Mac vs PC

September 23, 2009
  • Technology

Mac: Pros and Cons

So, a few months ago, I got my first Mac. Well, thats not true. I had an Apple II gs many, many years ago, but that was a different lifetime. I mean to say, got my first Justin Long style Im a Mac Mac. Its a MacBook pro, to be specific. I still have my old Thinkpad that I used to run Vista (and Ubuntu until I recently killed Ubuntu. Note to self: if you ever want to kill Ubuntu again, be sure that you dont kill the GRUB loader after it already killed the Windows native loader, thus leaving you with no boot loader and therefore no way to launch an OS. That wasnt too smart...)

(My thanks to Kyle, my Thesis Advisor, for purchasing said Mac for me. Ill put it to good use, I promise...)

Anyway, there are many things that I like about my new Mac, and there are a few things that I dont like. And, since this is MY blog, you can bet youre going to hear about those things.

What I like:

-The Hardware. My Mac is pretty beefy. It has a 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB DDR3 RAM, about 350 Gigs of hard-drive space, and a nice NVIDIA graphics card.

-The look. My Mac is pretty. It feels very solid due to the uniframe design (or whatever Mac calls the fact that its made mostly of one solid piece of metal), and it looks quite sleek. After all, the look is why we pay all that money. We want to show off to other people in coffee shops that were hip and stylish and not a part of the evil corporation Microsoft (a corporation so evil that its founder Bill Gates donated nearly $100 Billion to the biggest charity of all time. I bet he hates the Beatles!)

-Snow Leopard. I just recently upgraded. Leopard was great, Snow Leopard is slightly but noticeably better. It starts us MUCH, MUCH, MUCH, MUCH faster than Vista did on my old machine (though, to be fair, Vista now starts up faster after I freed up a lot of hard drive memory by killing Ubuntu). Its nice that, now that its built in 16 bit, it can fully take advantage of my 4 Gigs of RAM. I think the biggest improvement is the advanced version of Expose.

-Expose. It was okay before, but now its a beast. With one click of the button, I can see every window that I have open (and now!) I can see all windows that are minimized into the dock. I can also click on any program in the dock and it will bring to front every instance of that program running. Makes life very easy.

-Mail, iCal. Nice programs, they work well, and are pretty, etc.

-iTunes. I dont know why people dont like iTunes. Okay, I think I do. I think a lot of the issues have to do with using different file types and iTunes not recognizing them. But it suits my purposes perfectly. I exclusively buy CDs in physical form and later rip them to my computer using iTunes, so all my albums are of the same file type and format. The Genius feature of iTunes is fantastic and is a great way to make a playlist on the fly.

-Terminal. The most important part of owning a Mac is that it is based on UNIX, meaning I can run my Mac via a BASH shell. This is necessary for anyone who does any sort of (real) computer programming (no, something visual doesnt count, and neither does Mathematica... sorry, Rob). And since a Particle Physicist is a computer programmer and statistician who can draw and interpret Feynman Diagrams, I do a lot of programming.

-Seamless integration of programs. This is one of the best features. I think its best summarized with an example. Imagine that Im reading a talk that Ive found on the internet. I open it up as a PDF using Preview. Theres an image that I really like and want to incorporate into a talk that Im writing. I open up Keynote. I grab the image that I like in Preview. My Mac copies that image as POSTSCRIPT (!!!), and I can then paste it into Keynote. Since its copied as postscript, and not as an image, I can resize the image without creating distortion or jagged lines if I make it too big. It creates the image on the fly because it has the PS code used to generate it. Pretty nice.

-Some nice 3rd party programs. Im not going to get into details, but these include Quicksilver, some nice LaTeX programs, and such that are pretty intelligent.

-Spaces. Mac learned from their Unix brethren and allows you to use several desktops at once, called spaces. Nice feature.

-The trackpad and hotkeys. They work well. I can shrink, enlarge, rotate, click, right click (yes, right click! Thank GOD I dont have to hold control. I would kill myself!!).

-The fact that I can simply close my screen and my Mac quickly goes to sleep, and then instantly awakens when I reopen my screen. I never have to shut it down or worry about loading times or anything like that. Really good feature for a laptop.

-No viruses. Oh, wait, I never had a virus on my Thinkpad because I made the slightest effort to not use it like an idiot. Even the simplest antivirus program, coupled with Microsofts defender or whatever its called now, does the trick pretty well.

What I dont like:

-Terminal. Okay, the terminal is great. What I dont like are several annoying issues that are related to using a Mac as a server and the fact that it doesnt have native X11 support. But these are technical details and arent that difficult to get around. They were just a bit of a pain at first. But it made the list anyway, so there.

-Numbers, Pages. Pretty horrible programs. I think Keynote is pretty slick. Pages is a bit annoying. Its just a word processor, but I think Word is better. Its probably because I grew up using Word. Maybe Pages isnt so bad, but why doesnt it have a grammar check? And why is it so difficult to format things? And why do Bullets and Numbering suck so much? And why isnt there a Copy and Paste Style feature? Again, maybe it isnt so bad.

But GOD DAMN, Numbers is one of the most obnoxious programs Ive ever tried to use. I think a group of people conspired to study me, to figure out how my brain works and how I use a computer. They came up with all my tendencies, my habits, and my instincts when it comes to computers. They then went and designed Numbers to work in the exact opposite way that my brain works. Its just so annoying, and so Mac like, that it forces you to think how it thinks, and not how one would normally think. Maybe I just dont get it. No, thats not true. I get it. I spent some time trying to get it. I understand different Tables and why a sheet can have several of them and what not. But the behavior is just so unpredictable. If in Table B I reference a cell C:3 in Table A and then sort Table A, the reference in table B will not point to cell C:3, it will point to the cell that USED to be where C:3 was. I can see circumstances where this would be the desired behavior, but my problem is, ITS SEEMINGLY IMPOSSIBLE to change this behavior. If I try to type it in by hand, it just becomes a cute Mac style blue bubble thingy because it knows what I want and wont let me change what it think it knows what I want. UGH! Also, its really impossible to make things look nice or to be formatted correctly. Just try putting nice borders around things in a non-trivial way. I dare you.

-Windows. I dont like that I cant resize windows from any part of the window. If I want to resize a window, I have to grab the bottom right corner, and ONLY the bottom right corner. If for some reason the bottom right corner is off the screen, I have to move the window so that the corner is on the screen, and then resize the window, and then move it back. The reasoning for this goes along the lines of, the window knows what size it SHOULD be better than you do. Youll notice a consistent theme in my complaints. Macs think they know what they should do and how they should do it better than you do, and therefore make it impossible to do thinks differently than they want. You, the user, just have to get used to things the way Mac uses use them. So, ironically, while the image of a Mac user is someone who doesnt conform to standards and is an individual, an actual Mac user has to conform Steve Jobs view of how computers work. Its frustrating for someone like me who is both a) good with computers and b) a bit anal about style and customization.

-Program Issues. Sometimes programs freeze up, and I have to force quit them. This isnt a big deal, but it goes against the idea that Macs just work. They dont. Parts of them can brake. I guess the difference is that its rare that the entire OS dies and you have to restart. But Ive never really had to do that with Vista either. Thats sort of a Windows circa the year 2000 issue.

-Dashboard. Okay, this isnt a negative. But it is a bit worthless. Meh.

-Delete. My Mac keyboard has no delete key. Okay, it has a delete key, but it isnt a delete key, its a backspace key. It deletes to the left, not to the right. This is annoying in programming when I often like to delete to the right. Small issue, but seemingly silly.

So, it would see that, aside from a few annoying features, the positives outweigh the negatives. And, after a bit of getting used to, but not as much as I would have though, I have concluded that I like my Mac and OSX, for the most part.

I still content that most operating systems are pretty much the same, aside from different bells and whistles, or styles. All OSs are converging, and in 10 years, I think there will be nearly no difference between Windows, OSX, Ubuntu, or what have you. Theyll all be fast, stable, and the only differences will be in a few particulars.

And one final word. Can we all collectively stop using the term PC to refer to a machine that is running windows. Just because, on Macs, the OS and the machine itself are intrinsically coupled doesnt mean that a Thinkpad is synonymous with Windows. Its annoying when Mac commercials compare themselves to PCs. There are no PCs. There are HPs, Thinkpads, Gateways, Dells, etc. Theyre not all the same. Heck, you can just build your own from parts and put whatever OS you would like on it. And now Windows does it in their commercials too. Its a PC. No, its an HP that has Windows 7. I can put windows on a Mac too. Heck, I could sneak into Brookhaven National Labs and load Windows on their BlueGene Supercomputer, with thousands of cores.

Maybe Ill do that. Itll make for some interesting Mac vs PC comparisons. Its a PC! Its also a multi-million dollar supercomputer.