Friday, November 2, 2007

My plan to ditch Windows

Alright, let's be honest, in the past, an Apple computer never gave you quite the same performance/price point that the x86 computers had. However, that seems to have changed dramatically in recent years. Although Apple still suffers somewhat from not having a budget line (mac mini not withstanding), price-for-price, the mobile offerings are very competitive for their prices, especially when features are factored in. (such as hard drive size, bluetooth, integrated webcam, and overall physical size) Coupled with an ability to both boot Windows or run it virtualized, it seems silly to spend more than $800 on a Windows laptop, when you could pick up a Macbook for slightly more. Not only do you get a stylish computer, but you get a wider choice of operating systems. Even the Windows diehard can be satisfied, being able to boot directly into Windows, throwing out that Mac OS X cd and never looking back.

Sometime back, I told some of my friends that I didn't envision continuing on with Windows after XP. This was probably shortly after the freely available Vista RC1 crashed my computer hard, felt slow and bloated, and for what? a visual experience that felt like a cheezy overdone OS X? Now that Vista has been out for a while, and I've seen all the performance problems with it, I am all the more sure that my next desktop will be an Apple computer (having decided that Apple laptops were better ever since the debut of the TiBook). Obviously for computer gaming, it might still be necessary to boot to Windows, but there no longer seems to be a compelling reason to run Windows for random work or internet browsing-related computer use. To that end, however, it is necessary to find suitable replacements for all the software I use on Windows.

Matlab now fully supports Intel macs. So does Psychtoolbox. I can't say that I'm too familiar with XCode, but it seems more friendly to use than VisualStudio. Also, let's not forget all the very good free text editors that support code formatting and OS X's built in programming support with the developer tools installs. Cygwin seems like a joke by comparison.

Office Suite:
Keynote has been my presentation software of choice ever since I couldn't get movies to embed properly in powerpoint. Word is nice, but office 2007 has changed the location of too many things for me to feel used to it. At that point, I might as well use one of those nice text editors mentioned above, Pages, or textedit. Plus, with my newfound LaTeX skills, dealing with Word's horrible formatting issues is a thing of the past. As far as numerical computations, it looks like Numbers can suffice for the simpler things, while I can rely on Matlab for more extensive crunching and producing consistent-quality graphs. And there's always grapher.

Internet Tools:
It appears that with Leopard, terminal is now chock full of great modern features. Terminal's native interface also makes it superior to puTTY as a telnet/SSH tool. As far as fugu/Transmit/YummyFTP/WinSCP, it's more or less a wash. I don't expect much from an ftp tool, and both the Mac and Windows variants work fine for my taste. Browser-wise, Safari is still not as widely supported as firefox or IE. Luckily firefox on OS X works excellently, as well as the more native-looking Camino. Still, Safari has a certain amount of integration that just works more nicely in OS X for me than any other browser. I had always had problems with Mail, but with my recent transition to Gmail, I expect most of those problems to go away. Now, I should be able to grab all my mail from a single Gmail IMAP account. Much much nicer than trying to manage smtp permissions. Finally, as far as instant messaging is concerned, all hail Adium!

Operating System:
Spotlight seems to be vastly improved in OS X as far as speed is concerned. This makes quicksilver less important. However, nothing similar is available on Windows. Google Desktop probably comes the closest, but it does not have the extensive access to metadata that is supported by the OS that is available in OS X. A lot of user interface items are just better done in OS X (esp. Leopard) than in Windows. Even with issues with the new dock and semi-translucent menu bar, launching applications is still much better in OS X than trying to use the quick launch bar, desktop icons, or start menu in windows. Finally, it appears as though Time Machine provides a painless, easy-to-use back-up system to all users. It is literally as plugging in a second hard drive, clicking a dialog, and it's all set up. Moreover, the implementation is clever indeed, allowing power-users access to backup files directly through a directory structure. While both Leopard and Vista failed to deliver on promises of a new filesystem, they do seem to be in the works. As it stands, however, Leopard's fs has the more modern features and uses them to great advantage. Moreover, it's highly likely that Apple users will be able to switch to zfs (or whatever Apple plans to use) in the near future (10.6?), much sooner than whatever lurks after Vista. I am highly doubtful that Microsoft will roll in a filesystem switch with sp1 or sp2 for Vista...

Other areas where Apple is just better:
  • device integration (e.g. syncing phones)
  • system-wide spelling (and in Leopard, grammar also!) check
  • foreign language support and fast-switching
  • not taking forever to renew ip addresses through dhcp (supposedly Leopard has also fixed a number of networking hangups that have persisted for a while)

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