If I go Mac, will I ever go back?

Can a PC user find happiness (and productivity) in the arms of Macintosh? Who knows. But it may be time to give the Mac another chance.

COMMENTARY--Can a Windows-dependent technology columnist live happily as a Mac user? That's the question I am about to spend a month of my life trying to answer.

In theory, a Windows user ought to be able to get along quite well with a Mac. But will it prove true in real life? And how much will I have to give up or find workarounds for because Mac doesn't go there?

It's been half a decade since I used a Mac as my primary, day-in/day-out computer. I left Mac because I found it hard to organize my conferences using a mostly Mac solution. Today, FileMaker--the ease-of-use winner among databases for both Windows and Mac--has grown up enough that it wouldn't be a problem. (Of course, I am no longer organizing conferences, so that problem solved itself anyway.)

SO BEGINNING NEXT MONDAY, subject to a couple of technical qualifiers I'll outline in a minute, I am going to go all Mac for a month. At the end of the process I'll write a detailed report, and between now and then I'll write an occasional log of my experiences.

Some things I know already. For example, Microsoft Office is available in a very nice version for Mac OS X. But it is also very different from the Office XP I have become used to. Many XP features don't exist in the Mac version, but the Mac suite has a few tricks of its own I'll check out.

During the workday, I pretty much live in three instant-messaging programs--Microsoft Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger. I need all three and, fortunately, they're available for Mac. On the other hand, PalTalk, a conferencing program I also use at least semi-regularly, isn't available in a Mac version, so I could end up losing some friends over this.

OR, MORE LIKELY, I'll add a Windows emulator to the Mac. In some ways that's signaling defeat, and I will try to stay away from that option as much as I can. But if I have to work on my personal Web site, which is built with Microsoft FrontPage (and uses the FrontPage server extensions), and FrontPage won't run on the emulator, I have a problem. I'd pretty much rather die than build all the buttons and links that FrontPage does for me.

Networking won't be an issue, however, because the desktop Mac has an AirPort 802.11b card installed, and I know it works. The LCD panel display is also gorgeous, and I know the machine works with my digital cameras. Actually, using a Mac is probably a good thing for my growing interest in digital photography. But what about a nice audio-editing program to use for the AnchorDesk radio show?

I need to return my iBook to Apple (both my Macs are loaners) and get it replaced, as I have broken the power connector at the machine end. I am hoping to get one of the new iBooks with the 14-inch screen, introduced last week, but lost in the glare cast by the new iBooks with the Luxo-lamp screen attachment. If, however, I don't get a replacement, my portable--I am sitting in a comfortable chair writing this on a laptop using a wireless network connection--will remain a Windows machine.

WHY AM I DOING THIS? First, to see if I can really take my own medicine. I've been saying that many more people should have Macs than actually do--while accepting the inevitability that comes with living in a Windows world--so now I am going to walk that walk for a while.

Yesterday, I was also trying to do a comparative review of the media features included with Windows XP versus the equivalent Mac software. After a few hours of mucking around with the different programs on the Mac, I noticed something: What I was looking at, more than anything, was the philosophical differences between the operating systems rather than actual differences in the feature sets. I kept expecting Mac apps to behave like Windows apps, and they didn't. But they were consistent in what they did do and how they performed.

The other reason I am doing this--and watch out, desktop Linux might be next--is to get my Mac skills closer to what they used to be. Why do I want to do this? Because future Microsoft operating systems and PC hardware are much more likely to borrow from the Mac than vice versa.

Like everything in the world today, this project comes with some fine print attached, and here's mine:

  • I am replacing my Windows desktop with a Mac; specifically a G3 Mac loaded with the most current versions of OS X and OS 9 (for compatibility). To avoid temptation, I will actually move the PC off my desk, but I will need to do something about using it as a file server for the Mac, since lots of important documents will still reside there.

  • I will run OS X whenever possible, but won't hesitate to use applications only available in OS 9.x.

  • While I won't do my writing, e-mail, browsing, listening, or photography in anything but Mac OS, I will go back to the Windows machine for a couple of projects I am working on that are specifically Win XP-related. Also, if it turns out that an application I just can't live without won't run on the Windows emulation software, then I may go back to XP for that app only, but will note it in the log for this project.

  • If I were more dependent on my PDA, the biggest issue might be the lack of Mac support for Pocket PC (thanks, Microsoft!), so I need to round up some cables and get everything running on a Palm device of some sort. Of course, I will try Pocket PC with the emulator, but that would really be almost cheating. So I will give preference to solutions that don't require a copy of Windows running atop Mac OS, as that seems to miss the point of the whole exercise.

  • FusionOne never seems to have gotten its Mac act together--Macs are not a high priority for start-ups these days--so synchronization of e-mail, calendars, and such could be a problem. Or maybe not. It's something I'll deal with when it comes up.

  • And, of course, if I find myself needing to review software or do something else that's required to write my daily column or do my radio show that can only be done on a PC, then I will. But I will also note it in the log.

So there you have it--my plan to find out how using today's Mac stacks up to using Windows. I have some ideas about what I will learn, but I also know I'm in for some surprises, some frustrations, and perhaps some changes in attitude. We'll see.

How do you think I'll feel about Mac and Windows after my challenge? TalkBack to me below.


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