by Sebastien Lahtinen

There are a few topics that are often best avoided over dinner conversations as they elicit very strong views and emotions. Such topics include religion, politics and operating systems.

The electronic holy war that used to be Linux vs. Windows has somewhat changed into an Apple versus non-Apple debate, spurred by the competition between iOS and Android devices with each side having their fanatics. This is all the more obvious reading comments left on BBC blogs about Apple coverage.

I have always found myself using multiple platforms for convenience. My desktop workstation runs Windows whilst I tend to prefer using Linux based servers. I have used Symbian, Android and iOS devices and today; carry two of these with me for different purposes.

At thinkbroadband, we use the full range of operating systems both on desktops and portable devices, and we often internally have debates (sometimes just to wind each other up) about their respective merits and features.

Over the last ten or so years, I have been an avid user of the Sony Vaio-series of laptops, focusing mainly on their slim (TZ/TX) models as I often carry around a laptop with me. I think Sony produce some very nice devices that last as long as I expect them to, and have good features.  As my friends and colleagues will know, I am not one for following fads but following repeated praise from so many people, I decided to give Apple Macbooks a go.

Let me first set out my major criticism of Apple laptops, and the reason I have not considered a switch to Apple before; one of the major benefits of other notebooks is the ability to buy models with built in 3G wireless cards, meaning that you don’t need to have a USB dongle to carry around to connect to the Internet. This is most significant in the UK obviously, as using mobile broadband abroad is prohibitively expensive, although I would add that laptop 3G modems are usually unlocked and thus you could easily insert a foreign SIM card. I like not having a separate USB stick to lose, and having the SIM card in the laptop, with a decent antenna. I realise Apple no doubt believe I should be using my iPhone tethering functions, but I like separation of these functions for a number of reasons, including being able to use a foreign SIM card for data because of the cost whilst keeping my usual telephone number on my phone. The lack of a built in SIM card slot is therefore most annoying.

I was quite surprised by how quickly OS X booted up for the very first time, given Windows installs tend to take half an hour or longer to complete the installation. Within a few minutes of turning my shiny new laptop on, a video started playing, welcoming me in many different languages to the world of Apple.

I have spent the past week away at the SXSW Interactive conference, and left my trusted Sony Vaio laptop at home. Instead, I took a MacBook Air 13″ and I have used this exclusively for the last week and this has proven it can work for me.

Following this experience, I am today declaring myself a MacBook user.

Weaning you off Windows – Parallels

One of the key tools that lets you to ‘wean’ off your Windows habits on Apple Macs is Parallels, which lets you run any Windows applications inside a virtual machine, in a mode that essentially makes them appear like normal Apple applications. It is rather ironic that since installing it, I have actually found very little need for Windows applications at all on my laptop, although it will be a slightly different story if and when I look at switching my desktop.

Parallels Desktop for Mac - Coherence Mode

However, despite all these issues, the MacBook Air has won me over as indeed has the iPhone4 and iPad. The size of the screen, excellent battery life, and the way in which it suspends and resumes quickly when you close and open the screen are key to this—whilst the suspend feature is available in Windows laptops, I have never really found it to work well in terms of recovery time and battery life. This may be one of the benefits of Apple having control over both the operating system and the hardware.

Popularity of Mac

In the Internet industry, Apple laptops have been the norm for quite some time, something that has become very apparent when attending conferences. You have to look around for quite a while to find someone who isn’t using an Apple device. I tried using Macs a few years ago with a PowerBook G4 and a Mac Mini, but I never quite felt it gave me enough of a reason to switch. What made me reconsider was the iPad, which gave me a taste of Apple’s amazing hardware and software design. It has some parallels to the enhancements offered by OS/2 Warp over previous versions of the alternative operating system of the early-to-mid 1990s.

This preference for Macs was even more dominant at SXSWi where practically every attendee using a laptop was using a MacBook, every cellphone was an iPhone and every tablet was an iPad; the only remaining question being whether it was an iPad2?

These photos aren’t great as they are indoors without flash, nor do they illustrate the sheer volume of Apple devices, but you get the picture :)

Why Macs are great on planes

Apple Macbook Air 13" on a flight

MacBook Air 13" with front seat in upright position

MacBook Air 13" with front seat reclined

Not only is the instant-on and extended battery life great when you are flying and don’t have access to a power socket, I was also going to praise the size and shape of the MacBook Air 13″ for its suitability for working on planes, making the best use of available space whilst giving you a sizeable desktop; that was until the person in front of me reclined their seat. So, if it was you travelling in seat 6C on BA795 from Helsinki to London on Thursday morning, thanks!

I should probably thank another former Apple refusenik and current apple fan Theo Zourzouvillys, for finally persuading me to give it a try :)

14 Responses


  1. cyberdoyle on 21 Mar 2011

    Totally agree. you get what you pay for.
    quality.
    I moved to Apple two years ago and despair when I have to use a PC at someones house and try to troubleshoot problems.
    Apples just work.
    chris

  2. seb on 21 Mar 2011

    @cyberdoyle: I’m still quite comfortable with Windows as a UI, and I know more about Windows, but I’m finding that most things are more ‘obvious’ on a Mac, so you don’t need to know things, unless you’re trying to explain something to a friend over the phone where you really need to know exactly what would appear.

  3. PhilT on 21 Mar 2011

    You don’t mention the cost of the macbook compared to your Sony alternative.

    I did put OSX on a Dell laptop, now that gives you a true sense of how their operating system is in real life, as opposed to on a locked down hardware and software ecosystem. Little better than anything else, but with less hardware support than anything else.

  4. seb on 21 Mar 2011

    @PhilT – The MacBook was cheaper than my latest Sony Vaio certainly, but I tend to use higher spec Vaios. My MacBook Air also has a few upgrades on it. I can’t remember the exact cost now but it’s good value for money as compared to Vaio.. It’s not cheap if you just want a netbook.

    In the end, Apple optimise their OS and hardware to work together, selling a solution and these days I’m interested in the experience overall, not theoretical performance of individual components. Most things on Mac ‘just work’ and that’s exactly what I want.

  5. Ozidug on 21 Mar 2011

    I switched to the Mac 7 years ago, from being an internals geek on Windows. What a relief! I still recall spending a day a week trying to secure, update and maintain the software on my machine(s) and as you say, on my 27″ iMac “it just works”. ANd i do indeed feel like I’ve got extra time to spend without the worry of seeing my computer fail. Although I could usually get out of problems, it was easier to have tow machines to cover those extended periods where I needed to investigate problems.

    Get a Mac and relax. It worked for me.

  6. Andrue on 22 Mar 2011

    Can’t say I’ve ever had any major problems with Windows myself. I do agree that the modern UI makes technical support a pain though. LogMeIn is essential when helping out my parents.

    But even my parents haven’t any Windows related issues. Unless you count accidentally switching off the mousepad and/or wifi once or twice.

    But I don’t understand why people are complaining about reliability issues with Windows. My machines at work and at home work just fine. Never known any of them to fail for years now. It’s been /years/ since I heard of any Windows issues. XP killed off most of them – XP SP2 in particular put paid to the last few gremlins and that was years ago.

  7. Nicholas Kingsley on 23 Mar 2011

    I actually moved from an Intel Mac to PC for many reasons…

    Whilst OSX 10.4 was nice, 10.5 was, when it first came out, extremely buggy with file associations and various other bits causing problems.

    Then there was the expense and rarity of games, and, of course, the internal graphics cards wasn’t exactly the best for latest games.

    When I first tried an application on the Mac (Photobooth), the first thing it did was crash, with me thinking “oh dear”…

    I also found quality testing to be lacking with quite a few programs (OpenOffice for example).

    The last straw when the last one’s fuse or power-pack blew. The local Mac dealer wanted to charge £125 just for looking at it…

  8. El Kapitan Pingaloco on 01 Apr 2011

    I’m anti Mac-fever and pro sense. If this means respecting Macs where they are stronger then cool! However, what’s the difference between Apple and say a company specialising in marketing tweaked, solid, Linux PCs? Macs just aren’t as flexible, which is how people like it.

    “In the end, Apple optimise their OS and hardware to work together…” Really? What tweaks do they make to the CPU instruction set, the graphics and the RAM then? The hard drives are somehow different are they? Nah, they just test the motherboard/hardware/BIOS/OS integration *properly* with a BIOS tweak or two at most (conjecture, but tell me different with evidence please). They have an extremely limited range of hardware, which makes this more easily achievable. Explain to me how this justifies the RIDICULOUS extra cost of ‘Mac’ graphics cards for example? An ancient Geforce 6800 is still £ triple figures for Mac. A PC version is about £35. There’s no difference except maybe a different BIOS and a Mac sticker on it, maybe not even a different BIOS!

    Most PC manufacturers let early adopters beta test for them these days. This leads to some severely under-performing hardware. It’s not the hardware’s fault and it’s not Microsoft’s fault for the most part. It’s the architecture’s fault along with companies being too cheap to test or even design properly. Or artificially-crippling their hardware, which brings us back to Apple.

    I tried an OSx86 install but my laptop wasn’t supported. Shame, it might have made me move to Apple more in the long-term if I could try it with a direct comparison on a Windows/Linux/Osx86 triple-boot PC but no dice.

  9. El Kapitan Pingaloco on 01 Apr 2011

    Nicholas Kingsley:
    “The last straw when the last one’s fuse or power-pack blew. The local Mac dealer wanted to charge £125 just for looking at it…” – or sell you a new one for £75, when your average laptop charger costs £25-£35. I don’t like the white plastic costing me £40 extra, it makes no sense except of course for greedy companies who like pulling the wool over people’s eyes.

  10. Paul on 01 Apr 2011

    Congratulations on completing your Windows weaning. For me, the most compelling reason for switching to Mac was the UI design. How many sub-control panels does Windows 7 need? Why does the preferences menu item have to change from app to app, or be called options in some apps? I admit gaming is lacking, but you can’t beat a Mac for anything creative. Also I don’t waste 50% of my resources looking for viruses!

  11. Jan on 02 Apr 2011

    I’m fairly new to all this in spite of being around for some years – bit of a technophobe in the past but I’m a mature student now doing a degree in 3D design which makes me realise how behind I’ve become. For those of you who are au fait with technology this may seem a meagre request.

    I’ve had PCs but since starting this course am regularly told how Macs are better for design and graphics? I’ve been thinking about whether I would find it easy to switch given cost of Macs but am assured that once initial outlay is swallowed ongoing costs are minimal in comparison (I guess NK would disagree with this); would other Mac users out there agree with this?

    I bought a new desktop PC with Windows 7 in 2010 but my laptop is full and very slow with no capacity to add any more further memory – done to the hilt! (Sony Vaio VGN-B1XP). It often crashes when trying to do things in Photoshop and is too full to accept Rhino.

    As a student, we have access to both systems at college and there are certainly differences but I’m advised that Mac is helpful with crossovers by Mac users; and the opposite by PC users.

    I would like to get this next laptop purchase right – I want something I can download available course books to and which can carry CAD software like Rhino, as well as Photoshop CS. Although I accept that tecnnology is almost out of date as soon as it hits the market if switching will mean a quality improvement in production, then so be it. If anyone out there is willing to offer advise to a relative novice I would greatly appreciate it.

  12. Maurice on 04 Apr 2011

    I’ve had Macs for nearly 20 years but used PCs at work for the same amount of time. I’ve been through this debate SO many times!

    I always end the argument by saying to the PC user “When did your computer last make you smile?”

    “What”? “I never smile at my PC. I shout at it, sometimes kick it, but never smile at it!”

    ” I smile at my Mac most days.” “Often I do something with my Mac and go ‘WOW’ and laugh out loud.

    “I’ve never done that”

    End of argument!

  13. josh on 06 Apr 2011

    Mac is good if you want a high quality build, and a streamlined user experience. It locks down your user experience to make things more simplified (and to increase DLC sales), but myself being a power user and the wide range of software/tools/hardware that I use, I would be quite limited using Mac as my choice os for work. I am computer tech, and honestly this whole facade of Mac’s never having problems couldn’t be further from the truth. I have worked on countless mac’s with corrupted data/os, botched upgrades, email client issues, iPhoto/Aperture/iTunes databases and files being corrupted, hard drive failures, display failures, power source failures, etc. When you compare their systems to the broad pc market it truly is not an apples to apples comparison with so many pc vendors putting out absolute crap, whereas apple’s hardware selection is very tight and limited (but of high quality). Apple gained alot of ground in Windows Vista market lifespan because honestly this was a garbage OS, and Microsoft made a huge mistake by releasing it to market. But I have been using Windows 7 since release on my custom build, monster overclocked system, it is very stable and will run circles around the most expensive apple you can buy (more than double the cost of what I am in mine) when considering all fronts. So you people really need to get over yourselves in attempt to rationalize and justify your overpriced purchase by slamming Windows. If you are a simpleton then ya Mac is great, but when you want to get some real work done Windows is where it is at. Where does the entire world/internet host their high-availability, %99.9 uptime servers, domains and enterprises? Thats right Windows and Liunx based. Apple doesn’t even host their own website on their overrated Mac systems cause they would melt down and burst into flames trying to handle some real traffic. LOL!

  14. ColinB on 02 Nov 2011

    I’ve been a user of MacOS and Windows systems for many years (early 1990s where Macs are concerned) and I honestly think that Microsoft has well and truly lost the battle against Apple. Apple has successfully built an excellent “ecosystem” which is vertically structured to cover every stage of the “content producer-to-end user/consumer” chain and with products that have designed to work properly. I use Windows XP and 7 systems on a near-daily basis but by far the best user experience comes from my Apple MacOS (for media content creation, video and audio editing, picture editing, etc) and iOS devices.

    Apple’s standing as a brand changed rapidly with the introduction of the iMac, then the iPod, then the iPhone and then again with the iPad. Soon, all of Apple’s hardware will be run on iOS as MacOS is phased out. And everything (well, OK, most things) that bear the Apple logo all work together, as they should, hassle-free. Steve Jobs lived up to the promises he made back in 1984 with the first MacIntosh and his legacy is there for all to see and enjoy. Me included.

    Yes, Apple devices do cost more (although if you need a fast Windows laptop to do AVCHD video editing you’ll be spending as much as you would on a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air – and I know which I’d rather have) but, if my own experience is anything to go by, they always work as they should and never give any problems. I really can’t say the same for my PC hardware or Windows software.

    In fact, the battle is no longer between Apple and Microsoft but Apple and Android. I’m happy with that. RIP Microsoft – you’ve been sitting on your hands for too long.


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