Should I buy a PC or a Mac? This is a question many of my clients have asked me.
I am not going to write about why one system is better than the other. The purpose of this article is to approach the Mac from the perspective of a long-time PC user. If you come from a PC background, as I do, then I would like to make you aware of some changes in the way you will be working if you invest in a Mac.
I recognize that, for most people, the issues I discuss below are not “deal breakers”. Most home users just want to check their email and browse the Internet on their home computer. (Then again, if that’s all you want to do, why not buy a $300 netbook rather than an $1100 Macbook?)
If you are a loyal Mac user please don’t get angry about my comments. I am not a shill for the evil Micro$oft empire. I am merely discussing my observations. Please do not write and tell me that I just don’t understand the “Mac way”. I am interested in doing things my way, not Apple’s way, and not Microsoft’s way. With regard to that subject, I found this quote online:
“If you learn to use a Mac the way in which Apple intended, then you will find it is more intuitive and easier to use than a PC.”
Is it unbearably obnoxious to point out that if you have to learn to use something differently than how you wish to use it then it is by definition not intuitive?
Perhaps the primary reason most PC users consider purchasing a Mac is that Macs currently do not have the sort of virus problems that PCs do. However, this is likely to change as Apple takes more market share and it becomes financially worthwhile for hackers to actually write viruses for Macs. Of course, by the time this happens most of us will probably be ready for a new computer anyway, so this is certainly a valid point of view. Here is a great article on Mac security myths.
So with all of my disclaimers out of the way, here are the issues that I personally find problematic:
Keyboard Shortcuts. In my experience, the default settings on a Mac tend to neglect keyboard shortcuts, which many PC users swear by. For example, by default, Macs do not allow for using the tab key to move between “buttons” by default. Of course you can always change this behavior under Keyboard and Mouse Preferences, but I find it curious that an operating system than is supposed to be simple to use requires several changes out of the box to make it convenient.
As another example, there is no “delete” key on a Mac; or rather, the delete key lets you backspace to delete a character to the left of the cursor. If you want to delete a character to the right of the cursor, you need to either move the cursor, or use two hands to hold down the Function key while pressing Delete;
Personalizing Settings. The PC’s control panel is powerful but intimidating to some users. By contrast, Mac System Preferences are extremely limited, although most Mac users seem to like the simplicity. Personally, I find it irritating that I have to download a third party tool for something as basic as disabling the Mac start-up chime. (Please visit this link if you are interested in downloading the start-up chime disabler.
Another limitation of the Mac System Preferences is that by default the lid cannot be closed without going into Suspend mode. Again, there is a third party program you can download:
However, it is still necessary to manually adjust the setting each time you boot the computer;
Functionality. I find Windows Explorer to be much more powerful and functional than Mac Finder. For example, in Mac Finder, you cannot move items by pasting them if you are using column view. You can only do this in icon view. As another example, on a PC, a file of almost any type can be created by right clicking on the desktop to access the context menu; this function is not available on a Mac.
Do you depend on that little box in the upper right-hand corner to maximize the current window to the whole screen? On a Mac, there is no such thing as “full screen”. It is necessary to manually open the window all the way to fill the entire desktop. You do this by manually moving the window to the upper right and then pulling down the lower right grab bar until the Window expands to fill the screen. For more information on this issue please visit this link.
Another example of limited functionality is that adding a bookmark in Safari does not allow you to add a new folder at the same time. You can do this when using Internet Explorer on a PC;
FTP uploads. Macs have no built-in FTP application. The user must download a third-party application such as FileZilla. However, with Windows XP and beyond you can use the Windows Explorer interface to drag and drop over FTP;
Software Options. Since Macs have a much smaller market share than PCs, it seems software designers sometimes treat the Mac versions of their products as an afterthought, especially when it comes to business-oriented applications. If you are used to Windows versions of software with almost infinite settings and configuration possibilities then you may be disappointed with the Mac version of your software. I have heard this complaint from several of my clients who made the switch to Mac and were unhappy with the Mac versions of Quicken, MS Word, etc. Of course, this assumes that the software you want is available at all. For example, a client recently wrote me:
“As a new Mac user I’m considering returning to my PC where I can get WordPerfect instead of Microsoft Word…”
Another example of the above is the Mac version of Blackberry Desktop Manager. I was surprised to find that the sync cannot be set up one-way from the device to the computer as it can be on a PC. The only options available for the Mac version are one-way from computer to device, or two-way. The first time you sync the program asks if you want to delete all the data on the device and the choices are “yes” or “merge”. It is currently not possible to sync one way from your device to the Mac;
Of course it is possible to avoid every issue I’ve raised by running Windows OS on a Mac. However, running Windows under Parallels virtualization software requires a significant amount of extra memory (RAM). Also, connecting USB devices while running Parallels sometimes results in weird conflicts. I am still trying to solve the Mystery of the Translucent Gray Icon;
Mac/PC Compatibility. While Macs and PCs play more nicely than ever when it comes to file sharing, networking, and Exchange connectivity, there are still some issues which are particularly important for those in the business world to consider.
In business, Outlook is still king of email programs. Unfortunately the two operating systems use different methods to render font sizes, which means that Outlook fonts on a Mac often look very different on a PC. There is NO resolution for this issue, although there are some workarounds. So if you like to or need to format your emails beyond one basic font for the whole message, think carefully before depending on Outlook for Mac or Mac Mail to send business emails.
There are also compatibility problems when accessing MS Sharepoint from a Mac. You will likely have chronic issues fully accessing your Sharepoint files via Mac Finder. MS Office’s Document Connection (part of Office for MAc) fulfils some of the missing functionality, but is also buggy and prone to random issues. The Sharepoint experience on a Windows PC using WebDAV is much smoother.
If your company uses a browser-based VPN client to allow you to connect to your work files remotely, make sure it works in Safari. Some major VPN clients only work in Internet Explorer, which is non-existent on a Mac (unless you install Windows on your Mac).
Googling for Answers. In my experience, when troubleshooting a Mac issue, answers are harder to come by. This makes sense since there are far fewer Mac users than PC users. Perhaps for this reason, Mac users seem very tolerant of system errors. Based on my reading of several forums, it seems that problems are often addressed with an attitude that boils down to, “Don’t worry. It is normal for that to happen.”
For example, I experienced a problem when I would log into Facebook on my Macbook: a blue ball would frequently appear, and Safari would simply hang with no end in sight. (Safari apparently has some problems handling java script.) While PC users would curse Microsoft to the end of days if Internet Explorer could not render basic java script code, Mac users seemed to take this fundamental problem in stride. If you don’t believe me, please visit this forum topic. I especially love the line, “No virus. No Safari resets. No fix required.” I think the poster really means “no fix available.”
Whew, this has been one of my longest blog posts. Time to take a break and watch a Netflix instant movie on my Macbook. (Did I mention I had to pay $20 extra for the little adaptor to connect my Macbook mini-DVI output to a standard VGA monitor?)
My purpose in writing this post was to give you some insight into what you may experience switching to a Mac from a PC. You may feel more prepared to make the switch knowing what to expect. Or you may decide to stay with Windows. Either way, I hope you have found this post useful. If you have switched from one system to another, I‘m interested to hear how it went for you. Please let us know in the comments! Remember, no flaming!
This article was originally published in 2010. I recently updated it so I’ve republished it.