Windows to Mac transition – Not for me

Not too long ago I made the plunge and bought a MacBook Pro, the first Mac I have ever owned. I did so for two reasons. First and foremost, I am starting to develop applications for the iPhone and iPad (two devices I can’t live without), and developing on a Mac is the only choice thanks to the closed platform and development tools approach of Apple. Secondly, I thought it would be interesting to see what computer life is like on the other side of the fence. I’ve heard so many stories of how great the Mac is, I thought I would try to experience it first hand.

So for the last month I have tried using my MacBook Pro as my primary machine – not booting to Windows, but running Mac OS X and using Parallels to get to the Windows apps I can’t live without.

After a month, I’m switching back to my Dell Latitude E6500 as my primary machine and my MacBook Pro will just be used for reason #1 – developing for iPhone/iPad.

When I tweeted (@briannoyes) that I was switching back, I got a lot of “why??” questions, so I thought I would share my experience for others who are pondering a similar change.

Some important caveats up front:

  • I am first and foremost a Windows developer and software architect. That is my profession and my passion and what I have been focusing on for almost two decades.
  • I have dozens of Windows applications that I used at least once a month and at least 20 or so that I use every week. While I realize there are many equivalent Mac programs for many of those, I don’t want to have to buy all of those, and for many there is not (i.e. Windows development tools).
  • I don’t just work on one machine and have no intention of switching all of my computing to Apple. While I love my iPad and iPhone, I have a Windows 7 desktop machine in my home office that I use when not traveling, and when traveling (75%+ of my time) I often carry a second laptop for various reasons and that one would certainly be a Windows machine.
  • From a performance perspective, my point of comparison and what I have switched back to is a 6 month old Dell Latitude E6500 that is maxed out. My MacBook Pro has slightly better hardware specs (i7 processor), but same 256 GB SSD drive and 8 GB memory.
  • I was afraid of using Boot Camp to boot to Windows directly because of witnessing and hearing about numerous projection issues when running Windows through Boot Camp on Mac Books. A significant majority of my professional work involves projecting (teaching, consulting, presenting at conferences and user groups). I can’t travel with a machine I can’t trust will project anywhere through any projector with no issues.
  • I’ve been using Office 2010 for a while, so that is my standard of comparison for routine business tasks (email, writing, presentations, spreadsheets).

So what did I like:

  • General user experience is very nice at the OS level.
  • iTunes runs much smoother on the Mac than on Windows
  • Parallels integration with the Mac OS is very smooth and seamless
  • Er… ummm… OK, nothing else jumping out that I found superior to anything I do on Windows 7.

What I did not like:

  • Built in apps (email, calendar, etc.) had no where near the functionality or user experience of Office 2010. Office 2008 for Mac is not as good either, and I still have to co-exist with several Windows PCs. Worrying about file conversions and potential data loss is just not worth it.
  • A lot of my Windows apps could not run from the shared Mac OS folders, so had to move things onto the virtual C: drive a lot to get things to run, aggrevating file synchronization issues and leading to duplicate files and drive usage.
  • Keyboard lacks many common keys that PC keyboards have (Del, Home, End, PgUp, PgDn, etc). You have to use the Fn key to get other keys to do those things, and you have to use the Fn key to get the function keys to act as function keys instead of volume, etc shortcut keys. These keys are all way too important to me as a coder to have to use the extra key to get to them, especially since I also work a lot on PCs and have to switch my brain back and forth. Likewise the differences of what the Control, Alt/option, and Command keys do in Mac vs Windows (in parallels) drive me bonkers trying to keep straight. Many a wasted minute thinking I copied things to the clipboard and I didn’t or getting things to select correctly.
  • Perf: even though the Mac had a better processor and equal memory / disk, everything felt a lot more sluggish on it, and I’m not just talking about the Windows apps running in Parallels. Copying files to external USB drives (which I had to do a lot for syncing files between machines) was significantly slower than on PC.
  • File synchronization: I use Dropbox to sync files between my machines, but the difference in file systems led to some oddities that that were annoying at best and could lead to data loss if not closely managed. Syncing with external drives also took closer attention than I wanted to give it. I don’t want to have to think at all about moving files around, and from PC to PC I don’t.

So bottom line, I decided I can’t live on a Mac as my primary machine for the reasons outlined above. I am convinced that if you only have to use one machine and are willing to invest in getting all the apps you need as Mac apps, and can live 80% or more of your computer life using Mac apps, then it is a nice platform. That is just not me, so I am happily back in my comfort zone on all Windows 7 machines + a MacBook Pro as an iPad/iPhone development box.