My first week with the Mac mini: First and lasting impressions from a Windows user gone awry

I've had my new Mac mini for exactly one week and it's been interesting. From frustration to happiness to buyer's remorse to searching for my Mac mojo groove, it's all here.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

It's been a full week of Apple for me and an interesting one at that here at the Hess house. My family feels my pain. My new Mac mini is cool but I've discovered a few quirks with it that make me want my Windows system back. In all, I've almost duplicated everything from my old Windows computer to my mini, so there are only a few gaps that remain. In the midst of school starting, my own productivity needs, my birthday, and my daughter's birthday, and forcing myself to use the Mac mini exclusively, it's been a trying week.

I've used Windows for a long time. A really long time. Before that, I used DOS. During one of my breakups with Windows, I used Red Hat Linux as my workstation. I've always come back to Windows because, and I know how crazy this sounds to some of you, everything I do is just so much easier on a Windows system. Yes, that's right. I said it. Things are just easier to do in Windows.

Maybe it's just what I'm used to and maybe it's the way I work but, for me, Windows is easier to use, to manipulate, to be productive on, and so on.

Even way back in 1990, when I had a friend try to help me write up some documentation and create some graphics using a Mac, it was such a pain to use. Everything is so opposite from my way of thinking.

For example, when I click the X on an application, I expect it to exit. I don't expect it to still be open but on the Mac, it's still open. That weird application bar thing at the top is application focused. In other words, if you have an application open, Chrome, for example and you're browsing around and accidentally click on the background, you're now in Finder and your Chrome application bar disappears until you click on Chrome again.

That drives me bonkers.

And Macs used to only open that bar when you launched a program. You would see the application bar up there but nothing on the desktop. You had to click File->New to start a new document in Word. Maddening, I tell you, absolutely maddening. Thank goodness, they've fixed that.

When I click the X to close a program in Windows, it closes. It exits. No more of that program in memory. When I click the X in Linux, the same wonderous thing happens—program death.

I think this is why so many Mac users keep a lot of programs open—either they don't know or they don't care to close them. A similar thing happens on the iPad and iPhone. My daughter never quits any apps, so she always has twenty or more "minimized" apps on her devices. 

That also drives me bonkers.

Of course, everyone in my family also makes fun of me because I want them to close the doors when entering or leaving the house. I must be the one that's wrong. I like to close doors and apps. Deal with it.

So far this week, I've installed the Chrome browser, Microsoft Office, Skype, Pinta, VirtualBox, WireTap Studio, Xcode, Seashore, Monosnap, Jing, Janetter, Image Tricks Lite, Dropbox, and Audacity to get myself back to familiar territory.

Pinta is very much like Paint.NET, which I used a lot to create and edit graphics. It has a few missing elements and quirks that I don't like, so I'm still searching for a good alternative for an image editor. 

Chrome works better on the Mac than it does in Windows. I've complained about that before.

Audacity, Dropbox, VirtualBox, Skype, and MS Office all work pretty much the same on both platforms. If you haven't noticed, I really like free applications. I don't have the money to spend on dozens of apps to put myself back into the high-end computing saddle. Either I have to get complimentary apps for review, use free ones, or do without. 

That's one Windows criticism that I never understood. It comes relatively complete. There aren't many things that you have to go out and buy for it. Plus, if you need something, you can get it for free. The Mac, on the other hand, comes with very little in the way of pre-installed apps. You get Safari, Time Machine, and a few other utilities but that's about it. At the price that Apple charges ($800), you'd think I'd get a free copy of PhotoShop Lite or some other "lite" versions of something with it but, no, it's pretty bare bones.

My wife asked me yesterday, if there are any "big differences" in the two systems. I hesitated before I answered, which, if you know anything about women, it's always bad to do that. I answered, "Not really". I was honest. I don't really see a significant difference in the Windows system and this one—except that some of the apps I had on Windows either aren't available on Mac or that I have to rebuy them for the Mac.

That's the part that's giving me "Buyer's Remorse".

If I'd bought a new Windows system, I could just reinstall everything to make my new system complete. With the Mac, I have to find "equivalent" apps. It doesn't always work.

Pinta, for example, won't allow me to cut or copy a bit of a drawing. I get an exception when I try. That's a significant fail for that product. I get some app crashes—far more than I should for a brand new system. So far, the App Store app has crashed multiple times, Pinta has crashed, and a few others that I can't recall have crashed on me. I always click "Send to Apple" on the little dialog box that pops up for what little good it will do me, but I still do it.

The reasons that I've always wanted a Mac seem a bit moot now. You see, I've always wanted a Mac for Desktop Publishing, for Graphics creation and editing, and for movie editing. All those things are now available for Windows and I'm not convinced that the Mac versions are any better these days. Twenty years ago, they were. Today, not so much.

I'm not disappointed with my new Mac but for the same amount of money, I could have had a super notebook, although not a Macbook Air, which as it turns out, I'm glad I didn't get because of my buyer's remorse. I'd have probably returned the Air by now, whereas I'm on the fence about the mini.

Some things are harder to do on the Mac and nothing so far has been easier. Thank goodness that many of my favorite applications are available on all platforms. If Chrome weren't available for the Mac, I wouldn't still be using it at all. I spend a lot of time in Chrome because I use GMail and no other browser does it justice. So Chrome would have been a real deal breaker for me had it not worked.

On the plus side, iMovie and Garage Band both come standard on the Mac. iMovie is complete but I don't think my copy of Garage Band is. Either it's not complete or I can't make it work correctly. I have it on my iPad and it works fine, so I'm not sure that it's me.

I do wish that I could find a few good free or inexpensive apps for image editing that allows me to drag and drop text anywhere that I want to (I thought that was a Mac feature), a good image viewer (Preview sucks) that works like Windows Photo Viewer, and a good screen capture program like Camtasia. 

I did find a good online screenplay software program called Writer Duet that I really like. It's free and works as well as Celtx or Final Draft.

So, my opinion so far, for the first week is, I like the Mac mini. I don't love it. In fact, if I filled out a survey, I'd give it a 7 for overall satisfaction. And I probably wouldn't recommend it to anyone else if asked. I'd say stick with Windows. Stick with what you know.

I've worked with Linux, Windows, and Mac and, at this point in time, Windows still wins. For servers, it's a different discussion but for my personal desktop, I'll do Windows.

The bottom line is that working with a Mac and its quirks takes a little getting used to. The Mac isn't an iPad nor is it an iPhone. If I'm able to make the mini work, I'll use it for the balance of its life expectancy and then probably never use another Mac again. To prove my point, we just bought my daughter a new laptop for her birthday—an HP with Windows 8.

I'm thinking that I should have given her the mini and I could have had the new laptop. I have computer envy. 

But I'm going to stick with it. It's only been a week. I'll keep you updated but right now, I'm wondering if I made the right decision. If I'd bought a new Windows system, I'd still want a Mac. The mini was the least expensive way for me to find out that I'm really a PC guy.

What do you think? Am I having remorse because I don't have the apps that I need or is it something else? Talk back and let me know.

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