BJK Research

Episode 5 - Can a PC Guy Become a Mac Guy?

We've been through the whole shopping experience, and the reason for switching to the Mac, in Episodes 1 through 3. Episode 4 was a review of the MacBook from a hardware standpoint. Now, after a little more than two months of use, comes a review of Mac OS X 10.4 itself.

Pipe Down, Fanboys!

This review will be a success, I think, if I can manage to annoy the fanboys on each side at some point during the review. No, Mac OS X 10.4 isn't perfect; however, it sure seems to be a lot simpler, and more stable, than Windows. Independent research by others has already shown it to be safer (although it's not absolutely safe, either.) It's tough to come up with a judgement of whether it is better, yet. After all, I have almost 12 years of Windows 95/2000/XP knowledge, shortcuts and tips to rely on. When it comes to Mac OS X, I've got two month's worth of knowledge; in fact, I'm not even sure of the real name of the Apple-Squiggly key. So I'm not as efficient working on the Mac yet.

Part of the inefficiency comes from the fact that things aren't in the same places. The controls to close or minimize a window are in the upper left of the window, not the upper right. One location doesn't seem to be any better than the other, I just need to remember where they are. Copying and pasting use Apple-Squiggly C and V, rather than Control-C and V. I still find myself halfway through a cut and paste and wondering why it isn't working. Given the location of the Control and Apple-Squiggly keys, using the latter is an easier thumb movement.

Maybe the biggest difference, and one that I definitely think isn't as good as Windows, is that the menus for each program share a bar at the top of the screen, rather than in the top of each program's windows. Depending on how you've got windows set up, it means some extra travel time for mouse movements.

What I Don't Need to Know

Some of my specialized Windows knowledge isn't needed in OS X. For instance, I know how to edit the Registry in Windows. That's something I won't need to know on the Mac, for there isn't a Registry. Since it seems that mostly bad things happen in the Registry, which seems to double in size every couple of months on my Windows machines, I won't miss it. Ways to maneuver out of DLL Hell aren't needed either, for it appears that most applications keep their files to themselves, instead of planting components all over the place. Want to get rid of an application? Instead of going to the Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs, and selecting it off the list, you just need to find the file and drag it to the Trash. (I've read that in some situations you'll need to go back and delete other files, too.)

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Stuff I don't Know Yet

Every Windows computer I've owned started out as a fast machine (for its time) especially at start-up. As time went on, however, the machine got slower and slower as it picked up all kinds of start-up programs, Systray applications, and the already-mentioned Registry bloat. I refer to this as barnacles, sort of like how a ship gets slowed down because of all the barnacles and seaweed that clings to the hull.

This doesn't seem to have happened yet with the Mac, but then again I haven't had it that long. Looking at the Activity Monitor, which is the OS X equivalent of the Task List, I see a number of things running in the background. Some I recognize, including the various widgets I have set to appear. There are a couple of things familiar from Windows, such as the iTunes Helper. And there's quite a few processes (or maybe I should call them daemons) running, too. It's not quite evident what they do, but a quick Google search tells me that mdimport has something to do with the Spotlight Search utility, and distnoted is the distributed notification server. One nice thing is that, although there are a number of processes running, they aren't all named svchost.

One hint I've been looking for, and can't seem to find, is how to arrange files and folders in the Finder windows, and in applications such as Dreamweaver. What I'd like is to have the display cluster all the subfloders at the top of the list, and then the files below it. The only real reason for that is that's the way I'm used to it -- especially when working with a couple of large websites I manage. If there's a way of doing it, I haven't managed to find it yet.

What I Like

Many of the built-in features of OS X are really good. I've come up with a useful set of widgets, such as the calculator, dictionary, weather report and calendar, at the press of the F12 key. Spotlight seems to do searches a lot faster than the Windows XP search function, although to be fair I probably only have less than 25 percent of the files here on the Macbook to search. And the Exposé keys make it easy to sort out the various windows that may be open on your screen.

The thing I like the most is the stability. The Macbook has only crashed twice on me. Once was when I had Windows XP running on Parallels, and I was trying to work with a large database in Microsoft Access. The crash happened in Windows, but it took OS X with it; however, I think we can chalk that one up to Microsoft. The second one seemed more random -- no MS stuff was running, but I had a number of other applications running, and about four browser tabs when OS X just crashed. And as mentioned in an earlier article, GarageBand refuses to run when I have my generic three-button USB mouse connected.

Not to say there's no bugs or problems; there was one major security update, fixing 25 different bugs, during my time in Mac Land; that update also had to be re-issued due to some problems with it. There was also a major bug fix for a zero-day QuickTime bug during this time frame. But that record looks pretty good next to Microsoft's zero-day misadventures during this same period.

What I Don't Like

Other than the position of the menus, my other dislikes are rather minor and probably are just things that I'm not used to yet. I should probably mention that I discarded Safari pretty early and stuck with Firefox.


Overall, the good for OS X outweighs the bad, and I have no regrets over making the switch. In about a year or so, when it's time to replace my desktop, I'll have to decide whether to make the whole switch.

(The next review will look at the iLife applications that come bundled with Mac OS X. )

Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5


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This review is also at Blogcritics