This post is part of my “I’m Not a Mac” series, chronicling my controversial migration away from Apple after 15 years as a Mac user. Find other entries in the “I’m Not a Mac” series archive.
And so the deed is done. Since the middle of March, I have been a PC. Contrary to the popular myth among Macheads that turning to the alleged “dark side” of the computing world would mean time and space as I know them would come to a sorry end, honestly, I couldn’t be happier. After 15 years as a confirmed Mac user, that happiness is the biggest surprise of all.
When last I left off in this series, I had decided to put my desire to migrate away from Mac OS on hold. I still resented the way Apple seems to try and lock users permanently in to Mac-centric software solutions (iTunes, iPhoto, iAdinfinitum), promulgates a myth of reliability, and refuses to even acknowledge Linux–all the while marketing its overly expensive machines as the best solutions in the computing marketplace.
I wanted to give both Windows 7 and my preferred Linux flavor (Linux Mint) an equal chance at becoming my next operating system. Being (for better or worse) a recent CLEAR Wimax convert, though, my new OS would need to let me use my USB Wimax modem–and as of last writing, there just weren’t any native Linux drivers for Wimax modems available. So I sat and waited.
While I was waiting, I continued to migrate my desktop life into the Google cloud, including contacts, calendars, and photos (via Picasa), so I’d eventually be ready to make the leap to a new OS. I also switched from Firefox to Google Chrome as my browser of choice, due to the availability of Chrome extensions to provide me with convenient Gmail, Google Voice, and Google Calendar alerts directly from my browser bar.
Then last month, the economy forced my hand. Needing to further right-size my life to deal with the vagaries of an uneven consulting income, I decided to make the leap once and for all and sell my unibody Macbook. This, the same Macbook I bought 13 months earlier for $1,350 after my previous Macbook died in the middle of a business meeting. (See: myth of reliability.) Having bills to pay and being less than in love with Mac OS anyway, I felt it was the right time.
Linux Wimax drivers still not being available, that meant my only option was going to be a Windows laptop. And after 15 years of listening to Apple fans talk about how much better the Mac OS is, even after all my research into Windows 7, I was leery of becoming a PC for the first time since Windows 3.1…although every time I used Windows 7, I actually kind of liked it. A lot.
What’s more, I realized I didn’t need all the bells and whistles of my Macbook–like a 13″ screen, an optical drive I rarely ever used, or a level of computing horsepower that mostly sat around filing its nails while I confined my use of the machine to email, blogging, and web surfing.
After a week of researching PC laptops, though, it wasn’t just the lightheadedness of learning how many hundreds of dollars cheaper Windows laptops were versus Mac laptops with similar specs that got to me. I was also amazed to see how commonplace technology long desired on the Mac side of things was in the PC world. HDMI ports? Screaming fast, multi-core processors? Built-in Wimax? (Admittedly a new trend.) Really?
Yes really. Who knew? Certainly not a long-term, knee-jerk Mac user like me. I eventually settled on a Toshiba satellite subnotebook (a T115-1100), smaller and lighter than my metal-brick of a Macbook, with a modest processor, an HDMI port for streaming Netflix onto my HDTV, and an absent optical drive that I wouldn’t miss one bit. I bought it for less than $400, including shipping. If the laptop hadn’t been a factory refurb (the likes of which I’ve bought a few times in the past on the Mac side with no problem), it would have cost me $50 more. Oh the horror!
In fact, except for a slower processor, the specs on the amazingly affordable laptop match or surpass what I had on my Macbook, including the same amount of RAM, a multi-touch trackpad, and a much larger hard drive. And although macheads love to suggest otherwise, transferring over my files was as simple as dragging my Documents, Music, Photos, and Movies folders onto a Windows-formatted (FAT32-only, migrating Mac users) USB hard drive, and then dragging their contents into the folders of the same name on my new PC.
I was worried iTunes and my iPhone wouldn’t work without some fiddling after my migration. As it turned out, all the fiddling I needed to do was to download and launch the PC version of iTunes, which instantly found my old iTunes folder in its new PC home, including all my music, playlists, and iPhone apps, with no problem at all.
For fullest disclosure, I did some advance planning to make my migration go as smoothly as it did. I made a list of all the software I’d need to find PC versions of or replacements for, then downloaded them in advance on my Mac and transferred them over to my PC along with my media files so they’d be ready to install when I needed them.
I also made a list of all the Chrome extensions I’d need to reinstall, and synced my bookmarks with Xmarks so that I could sync them back into Chrome after making the switch to my new PC laptop. (Using Xmarks also enabled me to sync my bookmarks with Internet Explorer, giving iTunes a path to sync my bookmarks onto my iPhone.) Overall, it wasn’t an enormous amount of prep work and it was pretty easy to do.
And with that, two weeks ago, I sold my Macbook on Craigslist, making me an almost complete PC, except for my iPhone. (I became a complete PC a week later when I replaced my AT&T iPhone with a Verizon Droid Eris–click through for my long-promised, I-kid-you-not, hammer-iPhone death match video.)
So here’s how I feel about my migration from Mac to PC two weeks after the fact…
Happy. Because after two weeks of using Windows 7, I have the uncanny feeling that this is the operating system Mac OS X could have been all along, if only Cupertino weren’t so dead set on locking users in and shutting all other current technologies out. Windows 7′s glassy, translucent Aero interface is far more elegant than Mac OS X’s interface, which has looked more or less the same for almost 10 years. And I find the Windows 7 taskbar more useful and far more customizable than Mac OS X’s oddly placed, ridiculously shaped Dock, offering all the functionality of not just the Dock but of Mac OS X’s ill-defined menubar notification area and Apple menu, as well.
Windows 7 also offers more numerous and helpful tips, advice, and suggestions throughout the OS, both in on-screen descriptions and pop-up text boxes. It feels like a breath of fresh air compared to Apple’s overly zealous parsimony of on-screen assistance. (After all, you’re just supposed to be able as if by magic to intuitively use a Mac, since they’re supposed to “just work” out of the box, right? So why bother with richly worded, on-screen assistance? Would that be why Apple devotes an entire section of its website to teaching Windows switchers how to use Mac OS?)
In fact overall, by switching from Mac to PC after 15 long years as a Machead, I have the uncanny feeling that my day-to-day computing experience using Windows 7 is actually more Mac-like than when I was still using my Macbook. Maybe I’m just feeling the difference between using an operating system seemingly designed according to the whims of a single user (Steve Jobs) versus an OS specifically re-designed in response to input from an entire installed user base unhappy with the previous version (Vista).
Either way, that after a decade and a half as a Mac user my day-to-day computing life feels more Mac-like on a Windows 7 PC is a pretty damning outcome for Apple, which has officially lost me as a member of their “locked in” user base. But, you won’t read many similar stories of Mac-back-to-PC switchers no matter how hard you Google for them. (Trust me, I’ve tried.) After so many years of corporate indoctrination, it just never occurs to Mac users to consider what life might be like using a Windows machine.
Let me assure other Mac users considering making a similar back-migration, this new PC is having the time of his life right now. After 15 years as a Mac user, now that’s really thinking different.