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The Mac – two years on

Two years ago, I decided I was tired of Windows. I was already running Linux full time at lab, part-time at home, and nearly full-time on my trusty old Thinkpad T23. And so I did something that, back then, was quite unheard of – I started thinking about switching to a Mac.

I knew not a single person who was using a Mac, I’d never seen a Mac being used except as a 14-year old (one of my friends had a Macintosh running System 7.3). But I had heard all about it, mainly on slashdot, and was impressed with what people had to say. I spent a couple of months researching on what served for software on the Mac, attended a few seminars and workshops on the Mac; and finally wrote the following on my blog:

no, i don’t think i’m ready to buy an apple just yet. though its cool (and i was really excited at seeing all the new stuff), my work and play are going on pretty smoothly on linux and windows respectively. apple is for when i have 3K with no better use for it than to play on a new platform with.

— Me, January 18th, 2005

Less than a month later, it was all over but the squealing.

For two years plus a day or three, it’s been a great journey. Mostly, I’ve loved my Powerbook, on rare occasions hated it, occasionally compromised and yes – I did eventually make a dual-boot system with Linux on it. For a year and a half, it was my primary computer without doubt, and I did virtually everything except game on it. For the last six months, it’s been more of a useful toy – for photography, some writing and Powerpoint. But it’s something I can survive on completely if I have to.

The positives are many. The best – solid build quality. My laptop feels as good as new on my lap – keyboard response, screen brightness, speaker quality, everything – nothing feels the least bit aged. My battery was recalled and replaced sometime last year but even after 1.5 years, there was no noticeable decrease in charge retention capacity.

Next – Mac OS X. As solid, stable and good-looking an OS as one can hope to see. I’m running on a PowerPC G4 processor. The G4 architecture first debuted in 1999 – more than seven years ago – and my applications never skip a beat (well, maybe Firefox does once in a while but thats Firefox). Unless I run code benchmarks on this thing, it’s hard to tell how old a CPU my laptop is using. And of course there’s all the eye candy – which I was initially enamoured by, but don’t care for anymore. I hardly use Expose, my Dashboard is permanently turned off. But for those who like looks, OS X is as pretty as anything out there – though I haven’t seen Vista up close yet.

Finally – things just work. The best hardware/software integration I have ever seen on any platform. Wireless just works, external monitor support is nothing short of amazing, and I’ve never had to go hunting for a driver. This will probably be the one thing that will keep me stuck on the Mac platform when I upgrade my laptop.

There are a few negatives too. The biggest one is lack of hardware options. In the laptop space right now, Apple doesn’t have a laptop that I’m completely happy with. The Macbook Pros are too big – but the Macbooks have that glossy reflective screen that I can’t stand and are limited to Intel onboard graphics. In the desktop space, you either get a highly performance limited Mac Mini, or an iMac. If you already have a good monitor and are looking for a Mac tower – you have no option but to go for the ridiculously expensive Mac Pro systems.

For people who love to tweak their OS to the extreme, the Mac will feel stifling. It’s just not as hackable as Linux, and in some ways even less so than Windows. You do get a lot of customizability both out of the box and due to the BSD base – but there are limits to this.

Frankly, if Linux would become top-notch in terms of laptop hardware support (external monitors, hibernate support and so on), and get a few more applications (Photoshop, presentation, voice/video chatting apps), I would switch back to a Thinkpad. While OS X is fun, Linux is what makes me feel at home. Until then though, the Mac is a more than able replacement.

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