From technology to politics to video games; these are the random thoughts of a geek with too much time on his hands
Revisiting the Macintosh after 8 years away
Published on April 12, 2005 By Zoomba In Personal Computing
Note: This actually is turning out to be considerably longer than I anticipated. I will be dividing this article into a five part series. Here’s how they’ll be organized:

Part 1 – Looking back to the early days of my computing life… (Background information)
Part 2 – Readjusting to the MacOS Interface (Navigating the UI, noting differences with Windows as well as previous iterations of MacOS)
Part 3 – Software on the Mac (A look at apps bundled with the system, as well as what else is available from 3rd party vendors)
Part 4 – Mac for the Power User (It’s UNIX with a good Interface)
Part 5 – Final Thoughts & Conclusions



Part 1 – Looking back to the early days of my computing life…

I started my computing life as a Mac user, enjoying the wonders of the Macintosh SE when I was just 5 years old. I crashed it, erased all of my father’s research data, played games and spent hours upon hours exploring its potential. We upgraded directly from the 8MHz beast with 1MB of RAM to the blisteringly powerful (and color!) Macintosh LC3. The jump to an astonishing 25MHz machine with 4MB of RAM in 1993 was more than I could imagine. I was flying! It was this machine that opened me up to the world of The Internet. Here was where I got my first taste of e-mail, web browsing, news groups etc.

As time went on however, I found that my PC friends were beginning to outpace me in terms of capabilities. I always knew I got short-changed on games, but the games I did have absolutely rocked (hey, Myst was built using Apple technology!). The real problems started to crop up when The Internet really started to take off, and it was on the PC predominantly. By 1996 my family was straining under the limits of our aging hardware, especially as I became increasingly interested in how the machine worked and spent a lot of time tweaking the system with ResEdit. In the fall of ’96, we made the switch, we bought a PC. Well, I made the switch, my parents continued to use the Mac for work since all of their files and data were stored in Mac app formats that had no PC equivalent at the time.

I moved to a Pentium 200MHz machine with 32MB of RAM. I couldn’t even comprehend this sort of speed increase. 8 to 25 was massive enough… 25 to 200 though was something entirely different. 300% increase to an 800% increase. I had access to games, to the latest and greatest of the Internet, and I had a machine I could fiddle with that Linux thing I had heard about.

I continued to use Macs in a minor way through High School since that was what they had and I was one of the few students allowed to service machines and fix problems. In college I let them mostly get cast off to the side, I had my uber PC, I didn’t need to use a Mac at all period. I became pretty anti-Mac in this period too since I came off the platform with a very bad taste in my mouth. I left the Mac at possibly the lowest point for the platform as a whole. System 7.5 was pretty crappy. The clone licenses had been revoked. Software companies were abandoning the Mac left and right. Worst of all, The Internet, the obvious future of computing, didn’t seem to have much going on the Mac.

It wasn’t until early 2004 that I started looking at the Mac again. I had firmly established myself as a Linux and Windows user. A Gamer. A power user. So the Mac didn’t offer me much anymore, or so I thought. I had spent some time supporting a smattering of Macs running System 7, 8, 9 and X at my job as IT Guru for the Biochem Dept @ PSU but never really worked much with them. Finally, I decided to try and relearn the platform, so I had the department purchase me a 12” Powerbook for me to get more comfortable with supporting the half of the department that was Mac-based.

I found the new MacOS to be a mix of the familiar from my time long ago as a Mac user, as well as some of the nicer things I picked up from the Linux world. There was some frustration, and a fair bit of readjustment, but the experience was well worth it. I know die-hard PC users will come across this article set and claim that I’m biased because I used a Mac way back when or whatever. Yeah, I may be a bit influenced by that, and the fact that I’m familiar with the basic concepts of an Apple GUI made the transition back easier than it would be for those who only ever used Windows, but I still think I can provide a pretty good look at what MacOS is today as it compares to the other systems out there.

Come back in a day or two to read Part 2 of the series, where I go into the UI in greater depth and point out the nice things, as well as the counterintuitive things I can’t figure out why Apple changed or added.

Comments (Page 1)
on Apr 12, 2005
For those of you who might be curious, for the purpose of screenshots, descriptions etc... I will be using my Apple Powerbook G4 1.4GHz with 768MB RAM running MacOS 10.3 (Panther). While I was writing this first part, news of the launch of 10.4 came out, stating that it would be available on 4/29. I will not be including anything about 10.4 in this article set. At a later point however I hope to post a follow-up to the series with my take on the new version and how it impacts what I said in previous articles.
on Apr 12, 2005

I cut my teeth on the Apple IIc back in 80.  I left the platform for awhile and then came back in 90, and using mostly the Mac SE and come LC II.  I then went through the Mac OS (and processor) upgrades all the way to the Apple CLones (I still have a 180mhz clone).  The GUI was great and incomparable before Windows 95, but the speed still lagged.  I did like the plug and play ability tho, I just hated the fact that as each new iteration came out, the old programs and peripherals would no longer work.

I left the Mac world about 5 years ago due to a job switch.  I love OSX (my wife works in a Mac shop), but I got tired of the price premium.  Even to this day, that is a big detriment to going back to it (plus the fact that I am a senior engineer in a Windows/Linux shop now).

I think the best thing that Apple did do was come out with OSX and I still belong to a great list of Mac-o-philes that have already beta-ed Tiger.  and they help me with my Wife's computers (since she works in a small Lawyer shop that does not have an on site tech support staff).

But my Bread and butter is Windows.  My only slams against the platform is - Price and Software.  And yes, in the business (non-graphics) world, that is a big problem.  I suggest to my wife's boss that they get VPC when Microsoft released it last summer, but they could not wait, so they do have a couple of Windows machines now (Courts only do Windows).

I may get an OS X machine soon, as I do want to play with the command line (Finally!  That was long over due), and I do love the modularity of the software (not the horrid windows registry and DLL hell!).

For now, I will be a Windows person as it pays the bills.

That being said, and the fact that my reputation is on the line, I am going to delete this after I post it so that no one ever knows of my secret life!

on Apr 12, 2005
For a cost-effective Mac solution, a maxed out Mac mini will run you under $1,000 and you can plug in any standard PC monitor as well as USB keyboards and mice. Pretty darn cheap overall if you're looking to reenter the Mac world Though I'd wait on buying a Mac until 10.4 is released later this month.

The old Macs did have a command line, though it was cludgy and rather ineffective (you couldn't see what you were typing). You could access it by hitting the interpret key (the sideways triangle) on the keyboard to bring it up.
on Apr 12, 2005

Aaaacccckkk!  Brad posted this on the home page!  My dirty secret is out!  How will my family deal with the shame and stigma attached to me now?

Brad how could you!

Aahhhhhh!  I am melllllllting!  What a world, what a whicked world!

on Apr 12, 2005
Is it time to switch?


What about ObjectDesktop?????

Then I MIGHT switch.
on Apr 12, 2005
I've always had pc's but just a coupole of months ago bought a bottom of the line mini mac. I've a lot of upgrading to do eventually, but for now, I just wanted to try it out. Mostly curiousity. Heck, I wouldn't have joined wincustomize if I didn't have a curiosity! My boss has a mac, my best friend has a mac, I just felt a need to be a part of their computer world.

I will continue to read your articles, zoomba, with a keen interest.
on Apr 12, 2005
I think that the Mac vs PC debate is a matter of taste. It is comparable to buying a Rolls Royce vs "Pimp My Ride". Mac is out of the box usable for almost anything. It comes with word processing, easy browsing and email, system utilities, and an interface designed to appease the noobesque, and crumble to the power user. Windows is more of a blank slate os. It can afford to be as such because of the wealth of available freeware. When I can roll the payment, I would like to own a top of the line Mac and an insanely speedy alienware.
on Apr 12, 2005
This isn't so much a Mac vs PC article, it's about the experience of going back to the Mac and using my knowledge of the old Mac ways, the Windows method and how it all maps to the new OSX. Also to give a brief tour of the OS to those who are curious but have never had the chance to use it. Most people I know who try Macs get frustrated with the initial differences and give up quickly never to return.

Part of my final article will address the various computer using audiences and how I think they may like or dislike the platform. The biggest point I hope to make is that the Mac is a viable platform to use now, it's no longer the crippled little brother of the OS world it was a few years ago.
on Apr 12, 2005

I think that the Mac vs PC debate is a matter of taste. It is comparable to buying a Rolls Royce vs "Pimp My Ride". Mac is out of the box usable for almost anything. It comes with word processing, easy browsing and email, system utilities, and an interface designed to appease the noobesque, and crumble to the power user. Windows is more of a blank slate os. It can afford to be as such because of the wealth of available freeware. When I can roll the payment, I would like to own a top of the line Mac and an insanely speedy alienware.

No, actually, everything you attribute to the Mac here, is in a Windows machine as well.  There is little difference now between Windows XP and Mac OSX 10.3 (soon to be 10.4).  Each one is tweaking, but the features you want are in both out of the box.

me?  Give me a Mac at $500 (fully equipped as you can get a name brand PC for that), and then you are talking!

on Apr 12, 2005

Part of my final article will address the various computer using audiences and how I think they may like or dislike the platform. The biggest point I hope to make is that the Mac is a viable platform to use now, it's no longer the crippled little brother of the OS world it was a few years ago.

I dont think that the Mac was ever the Crippled platform.  It lagged windows after 2000 came out, but easily caught it with OSX.  before Win95, it was clearly superior.  Now I see them neck and neck.  Ease of use is a matter of 'upbringing', but both are easy to learn.  XP caught up with OSX on stability, so right now, it is a feature war.  And may the best OS win!

on Apr 12, 2005

Dupilicatepost! Cookie Monster time!

on Apr 12, 2005
Meowy- You've obviously never heard of Unsanity.com and ShapeShifter

Apple has been looking more and more tempting, and the desire to switch has been itching in me for the better part of a year. The rumors that they might adopt "The Cell" 9-core processor coupled to the crappiness incarnate that is Longhorn forged my commitment to Apple. Microsoft isn't innovating anymore- they're patching and repatching and repatching something that really needs to be reconstructed.

Tiger seems to be a really promising environment- it gives great "feedback" to the user in the form of drop-shadows, inherent anti-aliasing, and fantastic visual effects that emphasize Z-order without even realizing they're there, right out of the box. The UI guidelines for OSX http://developer.apple.com/documentation/MacOSX/Conceptual/AppleSWDesign/index.html#//apple_ref/doc/uid/TP40001084 spell out a clear direction for UI construction that provide a more intuitive and easily navigable system.

The X11 capabilities and easily obtained developers tools make it possible to quickly port apps to OSX (most of my Linux stuff can be recompiled from source pretty easily, without having to recode). Applescript is another time-saver, kind of like Batch-file processing on steroids.

For me, the time was right to switch. Still own PC's, but they've become much less compelling platforms to work on owing to their intrinsic flaws. The price-point of Macs are still the primary hurdle, but I've personally not met anyone disappointed in the purchase.
on Apr 13, 2005
Part 2 posted Link

on Apr 13, 2005
I can see your point, zoomba. I think that as far as OS features and UI are concerned, the differences have dissolved between these os's. Basic differences really are the only things that distinguish the appearances and face value operations.

I make the assumption that you are some level of power user. Definitely try to ride the line, and don't exclude yourself from either Mac or Windows. I use 10.3 Macs at my school, and an SP2 laptop everywhere else. I really find that with very little practice, one becomes adept at manipulating each. You will learn to fight for good and be on the dark side.

on Apr 13, 2005
The rumors that they might adopt "The Cell" 9-core processor


Mmmm... Cell..... *Gargle, Drool*


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