Can a Windows geek learn to love Snow Leopard?

Can a Windows geek learn to love Snow Leopard?

Summary: In the interests of science, I've been dividing my time lately between a Mac running Snow Leopard and a PC running Windows 7. My goal is to gain hands-on experience with Apple's hardware and software to go with the years of experience I already have with Windows. My first challenge: assembling a suite of Mac software to replace my familiar Windows tools. With one exception, I was able to find everything I needed. Here's what I chose, and why.


In the interests of science, I’ve been dividing my time lately between a Mac running Snow Leopard and a PC running Windows 7. My goal is to gain hands-on experience with Apple’s hardware and software to go with the years of experience I already have with Windows. With a deeper understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of both platforms, I can respond rationally when OS-related food fights break out in the Talkback section below. (If you’ve spent any time in the Talkbacks, you know it doesn’t take much to set off either side. And yes, I have a Linux box here, too, but this month I’m all about the Mac. Thanks for understanding.)

Just getting set up so I can do my daily work on an alien platform has been an interesting challenge. I do my job at a desk, not in a coffee shop or on the road, so I prefer a desktop PC with as much screen real estate as possible. To that end, I’ve connected the Mac to a 24-inch display running at a resolution of 1920 x 1200. I’d prefer dual monitors, but the Intel GMA950 graphics on the Mac Mini aren’t up to the challenge.

The Snow Leopard upgrade was uneventful; it took about an hour, and nothing appeared to break. After it finished, I used Boot Camp to partition the system drive and install Windows 7 Home Premium so I can compare common tasks on Windows 7 and Snow Leopard using absolutely identical hardware. (For the record, both systems perform very well—no complaints.)

And now the fun part: assembling a suite of software to help me handle daily work. With one exception, I was able to find everything I needed. Here’s the list, broken down by category.

Default web browser

I tried Safari 4.0 and absolutely hated it. It's painfully slow, and the deal-breaker for me was its far-from-perfect integration with LastPass. Firefox 3.5 is much faster, familiar, and works with the same set of extensions I use on the PC. An easy choice.

News reader

My favorite on Windows is FeedDemon. Fortunately, it has a superb counterpart on the Mac in NetNewsWire. Both use Google Reader as their back end for syncing, so I can mark a post read in one place and have the changes synced to the other. Serendipitously, NewsGator released major updates to both programs today. Excellent!

Business productivity

I have a copy of Office 2008 for Mac, Home and Student Edition. It has the programs I need (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Entourage), but the license (PDF) specifically prohibits "use in any commercial, non-profit or revenue-generating business activities." I have no ethical qualms using this edition for short-term evaluation purposes but will need to replace it with a copy of Office 2008 for Mac Business Edition eventually. That will cost about $200.

Blog post editor

Oh dear, this one is going to be troublesome. Microsoft's Windows Live Writer is so good that not much can compete with it on any platform, especially at the price (free). I'm using 30-day trial versions of two Mac alternatives, MarsEdit and Blogo, which cost $30 and $25 respectively, and can't say I'm bowled over with either one. Any other suggestions?


All of my e-mail, contacts, and appointments are managed via Microsoft Exchange using a hosted account at; I've been a Mailstreet client for several years now and am generally happy. When I heard that Snow Leopard offered built-in support for Exchange, I thought, "Great!" Sadly, the support extends only to servers running Exchange 2007 with the latest service pack. My account is on a server that's still running Exchange 2003, so Apple's mail client isn't an option. (Neither is IMAP, which brings its own hassles.) I could move my hosted account to another server running the more recent Exchange version, but it would cost more and be a significant hassle, so for the time being I'm using Entourage, which is included with Office for the Mac. Oddly, the specs for Home and Student edition say it lacks Exchange support, but I had no trouble hooking up to my mailbox. It's a serviceable replacement for Outlook, and I’m hoping to adjust to the alternate interface sooner rather than later.

Twitter client

As an Adobe AIR app, TweetDeck works identically on PC and Mac, making it an easy choice. Oddly, my TweetDeck account doesn't seem to be syncing columns across platforms, nor did it pick up several preferences.

Music and media

OS X includes iTunes 9. That's fine for playing MP3s and AAC-formatted files, which together represent about half my media collection. Unfortunately, iTunes on the Mac absolutely refuses to do anything with tracks ripped in WMA format, which constitute the other half of my collection (many of them in WMA Lossless format). Converting all those tracks to alternate formats would take several days and isn't an option, so for now I'm using VLC. It's a perfectly adequate bare-bones playback program but a terrible library manager. Unfortunately, several hours of searching haven’t turned up anything better. Songbird is a well-meaning mess that barfs up error messages when it tries to play a WMA track. Amarok is unsupported and officially listed as "unstable." Flip4Mac adds WMA support to the QuickTime Player but does nothing to make library management easy. So I’m still looking.

Remote access

This is an interesting category. I'm spoiled by the superb Remote Desktop feature in Windows, which offers excellent performance across the board. When I use the Remote Desktop client to connect to another Windows machine over my network, the experience is the same as if I were sitting in front of it. There's an open-source Remote Desktop client for OS X called CORD, which does a good job of connecting to my Windows machines. But I haven't found any acceptable way to make a remote connection in the opposite direction. The only option I've found to connect remotely to this Mac is with VNC. That's fine in a pinch but is painful for more than a few minutes' work.

Photos and videoI don’t especially like iPhoto, but it gets the job done. On the other hand, iMovie is excellent and sets a very high bar for the new Windows Movie Maker.


And that’s the list. Anyone else gone through the same exercise? What software choices did you make?

Oh, and fittingly, I wrote half this post on the Mac and finished it on Windows.

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

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • No

    While I can't comment on Snow Leopard
    specifically (Apple is sending me another copy
    since the first copy never arrived), I did try
    Leopard for a while and since Snow Leopard
    offers absolutely no new features, my
    experience with Leopard won't be too dissimilar
    to any experience I may have with Snow Leopard.

    My biggest complaints against OS X is its
    [b]horrible[/b] font rendering. Everything
    looks [b]so[/b] blurry as to be nearly
    unreadable on the relatively low 1280*800
    resolution of my MBP. Yes, yes, I know, it is
    "more accurate" if I were to print it but I'm
    not printing it, I'm reading it on a low
    resolution LCD screen and Windows does a
    [b]far[/b] better job in this area.

    My second biggest complaint is the window
    management which is simply not up to the very
    low bar set by Windows. The fact that I can
    only resize windows from the lower right hand
    corner is [b]laughable[/b] in 2009. Windows 7
    set the bar even higher and Apple might as well
    give up, they'll never catch up here.

    Other than that, there isn't anything wrong
    with OS X. It was fast, though no faster than
    Windows 7. It has nice eye candy, though no
    nicer than Windows 7. It has good peripheral
    support. Oops, no, it doesn't. It has no
    support for my Samsung ML-2251 printer. Windows
    7? No problem!

    The truth is that all OSs have their little
    issues. The more I used OS X, the more I
    started asking myself: what am I getting for
    these little issues? Fewer BSODs? Hmm, haven't
    had those in years. Less malware? I don't get
    hit with malware in Windows. Faster? No it
    isn't. Easier? No it isn't.

    There is nothing seriously wrong with OS X but
    there isn't anything seriously right with it
    either. Certainly not anything that makes me
    want to give up the excellent Windows
    experiences I've had for many, many years now.
    • Although I don't agree with...

      ...the Window re-sizing because it's not really an issue, nor do I agree with the fonts because they're perfectly legible I do agree that my Mac running OS X Leopard doesn't do anything any better than my desktop running Vista. That coupled with the limited software catalogue (there are OS X versions available for most things but with a few exceptions they're generally not as good or as familiar) means that it'll be the Macbook that gets my copy of W7 when it arrives, not the Vista box.
      Sleeper Service
      • Exactly.

        [i]... I do agree that my Mac running OS X Leopard doesn't do anything any better than my desktop running Vista.[/i]

        This has been my experience. Windows, OS X, and Linux are all great operating systems. I can't say one is any more or less better than the other. And, assuming the hardware and software you want or need is available, it comes down to preferences and price.
        • an unusually calm response

          I applaud your calm response and when I'm calm, I can see the benefit
          of using both OS'. My preference is OS X. I've used PC's for 27 years
          and spent unspeakable number of hours administering those systems.
          The accumulated frustration led to a level of hostility toward MS that
          some people might have toward Bin Laden. It simply cannot be
          overcome. When I switched to mostly using OS X a couple of years
          ago, I got an already polished and very capable OS. I've spent very
          little time (so far) on administration. No weekends spent fixing
          corruptions. I feel like after a particularly long and ugly winter the
          skies are clear and it's pleasantly warm.

          I can simply use the tool I purchased to do what I got the tool for and
          not battle the tool itself.

          • Ah!

            These first four comments were like enemies
            walking hand in hand through a zen garden
            discussing the advantages of each others battle
            tactics and agreeing they were both pretty good.

            So beautiful I shed a tear... no joke.
          • Everyone's got a story

            As to why they are on the platform they are.

            I grew up in tandem with the PC revolution, my first memory of a computer was an Apple II and I became very fascinated with computers even then. Then I got to see the early Macs and it was something crazy compared to the Apple II.

            However, the first computer of my own was a PC, and despite the troubles with Windows 3.1 and Windows 9x, it ran what I needed.

            Then there was Windows XP, and on my desktop it was troublesome (pre service pack 2) So I got a Mac for my laptop, around the same time, SP2 had come out for my living room PC and I had installed it. My experiences with a Mac were awful, once again, it wasn't compatible with all that I needed, so I had to still tie up the living room pc at certain points, even though I had my own computer, it Kernal Paniced about as often as my XP SP1 had BSODed, and I had to learn OS X on top of it, including features and settings in very odd places, so much for 'it just works'.

            So when I contrasted that with XP SP2 and seeing I realized I should have hung on to the PC platform, my Mac was no better than SP1 and significantly worse than SP2 in terms of stability, and for this mediorcre experience I had sacrificed compatability and familiarity.

            Almost a year later my Mac died in its sleep (went into hibernation and never came out) it went peacefully, attempts were made at recessitation to no avail. Whether this was an indication that my earlier problems were hardware related, I don't know, the Kernal Panics had no useful information (unlike STOP errors) and either way, since the hardware is also Apple (infact they are primarily a hardware business) its still a failure of their platform.

            After being mad for a bit, I realized I had been liberated, I now had a good reason for forsake my investment in my Apple experiment and go back to the PC, I haven't looked back since.

            I will say though, I love my Ipod.
          • Honestly. I don't get it. Honestly. Really. I really seriously mean it.

            What is all this "stuff" about "spent unspeakable number of hours administering those systems"?

            I really don't get it. Really. I have never had a moments problem with Windows that was more trouble then trying to cope with doing what I love to do on a computer with an OSX operating system or a Linux system. OSX and Linux are not able to run the programs I want to run, so even if Windows crashed and BLEW OUT 4 times a year it wouldn't matter a bit compared to the impossibility of using overpriced OSX or under priced but over geeked Linux, neither of which properly run the programs I need and want to use.

            Its end of discussion. Its time to put the argument right where it belongs and stop all the nonsense and lies that one side or th other feels it needs to spread to make headway in the marketplace.
        • I can pretty much agree.

          They all can let you get your work done with one problem or another. What I'd hope though is the fact that a free OS being on par with the other two would spur them to advance faster and give them consumer real benefits.
        • Is it April the 1st? Ye calm, Ed learning beyond what MS tell him?

          Wow! Mind you, I'm not entirely convinced that the
          mention of a Linux box isn't a precursor for a
          "Bott says" assault on Linux when he finds that,
          suddenly after years of having his head in the
          Microsoft sand finds it takes more than two
          seconds to adapt to "under the hood" geekness, but
          I'll hold judgement for now.
          • But...

            Linux appears to be the salvation, except it cant even play game, its to much to ask of the general public until it can. I know of what I speak; trust me.

            There is not one single solitary thing about Windows that is so bad its worth recommending dropping it, aside from the fact it cost money and Linux doesn't.

            The day that Linux convinces all software and hardware producers to produce Linux versions of the software or drivers that every person wants is the day Linux has A CHANCE.

          Tired of the screaming. Tired of the lies. Tired of the zealots who put every last ounce of their self esteem into their choice of operating system.

          Windows has flaws; it's been around for years and everyone knows it has flaws. But it does marvelous and beautiful things that OSX and Linux do not. On the other hand, its sometimes the case that the unique and wonderful things Windows can do are of no value to particular users and OSX or Linux are far more intriguing and useful operating systems because of what they can do that Windows cannot, or at least does poorly.

          Its time to drop the lies, the thousands of virus lies and similar nonsense. I often wonder if there are a group of non Windows users who have been brainwashed, and actually believe that most Windows OS's actually do have thousands of viruses, and similar nonsense. FYI; IT DOESN'T. END OF STORY.

          Each OS has it benefits and drawbacks, and only idiots claim that any OS is the over all best, and ignores its shortcomings. No OS is over all best if it doesn't meet your needs. Cut and dried, its loses and is useless.
      • I wonder how NonZealot's Windows 7 Launch party went...

        ...because for someone who hates Mac OS X so much, he spends so
        much of his life telling us about it.

        I personally think that he secretly has a crush on Mac OS X, but doesn't
        want Steve Jobs to know.

        Now, back to the original story: It WILL only be a matter of time before
        you don't use the Windows partition, except when you have to help a
        non-tech friend through a problem they have, and you can no longer
        remember the screens.
        • Nooo...

          ... you're not a Mac fanboy whatsoever. :p

          Try not to wear your bias on your cuff like that,
          it's REALLY unattractive.
    • Font and resizing.

      Yes, Mac OS X renders the fonts differently; it uses something called
      "anti-alias" which you are obviously not used to?Microsoft's Windows
      XP lacked the graphical complexity like Quartz that could've supported
      the technology. Vista, the new graphics engine, can now do anti-
      aliasing, but most people still disable it out of habit. (And Microsoft
      was already 6 years late in delivering anti-aliasing to basic font
      rasterization...) All the people who took the time to accustom to the
      anti-alias would have trouble, or at least discomfort, in reading
      aliased [i.e. "jagged"] fonts. For example in the following image, the
      anti-aliased fonts seem a lot more natural to the human eye than that
      of the aliased one.

      As for the Windows resizing, this is only your opinion, and this is, in
      GUI terms, a disaster?first, this wastes precious screen estate (A few
      pixels wide of clickable edge? Please.), second, this is typically not
      enforced in all applications. The Windows GUI has often been criticized
      for it's inconsistency; what you end up with is programmers writing
      their own version of a different GUI, which seriously depletes user
      experience... And quite a lot of the GUI is counter-intuitive?why
      would you go to the "Start" menu in order to shut down? List goes on.

      And yes. I've had times when I really hate Mac OS X; some programs,
      especially PPC ones, can really bog down; and other cross-platform
      applications like Firefox are not really optimized for OS X.

      @Original Story: For your lag on Safari, you can try disabling "Top
      Sites"... (Safari>Preferences>General>New Tab?choose "blank page")

      It made quite a difference on both my hackint0sh and macbook; you
      might want to try it.
      • Why make such easily countered statements?

        [i]Microsoft's Windows XP lacked the graphical
        complexity like Quartz that could've supported
        the technology. Vista, the new graphics engine,
        can now do anti-aliasing, but most people still
        disable it out of habit.[/i]

        XP supported ClearType so I don't know what you
        are talking about. And who disables ClearType
        in Vista "out of habit"? Considering it was off
        by default in XP, where did they learn the
        habit of "turning it off"? If you are going to
        FUD, you should at least learn the basic facts

        And in your linked to graphic, the ClearType
        rendering looks the best. The anti-aliasing
        ones looks terribly fuzzy. Look at the 'a' in
        'Sample'. It looks [b]terrible[/b]. Haven't
        seen a computer show me font rendering that
        looked like the unaliased one in many years.
        Thanks for proving my point.

        [i]The Windows GUI has often been criticized
        for it's inconsistency; what you end up with is
        programmers writing their own version of a
        different GUI[/i]

        How ironic then that the [b]biggest[/b]
        offender is Apple with iTunes!!

        [i]why would you go to the "Start" menu in
        order to shut down?[/i]

        This confuses you? Seriously? Is it any more
        intuitive to click on an apple in order to shut
        down? You people keep bringing this up but you
        don't realize it just opens you up to ridicule
        because you admit that simple things like this
        confuse you.

        You want to know something incredibly
        unintuitive in the Apple world? Why does my
        Delete key backspace and I need to do Fn-Delete
        to actually delete? Stupid, unintuitive Apple.
        • Hmmmm

          While XP does support ClearType, it had to be turned on manually. OS X and Vista support it automatically, no need to turn that functionality on.
          • And

            It seems he does not know how to adjust OSX font smoothing in system prefs, including turning it off for most commonly encountered font sizes.
          • Oh the delicious irony

            [i]including turning it off for most commonly
            encountered font sizes.[/i]

            How incredibly ironic that you suggest I turn
            [b]off[/b] anti-aliasing in OS X when the
            poster above chastised Vista users for turning
            off anti-aliasing "by habit"!!!

            Yes, I was aware you could adjust it but I've
            found that ClearType [b]always[/b] looks
            better. 95% of the world agrees with me. :)
          • 95% say youre clueless

            here we have somebody telling us that fonts are "horrible" rendered on mac OS. As a graphic artist, working with graphic artists, I dont know ANYBODY that prefer font rendering on Win. Graphic & font display has been so better on a mac though all the years, Win is not in the same league.
            I work day in day out in both platform, win XP and leopard, so I can not comment on win7 but XP is so bad that is not even funny, going back to macos is like entering modernity. First Windows is SLOW, painfully slow; and is not a matter of processor: my old G$ 450 mhz with around 600 mb of ram run circles around a 1.8 dual xeon with near 2 gb of ram. On that machine, just copying a simple object between Photoshop and Illustrator takes around 1 minute. Saving anything in Illustrator takes another minute, (saving the same file in mac os is almost instantaneous).
            ALso, but not less important, every mac program Knows the folder where to save, save a copy, import an image. In windows, every time I find myself brownsing through folders, with the consequent time loss (multiply by millions).

          • o_O

            I think you are the hyper sensitive type that the author referred to?