Lessons From a Mac OS Switcher

Over the past few months, I’ve put aside my PC and switched over to a Macintosh full time. I wanted to take a closer look at the viability of the Mac for business use, something more and more users are considering (see “Mac Attack,” page 26). I settled on a MacBook, since I need portability and the MacBook Pro is too heavy to carry on a regular basis. I ran the latest version of Mac OS, 10.4.9, and installed Windows XP with Service Pack 2 under both Parallels Workstation and Apple’s Boot Camp beta. Here’s what I learned along the way.

Hardware

The MacBook is a fantastic machine. The attention to detail is amazing, from the MagSafe connector, which makes it virtually impossible for anyone to trip over your power cord, to the integrated iSight camera, which makes videoconferencing simple. But though it’s the lightest Mac you can get, at a travel weight of 5.2 lbs., it’s not nearly light enough for me. I have no need on the road for an integrated optical disc and would prefer to leave it behind or to be able to put an extra battery in there. The MacBook also lacks expansion slots, so there are no integrated memory card readers or EV-DO cards (USB ones do work).

Lesson: If there’s a Mac that fits your needs perfectly, you’ll probably love it, but choices are limited, especially for those who want something ultralight.

Line-of-Business Applications

All my corporate Web-based applications worked. Some of them didn’t love Safari, but I was able to fix that by downloading Camino, a Firefox-based browser optimized for Mac OS.

Lesson: Problems are likely to have work-arounds.

Productivity Applications

For the most part, I used the Mac version of Microsoft Office for collaborating with the rest of the organization, and it mostly worked out OK. But a PowerPoint presentation I had spent hours on couldn't be viewed properly on Windows machines. And launching the office applications was slow, since they are not Intel-native and therefore must rely on Apple's Rosetta to run via emulation on the Intel-based MacBook. I preferred using Apple's tools, such as Pages and Keynote, when possible.

Lesson: Compatibility isn’t a problem until you get into more complex documents. (As expected, graphic arts applications, particularly the Adobe Creative Suite, ran flawlessly.)

Exchange Synchronization

This was a big one for me. Microsoft’s Entourage application just didn’t work well on the Mac. Calendar times didn’t sync up, and appointments were often (but not always) a day off. OS X’s native mail application worked fine with Exchange, and there are two Mac applications that handle calendar and syncing with the Exchange global address list. But both of them have limitations that make them hard to recommend.

Lesson: If you rely on Exchange, especially for calendar sync, you’re going to be best served using Parallels Work­station or Boot Camp to run Outlook directly under Windows.

Bottom line: The Mac of today is not the Mac of old. The benefits outweigh the hassles. The ability to run Windows seamlessly via dual booting using Boot Camp or virtually with Parallels Workstation means Windows applications are only a click away.

Read more about switching from PCs to Macs:

Michael Gartenberg is vice president and research director for the personal technology and access and custom research groups at JupiterResearch in New York. Contact him at mgartenberg@optonline.net. His weblog and RSS feed are at http://weblogs.jupiterresearch.com/analysts/gartenberg.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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