For five years I was a Microsoft evangelist to the startup and venture capital community. That ended a couple months ago. I am now a Developer Advocate at Google and I love it. After years of defending Microsoft against the Apple fanatics I decided to go to the other side of the road to see for myself. Microsoft frowns on employees using competitive products, and there isn't much time or budget to do it anyway. So, the move from Microsoft gave me the opportunity to try lots of new things. The move from Microsoft was complete. From Windows to Mac, from Outlook to Gmail, from Explorer to Google Chrome browser, from Office to Google Apps, from Windows Mobile phone to Android, from Zune to iPod. But this post is all about the move to Mac.
Design matters – The most obvious distinction between Microsoft and Apple is design. Apple is quite simply the best hardware / software design company in the world. This video "Microsoft iPod" demonstrates in a very funny way the real differences in design attitude. While funny, it is painfully true. My MacBook is sleek, elegant, fast, and efficient. The rounded edges are comfortable and smooth aluminum finish is beautiful. My Windows machine was a Lenovo X301 with Windows Vista. It was light and small for travel, but I don’t think anyone would classify it as beautiful. You see the design ethic in everything Apple does. The Mac, iPod, iTouch, iPhone and iPad are just beautiful, elegant, and imaginative designs that provide a delightful user experience. Design is probably the reason that high end buyers choose Mac.
End to end experience – One of the major advantages Apple has is controlling the end to end user experience. This means the hardware works perfectly with the software. Networks, printers, and other peripheral devices work out of the box without lots of setup, configuration, and preferences. For years this has been a major advantage for Apple. The downside was that Apple products cost more and you could only get software and peripheral devices from limited sources. Microsoft, in contrast, was the Swiss Army Knife of the tech world. It could do anything with any vendor of any hardware, software, of game maker. All these choices from different vendors caused lots of variation in design, installation, OS requirements, and overall user experience. The Apple experience was just easier and more elegant.
Functional differences – My guess is that in the early days of the PC vs. Mac wars there were big differences in functionality, software availability, and price. There still are some differences but not as vast as before. The first things I noticed about my Mac were; the touchpad, keyboard (backlit), the screen, battery life, start-up / shut down, power cord, and appearance.
The Mac touchpad is great. The best feature is the two finger page scrolling. Dragging two fingers across the touchpad makes browsing web pages sooo much easier. One of my favorite Windows features was “right click”. I used it all the time for everything. Finally someone tipped me off that the Mac does many of the same “right click” function by holding two fingers on the touchpad and clicking. Eureka!! I’m sure there are lots of other tricks and controls I need to learn, but just mastering the touchpad made the experience much more enjoyable.
The first time I used the MacBook at night I was delighted to discover the backlit keyboard. I had no idea it was there. I guess it comes on when it detects low light conditions. The light shines through all the keys so you can type in the dark. OK, you can laugh at my backward ways, but I never had a PC with that feature. Working in low light or dark conditions is now simple. I love it.
The screen on the MacBook is gorgeous. Bright and clear. Smooth edges. Just perfect. You can get beautiful screens on a PC too, but you usually have to upgrade significantly and pay extra.
The battery life is significantly better on the Mac. The Mac also starts up and shuts down faster than the PC. My guess is that because Apple designed the hardware and software they are better able to control all the variables that effect battery life, startup and shut down, and make it much more efficient. The magnetic power cord attachment is pretty cool too. It only takes one time where someone trips on your power cord and sends your PC crashing to the floor to appreciate this feature.
Do operating systems matter anymore? You may have noticed that most of the differences I mentioned are hardware design oriented. But what about the differences in the operating systems? Perhaps the best attribute of an operating system is that it operates silently in the background organizing everything automatically without end user involvement. Ten or twenty years ago users had to deal with the operating system to do anything on a PC. Today most people spend their time in the browser. From my perspective the underlying OS doesn’t matter much. All my applications run in the browser. Web browsing, email, documents, spreadsheets, music, photos,…everything is in the browser.
Old habits die hard – We humans are creatures of habit. We get comfortable doing something and resist change. Leaving Microsoft and joining Google gave me the perfect opportunity to change everything. From a functional point of view you can do anything on a Mac that you can do on a PC…and vice versa. There are differences in approach or style, but you can get the job done with either Mac or PC. It is the edge cases that are not intuitively obvious. When things break or don’t work as expected there are very specific ways to handle it on a PC or Mac. Some would argue it is more intuitive on a Mac. Perhaps if I didn’t have 20 years of experience on a PC I would agree. My experience is that doing the routine and obvious things on a Mac are fast and easy. Trying to fix unexpected behavior on a Mac is equally idiosyncratic, and requires some experience.
My mother who doesn’t use computers, and doesn’t really understand them, asked me how the transition was going. I said “Imagine you learned to drive in the USA and had been driving a Ford Mustang for 20 years. Now imagine you moved to the United Kingdom and started driving a Jaguar on the left side of the road. The Jaguar is an elegant car, and wonderful to drive, but it takes a while to get used to the other side of the road.
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