Switching from PC to Mac

My cousin has recently convinced me to switch to Mac. A few factor’s went into the decision, but I’ll just give him all the credit to keep things simple. Plus he’d like knowing that I gave him credit.

As a web developer it seemed like the right thing to do. The best in my field use macs. Ninety percent of the time I look up a tutorial, the screencast is done on a Mac. Mac users in my business (that I’m aware of) include Chris Coyier, Dave Rupert and Jeff Way.

I can’t forget the terminal. It has been frustrating to be a PC user and coming across instructions for doing something on a Mac command line. Some people avoid the command line like a virus, but most programmers and web developers will find it to be a crucial tool in their process. I’ve been stuck using the windows command line, which to a large degree, has sustained my needs. Surely I didn’t just get a Mac so that I could use the terminal, but it’s been a relief to be able to use it over Command Prompt.

The hardware

The hardware is part of what sold me. The MacBook Pro that I purchased is the top of the line. No added features like ram, hdd space or cpu speed, just the store-bought 15.5″ screen MacBook Pro. It set me back a hefty $2,500. It was on sale so I’m including Arizona sales tax on that.

Now for the same price I could have purchased an extreme gaming PC, or even a gaming Laptop. I could have purchased both even! One of the laptops I had my eyes on was the MSI Geo-60 Pro, which is probably overkill itself. Needless to say, it’s not a programmer’s PC but would certainly do the trick. I also considered for a long time using the Lenovo Yoga II. At the price listed at the time of writing compared to the normal price of my MacBook, I could have spent 150 dollars more and bought 3 Yoga II Pros.

Back to the subject of hardware, I was really excited to try the retina display. The Yoga is incomparable and yet the closest laptop I’m aware of to mimic the retina display. But I’ve seen it in use by the project managers I work with, and I’ve been dissapointed at with what I’ve seen. It just doesn’t seem to work right. This is especially evident when they hook them up to external monitors and it ends up looking like it’s zoomed in for someone nearly blind because the pixel ratios don’t match. Whether the Mac does this or not, I have yet to find out (however I’m just about over multiple displays at this point, I might go into that more later).

The display is beautiful though. Go into a best buy and check it out if you haven’t. I could stare at my desktop background and awe at it’s crisp beauty… not that I do though. I just could. Responsive web design has been all the craze for over a year now, and for the first time I can have a need to put in the time to get crisp images working just right for high resolution displays. Without retina, it’s hard to know why you’re creating a separate style-sheet and cropping an extra image, and furthermore, impossible to test if it’s actually making a difference. I’m excited to be able to try that for the first time because up to this point I’ve avoided the extra work.

My MacBook comes with 512GB of hard drive space and 16 GB of RAM. The graphics card is separate, one of the advantages of the more expensive model, and with 2GB of DDR5 video memory has no appearance of being bogged down. I’ll have to throw a game on here eventually to see how well it works, or try my hands at editing a video. It’s unnecessarily powerful and I love it.

The computer is less than three-quarters inch thick. It feels unbelievably sleek. The solid aluminum framing desperately needs to be copied more often by Windows-based machines. The screen is ultra thin as well, almost too thin. The keyboard lights up real nice and the touchpad cannot be compared to anything in the Windows realm.

The OS

I was sold on the operating system and hardware just about equally. A few advantages of the Mac OS include: free updates as long as my machine supports it, meaning any new operating system will be available too without charge. A very robust UI–although still lacking in some aspects–that integrates with the touchpad very well. A slew of great software is also bundled in, including FaceTime (Skype-like software), iPhoto (photo editing), Pages (like Word), Numbers (like Excel) and Keynote (like PowerPoint), just to name a few. I’ve also stumbled upon a 2D and 3D graphing tool, which isn’t the prettiest but will be nice to have. My Mac comes with PHP, Ruby and git pre-installed, among other useful amenities as well, although I’ve opted to use MAMP to run my development so far. Oh, and lets not forget the terminal, which I’ve already written about quite a bit. Just being able to copy-paste into the terminal has been a wonderful advantage, but again it so far has not alone been a good excuse for the purchase.

Some of the cons

The learning curve is steep, and I’m still getting used to it. Typing this article is helping quite a bit because one of the key issues I have had is getting used to the “Command” button. I thought this would ruin my life but up to this point has been a fairly easy change to get used to.

The Keyboard

Some of the problems with the Command button, aside from the muscle memory I have established for Ctrl, are that it’s placed where the Windows key would be, requiring me to awkwardly bend my thumb in order to hold it down and press another key. I think over time this will actually be an advantage to having to use my pinky to hold control–although, yes there is a control key as well and it does come into play.

Speaking of the control key, I still have to actively decide which key I’m using in certain situations. Many a developer use a program called Sublime Text 2 and and extensions called emmet. If you don’t use it, maybe this is a subtle hint that you should try it out? Well, with Emmet the same controls apply, so I’m pressing Control+E to expand abbreviation, and Control+W to wrap a selection, whereas I’ve already gotten used to replacing Control with command in cases like select-all, copy, cut and paste. So not only do I have to get used to using Command, but some programs are having me retain the old habit. It’s, overall, very confusing.

Some more about the keyboard: While I’m not a huge fan but it’s pretty nice overall. I’d give it a 6 out of 10 (hence why this is a con), but I own a Das Keyboard and don’t think anything will ever compare. It’s definitely too shallow as I’ve heard in other reviews state.

Another thing about the keyboard is that there is not 10 key. There are instead two speakers on each side of my keyboard, which take up just enough room that I believe a simple ten key could fit, or come very close. Regardless, it’s a disadvantage in my opinion, but I think I’ll just have to get better at typing without it.

The keyboard also lacks a delete key. Actually, I should be more specific. Whereas PC’s have a backspace key, the mac has the same key but calls it a delete key. On a PC there is also a delete key which allows you to delete one character after the cursor, rather than behind as the backspace key does. I really like that key, but I don’t see any room on my keyboard for it either way.

Window Management

A huge disadvantage for me using a Mac is that I cannot control my layout as much as I’m used to on Windows. Windows does a great job of letting you organize your programs by docking to one side using Window+Left or Windows+Right. This sets a program to take up exactly half the screen. This would be an amazing improvement for the mac, because at the moment I’m struggling with it. I do love that I can have multiple desktops running, with programs laid out on each. To switch between desktops, all I have to do is swipe three fingers to the side. Now this plus being able to dock windows would be great–I’m considering buying an app that is supposed to be able to do this so I’ll add info about that when and if I do.

The touchpad

Although I love the touchpad overall, it has some quirks that bother me. I’ve used Laptops with large touchpad that have no buttons. A Mac’s touchpad let’s you do various gestures like using two fingers to swipe and go back on a webpage, or using two fingers to scroll around a page. You can use three fingers to swipe between desktops, as I just mentioned.

Well the problem is these seem to be very inconsistent. Maybe my fingers are too skinny, but I can’t seem to get the three-finger swipe to work every time. I also seem to have issues using the two finger gesture on a few, rarer occasions.

My first hour or so of using the touchpad, I found myself tapping it quite often, and being annoyed that by tapping, I did not produce a mouse click. The touchpad must be physically pressed down like a button. At first I would have marked this as a disadvantage, but then I remember how annoying it is to be typing and accidentally touch the touchpad, which moves the cursor. The tapping can be inconsistent and lacks the haptic feedback you get with an actual click. I think the idea to do without it was well thought out.

With that though, pressing down on the touchpad does have some quirks. If you touch down with two fingers, you produce the rough equivalent of a right click on a PC. So when scrolling with two fingers, you must be aware of lifting the extra finger before pressing down or you’ll accidentally right-click instead of left-click.

I’ll add that despite the inconsistencies, quirks or whatever you want to label it, the touchpad and the use of gestures is an advantage with all things considered. I will see in the coming days whether I get more used to it or not because these quirks do bother me. However, I’m overall, quite satisfied with the touchpad.

Conclusion

That’s about it for now. I would give my Mac 5 out of 5. My brother asked me how I like it so far and what I told him is that if I were to make a pros and cons list of Windows vs Mac, I’d pretty much come up even, with Mac maybe having a marginal advantage. This, plus the fact that the hardware itself is fantastic, made for my final decision, which I have yet to regret. I’ll definitely revisit this article and clean it up when I get a chance, but for now my 5 out of 5 sticks. One great thing about this purchase is that Best Buy will let me return it, no questions asked within 15 days of purchase.

The last thing I’ll say is that I turned on my MacBook from an off state for the first time this morning and I felt like I was just waking it up because it booted so quickly. It seemed to take less than 10 seconds, but I’ll have to test that when I’m more alert to be sure. I know, of course, over time the battery will lose it’s gusto and the hardware will slow down, but right now… damn it’s fast!