This post technically speaking has nothing to do with ICT4Peace per se, in that as a theory and practice, ICT4Peace aims to be platform, operating system agnostic. That said, I thought I’d share my experience of using a Mac for my work in Sri Lanka on a number of ICT4Peace initiatives.
Why I switched
One reason – VOR Radio. The tools I needed to edit audio, create jingles and manage podcasts are on a single package on the Mac – Garageband. As I’ve discovered with all Mac software, it’s rock solid, blindingly fast and works seamlessly with other applications I use in the iLife suite that comes with all Macs. In short, it just works – no blue screens, no hard drive thrashing, no memory leaks, no frozen screens, no crashes.
In fact, that really captures by overall experience on my Mac, a Core Duo 2.16Ghz with 1Gb RAM and a 100Gb hard drive. Mac OS X 10.4.8 is fluid, simple and intuitive. That hardest part, after using Windows almost daily since 1996 (and MS-DOS since the early 90’s), was the learning curve associated with what is really a remarkable operating system. In a sense, you have to unlearn everything you learnt with Windows (until XP SP2, I’ve not tried Vista yet) and get used to an UI that is as aesthetically pleasing as it is functional.
The basic Mac comes with iLife, multimedia tools and creativity tools including a programme that allows you to make cartoon strips, for those so inclined, that are definitely years ahead of those offered in Windows XP. This is a phrase I’ll use a lot in this post: everything just works. There’s no need to remember complex key sequences, there’s a uniform UI to each app, one is not bombarded with dialog boxes and questions in order to complete tasks, and the OS X, strange to understand at first, only actually alerts you when there is something wrong (as opposed to the Windows XP behaviour of heralding everything it detects or does with a dialog box you have to click to get rid of, such as plugging in a USB drive)
The worst applications on the Mac
I thought I would get the worst out of the way – and not surprisingly, it’s Microsoft Office for the Mac. I don’t know what the performance of Office applications on the older PowerPC based Macs are, but on my machine, they are, by far, the slowest, ugliest and most unstable applications I use.
One does note that Office runs in emulation mode (Rosetta) on the new Intel based Macs, which really does show when you are editing a large document with nested tables, or running a complex accounting formula in Excel, or editing a complex PowerPoint. Also, there’s supposed to be a new release later this year that’s going to run natively on the Intel Macs. But for now, I’m just going to have to deal with Word for Mac crashing ever so often, forcing me to more paranoid that I ever was on Windows and Office 2003 when editing a document.
Transferring emails. Lots of them.
The biggest fear of switching for me was the migration of around 1.5Gb of emails, from around 2000 (totally over 60,000) that I had on Outlook 2003 on my previous laptop, a Dell X1 (which at the time, was only the 3rd to be sold in Sri Lanka). The folks at BT Options, who helped me out with this, installed LittleMachine’s O2M, which I honestly didn’t expect to work as well as it did. It took a while to convert the emails into a Mac friendly format, but once it did, I was able to import all my emails to Entourage on the Mac (the rough equivalent of Outlook for Windows) without losing a single email or attachment.
Entourage vs. Mac.app
The reason I chose Entourage as my email client over the Mac’s built in email app was because I was more comfortable with using a Microsoft programme for tasks that I simply did not have the time to learn anew the Mac email app (I usually have to meet at least one deadline a day via email).
This was, however, before I discovered just how slow Entourage was when sifting through the 60,000+ emails I had, even through Spotlight.
I switched to the Mac’s built-in email app around 4 months after I bought the machine, and have not regretted it for a second. Though less capable than Entourage, the Mail app runs natively, is bloody fast when displaying emails received 2 – 3 years ago, and works, as one would expect, very well with Spotlight.
Apps I use daily. Well, almost daily.
After sifting through the web’s 10 best mac apps / 10 best free mac apps / 10 mac apps you can’t live without and related blog posts, I’ve found a few apps that have become increasingly indispensable for the work that I do. And that’s really the point – this is not a list that going to be as useful for other Mac users, and perhaps I’m missing out on apps that are better, but the fact is that these work for me, and they work well.
So in no particular order:
Can’t imagine going back to multiple instant messaging clients. Adium for the Mac is not just eye-candy, its rock solid and connects to more services that I have accounts for. Good shit.
Toast Titanium 8
Mac’s, like Windows XP, comes with CD / DVD burning capabilities built into the OS, but in both operating systems, I’ve found them to be less useful (and reliable) than a dedicated CD / DVD burning app. Toast Titanium 8 is as close to perfection as it gets – slick, fast and with the latest version, even giving me the option of burning Blu-ray discs, this is the best optical media copying and burning app I’ve used.
I’m increasingly into amateur photography (saving up to buy a decent digital SLR) and quickly outgrew the (amazing) iPhoto application, that comes bundled with the Mac. Switched to Aperture and though I’m still getting to grips with the application, the joy of working at native speeds on the Intel chip (Adobe Photoshop CS3, still in beta at the time of writing, will be the first Photoshop to support the Intel based Macs without Rosetta) and the power to manipulate RAW images and tweak photos, in real time, made this a natural choice for me. I still use Photoshop CS for image manipulation, especially filters, but the more I use Aperture, the more I grow to love, as with all Apple products, the sheer genius in design and functionality.
I used this on Windows, and wasn’t about to ditch it when I switched to a Mac. Same functionality, same reliability as the Windows version.
More powerful than Word, and what one can say is the equivalent of Microsoft Publisher for the Mac, Pages makes DTP enjoyable. Less capable than InDesign CS (which I’m learning) and QuarkXPress (which I have no desire to learn) but far more powerful than Word for the Mac, iPages delivers incredibly professional even in the hands of those who only know a smattering of DTP. Emphasis on professional – the templates included in Pages can transform even the most boring and ill-formatted Word document into something that looks as if it’s come out of a professional DTP house with a minimum of fuss. And once to get to grip with the underlying power of Pages, its a real disincentive to go for something like InDesign unless you really want to enter into high-end, high volume DTP.
While I used Bloggar under Windows, I was disappointed to learn that there wasn’t a Mac version available. This disappointment was short lived – Ecto’s now my single point of entry to around 10 blogs to which I contribute to on a range of platforms – from Blogger to WordPress. Everything just works.
Recently diagnosed with RSI, I was told that I needed to change my posture and my work patterns or else face surgery or worse. Taking the hint, I installed AntiRSI, which helpfully reminds me that no deadline is more important than my health. Not that I always listen…
Some of my work involves taking screenshots of websites for promotional purposes, writing manuals, creating help screens, or to include in reports. Paparazzi! makes all this a cinch – and I really haven’t come across an equivalent for Windows.
MaxBulk Mailer Professional
While I never used the Windows equivalent, the need to send out email updates to over 2,500 recipients required that I do something a bit more sophisticated than sending the same email many times over using the BCC field. Enter MaxBulk Mailer, which for around $60 gives me the control I need to send out emails in a structured manner, allows me to keep organised lists, group emails etc. Best of all, on my Mac, it uses Postfix, which is blindingly fast and very reliable.
Simply the best tool for a writer on the Mac. Period. And, in what I think is absolutely unique on for a programme on the web, the authors even tell you how to bypass the licensing scheme, allowing to effectively get the paid version, for free!
Mindjet MindManager 6 for Mac
I used MindManager a lot on my Dell, and was a bit lost when I switched to find something as easy to use on the Mac, even though there are quite a few open source mind-mapping tools around. Happily, MindJet released MindManager for the Mac, which, dare I say, is even easier to use than the Windows version.
Skype + Call Recorder
Ah – Skype. Honestly, what would an information worker today do without it? Problem is, Skype features on / for the Mac trail behind the Windows counterpart. None of the new features in Skype 3 for Windows are featured in the current release for the Mac, but the VoIP and video features work just fine, thank you.
And with Call Recorder, I can very easily create podcasts from Skype calls.
Now how could I watch all my WMV movies without Flip4Mac?
Hard to describe this one – except that Growl is a programme that once installed, provides status notifications from a wide range of programmes installed on my Mac unobstrusively in the upper right hand corner of my screen. Very smooth.
Honestly haven’t used this for any serious purpose. Yet. But whizzing through the global with accelerated OpenGL goodness powered by a Radeon graphics card that kicks ass can be a such an enjoyable waste of time.
Here’s the irony. I actually got Jack Ozzie, Ray Ozzie’s brother, to buy me what was my first legit copy of Windows XP SP2 direct from Microsoft (employees get a massive discount) and the bloody CD doesn’t work! There has to be some karma involved here for all the years of bootlegging Windows. Anyway, as a result, I’ve not been able to play around much with Parallels which everyone is oohing and aahhing about, save to install Ubuntu Edgy Eft – which works like a charm.
The only BitTorrent client I’ve used on my Mac. The only BitTorrent client I’ll ever use on my Mac.
Apart from these programmes – some of which I use many times daily, all of which I use at least once a week – I also love & use Uno, ccPublisher, CoconutBattery, HandBrake, OnyX, The Unarchiver, iStat Pro and Zinio.
And finally, there’s Dashboard. I’ve downloaded quite a few widgets to try them out, but iStat Pro is the only one I’ve found truly useful, aside from the built in widgets. The (currency) unit converter widget is one I find tremendously useful when writing a proposal & budget – it connects to the web to get the latest forex rates and what used to be a rather laborious task of going to the web to find the latest rates is now a cinch.
Since getting a Mac, I’ve been challenged to find an excuse that isn’t a lie to explain a delay in keeping to a deadline – this laptop simply does not crash, I haven’t re-started the system for over a week and it’s still working fine, all the software just works and the OS (OS X 10.4.8) so rock solid that you sometimes almost will it to crash just to see what it must be like.
Couple of minor annoyances. I think I mentioned the instability of Word in particular, but MS Office in general on the Intel based Macbook Pro. Given that I use this suite the most in a given day, I can’t wait to upgrade to the new version for Macs due sometime later this year, that should bring the feature set and functionality more in line with the new Office for Windows. And, more importantly, native Intel performance.
I wish, somewhere, there was a hard drive light. Though it doesn’t crash, the Mac does thrash the hard drive sometimes, and since it’s so bloody silent, the whirling beach-ball animation is all that gives an indication of hard drive activity.
This laptop runs hot – and I find it impossible to work with it on my lap. There are a few utilities out there that allows for the control of fan speeds, but I’ve shied away from tweaking such settings.
Windows vs. Mac
I don’t think I’m going to go back to Windows soon. For ICT4Peace and the work that I do, I can unequivocally say that a Mac is better than any Windows XP based laptop / desktop I’ve used – I now concentrate more on my work, than on maintaining my laptop with regular anti-virus upgrades, defragmenting, anti-spyware updates, Internet Explorer exploit updates and all manner of other annoying tasks that really does take up a whole lot of time if you add up the minutes.
I say Windows XP because aside from an early beta, I’ve not really used Vista. Having seen videos of it in action, I’d love to try it out to see how it compares with what I’m now used to on the Mac. But again, having experienced what is really a higher level of computing, unless there is a definitive and overwhelmingly compelling reason to go back to Windows, I don’t think I will.