Apple vs. Windows? Actually, it’s Not a Simple Question.

Being knee-deep in the technical world, I get asked “Which do you use, Apple or Windows?” more times than I care to count. If I’m being asked by another technically-savvy person, I usually try to tiptoe around the topic because it seems almost everyone is married to one or the other. If I say I use Windows products, Apple advocates are surely going to point out the User Interface issues and abundant viruses housed on Windows. If I say I use Apple products, Windows (or Linux) advocates will be quick to complain about the lockdown of the development environment and the largely proprietary attitude of Apple. Unfortunately for both cult groups my answer isn’t as simple as saying I use one or the other.

I come from the school of thought that teaches that the tool that’s the best for the task at hand is the tool I want to use. I try not to become married to a company or product just because I like what they stand for or because I like their other products. I believe that, when you’re in technical field, it’s important to stay up to date with all technologies and to expand your skills as time goes on. I see so many legacy coders who refuse to move from Assembly, COBOL, and even C++ to newer languages just because they can do anything they want in those languages, but this refusal to adapt usually leads to a stagnant environment that’s incapable of evolution.

So why do people refuse to update their tools when it comes to technology? I don’t think there’s any one answer to this question; stubbornness, or even pride, can cause people to blindly follow a product they’ve always trusted before. But I’d be willing to bet that the lack of information, or even misinformation, from people who should know better is a leading cause.

For example, I was setting up a new printer for my neighbor the other day and we got into the Apple vs. Windows debate. Unlike most of the technical users I interact with, my neighbor was simply more curious about the advantages and disadvantages of each. After I explained the technical differences between the products and policies, she smiled and told me about a friend of hers who made the switch to Apple about two years ago and has never looked back. Her friend continues to tell her that Apple has the best products out there, and to tout their sales numbers, but fails to provide any solid reasoning as to why Apple is superior. In short, she was grateful that I gave her an objective breakdown of the two companies.

In the end, I’ve just accepted the fact that some people will have a positive experience with a company or product and that experience will be enough to encourage blind loyalty. Some people will choose Apple products and then they’ll stick with Apple products; others will choose Windows and stick with Windows. This system probably won’t ruin anyone and there’s always the benefit of familiarity with the product, but if we want to truly continue to progress and evolve, I think we have to be open to new and different products.

The question shouldn’t be “Apple or Windows”, but rather “What’s the best technology for this task?” After all, if we all refused to evolve we’d still be using AOL for our email and internet and Google would be an unknown name in the computing world!

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Learn from my Mistakes: Switching to Mac

Originally posted by Algonquin Studios CEO, Steven Raines, on June 19, 2012, on his blog.

Last year, in order to work on a project targeted at the iPhone, I switched my primary computer to a Macbook Pro. At that point I hadn’t used a Mac in over 20 years, so it was a significant transition for me. After about 8 months, I am generally very pleased with the Mac so I thought I’d share some of the things that I have learned in the transition.

You still need Windows. The Mac comes with a lot of great software, but you are almost certainly going to need Windows. Because of Apple’s relatively small market share, lots of applications are not available for the Mac. Visio, Subversion, and numerous financial packages just aren’t available for Mac. If you use Exchange, support for Outlook on the Mac is severely diminished (see below.)

There are a number of solutions for running Windows as a VM on the Mac, and my personal recommendation is Parallels Dekstop for Mac. In Parallels, you can create a VM and run the software in what they call “Confluence” mode, which allows you to run Windows applications on the Mac desktop instead of having a separate Windows desktop (which you can also do.) It also allows you to merge your Windows and Mac Desktops, Documents, Pictures, etc. The best part about having the Windows VM is that its just a file so you can back it up. And Mac’s Time Machine is nice enough to let you restore an older version when an Windows Update goes awry.

Quick tip: Make sure for Mac has at least 8MB of RAM (sorry Air owners) to get good performance from both systems.

Another Quick Tip: The Mac Remote Desktop Client is also crash-prone. If you need to connect to another machine via Terminal Service, do so with a Windows Client.

Key Mapping is Key The Mac keyboard is greatly simplified compared to the Windows keyboard and the most notable omission is the Backspace key. When running a Windows VM this key acts as the Backspace and Option-Delete acts as Delete. Similarly, All your standard “Control” options (Cut, Copy, Paste) use the Command key on the Mac instead of the Control key (which is still there.) Fortunately, Windows reads both Control and Command as Control, so you can get into the habit of always using Command.

Quick tip: You can map keys between the VM and Mac. If you are using Parallels in Desktop mode, I recommend Mapping Control-Option-Command-Delete to Control-Alt-Delete in the VM. That way, you don’t have to use a mouse to unlock or log into your Windows desktop.

Email is Apparently a Deprecated Technology Email on iOS is WAY better than on the Mac. Don’t expect the iOS experience for mail if you use Exchange.

To connect to Exchange, you need to use Apple Mail or Outlook and neither is a great option. The Mac version of Outlook 2011 lacks many of the features of the software available on Windows and doesn’t use PST files, so you can’t just attach to old mail archives (all mail must be imported.) It can’t talk to Exchange 2003 so if you are n a split environment you won’t be able to view other users calendars or folders and Outlook for Mac only supports one server address, so if you use an internal work Exchange server and you at home you will have to connect to a VPN to access it.

Apple Mail / iCal / Address Book appear to connect easily and support internal / external addresses with auto resolution,  but I had problems getting them to reliably sync, which is not a problem I had on iOS. This caused issues with contact updates not coming through and periodically I’d have to Force Quit Apple Mail to get it to start syncing again. I can only hope the convergence in the newest release of MacOS will resolve this. Additionally, using Apple’s tools won’t allow you to see shared calendars, so if that is important to you, consider installing the Windows version of Outlook on your windows VM. I have tried both and have recently switched back from Apple Mail to using Outlook and when I am at home, using Outlook web access (or my iOS devices.) At this point, OWA is getting sophisticated enough that it may be all you need (though you’ll likely still need two separate URLs to connect at work and at home.)

If you use the Outlook for Windows solution, get used to Option-Delete to remove junk mail. Just hitting Delete is the same as the Backspace so it will navigate you to the previous screen instead of removing messages.

Turn on Single Touch clicks The Macbook track pad has a lot of resistance for clicks. In the Track Pad settings, you can turn on single touch clicking so you only have to tap the track pad to get it to respond.

Where’s my Menu? In Windows, the main application menu is always on the application window you are working in but on the Mac, the main menu always appears at the top of the screen. This takes a lot of getting used to… especially when working on multiple screens and having to go to the main window to access the “File” menu.

Closing Apps Doesn’t Close Them. Except when it Does On Windows, I expect the “X”  in the title bar to kill the application. On the Mac, some applications do close (Address Book) but some only close the window you are working with and leave the core application running (Safari, MS Word, etc.)

Add Windows Explorer to your Task Bar If you make a lot of use of tools that are integrated into the Windows Explorer and go the Confluence route with Parallels, Adding the Windows Explorer bar to your Dock makes things a lot easier. Finder integration is limited.

You probably don’t need Adobe (unless you are a designer) Preview does a great job of rendering PDFs, so there is no need for Acrobat Reader and you don’t need anything special to make PDFs. Mac has the built in ability to make PDFs right from the “Print” option in any program. At the bottom left of the Print dialog is a “PDF” option. You can also use the built in Preview application to merge multiple PDFs into one. Simply open a PDF, open the Sidebar view and drag additional PDF documents to the Sidebar. When you are done, Print using the PDF option outlined above and you’ll get a merged PDF.

If you just occasionally edit photos and  you don’t want to shell out a few hundred dollars for Adobe licenses, consider using Seashore. This is a great little program that does all the key features the casual user is likely to need for photo editing for free. Or check out the App Store.

Quick Tip: You are, of course, going to install Flash and Adobe has a nasty habit of putting its uninstallers in Launch Pad (which you can’t move to the Trash Can.) Instead, create a folder to hold the Adobe junk and put it in a Launch Pad window far off to the right of all of your other applications.

Up Up Down Down Left… Magic Key Combos. You can capture any screen with COMMAND-SHIFT-3. You can select an area of a screen to capture with COMMAND-SHIFT-4. In both cases, the results are saved to your desktop. Add CONTROL to the key stroke and get the images captured to your clipboard instead.

Like Windows, you can switch between apps with COMMAND-TAB. However, you can also switch between Windows within the current application by using COMMAND-~. This is super helpful if you have multiple windows open in Safari, word, etc.

Quick Tip: Apple provides an updated list of general and application specific short-cuts.