Why A Mac?

So, why a Mac? Well, I’ve done a fair amount of thinking about this decision and have come to a few conclusions. I need to upgrade within the next two years. My current box, although still quite snappy, will continually become slower and slower as software and operating systems (Vista, in particular) become more processor and memory intensive.

First of all, I had to consider my options. I have three options really; Windows, Mac, or Linux. I know there are other operating systems out there but for my personal machine at home none of the other options make sense. Given these three options I first needed to identify what I really wanted. Part of me, at least the non-conformist in me, wants to buck Microsoft completely. Sorry to disappoint all you Linux apologists out there but Microsoft is and will continue to be a major force in the computing world for some time to come. There is no escaping Microsoft completely, especially if you’re coming from a Windows world and have already come to use some Windows-only software.

But I still want to buck Microsoft as much as I can. In my younger days it was because they were the “Evil Empire” engaging in shady business practices and monopolistic control of our computers. Now, several years later, I’ve accepted the Evil Empire’s place in the computing world and, although I still disagree with many of their practices, they have a certain value. About 90% of the world’s computers run some form of Windows so it’s essentially ubiquitous and you can run damn near anything on it. And Windows 2000 and XP aren’t half bad either.

But now fighting the “good fight” isn’t so much the reason for wanting to bail; a lot of the reason is Vista. Yeah, Vista. I’ve been very underwhelmed with what I’ve seen so far and the thought of buying a new machine and running Vista on it makes me feel like I’m wasting my money. Vista sports a new interface, sure, and it does make use of 3-D graphics cards, and it has beefed up security a little but really it looks like a translucent version of XP. It suffers from a lack of drivers right now but those problems will subside over the next year or so, just like they did with XP. But man, Vista is just so…lame. It’s hard to describe how disappointed I am that Vista was the best thing Microsoft could churn out after five years of development.

So with a strong reluctance to jump on the Vista bandwagon the next time around I started looking at my options. I first reconsidered Linux, as I’d done in the past. I’d tried on at least one occasion in the past to switch to Linux completely but it just couldn’t compete on the desktop at the time. There wasn’t even a decent office suite at the time (this was during the days before OpenOffice). Ubuntu has made tremendous inroads in the consumer desktop market and Fedora has come a long, long way as well. I currently run Ubuntu in a VM and my webserver is running Fedora Core 5. I couldn’t ask for a better OS to run my webserver on but even now Linux is still lacking on the desktop and I don’t think that a year is going to be enough time for that to change significantly. In no way am I giving up on Linux; I will very likely always run my webserver on Linux, but for now Linux just isn’t going to be an option for replacing my desktop computer the next time around.

Naturally my choice wheel rolled around to the Mac. I’d looked at Macs back in 1998, right around when the iMacs were introduced, but they were way, way out of my budget. Over the years I casually followed Apple’s activities but never really seriously considered them a possibility due to cost and compatibility. In 2005 my wife bought me an iPod and I love it. I use it five days a week, every week, and it’s performed without issue. I love iTunes as well. I’ve been impressed with what Apple has brought to the market over the past few years, and I’ve been reading good reviews on OS X. What I really liked about OS X was the BSD kernel. After working professionally with Unix for seven years I’ve come to appreciate the stability of Unix (which is why I like Linux too).

I decided to hit the Apple site and check out what their latest offerings were. After I got over the sticker shock (common with Apple hardware) I decided to compare it head and head with a high end PC running Vista. I priced one up at United Micro (where I bought my last custom-built PC) and found that the Macs weren’t really so far out of range. Head to head, against a good Windows PC, the iMac fared pretty well. Apple offers three tiers of Mac; the Mac Mini, the iMac, and the Mac Pro. The Mac Mini just isn’t powerful enough for what I need. The Mac Pro is beyond my price range; it’s really a server class machine. That left the iMac and it was pretty much right in the range I needed for a personal desktop.

There have been several important changes to the Mac over the past eight or nine years. First off was OS X. It’s gotten great reviews and from what I’ve seen it looks very, very impressive. They’ve redesigned the line, offering large 24″ flat panel monitors, up to a terrabyte hard drive, 256 MB video cards, and lots more onboard hardware. Also, the Macs now run on Intel hardware, paving the way for faster processors and virtualization (which I’ll get to more later).

There are a few drawbacks to the iMac. For one thing it’s the all-in-one nature of the machine. The only thing user-serviceable on them are the memory banks. You can’t touch anything else inside this thing. So if something goes bad it goes back to Apple for service. There’s not tinkering under the hood. I’m also not sure what kind of second life these things can have either; there is no separating them from the monitor. There is also vendor lock-in; once you go Apple you go Apple. If you think the Microsoft stronghold is bad then Apple is worse.

But despite the drawbacks I still think that the Mac is my choice this time around. With VMWare Fusion (or Parallels) and Intel hardware, I can now run Windows XP in a VM at almost full speed. After doing the research I’ve found that virtually everything I need to do can be done on the Mac and what I can’t do I can do in XP on a VM. That kind of safety net is exactly what I needed. I can have all the ease of use and stability of a Mac but still do the few things I need Windows for. Provided I bump up the memory I should be able to run not only Windows but also Linux in a VM on the Mac, reducing the number of computers cluttering up my office.

So unless some kind of show-stopper springs up it looks like my next computer is going to be a Mac. I’ll continue to post about it along the way; hopefully these postings might provide some insight and information to other would-be converts. In my next post I plan to focus on my home network and how the Mac, Windows, and Linux all play a part.

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