Switching Back (One Year Later)

I first posted about making the switch to Mac a year ago today, so I thought some sort of followup post might be in order (and, you know, I was hurting for a blog idea, so here goes).

I’ve been pretty vocal about how much I like OS X and the suite of apps that ship with it. iPhoto, in particular, is a wonderful thing. It makes managing media incredibly easy, intuitive, and powerful. Now that I’m a parent, I generate a lot of photographs and short video of this kid. Wrangling these with Adobe Photoshop Elements, as I had done when I was on WinXP, was workable but slow, especially when it came to editing. Managing and editing them with iPhoto is cake. Even better, the “Faces” (i.e. face recognition) feature in iPhoto ’09 saves me the trouble of tagging things, I just let Faces work its magic and then go through every once in a while to weed out the false positives.

The most obvious difference between OS X and WinXP is the subdued color palette of OS X–mostly shades of grey–that makes it very easy on the eyes. After working on my iMac for a while, WinXP (and, even worse, Vista) seems gaudy. You can tame most of those excesses, of course. But, out of the box, it’s way too flashy. With OS X, the only thing I had to change was the desktop image.

The three-dimensional vibe of the Dock is nice; I feel like I’m looking into a window rather than at a flat wall (the designers had even more fun with that depth metaphor in Time Machine). Though OS X is visually understated, it isn’t lacking in sophistication. The dock icons are reflected in the semi-translucent surface of the Dock. Dragging an app near creates quite beautifully realistic reflections between the two. It’s eye candy, but it’s classy eye candy. Beyond the looks and it’s utility as an app launcher (though I tend to use Spotlight for that), the dock is handy in that it tells you at a glance which apps are running. Many apps use it to provide notifications (the icon for Mail is telling me right now that I have three new messages).

On the geek side, having a bash terminal is a wonderful thing. I learned my way around the Unix command line back in the early days of the web, when my university email and web hosting accounts were on a SunOS box to which I only had telnet access. On every WinXP box that I use regularly, I run Cygwin, as DOS makes my head and eyes hurt. But, on OS X, bash support is  native, thanks to the BSD-based engine that undergirds everything.

PDF integration is amazingly handy. I don’t print receipts anymore. I just save them as PDF to my web receipts folder–a feature that is native on the print dialog and is compatible with every application that implements printing. It’s also great as a workaround for apps that don’t export to a format I like.

It’s rock solid; I think I’ve managed to crash it twice in the past year. I had two power outages lead to startup difficulties, both of which were solved with a second power cycle. (The grid here is incredibly weak.) If it weren’t for Haden’s obsession with the power strip, I’d almost never need to restart it.

As a software trainer, one of my favorite features is the help menu, which searches through the menu items themselves, before hitting the help docs. When you choose from the available matches, the appropriate menu opens and a nice blue indicator appears next to the menu command. It’s saves me lots of time, especially when I’m using an app that I don’t use often. It’s so effective, I often don’t bother learning the menus: I just rely on the search. Instead of starting you off on a goose chase through the documentation or, worse yet, some web-based version of the same, the help menu keeps you focused on the application and helps you become familiar with it. It’s incredibly clever: a simple idea, brilliantly executed.

Of course, there are annoyances, too, but I’ll save those for another post.