Learning OS X Lion: A dreadful experience for a PC user, but is it worth it?

Summary:I want to like my MacBook Air. I really, really do. But OS X is making the transition from Windows extremely tough. Read all about my experiences thus far.

After spending a little over a week and a half with my shiny, new MacBook Air running OS X Lion, as a Windows user, I must admit... I almost can't take it anymore. Learning OS X is driving me absolutely batty, but not because I think the OS is incapable or anything of that nature. In reality, I had no idea what I was in for and how I would have to learn even the most basic-of-basic functions of the OS. To be clear, my experience and opinion thus far has absolutely nothing to do with "PC vs. Mac" prattle or me being intentionally provocative; I'm just having difficulty finding the patience to continue dedicating to a $1750 beauty that currently serves for little more than Internet browsing at the moment. And even that has been a pain.

But despite my woes thus far, I am determined to realize the full potential of the Mac way of doing things. I know too many Mac users who I respect and whose opinions I value to just walk away from the OS now, so onward I carry. For anyone thinking of trying OS X after spending most of your years on Windows, prepare to have to deal with some combination of the following frustrations; however, it just might end up being worth it, though the jury's still out on that one for me.

Which freakin' key is it!?

The keyboard. It haunts my dreams. Moving from a PC keyboard to a Mac keyboard has had me pulling what little hair I have left out of my head. Do I press "fn," "control," "option," or "command" before 'c' or 'v' to copy and paste? And where's the delete key? I see one key called "delete," but it's the same as "backspace." Okay, so then, how do I get delete functionality? I guess I have to press a key along with "delete" to achieve that functionality. Hmm, so do I press "fn," "control," "option," or "command" before pressing "delete?" As a writer, both the backspace and delete keys on PC have become a critical staple to my productivity. Only within the past couple of days have I stopped hitting where the "del" key *would* be on a PC, only to find that, on the MacBook Air, I've hit the power button since it's located where the delete key on my PC is.

I swear, I've probably seen the "Are you sure you want to shut down your computer?" dialogue box more than those of you who have used OS X your entire life. Long story short, there's just no way you can simply jump in and start being Mr. Productivity Writer Guy or Girl with OS X if you've been on Windows your entire life. Likewise, the day will come soon when I put Windows on the Air. I dread the thought of trying to figure out how the keyboard is going to work in thatscenario...

From power user to complete newbie

Talk about a shot to the ego, good luck replicating your power user ways from Windows with OS X -- in the early stages of learning OS X, at least. This is one I'm still stuck on. What the heck do you do when you try to empty your trash, but a dmg file won't delete because it's supposedly in use? In my case, it was the Adobe flash updater dmg. I made sure everything I had open was closed, but still no dice. What I wanted to do was open a task manager or something of some sort so I could see all running processes and close out anything I felt might be a contributing culprit, but I had absolutely no idea how to go about something like that. Is there even a task manager or anything like that in OS X?

So, I went to restart the machine. And when I did, guess what happened? Everything froze except for my ability to move the pointer around, which was a colorful little spinning circle. I let this go for about 15 minutes before I just did a hard shutdown. Once I rebooted, I could delete the file and all was good. But having no idea of what caused that and no knowledge of if/where there are any system logs to reference is frustrating. Speaking of that, I now come to the point where I say you have to look up E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G! Google this, Google that, and walk away feeling like a moron for no good reason.

I'm finding it's difficult to find the answers to certain problems, because they're either such simple "issues" that only a complete newbie would have, or you have to wade through pages-upon-pages of people bickering about "this isn't Windows, you dummy. Everything just works, so it was either something stupid you did or you're a liar." I've even gone to the extent of purchasing one of those expensive "Mac OS X for Beginners" magazine-books, but even it's limited to what it can answer for me at the moment. Here again, it was shortsighted of me to think I could just pick up OS X and immediately use it in the manner I use Windows.

Antiquated-feeling OS

Perhaps it's just me, but the OS looks extremely antiquated to me in a number of ways. The bar at the top (sorry, I don't know what it's called yet without Googling it -- taskbar, topbar, whatever) just looks drab. It's plenty functional, but having to see it and use it for every single program is something I'm going to have to get used to. It's really an eyesore for me at the moment. Not to mention EVERYTHING being shades of gray. It's like only having Windows classic, but worse. I miss Aero Glass something fierce.

Likewise, what's up with the file dialogue windows when you want to save a file and navigate for a place to save? The best way for me to put this in terms that Windows users will understand is to compare this scenario to Microsoft keeping certain elements from Windows 3.1 in their latest version of Windows. Yes, I'm saying that I think OS X needs a significant overhaul of epic proportions in certain ways, but that's just being hypercritical. I'm sure I'll quickly get used to the environment such that I stop nitpicking it to death. At any rate, the combination of those few things alone has me feeling at times like I'm back in my school library's "Mac lab" in the 7th grade.

Needless to say, I'm a bit underwhelmed and confused by all the people who say OS X is "just SO much more beautiful than Windows!" Simplistic, perhaps. But THATmuch more beautiful? Meh. I really fail to see what all the fuss is about with OS X's looks out-of-the-box -- especially compared to Windows 7.

A really, really expensive venture

Let's face it: when you pay for an Apple product, you're paying astronomically more than you should be for what you're getting under the hood. If the shoe were on the other foot, I could buy an equally-powerful laptop with Windows 7 on it for a quarter of the price I paid for the MacBook Air. So with that said, is the look of this device, its form factor, and its OS really worth THAT much more? If I weren't in a position to safely afford this thing, I'd say absolutely not. Now, I've seen many justifications for why they cost so much, but I've yet to read a truly compelling reason. Owning this device is kind of like owning an Aston Martin with the guts of the same year's Honda Civic: you'll look good getting to where you're going, but that's about all you've got going for you.

Things I like

So far, the things I like the most are the form factor of the device (it's really, really awesome and has you forgetting all about the astronomical price tag when it's in-hand) and the gestures. I mean, the simplistic, clean look of this device really makes me quite literally smile. Which is dumb, I think, but there's no other way to say it. It's great this device gets that kind of response out of me. And as for the gestures -- I'll just sit there sometimes and run through all the gestures just to watch the animations and transitions. They look very slick and very fluid. Unfortunately, those things are about it so far in terms of things I really like. Oh, no, wait... I almost forgot, it also looks good sitting on my bed with the silver-themed items I have in my room, as seen below:

Now, everything I've said up to this point is not to say that I won't be enjoying this experience far more once I wrangle the basics of this OS, but I feel SEVERELY restricted when working in OS X since I know I'm just one thought or action away from having to look up yet another thingin Google and wade through all the "you're a moron" comments. I'm a productivity nut and learning OS X is slowing me down DRASTICALLY, but I'm going full-immersion here.

And I do realize now just how different these two approaches to computing are. As such, I think it's important that I distinguish my experiences here from the perception that I'm just bashing OS X. I honestly do hope that I one day write a post where I admit the journey was an arduous one, but that I have a complete understanding at that point of the sheer benefits of OS X. I just don't see what those benefits are at this particular junction, though.

Conclusion

The marketing of switching just sounds so lovely and quaint, but the reality is a far cry from the idea -- or, at least, far from instant. So, one might ask why the heck I'm keeping this thing if I like very little of it so far, and to answer, I'd like to say that this piece originally started off with the following title: "After my first week with OS X, I'm selling my MacBook Air". Yes, I was going to ditch the thing. But as I mentioned in the opening of this article, it's the prospect of nailing down the Mac way of things and seeing the unity between the keyboard and the OS for myself that has me continuing down this path.

Plus, as I also noted, I know too many Mac users who were once die-hard Windows users that switched completely. I absolutely cannot fathom that based on my experiences so far, so based on that intrigue alone, I remain steadfast. Interestingly, this has made me go back to look at Windows/PC and try to see it from a newbie's perspective -- specifically, a newbie coming from OS X. I can't help but feel as though they may feel exactly the same way I do. I mean, if going to OS X is THIS frustrating, then I can envision a similar type of ordeal going to Windows. And if someone felt the way about Windows that I feel after trying OS X, I'd totally understand. Sure, I might be disappointed that they had such a rough go at it, but it's different strokes for different folks.

To close, I have an analogy that I feel best articulates my view of my MacBook Air right now (from a guy's perspective), and that is that it's a bit like dating a high maintenance, drop-dead gorgeous woman: she's thin, attractive, and you love being seen with her, but she drains your wallet from the get-go and all you do is fight and argue with her about small, petty things. But my, oh, my, does she look good and how determined you are to see the good in her, even though things are looking pretty bleak.

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Topics: Apple, Hardware, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

About

Stephen is a freelance writer and blogger based in Charlotte, NC. His contributions to ZDNet cover topics related to security, gaming, Microsoft, Apple, and other topics of interest with a tech/SMB skew.

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