Moving from windows to mac

Warning: This blogpost has been posted over two years ago. That is a long time in development-world! The story here may not be relevant, complete or secure. Code might not be complete or obsoleted, and even my current vision might have (completely) changed on the subject. So please do read further, but use it with caution.
Posted on 24 Jul 2010
Tagged with: [ mac osx

Even though most of my work is done on Linux systems, my laptop and home-systems are installed with Microsoft’s Windows. Even though I don’t want that OS anywhere even remotely near my servers, I think it still is the best system for day to day use. All the software I need is on there, I’m used to the interface and when maintained properly (ie: remove all unneeded services and programs, clean it up etc on a weekly basis), it’s stable enough to say I can leave my systems running for weeks without any problems. Suffice to say, i’m happy enough.. at least, I though i was.. until 2 weeks ago…

I’ve read the articles and heard the stories. Once you work with a mac, you don’t go back…. There are enough fanbois in my direct neighborhood pushing me towards apple so I’m pretty skeptical about it (as i am with, well, almost everything).

First off, I like being in control. Saying: it just works, isn’t good enough for me. I want to know what is going on in the background, why is a certain service running, and if I don’t think I need it, i want to switch it off. Even though this is getting harder and harder under windows, I still am in control on what get’s loaded and what not. I don’t want to use 10% of my memory on a virus-scanner, so I don’t use it. It’s my choice, so I switch it off. Easy… I can do that even though you really shouldn’t even NEED to do that… But that’s life…

So, my first though on a slogan like “It just works” is: “what if it doesn’t?”.

Making the switch:

I started to work on a macbook pro when I started my new job. A “normal” laptop wasn’t available at the time, so I used a mac for a few days waiting for a new one. I was worried I needed to spend a day or 2 to actually getting to use the system and install all the software I needed, but turns out it’s a very simple system. Granted, you need to know some things to make your life easier (some hotkeys etc), but on the whole: when you use windows, you can use the mac.

I was worried about the biggest differences (for me): the menubar is always at the top, not in the application window and there is no start-menu / task bar. Turns out: it’s even easier to use it this way. Don’t know why exactly, but I like it :)

Installing new applications was a breeze, so was creating a new user (namely: me). After a few hours, the whole system was up and running and I was pretty much doing my normal day to day work already..

There were a few problems though on making the switch: I accidentally pressed cmd-F5, this will trigger the voice-over. Very annoying when somebody is telling everything there is on the screen. (ok, it was funny the first minute). Also adding a secondary display on the notebook is a breeze, however, I didn’t know how to move the dock to another monitor. It really is not a very logical place (you have to move the bar on the miniature displays in the configuration).. hmmz..

Things I like on a mac

  • Since I’ve switched, I haven’t heard my disks anymore! I’m really wondering if they are present because I’m used to the constant swapping on windows systems :) I’ve had one process (thunderbird actually) that ran away with a few gigs of memory. At that point the system started to swap a lot. Because the response was still perfect, I didn’t notice it until 5 minutes later, because the CPU fan was still kicking at 100%. I had to go to the activity monitor to actually kill the process (could have done it within a terminal) but if it wasn’t for the CPU fan, i didn’t even notice that something was wrong.

  • I do PHP development in phpstorm, android (java) programming in Eclipse and python / C in netbeans. On a windows system, I could open only one editor without the whole system grinding to a halt, but on my macbook, I can open all three and the system still isn’t really busy.

  • I like adium. Most systems (icq, msn, skype) sooner or later add too much crap to their interface. When IM’ing, I don’t want my interface to be filled with advertisements, things I can do also with the application, gazzilion emoticons etc. That’s why I use trillian on a windows system. Adium is the same thing: it’s there, it does what it needs to do and you don’t get the crap. Even the mac’s skype version is still pretty clean.

  • Textmate is great. It’s like notepad on steroids.

  • Spotlight (launchy on windows) is really nice. Instead of going into you startmenu and finding your application, you just press cmd-space and type the app you like (or whatever you like to find). Be it documents, emails, everything… It’s really nice although first indexing can be very slow on startup.

  • Applications are installed by simply copying them into the Applications directory. Removing them is just dragging it to the trashcan. Even though I don’t think things internally work as simple as thing (what about configuration files, shared libs etc), it’s a very nice system to use.

  • Spaces and expose are nice. Spaces are just multiple desktops but expose minimizes all active windows so they all fit onto one screen. You can easily pick out the window you like to work with. When switching 2 windows, you might use alt-tab, but expose gives you a much nicer overview. Sweet.

  • Growl. This is a program that display notifications on your screen. Other applications can use growl to display messages. For instance: when you receive email, when somebody is sending you an IM, but also when your CD is burned, ftp files are done or I guess even syslog messages from remote servers. It’s a very unobtrusive system and works really nice (note to self: see if there is a syslog-client, if not: make one :p)

  • Backlit on the keyboard is nice. I took me a while to find out it’s the mac itself that will switch it on or off (annoying, I want to do that myself thankyouverymuch). Also the screen gets dimmed when the room gets darker (but that you can control yourself again).

  • Multitouch pad, even though I never really use it.

Things I don’t like on a mac (but maybe it’s just me)

The biggest concern I have with apple products is that they are apple products. In terms of vendor lock-in, they are probably worse than Oracle. I don’t own an Iphone, Ipad or anything else I*, just because of the fact that I don’t like the way they operate. I’m perfectly happy with products from their competitors. However, this does not take away the fact that their mac (and os) is really good.

On the OS itself, the annoyances below might be valid points or they might be simple things that can be fixed but I just don’t know it (yet) :)

  • I don’t like the way that when closing all windows, the application stays running. Granted, pressing cmd-Q will exit it, so it’s just a 1 second annoyance, but it’s something I occasionally need to do: go over all apps, and close the ones I’m not using.

  • ALL programs in the task-switch (pressing alt-tab). Background apps like adium and skype etc shouldn’t be in this bar. They should stay in the background and not clutter up my application-bar.

  • Somehow, my mac doesn’t always recognize my samba shares on neighbouring computers (or even on my virtual box running on the same mac). This occasionally leads to frustration which ends into me mounting the share manually on the terminal.

  • Something the mac cannot be blamed for (but users can). Opening a terminal isn’t the same as working on linux. It’s not a linux clone but a nextstep / bsd flavoured system which is NOT (repeat NOT) the same.

  • Remote connections in terminal: I can’t really add new systems the way I like them. Also a lot less options (like priv/pub keys) like you see in putty. I miss that.. Tried iTerm, but wasn’t really happy with it.

  • DMG files. They are sort of ISO files that are mounted automatically by osx. They are not unmounted automatically, so when you are in a installing-mood, you can have 4 or 5 images open.

  • hot corners. You can setup your mac so the 4 corners of your screen becomes “magic”. For instance: when going to the lower left corner, it can display all the spaces avaible (virtual screens basically). It’s annoying when they are installed when you are using your mouse often.

  • One-button-mouse: I don’t use them. I stay away from mouses in general, but I can’t live without a two-button mouse if I need to. Sorry..


I think I’m one of the most skeptical humans on earth when it comes to OS’es. I don’t care about eye-candy and I trully hate it when that eye-candy takes away the performance on the system. Even though mac software and design always looks slick, it’s not something that takes away all my processing power and memory just to display transparent terminal screens or nice curved edges.

Suffice to say: even with the (minor) annoyances and the things that doesn’t quite work, I still am very supprised by the usability of the mac. I actually like working on the system. Even though I will not morph into a fanboy, I can honestly say that a mac is a very good substitute when you are getting really fed up with your windows machine. It’s pricey, but I think the value for money is good.

I noticed that I’m not even interested anymore what’s going on under the hood. I’ve taken a look, identified the most systems but I don’t really care :) I’m not willing to tweak the system, spend a half day only to load applications that make my life a little bit easier or uninstall all the applications that I don’t need. It’s a different world I guess, which even I am comfortable working in.

Ive spend time working with gnome, kde and even icewm. I don’t like the interfaces and the way they work so after a month or so, I was already back on my trusted windows system. I don’t have this feeling working on the mac (which I am on now, typing the blog entry :)).

So, please, don’t take my or anyone’s word for it.. but do try it… it’s worth your time…