March 21, 2008

Taking a bite from the forbidden fruit

It does not help, you know, to talk endlessly about doing something. Until someone, somewhere sets their hand to the plow and starts work, nothing gets done.

So today I did something. I bought a new computer. An iMac, actually. For those who do not know, an iMac is a computer made by Macintosh. The iMac houses the entire computer in a case on the backside of the monitor. There is nothing on your desk but monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Best of all, there is only one power cord.

Don't assume this purchase came lightly. I have been a devoted Microsoft fanboy for over two decades. I began with DOS 2.1, grudgingly adopted Windows starting with version 3.1, and nearly fainted at the beauty of the first screenshots of Vista.

Then somebody showed me the new version of Apple's operating system. They call it Leopard. For every ten things that Vista got wrong, Leopard got one right. After awhile, Leopard begins looking like the kind of operating system Vista should have been.

Leopard includes iLife, which contains useful and easy to use programs for editing photos, videos, collecting music, editing music, creating webpages, creating a podcast, and if you spend a little more to join .Mac, then you can effortlessly upload everything to your very own website.

That's right. All those clumsy, clunky (and worthless!) editors for video, music, and html that are available free or nearly free for Vista are included in Leopard right out of the box. There is, however, one big difference: the iLife applications work well and are easy to use.

For the technically savy, Leopard also includes a real scripting language (and an editor to write scripts in!) that works well and is not too difficult to use. Automating Leopard brings back sweet memories of DOS batch files done better than DOS every could.

And if you really want to get your hands dirty, Leopard includes XCode 3.0, a complete developer's package for designing and writing your own programs!

Whether you want to upload your vacation snapshots for sharing with your family or set yourself up in business as a programmer, the basic package of Leopard includes all the tools needed to get the job done. And those tools will get the job done, too!

Consider, if you will, the As Ifs, a group of teenage girls with a fully professional start to a promising rock career, and everything they've done has been done with nothing more than the basic programs included in Leopard. More advanced programs are available, but the girls can't afford them, and from the looks of things, don't need them. Their music, their music video, their website, and everything else are all authored on Macintosh computers with just the basic software.

I've spent the past month reading up on Leopard. I've scoured websites, read magazines, bought three books (and finished reading the first). Leopard is so much more useful than Vista it is not even funny. It is, in fact, quite sad. Microsoft has fully and completely dropped the ball this time. Leopard is the perfect operating system for a home or small office computer (and is quite easy to adapt to full-fledged, high-level business use as well!).

So, faced with the necessity of buying a new computer I found myself forced into the realization that I could spend $4000 on Macintosh products and get everything I needed, everything I wanted, a new printer and a new iPod Touch all at the same time or I could spend $4000 on a Vista-based PC with the hardware I needed, $2500 on additional software, use my old printer, and forget about buying an iPod.

I went with the Macintosh package. It arrives on Monday.

March 17, 2008

Buying back my soul and selling it again

I have been a Windows user ever since version 3.1 proved that a graphical user interface can be both functional and attractive. Before that, I was a diehard DOS user. In short, I've been using Microsoft operating systems right from the beginning. Oh, I've experimented with others! I tried Linux (interesting, powerful, impossible to find drivers for!), Minux (incomplete), BSD Unix (powerful, incompatible with everything I own), and yes, on more than one occasion, Macintosh. In the past, I have always found Macintosh to be interesting and useful, but somehow lacking in the features I really needed, let alone the far from minor problem of not being able to find software for it! Since every company I have ever worked for (including my own) has been based around MS-Office, there was never any reason to seriously consider Macintosh. Until the first time I saw Time Machine in action!

And then there's Vista. Pitiful OpenGL support (my games are half the speed I'm used to!), buggy reverse compatibility (what do you mean you can't find my Word files? They're right here!), way too many GPF blue screens (has anyone, anywhere managed to compile a DirectX program in Visual Studio without using an impossible to remember string of switch commands?), and a quirky interface that does not do anything in the expected way. Not to mention there is nothing in Vista that compares with Time Machine.

So one day I am complaining to a friend. After listening to me rant for awhile, she calmly said, "now you know why I switched to Mac. Oh, and Time Machine makes back-ups fun!"

The problem was, I hadn't known! Somehow she had never gotten around to mentioning it.

I fired up Google and started delving into the darkest corners of hacker hell. In addition to all the commercial sites that CNN loves to quote, I hit all the main hobbyist sites and all the backwater hacker sites computer professionals like to pretend don't exist. I sent out a blaze of e-mails to everyone I knew who worked in the computer industry. One friend who runs their own ISP was quite blunt, "Windows stopped working last summer, but Macs are logging on with no problem at all. And, of course, Time Machine works perfectly."

I guess my next computer will be a Mac. The more I learn about Leopard the more I love it. It does everything a modern OS needs to do, and does it well. It comes with a built in developer suite, the easiest back-up utility the computer world has ever seen, and the most useful search and preview tool ever conceived.

Speaking of developer tools, I know there are lots of folks who will point out that XCode is clunky and difficult to use. Although I can clearly see that XCode would be unsuitable for an inhouse programmer with short deadlines and an annual bonus at stake, that would not be me. My interest is strictly as a hobbyist. For the hobbyist, XCode has one powerful advantage: it's included with the OS. That alone saves me nearly a thousand dollars over any Vista computer I might buy! With a thousand dollars I can upgrade memory, I can get a huge hard drive, I can even buy the new Time Capsule designed specifically for Time Machine!

Oh, and did I mention Time Machine? Wow... Never in my life have I imagined someone would find a way to make creating, accessing, and using back-ups fun. The interface is simple, intuitive, and gorgeous! In Time Machine computers have finally caught up with cyberpunk visions of the way these machines are supposed to work.

Well, enough of Leopard and Time Machine. I've ditched Bill Gates, re-claimed my soul and sold it to Apple. Instead of playing City of Heroes for hours on end, I'll use Garageband, iPhoto, and iMovie to effortlessly upload junk videos of my own lunacy to YouTube while pounding away at XCode for days on end until I finally come up with a useless Dashboard Widget so simple that any CS major could knock out a copy in less time than it takes me to say, "XCode 3 Unleashed!"

Official Macintosh Site
Leopard vs. Vista at CNet
Leopard vs. Vista at PC World
Leopard vs. Vista at Computer World
Leopard vs. Vista at Laptop Magazine