This is, quite possibly, one of the most difficult articles to write; for starters, it's not a review of hardware, and it's not actually a review of anything concrete - it is a review of an experience. We all go about using our computers knowing that if we don't like something about them, if they are too slow or too unreliable or don't do something we need them to do, then we can upgrade them, or we can swap out the faulty part and put in a new one. Now, it costs us money (sometimes lots of it), but it is possible. But much like the U.S. election system, although there may be the illusion of multiple options for your OS, in reality, there is really only one. If you want any sort of software compatibility, driver support and don't want to be made fun of, Windows is the way to go. There have been righteous attempts by smaller OSes to gain traction, and some of them have (e.g. Linux), but for the most part, we're dealing with a one-party OS system. Now that's not necessarily a bad thing; quite contrary, in fact. I believe that Windows XP is the best thing to ever come out of Redmond and I have very few issues with the OS. I actually liked the XP theme when it first came out and I've been happier with Windows XP than any previous Microsoft OS (except maybe the good ol' DOS days). When installed on the right hardware with the right drivers (and with an eye to be wary of poorly written apps), I found that Windows XP was just as stable as any other OS that I'd ever encountered. My personal machine would go months between reboots without a single problem. It's not that there is anything wrong with Windows; it's that if you want the option, if there's any particular thing that you don't like about the way Windows works, you're straight out of luck.

I think that a bit of me was feeling, after being a strictly Windows user ever since version 2.0 (with the requisite mix of DOS back then), that there were a couple of things that had started to annoy me about Windows, which I would rather do without.

For starters, heavy multi-tasking management under Windows had caused me a lot of grief. Maybe it's just because of the nature of my work, but I tend to have a lot of windows open at any given time. I like quick access to the information that I need when I'm working and much like a messy desk, there is a method to my window-madness that only I know. When writing an article (especially big NDA launches), I'd have around 20 IE windows open, Outlook with another 5 - 15 emails, Power Point with NDA presentations, Word with my article, maybe Dreamweaver if I was starting to put it into HTML, not to mention Acrobat, some sort of MP3 player, Trillian and a bunch of explorer windows as well. After a certain point, the cramped taskbar became difficult to use as a locator tool, and while I could ALT+TAB forever, I just felt like I was idle for too long. I knew what it was that I needed to get to, and I knew I had it open, but the process of getting to it was a pain.

The other issue was with the way Windows handled having so many windows opened; after a certain number of windows were opened, stability and performance both went down the drain. Sometimes applications could no longer spawn additional windows or dialog boxes, requiring me to close a handful before I could continue doing anything, and other times, applications would simply crash.

It's not that I was dissatisfied with Windows and the PC experience in general, but I thought it might be time for something new - to see what else was out there.

I've always been a fan of trying alternate Oses - I was even an OS/2 user (both 2.0 and Warp) for a little while in my early years. So, a while back, I conjured up this idea to try using a Mac for a month. At first, it started as just a personal experiment, but it later developed into the foundation for the article that you're reading now. After doing the necessary research to make sure that I could actually get work done on a Mac, I whipped out the trusty credit card and decided to give the experiment a try.

What you are about to read are my impressions, as a devout PC user, of the Apple way of life.

The Basics
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  • vroem - Friday, October 8, 2004 - link

    "Well, to install an application, you simply drag the application's installer to any folder on your hard drive and it's "installed". Doing so actually triggers a number of files to be copied to various places on your drive, but the fact that you are separated from that process, it really made me feel like I wasn't in control of my system."

    You are thinking to much!
    The thing you copy to your disk is the application not an 'installer'. Nothing happens in the background.

    For the windows users: in OS X an application is a "package". For the user it's a file, for the system it's a directory that contains everything to run like dylibs (mac-dlls).

    The application package is not supposed to change. Settings are ONLY created in the right folder in 'Library' in the users home folder. Deleting the relevant settings file resets the program's settings to the defaults.
    Reply
  • Kishkumen - Friday, October 8, 2004 - link

    #34 - The phrase of the day is "price to performance" ratio. In fact #35 has some good information on the performance part of the equation. www.newegg.com has some good information for the price part of the equation. Look into it. A single Pentium 4 or Athlon 64 seems to perform quite well compared to dual 2.5 PPCs, but you're right, it's not about MHz. Perhaps I should say that Apple uses dual PPCs out of necessity due to IBM's inability to scale performance sufficientely per single PPC chip. In other words, if that's not clear enough, dual Xeon and Opterons are unnecessary for your typical x86 based workstation. Thus, better "price to performance" ratio. Now if you start beating us over the head again with this or that benchmark that the PPC "wins", again, don't forget the price part.

    Now, we have been going back and forth with the CPUs of the different platforms. We haven't even discussed video cards, hard drive performance/cost, cost of proprietary cables, etc. Say it again with me now, just so you don't forget what the argument is about..."price to performance".
    Reply
  • cosmotic - Friday, October 8, 2004 - link

    37: Moving windows on a Mac is much faster than windows since its all in the GPU. Did you mean resizing?

    38: I all those third party themes (and defualt windows theme) look like crap. They are all afterthoughts. And sorry I cant spell. And as for my feelings, using a G4 400 makes me feel better than using an athlonxp 2500+...

    If your looking for a responsive UI, get BeOS. If your looking for smooth pretty UI, try MacOSX's tripple buffered glory.
    Reply
  • Boonesmi - Friday, October 8, 2004 - link

    ive used a couple g5's in the last several months. i wasnt disapointed with them at all. but if i had $3000 to waste on a new toy, no way would it be a new g5.

    my main rig is a dual opteron (less then half the cost of a new G5 to put it together) and when switching back and forth between the systems its clear to me that the dual opteron is superior (and not by a small margin)

    granted the apps i run and the work i do arent the same as everyone else... im sure there are situations where a G5 would be better
    Reply
  • darthlupin - Friday, October 8, 2004 - link

    The one thing that has been missing from the article, and mostly glossed over in the comments is how Mac OS X is really a *nix with a great front end. If you install the "Developer Tools" (which comes with OS X on a separate CD and can also be downloaded), you then have access to GNU tools such as make and gcc, and Perl(though that may be native,) as well as XCode which has plenty of advanced features. That means that you now have access to almost every open source project out there. I guess Anand isn't into that kind of stuff, but any Linux user should appreciate it immediately.

    Once you really get to know it, and I don't mean getting to know Finder / Aqua, but the whole package, OS X really makes Windows look like a toy. (Without meaning any offence to the diehard Windows fans.) Talking about keyboard shortcuts on Mac OS X for 17 pages, (though I do appreciate them highly,) is like talking about the automatic coffe cup holder and reclining leather seats on your Abrams tank. I.e. that's not to say that they don't deserve mention, just that they don't scratch the surface of what you can do with it.

    If you're a Linux person, it's a very short hop to switch to OS X, (a fully functioning X11 can be installed separately,) and the laptops aren't nearly as expensive, (though still much more expensive than the equivalent Dell.)
    Reply
  • Micah - Friday, October 8, 2004 - link

    I have found that upgrading and maintaining my girlfriend's Mac and getting things (especially hardware) working requires spending 1 of 2 things:

    1) Lots of $$! If you want a part, then Apple surely makes it. It will definitely look cool and work perfectly, but it will also cost 2-4x as much as the equivalent x86 part. Just look at Airport & Airport Extreme base-stations versus a Netgear or Linksys 802.11 wireless router.

    2) Lots of time! In this way, the Mac seems to me a lot like Linux. I think a lot of 3rd party hardware out there works with Mac. Their towers come with PCI slots, for example. However, you still have to find the correct drivers or determine if the drivers are already built-in.

    Just recently we went wireless in our apartment. I had to find a wireless PCI card based on a specific chipset for her Mac. Just like most Anandtech readers, I'm used to calling places and asking them to read product serial numbers to me to make sure that I get just the right model/revision/color/batch/stepping/whatever. However, that's usually a case of performance perfectionism. With the Mac, it was a case of getting the right chipset/revision/firmware or it just doesn't work, period. The only other time I've had to worry about that was with Linux.

    So, I guess that my experiences with upgrading and maintaining the Mac have really soured me on it. Moreover, it has soured my girlfriend on them. She is really tired of having to do lots of research in order to find a non-Apple (read: affordable) piece of hardware that works with her Mac. She wants to be able to pick a box off the shelf at Best Buy and just be ready to go.

    Mac promises ease-of-use, and it truly delivers...if you're willing to pay the big bucks.
    Reply
  • offtangent - Friday, October 8, 2004 - link

    Flamers ... bear in mind that he did buy this machine, so I dont see why he cant complain about it, if he chooses to.

    As for the barefeats article, demonstrating how the latest 2.5GHz dual-G5s beat the Opterons & Xeons that were released last year is hardly any feat!
    Reply
  • L1FE - Friday, October 8, 2004 - link

    For bob's sake people, it's not a benchmarking comparison but an editorial on his experience with the OS. And #33 how about you benchmark your "FEAL"ings on Mac since you obviously cared about that from your original complaint. And then you go on to say that it looks better than on a Windows machine when there are so many mods (win blinds) that look just as polished OSX. If I had an unlimited amount of cash, I'd buy a MAC. Until then I'll stick with my cheap PC and upgrade according to my needs. Nice editorial btw.

    P.S. It's FEEL. If you're going to emphasize it, at least spell it correctly.
    Reply
  • CindyRodriguez - Friday, October 8, 2004 - link

    as for sluggish interfaces and choppy windows resizes... my Athlon 3000+ OC'ed with a Radeon 9800Pro isn't smooth as silk when resizing windows. I think overall, the interface of Windows IS more responsive than OS X but I think boasting that windows takes a half or quarter second less to do something is worth squat at the end of the day.
    Now Fedora Core 2.. on my Athlon, that's how I want OS X to respond.. but i prefer microkernels over monolithic kernels from an architectural standpoint.. and X is dog slow for stuff like moveing windows.

    Also, as for OS X's sluggishness, remember that it's a display PDF interface. You can print ANYTHING out to PDF. You get real alpha channels. You get WYSIWYG output on postscript printers. it may not be as snappy as other OSes but there is a lot of value that replaces those fractions of a second.

    My one big (major) complaint about the Finder is that it is WAY too slow when you are browsing remote AFP directories (or other network volumes, but AFP stands out).. especially over slow links. I'd like to see the Finder recognize slow links and simply list the files/dirs.. and then maybe download custom icons in the background.
    Reply
  • CU - Friday, October 8, 2004 - link

    OS 9 did not support preemptive mult threading. I think that is what caused multi-tasking to be so slow on OS9. I have used OS9 and it is not something I won't to repeat. I use OSX at work and while it is way better than OX9, I still like XP better. The dock is nothing special. Win98 maybe even 95 I cannot remeber has the quick launch bar that can be put on every side of the screen. You can even have more than one. It will also auto hide. The dock did not impress me but it is so needed for OSX since it lacks any other way to get to application easily. Using Expose to get to your HD and then clicking through folders to get to the application you want to run is so Windows 3.1. The start menu in windows seems to be the best solution so far if you use lots of application. I have also noticed the scrolling issue in Safari that he mentioned. It is very bad on my Powerbook 1.25ghz 1gig of ram. I don't understand how you can have problems having lots of windows open in XP and not OSX. XP can group all like windows together in the taskbar and you can increase the size of the taskbar to have the screen if needed (not very usefull though). It also puts arrows on the side of it so you can view more windows that are open. In OSX the dock just starts getting way to small since that is where your App shortcuts are at also. The dock is already not large enough to hold all the shortcuts I need. Command-H doesn't always help because that hides the app and not just the current window. My Powerbook also crashes more than my PC at home but not by much. But I overclock everything in my PC and run games on it. Anyway it was good read. Reply

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