This is the second part of a two part series about how Windows users contemplating the shift to Windows 8 might find the world of Apple if they choose to buy a Macintosh instead of upgrade to Windows 8. The first part was on hardware. This piece covers software, the “Cloud,” and a few other considerations.
While there are more cross platform applications out there than there were a few years ago, the ones you need, might not work the way you expect on a Mac. I am a big fan of SnagIt from Techsmith. It works well on both Macs and Windows. Yet there is one issue. While Snagit on Windows works with my favorite cross-platform mail application, PostBox, it will only work with Apple’s Mail app on Mac OS X. I am not a fan of Apple's Mail program. This kind of thing is one of those gotchas that can make moving to a new platform irritating so you need to check apps that are important to you.
If you come over to Apple and end up using Apple’s iPhoto to manage your photos, you might find some options gone for political reasons. Sharing is built in iPhoto for Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter but not for Picasa web albums. Apple does not like Google so you have to buy a third party plug-in or use a browser to get you photos uploaded. iPhoto also creates a proprietary library of your photos instead of just pointers to JPEGs. You could just switch to Picasa on the Mac, but then there is no way to get your photos into Apple's iCloud without doing some scripting or owning an iOS device.
One of the things you need to accept when moving to Apple is that Apple wants you to do things a certain way and deviating from the chosen path usually causes some sort of pain. That is even the case in software.
If Microsoft Office is your standard office suite, you likely know there is a new version out for Windows Computers. I just subscribed to Office 365 for $99 per year. The last version for the Macintosh was released in 2011. While the files are supposed to move back and forth without problems, my experience is that there are always a few little things that do not work or there is an extra space here or there.
However, there is some good news on the Office front for the Mac. The latest update from Microsoft resulted in a dramatic speed increase in loading the Office apps on my new Mac Mini. That is good since no one is really sure when there will be a new Office for the Mac. The rumor that Microsoft might bring Office to Linux seems more promising than the statement that no new Office is planned for the Mac.
The one other thing that I have noticed is that after using Office 365 a lot and moving back to Office on the Mac, I am having trouble finding things. I am a casual Office user so it might just reflect that, but it is enough of a problem that I now use Teamviewer to control my PC from the Mac so I can use Office 365 instead of Office 2011 on the Mac.
Beyond Office, even some Mac users are questioning how much attention Apple is paying to their own software. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote (Apple's iWork suite of productivity apps) have not seen a major update in their desktop versions since 2009. Jason Grady writing for ZDNet had the following comment.
“Instead Apple proceeds with its release and abandon strategy. Release iWork into the market with great fanfare and starve it until it eventually dies. What makes matters worse is that Apple will not comment on its iWork roadmap. Not even a 'we're working on it.' Nothing.”
Apple has even dropped iDVD which makes sense inside the Apple world since Apple is moving away from DVDs. However, many of us still use DVDs. Tidbits which has been publishing information about the Mac on the web and using Macs in their workflow for 22 years recently said of Apple, “Apple software — from iOS 6 to Pages 4.3 — has been falling down. Great hardware, increasingly sloppy software.”
If the “Cloud" is important to you, you should be aware that Apple has struggled with its vision for the Cloud. Apple has changed its Cloud strategy multiple times with the result that many no longer trust Apple's with their data. Also Apple’s current iCloud implementation is very different than other vendors' Clouds. It takes some getting used to and it is hard to escape since it is built into the OS.
I still find there are some very good apps on the Mac. I use RapidWeaver for web development and Pixelmator for graphics. Sometimes I will write with Nisus Writer Express. It depends on my mood. As for utilities, Fetch is still my favorite FTP client.
Apple’s apps and a few other applications like PIxelmator have the ability to save to iCloud if the software vendor has chosen to market their software through Apple's app store. However, even those other non-Apple apps which can save to Apple's iCloud save to someplace invisible in Apple's iCloud. You can find a hidden folder on your Mac which shows you what is there but it takes some digging. You cannot see those files when you log into iCloud with a browser like you can the iWork files. It is a weird concept. Of course the apps know that the files are there but if you want to open the file with another app, you are out of luck. Apple just figures that there are things you don't need to know or do. It is one of the things you need to accept if you plan to go to a Mac.
Beyond software, you need to consider setup. In spite of the Mac's reputation for ease of use. Setup on a new Mac can sometimes be not so easy as I found out. I have brought up a lot of Macs over the years and my most recent one was not any fun.
There is no doubt that Apple has an App store with far more software than Microsoft, but there is a downside to the app store. Apple's OS strategy also revolves around that same App Store and my experience is that it is a work in progress. In setting up two new Windows 8 machines and my new Mac Mini, I found the Windows 8 machines required much less of my attention. If you opt for a Mac and have even a decent Internet connection prepare for some long downloads. I have TimeWarner cable and a 4.8 GB OS backup download took eight hours. Most updates you can have automatically applied but I still have to manually apply all the ones from Microsoft for Office on the Mac.
You will find support and repair are not as accessible to Mac owners.
Using a Macintosh is great until something goes wrong and you will quickly find that people who really know Macs are harder to find than knowledgeable Windows people. If you live outside a major metro area, be prepared to drive to the nearest Apple store for repair or face to face support. There are far fewer Apple repair centers around than Windows ones. It used to be the answer to most Mac problems was reinstall the operating system. That is not as easy to do now that install DVDs are gone. You can make one of your USB thumb drives a backup OS X installer, but my experience has shown that can have some challenges. I had to buy third party software to create one for my Mac Mini.
Little things like navigating your computer will be different on the Mac.
When you are using a computer, the file system becomes very important. Do not let someone convince you the Mac OS X Mountain Lion is more like Windows 7 than Windows 8. I have used Macs for 28 years and I find the latest version of OS X Mountain Lion the most confusing yet. It is powerful and has a lot to like, but there is also a lot to learn. It has taken me just as long to get up to speed on it as it did for me to figure out Windows 8.
Apple decided with their previous Lion release that the command "Save As" is not a good thing. Some apps no longer have that command but now in Mountain Lion you can get it back if you hold down the “option” key when you go to the file menu. Still the new “Duplicate” and “Move” commands can be confusing. Macs also do not remember the last place you saved something like Windows. You can buy third party software like Default Folder X to fix that, but it is still not quite as easy to find something on a Mac. Navigating around a Mac can be confusing especially when Apple decides to hides important things like the user library.
There are some very neat things on the Mac like AirDrop and AirPlay which require other Macs or more Apple hardware like AppleTV before you enjoy them. Windows Media Center works pretty well with existing Windows 7 machines so that is not too different since both platforms want you to stick with one platform.
The last worry is security. I've used both platforms for over 8 years. Since MS introduced their security program, that is the only security program I have used. I have had no virus or worm problems on either platform, you just have to practice safe computing. At one time this was a huge advantage for the Mac. Now it is not so much.
All this boils down to a move to the Mac will mean lots of changes especially in the way you view your computer vendor. If you are coming to the Mac, you need to believe Apple knows best or you will never be comfortable. Just like you cannot fight city hall, you likely will not be able to fight Apple. Is it any different in the Windows world. I would argue that Apple would not put up with an app like Start8 which brings back the old Windows Start Menu, but maybe I am wrong. They did relent a little on "Save As."
The Mac platform has some great capabilities, but you will have to work to master them. The way you do things on a Mac is a little different. My conclusion is that moving to Windows 8 is the best course for most Windows users. The learning curve on the Mac is substantial for a Windows user. However, I encourage you to weigh what I have presented, talk to Mac users and make your own decision. Everyone's needs are different. What works for me, might not even fit your desk. :-)
However, for many Windows users it might just be easier to stay the course with Windows and buy a new Windows 8 machine.
The simple addition of the $4.99 Start8 utility can make the Windows 8 experience a lot like the old Windows. Once you have done that, you can choose to ignore the parts of Windows 8 that don’t fit the way you work.
I would not let anyone scare me away from Windows 8. I am not having any trouble using it. I have it on two machines. One has a touch screen and the other has only a mouse. I am betting Microsoft will listen to customers and make it better like they did with Vista.
Windows 8 is powerful and very fast. When I boot both my Mac Mini and Lenovo tower, even I if start the Mac Mini first, I usually have several Windows applications launched before the Mac Mini even makes it to the desktop.
On my most recent startup, I turned my Mac Mini on first. By the time the Mac Mini had gotten to the desktop and launched Chrome, I had turned on the Windows 8 machine and launched the following programs on Windows 8.
Postbox (all my mail was also retrieved)
The Lenovo tower has 8 GBs of RAM. The Mac Mini has 16 GBs of RAM. Both systems have standard SATA hard drives and I5 processors.
See the first article in the series which talks about hardware for more details and price information.