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

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.


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

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

    If you don't like your Mac computer I'd be happy to get a free gift :] . I'm the opposite - Windows drives me crazy and on Mac I feel like home.
    • RE: Learning OS X Lion: A dreadful experience for a PC user, but is it worth it?

      @jrusinek lol @ free gift. I totally understand your opposite perspective. I can see how going from one to the other is likely to drive one mad. I've vowed to become a power user of OS X though, so hopefully, I'll find myself feeling a bit more comfy within it here soon enough. We'll see!
      • RE: Learning OS X Lion: A dreadful experience for a PC user, but is it worth it?

        @StephenChapman You do have options. You can start with the Apple Website (http://www.apple.com/support/switch101/). If you now someone that has a Mac you can also ask them. Mac users are generally a friendly bunch.
      • RE: Learning OS X Lion: A dreadful experience for a PC user, but is it worth it?

        @Rick_Kl I'll look at that site once I wake up (about to head to sleep shortly). As for Mac users, the people I know who are dedicated users are certainly a friendly and intelligent lot. But I don't feel quite right about having to bug them about things I consider to be petty. There is so much I'm having to learn -- so many things I simply take for granted with Windows -- that I'm really just having to have a go at it on my own for the most part. But I'm okay with that! There's nothing quite like full-on immersion to get you acclimated to something. :)

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

        @StephenChapman If you go to system preferences and select keyboard and mouse you will see a list of all shortcuts...
        There is a help menu in the...menu bar...the thing at the top...some of it is local, some connected to Apple...
        If you still have problems with that, I think you might be better off with Windows...
      • RE: Learning OS X Lion: A dreadful experience for a PC user, but is it worth it?

        @StephenChapman I myself have been using Windows for the last 25 years and got pretty frustrated with it those past three years. I switched to Linux UNBUNTU and learned it parallel to windows and liked what I saw. Last year, I decided to give Mac a try and bought myself a MAC BOOK PRO. At first, I was geting angry not knowing how to do certain things. I did however bought a ONE ON ONE membership and for two weeks I was @ the MAC store asking all kind of questions. It did help and I was very happy I did. Now, a year later, I'm a VERY HAPPY Mac user and asking myself why did I wait so long for the switch. My Widows Laptop is now a paper weight.<br><br>I Would strongly recommend that you purchased the one year ONE ON ONE membership and bit them to death with questions until you become that PRO of your Mac Book Air. I'm sure you'll be pleased and satisfied.<br><br>Since then, I have changed all my PCs from my business. I now have two iMacs 27" with all the bells and whistles, two MAC Book Pro 15" & one 13". I'm about to get more for my business. I'm not saying "ADIOS" to windows, but MAC is the way to go.
      • RE: Learning OS X Lion: A dreadful experience for a PC user, but is it worth it?

        @StephenChapman If nothing else, you will have expanded your knowledge beyond just Windows. Knowledge is a precious thing, and the pursuit of knowledge should always be the goal of any IT worker.
      • RE: Learning OS X Lion: A dreadful experience for a PC user, but is it worth it?

        @StephenChapman if you want to feel more comfortable ... look again at your picture of the Mac sitting on your bed.. then start hearing Issac Hayes (or Chef as I pretty much always think of him now) and his voice is your Mac ... "Come'on Stephen ... get over here with me ... mmmmmm that's right stevie, make sweet love to me ... stoke my del key ... you know you love that key...."

        And then the next time you sit down to use your Mac ... you'll feel less awkward than at the moment you realized many people DO have that kind of fanaticism with their apple torture devices..

        I won't lie ... apple makes a strong case for itself, the supposed "ease" at which you can plug *apple* things together and be "creative" .... but at the heart of hearts ... you know that getting to learn some things all over again is a pain in the ascii and that sometimes change for change sake is wrong. Your frustration with doing simple things is duly noted ... the problem is that you didn't start with a mac, so your base of learning is going to face that uphill climb all the time.

        That frustration is the same I have for Microsoft's redesign of its office products with the new "ribbon" interface ... something I could do with out, and even worse is microsofts 10+ years with key combo's that are no longer the same under new office 2007/2010, and its because of that, I have dedicated more time to working with Open Office (and Libre Office) to break my dependence on Microsoft's flagship (good going microsoft changed enough to make me leave you).

        And you can't just say using Ubuntu or any linux variant and X session manager on the pc is comparable or a stepping stone for Mac because its only in the terminal that they are similar ... the GUI is just as alien from X to Gnome to OSX/Lion/Mac as it is from Windows PC to Lion Mac.

        Oh and by the way, small nit-pick .... the word is "overhaul" (page 1 as presented here on zdnet, 2nd paragraph, 2nd sentence: "Yes, I?m saying that I think OS X needs a significant overall of epic proportions in certain ways, but that?s just being hypercritical.")
      • RE: Learning OS X Lion: A dreadful experience for a PC user, but is it worth it?

        @TG2 LOL! Oh boy... I can't believe "overall" has been there for this long since I posted the article. Sheesh. Thanks for pointing it out; I've now replaced it with the correct word. I hate doing that.

        Your first paragraph had me rollin' over here, by the way. Nicely done. :)

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

        I went through the same thing about 2 years ago. It took a month before I stopped wanting to go back to windows, after 3 months going back was unthinkable. Everything just works!
      • RE: Learning OS X Lion: A dreadful experience for a PC user, but is it worth it?

        @StephenChapman Hi Stephen, FN + Delete is the equivalent of the delete key. That is the biggest complaint from heavy writers coming from windows. Also, most apps on the mac are delivered as a dmg image file (like .iso). You have to eject the mounted file before you can delete it. Change your Finder preferences to show every item on your desktop(no longer default with Lion). If you don't like the command key you can map control to do the same that way it's like Windows.

        Hope that helps!
      • RE: Learning OS X Lion: A dreadful experience for a PC user, but is it worth it?

        I think it would be best for him to start with the site first. My experience is with the Mac users I've asked for help from are usually arrogant and ego driven by Apple products only, but then again I live in Cupertino :)

        Also a lot of the Mac users here in Cupertino are creeps but I know for a fact that does not apply to all and probably a lot better experience outside of Cupertino.
      • RE: Learning OS X Lion: A dreadful experience for a PC user, but is it worth it?

        @StephenChapman I hope you are keeping notes. If you keep good enough notes, then you will be 2/3 of the way to having a book written. Jump over to Gnome 3 once Mac is understood and you have a valuable item on your hands.
      • RE: Learning OS X Lion: A dreadful experience for a PC user, but is it worth it?

        @StephenChapman This is why long-time Linux users like myself hate being forced to use Windows without workspaces and other nice touches. I also suspect that Mac users feels that way about working on Windows.

        It's also one of the big reasons why pre-installed Linux netbooks and the like see returns -- people don't like to relearn things they think they already know.

        Any new OS is equally simple (or complicated ...) for the beginning user: it's the power users that refuse to throw away years of knowledge just to start as a beginner again.
      • Objective User Experience


        Stephen as someone that came from Windows to Mac about four years ago, when Leopard came out and Mac switched to Intel; I can sympathize with your woes. Try uninstalling a program on a Mac, good luck (I will not go into the details of how to do it or the programs you can BUY to do it here). Of on Lion, try changing your desktop picture for every desktop, good luck with that. After getting accustomed to both OSs, I think I can truthfully say that they both have their strengths and their weaknesses. Over all I think they are about equal. As far as the blandness of OSX, I could not agree more. There are some programs that are available to help with that. CandyBar will let you change your icons and dock (you can download docks at Leopard Docks or other sites), and Crystal Black will will change the UI colors and enable aero on OSX. Do not download the full Crystal Clear, it is not Lion compatible. You will find more freeware for the Mac, but you will also find a lot of programs that you like will not run on Mac. You will find maintenance to be much easier and the periods of maintenance to be less. Onyx is a great free utility for maintenance cleaning on a Mac. I would install an antivirus just to have one; I do not run one in real time and only scan maybe a few times a year. The only things I have found so far are Windows viruses, which are harmless and probably picked up through a friends emails; but delete these because they can be passed on to Windows users. Windows is more customizable, has a better looking UI and with the release of Windows 7 is more intuitive and easier to use than any OS I have used. Of course with Windows you have to have security software, as I am sure you well know. On my Windows desktops at work, all I use are Microsoft Security Essentials, Malwarebytes, and Iobit Security; all of which are free. As you also know you need to do maintenance and security scans more often than on OSX. Of course Mac is much more secure due to it's relatively small market share; but that will change if they ever become a real competitor to Windows, and then it will be interesting to see how not only Apple deals with it but also the hordes of Mac users who have an unfounded belief that OSX is inherently more secure and refuse to believe otherwise despite evidence to the contrary. The bottom line for me is that both OSs are about equal, I use Mac only at home because I enjoy the vastly superior build quality of their notebooks. If I was to buy an AIO or dekstop for home, it would be a Windows 7 and I would save a ton of money. Apple markets Mac as a luxury brand of computer, and that is what it is; so if someone does not want to pay the premium for better build quality and higher specs on the their low end computers, then Mac is for you. If you want more choice in brands, build specs, models, styles and sizes; than Windows is for you. Of course some PC vendors are really coming out with some outstanding designs that are well built and run great at half the price of Mac. See the new HP Envy 14 with it's all metal casing, and also the first laptop to offer serious hybrid drive technology without the price of a full SSD. Also all of the Sony VAIOs are great, well built machines as well. Just my two cents, I hope it helps you.
      • RE: Learning OS X Lion: A dreadful experience for a PC user, but is it worth it?


        But in a sense you are right. MacOS is really antiquated. It has a few nice features, but it looks and feels old and some of the technology is really dated. When Windows 8 arrives Mac users are going to be in the dark ages comparatively speaking.

        But Mac Hardware is really, really good. It's almost good enough to overcome the OS.
      • RE: Learning OS X Lion: A dreadful experience for a PC user, but is it worth it?

        @StephenChapman Great article and spot-on. My last Mac was a Mac Plus, or maybe it was the 512KE. I owned both, but so long ago, I don't remember in which order. Then I moved to BSD Unix and thence to Windows. It's ironic that my Mac experience made me valuable to the first ISPs in my area, which lead to my becoming a Windows user. <br><br>Now -- nearly 20 years later -- I'm again a business owner (of my own law office). Last year's purchase of an iPad resulted in my buying the MacBook Air in this latest "refresh." I thought, "what I really need is an iPad, with its 'instant on/off' capability, but with a keyboard, word-processing, and a file system." The MacBook Air seemed to be that device. <br><br>I had some idea of switching my entire office over to Macs again, but I'm experiencing the same thing you wrote about. So far, I can't even figure out the simple stuff. The issue has been complicated by trying to adapt to Microsoft Office 2011 for the Mac. Plus, I had to leave behind some other good applications which don't seem to exist in the Mac world. <br><br>Like you, though, I'm trying to push through. Your closing paragraph about the high-maintenance girlfriend pretty much sums up the experience so far. <br><br>Thanks for an entertaining article that actually reassured me: at least I know I'm not in this alone.
      • re: &quot;..delete keys on PC have become a critical staple to my productivity.&quot;

        @StephenChapman - CTRL/Alt/Delete to kill a stuck task, or simply kill a stuck machine is a thing of the past. ;) You'll poop yourself over your productivity one you get the hang of it. Trust me, I migrated from being a 22 year PC user to doing 95% of my work on a Mac. It took me less than two weeks to learn the basics and less than six months to master how and what makes the OS tick.
    • RE: Learning OS X Lion: A dreadful experience for a PC user, but is it worth it?

      The hardest thing to do when transitioning to Mac OS X from Windows, is to "unlearn" some things you learned in Windows.<br><br>There are actually very logical reasons for why things work in a certain way in Mac OS X as opposed to in Windows. Many Mac users who are accustomed to both operating systems, look at Windows and wonder why Microsoft did such a poor job of copying Apple. Perhaps the differences they made in Windows were to avoid being sued by Apple (but they did anyway ;-)).<br><br>For anyone moving from Windows to Mac, your best bet is to find a friend or acquaintance who is a Mac user, to go over the Mac way with you in a private session. Being shown things is much easier than trying to figure out a new operating system on your own (and getting frustrated, as you have been).
      Harvey Lubin
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