dark depths of subconscious grey matter, the combination of wide, thin, and brittle, always made me feel like I had to baby the machine or be overly gentle with it. So I decided what I really wanted was something about the form factor of the iBook, but it had to have a G4 processor in it. Well, I think that you see where this is going, about a year after I sold my PowerBook, Jobs sprang the 12″ PowerBook on me. G4 in an iBook form factor and beautiful aluminum to boot.
In addition to the new line up of laptops, Jobs spoke of the amazing new WIndows interoperability in the latest version of OS X. He demonstrated a much snappier OS X and introduced the evolving .Mac and iLife products. Once again, I start to get the twinkle in my eye. Slowly, I start to prepare my wife for the fact that we might try the Apple thing again. It was actually to warn her of my forthcoming obsession. She reminded me that this was quite fitting as our second child was due in just a couple weeks (my first Apple experience coinciding with my first child). I started to ease my friends into the whole Apple experience and explained to them why it would be great to own an Apple. I had to slowly sell them without them realizing what I was doing. I had to somehow disarm them of all of the arsenal of ammo I had provided them on my first switch. I told them how great it was that an Apple could integrate seemlesly into their beloved Windows networks and that Microsoft had even release a Windows Terminal Services client for Mac OS X. I impressed them with peripheral Apple technologies like the new Apple iPod (many fell in love with my original 5 Gigabyte iPod, a thing of wonder) and the Apple music store. I even got one friend excited enough that he popped down a work bonus check on the top of the line iPod. I felt I was ready to spring it on them. “I am going to get another Apple.” Most suspected it from the way I had been talking. Others chuckled. Some plain out called me dumb to do it again.
I had my friends sold (or informed at least) and I had my wife sold too. There was just one person left, myself. I journeyed to my local Apple store and loitered around. I did not want any help from the employees. I did not want to chat with recent converts. I did not want to talk to die hard Apple soldiers. I just wanted some time alone with this new PowerBook to try to see if I was setting myself up for disappointment once again. I looked at it, it looked at me and I felt that feeling of excitement and wonder all wrapped up in the 12″ wide by 1″ thick metallic machine with its glowing apple emblem on the back. From the standpoint of art, innovation, and childhood wonder, I wanted to walk out of the store with it. In the end, the rational side of my brain waived a red flag, momentarily distracting me from the passionate side of my brain. While it had me distracted, it reminded me that I and my wallet had been down this road before. With my passionate side protesting, we walked away and drove home. I tortured myself and my wife with this trip a few more time over the next couple weeks.
Finally my passionate side and my practical side called a truce. We all decided to sit down and really think about this. We would decide to either purchase a new PowerBook or give up on the idea and stop torturing myself, my wife, and my friends. I am sure I was sounding like a broken record as I continued selling my friends and family in preparation of my impending purchase.
This is what my brain and I talked about. I knew I was infatuated with the Apple machines but I wanted to make sure I didn’t own a $2,000.00 piece of art to sit on my desk. The first thing I decided was, I was not buying this machine to replace any of my current machines. Its purpose would strictly be another learning toy to introduce me to the world of Macs and OS X. Second, I absolutely love music. I have a collection of over 700 CDs. Using iTunes and the Apple music store, this would become my machine on which I would rip, organize, and maintain my music collection, as well as keep my iPod in sync with my mobile music life. I also consider myself a very amateur film maker with dreams of becoming a film director later in life. I would use this new machine to interface with my firewire digital Sony camcorder and fool around with iMovie and iDVD. Next, when my wife and I found out she was pregnant the first time, we made the decision to go 100% digital with all of our photographs, so we bought the Canon S110 (I highly recommend any Cannon digital camera). Our digital photo collection kicked off with over 300 pictures of our first son within his first week of birth. With our second child’s arrival 20 months later the collection has grown very large an almost unmanageable. I decided I would use iPhoto to catalogue and manage all of our digital photos.
As an added bonus, I would be able to make bound books from my photos as well as publish slide shows of my photos and music to DVD. Finally, being a lover and adopter of cutting edge technology the PowerBook would offer me a conduit for tying together products I already owned. These include my Sony-Ericsson T68i cell phone and my Tungsten T palm pilot. What better way to keep these in sync but with iSync. How cool would it be the my laptop could act as a caller ID display when my cellular phone rings (connected via bluetooth) and provide me the option of answering the call or sending it to voice mail with a simple click of the mouse.
One last thing happened in my life that helped tip the scales in the purchase direction. My new project at work required me to do a lot of work formulating and maintaining shell and perl scripts. I figured it would be great to be able to drop to a Unix shell and code and trouble shoot my scripts on my local machine. Yes, these are all things that I could do with Windows or by loading FreeBSD or Linux on my computer. If you asked that question, you are missing the point of the article. I want to do it from a shiny new PowerBook. After all of this thought processing was completed, I had finally sold myself.
During my lunch break on a very stormy Friday, I drove to the Apple store in Clarendon, VA. I walked into the store and walked up to it. A pleasant sales person walked up to me and asked me if I needed any help. In a reserved, calm voice, I responded, “I would like to purchase a 12″ PowerBook, 512M of RAM, Airport Extreme card, and a subscription to .Mac.” Whew… I had done it. It was out in the open. The words had been spoken. An hour later I was back at work with my shiny new toy sitting lonely in the trunk of my car in the parking garage 11 floors below me. Two hours later, I called my wife to let her know the decision had been made. I started my hour and fifteen minute crawl home in traffic with my new purchase sitting in its box next to me. Even the packaging was sexy and made me anxious to get home.
My wife was nice enough to watch our two boys for a couple hours while I played with my new purchase. I played for an hour or so and then spent some time with my family. After the boys went to sleep, I picked my new PowerBook up again and began exploring. There were pleasant surprises around every corner. I set up my .Mac account and started exploring. I tweaked out the look and feel of OS X to reflect my personality and continued exploring. Everything was polished and beautiful. Life doesn’t get any easier (and dangerous) than the Apple Music store’s seamless integration with iTunes. The latest version of iTunes continues to impress me. It was one of my favorite applications during my time with my first PowerBook. It is elegant and innovative, yet it epitomizes simplicity. The Apple Mail application (used in conjunction with my .Mac account) was a pleasant surprise. Sherlock too was a welcome surprise, as I use it to track my eBay auctions and find local movie listings. While a little short on features, iMovie and iDVD are still fun to play with and author simple drag and drop projects.
In a snap, I was connected to a shared drive on my Windows 2000 server and importing all of my pictures into iPhoto. Normally, I am not one to get into bubbles and fluff (for example, I can’t stand the bubbly look and feel of Windows XP), however I have really taken a liking to the cartoon like bubbles in iChat. Safari has grown on me and has become my favorite web browser. Again described by beauty, functionality, and sheer simplicity. I love the new brushed metal look and feel Apple is using in some of their applications and hope they continue in this direction. Finally, the icing on the cake. During this years Apple WWDC, I was no longer an Apple bystander or a wanna-be Apple owner sitting on the sidelines longing for one of those sexy machines. This time, I was a sexy machine owner, and when Steve Jobs announced that Safari 1.0 was being released today and would be available as a free download on the web in about an hour, I knew hew was talking to me.
One week later, I am still happy with my purchase. I confided in my wife that I was fearful that I would by my new Mac and be disappointed in myself for doing so. I have reassured her however that quite the opposite is true. One week later, and still excited about my purchase, I sit back and ponder, “What is different this time around?” I think I have a few answers. First, with my first switch, I had built the machine up so much in my mind that it was destined to fail no matter how it performed. I was lusting after it’s beauty more than anything. Second, I had myself convinced that I would be able to replace every PC in my life with my new Apple computer. I convinced myself that if I could not do it natively, I would do it by sheer brute force and throw VirtualPC at it. This solution was destined for failure because I began to ask myself why I was abandoning a perfectly good and productive PC for a slower running machine that emulates my previous one. Finally, I think I had bought my first PowerBook for what the future of the OS and Apple held. In other words, the promise of the innovative roadmap they sold me rather than the current capabilities of the machine. By supressing my lust and passion the second go around, I have found myself pleasantly surprised.
As I sit typing this article on my PowerBook, I realize that this time around things are different. I find myself using it more each day for my daily computer tasks. Maybe it is a sign of me aging, but anymore, I just want things to work. I don’t have the time I once had for the joys of trouble shooting and configuring. I am at a point where I want something to work as described. I want functional tools that help make my everyday life easier and more enjoyable. I think that Apple is leading the pack with this philosophy. Apple has definitely sold me on the concept of the digital hub, and my PowerBook reflects that. I don’t think of my PowerBook as much as a computer as it is a tool that helps make my daily life integrated and simpler. I am looking forward to a long relationship with my new PowerBook and Apple. Lets hope there are no more children in my future anytime soon.
About the author
Stuart MacKenzie is a software engineer who enjoys Java, J2EE, and other related web technologies. He loves exploring new and bleeding edge technologies, and sometimes sits still long enough to hammer out a few articles.