Making the jump from Windows to Mac: find out what was good and bad

Apple announced new Retina display-equipped MacBook Pro laptops at its event last month, as well as the launch of the latest version of OS X, Mavericks. For this PC user, it was enough to finally make the jump from Windows to Mac for the first time.

The Good

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After booting up for the first time it stood out to me that there wasn’t a longwinded setup process, nor was there any pre-installed junk on the machine. No advertising links on the desktop, no “free” Norton antivirus and best of all no drivers to install. The machine was ready to go out of the box, which is a nice change from setting up a Windows PC.

The applications that are bundled with Mavericks are pretty fantastic, Mail and Calendar work great. Messages integration with iMessage is perfect — especially if you have an iPhone — as is the Notes application and Reminders, which all work well together. For the last year I’ve been using Windows 8, which is a great OS but the bundled ‘modern’ applications aren’t anywhere near as well-rounded comparatively and really require a touchscreen to make them useful, so having beautiful built-in apps is a nice change.

Unified notifications and the Notification Center are well-built pieces of functionality that leave me wondering why Microsoft still hasn’t added anything similar to Windows yet. I’m bad at clearing alerts from it, but at least I can catch what I’ve missed easily rather than going hunting for it.

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Spotlight search is extremely powerful and gives you access to everything on the computer in a second. It’s lightning fast and the indexing engine behind it is extremely fast, whereas I’ve found Windows’ search to be slow and generally disappointing (especially when searching large folders of documents).

On the productivity front, it’s liberating to be free of Microsoft Office altogether. I’ve never been particularly fond of the slow, bloated feel of the desktop applications and barely use many of the more advanced features. The OS X mail application works with my Microsoft Exchange email, Pages can open any Word documents I’m sent and Numbers is perfectly fine with Excel spreadsheets. Occasionally there’s a snag converting a document but it’s nothing Google Drive can’t fix.
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Spaces are literally changing the way I work on my laptop, too. They’re great for helping separate projects from each other or work apps from personal apps. I keep one open with Mail, Twitter and other social networks and others for work and just switch between them as required. Being able to separate work applications from personal ones is powerful for helping focus on the task at hand.

I’m extremely impressed with power management more than anything else. Apple says that the 15″ Retina MacBook will last around eight hours on battery and have found that Apple’s estimates are pretty accurate; I can get just over 8 hours when using Safari instead of Chrome for browsing the web and avoiding heavy energy draining applications. Mavericks makes this easy by pointing out which applications are using ‘significant energy’ in the battery menu.

I’ve never had a Windows laptop that’s managed to get such extreme battery life out of a single charge. It’s changed the way I work; I no longer need to carry a laptop charger to the cafe when I do remote work.
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One of the biggest concerns I had with switching to Mac was that the broad collection of games I’ve gathered wouldn’t work. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how many exist for Mac, especially with Steam’s recent push to get app developers to write for both Windows and Mac. A good half of my collection has an official Mac version of their game, but for the other half I’ve taken to running them in a virtual machine, which works surprisingly well.

In my very unscientific tests, I was able to install Civilization V in a Parallels virtual machine and play at full graphics quality without any issues with frame rate, which was impressive. I’d guess other games such as first person shooters wouldn’t work quite so well, but there’s always Apple’s own Boot Camp to help with that.

It’s often said that Apple devices ‘just work’; something I’m finding to be true with OS X. AirPlay is especially powerful and works perfectly if you have other Apple devices (like an Apple TV) for quickly duplicating the screen with the TV for watching a movie. Other simple touches in OS X, such as having a centralised contacts directory that other applications can access makes using other applications seamless.

The bad

There are some oddities that are painful at first. I struggled to figure out how to rename a folder (after becoming accustomed to using F2 in Windows to do it) and only discovered how after pressing the enter key to open a folder resulted in it being renamed. There’s also the jumbled keyboard keys — ⌘ instead of CTRL, for example — screwing up 20 years of shortcuts that two decades of muscle memory will struggle to forget.
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The other thing that I found confusing is the way that applications are installed. On Windows, everyone is accustomed to using a setup wizard but I’ve found it’s rare to encounter those on Mac. Instead, you have this odd metaphor where you mount a fake drive (DMG files) and then drag the app to the applications folder. Of course, this isn’t actually explained to you and at first I was just running everything out of my downloads folder.

That said, applications that are installed using the Mac App Store simply install themselves without requiring any drag-ad-drop or DMG mounting. Obviously this is Apple’s preferred method of distribution but I’ve found many application developers aren’t using it yet.

I’m still yet to figure out how to manage windows properly without Windows’ “snap” functionality which allows you to drag an application to the side of the screen and it will automatically take up half of the screen. The OS X “maximize” button doesn’t seem to actually work properly and infuriatingly tends to just stretch an app up and down. There is a full screen button, indicated by two arrows on the upper right of a window, which essentially maximizes the window but hides all others behind a type of ‘stage’ view.

I also ran into trouble with Boot Camp since it doesn’t support Windows 8.1 yet and was unable to install it. Apple is notoriously slow at updating to support new releases. In the end, I got it working by installing Windows 8 then upgrading to 8.1.