Consideration For A Mac

For the past 8 years I’ve been toying with the notion of switching from Windows to either Linux or Apple. I consistently dismissed the idea either because Linux wasn’t quite capable of supporting the switch or because Apples were just too damn expensive. Granted, Microsoft has made significant improvements in Windows stability (and even security) over the past several years so the impetus to switch isn’t quite what it was in the Windows 98/Me days. Windows XP was actually a pretty decent attempt at Unix by Microsoft, all things considered, but it’s still Microsoft at its base. Security sucked in XP and doesn’t seem to have improved drastically in Vista, unless you call nagging the end user to death security.

Speaking of Vista, that’s really what’s sparked this whole thing…again. My wife’s laptop decided to burn out its video card so rather than fixing it immediately we came across a good deal on a new Vista desktop for her. After we got it home we ended up replacing the printer (incompatible with Vista) and bought two new copies of Outlook. My scanner won’t work with Vista either, but that’s a bridge we’ll cross another day.

After spending some time getting her machine set up I realized one major thing: I’m really not that impressed with Vista. I really expected something big for an OS five years in the making and I was, well, underwhelmed by the whole thing. It’s slow as hell, at least on her system, and the interface just isn’t what I thought it would be. I expected something revolutionary and it just appeared that it got a decent facelift.

Now before I get flamed for not appreciated all the hard work that went into this OS, these are just the observations of the guy setting up someone else’s computer. I haven’t had day in, day out exposure to it. But, having said that, if there was a wow factor to be experienced, at least visually, then I should have experienced that immediately.

So that got me thinking about my own computer, running Windows XP, now some three years old. I promised my wife it would last five years and most likely it should. But with only two years of full-time use on it before it goes into a career change, I figured I should start formulating a plan for upgrading when that time comes. I already know that my scanner is a dinosaur but they’re pretty cheap and I can figure it into the cost of a new PC. But honestly, the thought of having to move to Vista just doesn’t elate me the way I think it should. When I upgraded from Windows 2000 to XP I was pretty excited; XP had been out about a year and driver support had finally matured. After I installed it I was very pleased with it. Now, however, I feel like upgrading to Vista is a waste of money, especially considering the $200 price tag (for the high end version).

Over the years I’ve toyed with the idea of going Linux but to be honest with myself Linux just isn’t going to be there in two years. Maybe in five to ten, but I don’t have that long to wait. Linux has improved dramatically over the past ten years or so but it’s just not going to offer everything I need, at least not on the desktop. In that case I’ll ultimately need two machines, one for Linux and one for Windows, both in service for five years or so until I can consolidate virtually everything onto one or the other. Even then there’s not guarantee that everything will work. Linux works great for my webserver (I’ve never even considered anything else) but for the desktop it’s just not there yet.

So I sought out Apple again, to take a look at their systems and see just how expensive they really are. They’re still expensive, at least initially, but surprisingly after comparing a similar PC system from another custom-built vendor the price was surprisingly close. In fact, in this example, the Mac was actually less expensive than its PC counterpart. As a result my interest was once again piqued and it became a viable alternative. I’ve read stellar reviews on OSX (which is a free BSD Unix kernal) and shots of the OS in action have proven to me that Vista’s UI isn’t necessarily the best in town. Not to mention the Mac also comes pre-installed with some killer apps, all of which are included in that up-front cost.

There are some drawbacks, of course. Sure, you do get vendor lock-in in a big way but, as a result, the software is really in tune with the hardware, making the system very stable. Some games aren’t released for the Mac but I don’t really play games anyway. I still have a Windows laptop if I really need to hang onto some old software or games.

In this situation I’m only looking at a desktop replacement; my webserver will continue to be Linux and my fileserver will most likely continue running Windows XP (or possibly Linux). I’ll also keep a Linux test box around, at a minimum just to keep pace with new releases. My laptop will continue to run XP. But for the machine that I spent hundreds of hours on I want something rock solid, simple to set up and maintain, and-in a word-beautiful to look at. The Mac seems to fit that bill, at least on the surface.

So over the next year or two I’ll be previewing and evaluating replacements for Windows so that I *hopefully* won’t have to go to Vista. Linux, despite how great in some areas it is, probably won’t be able to fit the bill for the switch in that time. My only viable solutions most likely are to move to Apple or, when I buy my new PC, just put Windows XP on it. Hopefully I could milk a few more years out of it and then maybe a Linux switch would be possible. Virtualization is now a viable option too; I’ll be looking into that as well. I have a friend at work running Ubuntu Linux on his new computer with Windows XP in a VM.

The good thing is I have time. I’ll probably chronicle this process on the site so if that sort of thing interests you then check back later. I could, quite possibly, be posting to this site from a Mac in the not so distant future.

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