How the Mac finally won me away from Windows

After two decades of using Windows, the Mac -- with a little help from the Web -- wins away a user.

Windows 3.0, Windows 95, Windows 98, XP, Vista, Windows 7. Once I left DOS, I went Windows and kept with it, never feeling a need to jump to the Mac. I'd even enjoy some lighthearted mocking of my Mac friends about which OS was better. But a one-two combo last week of getting a new MacBook Pro Retina and trying Windows 8 is finally knocking me off Windows as my primary computing platform and over to the Mac.

Before I write any further, I'm not trying to ignite any Windows vs. Mac fanboy debates. Whatever works for you works for you, and don't let anyone tell you that you're wrong. I'm not saying Mac OS is better than Windows 7 (or Windows 8) with this piece. I'm just sharing how the Mac finally wooed away a longtime Windows user, myself. 

The first computer I owned was an IBM-clone running DOS. Apple computers were out of my price range, back in my college days in the mid-to-late 1980s. I eventually moved to Windows and stayed with it because it worked fine for me. I'd made an investment in software that I didn't want to leave behind, and there were far more applications in those days for PCs, especially in terms of computer games. I used to have time to play those.

My first Mac, with a virtual Windows safety net
In 2008, I needed a new laptop. For the first time, I considered -- and purchased -- a MacBook Pro. The hardware was nice, well designed, ergonomic. It was more expensive, but given it was my primary work tool, it was worth that expense. Most important, the Mac could run Windows. I didn't have to worry about leaving anything behind. I could use both Mac OS and Windows.

Windows above, Mac below. Eventually, I switched to using the Mac "up above" and Windows "down below." Danny Sullivan

I jumped in using VMWare Fusion to run Windows virtually. I used a single external monitor, eventually running Windows "down below" on my laptop screen (mainly to use Outlook) and the Mac "up above" on my external monitor (mainly for Web browsing and composing).

Life was pretty good until 2010, when my MacBook Pro's logic board died. I had AppleCare, which covered the repair. But it also meant I would be without a computer for two weeks. I couldn't afford that downtime. I dragged out an old Sony Vaio laptop I'd abandoned after issues with Windows Vista, installed Windows 7 and was pretty happy.

Happy, that is, until the Vaio died. I went back to my MacBook Pro, only to have the logic board die again within a week! Down two laptops, I moved to a new Dell Studio XPS laptop. It worked well enough, but I missed the quality of the Mac. The trackpad wasn't as responsive nor as big. I missed the anti-glare screen of my Mac.

I'd have stuck with the Dell if it hadn't died on me a few months later. By then, new MacBook Pros were out, so I decided to try again. They had a 1,680 x 1,050 screen resolution with an anti-glare option, which made them especially appealing.

My second Mac goes full Windows with Boot Camp
Rather than run VMware Fusion, I went the Boot Camp route for running Windows. For those not familiar, Fusion (or the competing Parallels product) allows you to run Windows within the Mac OS itself. You can switch between Windows and the Mac on the fly. You can even run them side-by-side. With Boot Camp, you either boot up into Windows or Mac OS. To switch, you have to shut down and restart into the OS you want.

I choose Boot Camp because it made life a little easier. It meant Windows got all my MacBook's processing power and memory, for example. Windows also got all the advantages of the Mac's hardware. I like to joke that Apple makes some of the best hardware for running Windows.

Why not shift fully to the Mac? Mainly because I'd moved to running three external monitors. At the time, I still felt Windows provided a better multimonitor experience. It was easier to maximize a window to make full use of a screen or with a program like Ultramon to move it quickly from one screen to another. Resizing windows in Mac OS, in contrast, is a time-consuming pain. I also really liked Outlook and didn't want to use what I considered to be the inferior Entourage package.

My third Mac wins me over
My latest reassessment came last week, when my new MacBook Pro Retina arrived. I purchased a new one because I wanted the extra horsepower, memory and screen real estate the new MacBook Pros offered.

I also decided to begin using Windows 8, so I could get to know the new operating system better. The Windows 8 Preview installed mostly OK, though I could never get the Boot Camp control panel to work. That generated an "error occurred while trying to access the startup disk settings" message. A "sleep" option also never appeared.

These were relatively minor issues, but they bugged me. I spent a few hours installing and reinstalling and trying various fixes, with no luck. But during that time, I also began reassessing. Did I really still need Windows, either Windows 7 or Windows 8? Had the Mac evolved enough that I could fully jump to it?

Maximizing windows? Last year, I remember the "Lion" Mac OS update was supposed to have improved this. Sure enough, holding "Shift" while clicking on the green plus-symbol button in the top right corner of a window maximizes it as with Windows.

What about Outlook, which I still prefer to using something like Gmail in a browser? The email functionality of Outlook Mac 2011 is much better than how Entourage did things. I've used Outlook Mac on my MacBook Air when traveling for over a year without problems. The Outlook Mac calendar, however, I'd miss. As I covered before, it doesn't sync with Google.

I experimented with iCal, but I wasn't happy there wasn't a "multiweek" view, where you could see a month's worth of weeks even if they are across different months (say mid-June to mid-July). Playing further, I discovered that Thunderbird -- the e-mail program from Mozilla, which makes Firefox -- has a calendar add-on called Lightning that does offer a multiweek view. That, with the Provider For Google Calendar add-on, gave me the sync I was looking for.

Suddenly, I was free. I really had no reason to keep using Windows as my primary computing platform. Any remaining apps that I really needed, I could still run them using VMware Fusion.

My MacBook Pro Retina, running three external monitors. Danny Sullivan

As I write this, I'm using Mac OS on all three of my external screens to do the same things, in the same way, that I used Windows 7 for last week. Outlook's running. I have my calendar up. Browser windows are open for reading and composing. My cross-platform Twhirl app for Twitter is sitting where it usually goes (FYI, the screenshot above illustrates my setup purely using browser windows).

I was also pleased to find that after being disappointed that the MacBook Pro Retina didn't have an anti-glare option, so far, that's not been an issue. The new display despite being so glossy isn't giving me reflectivity problems. 

There are things I'm still adjusting to. I keep trying to Control-C and Control-V to copy-and-paste, rather than Command-C and Command-V. I could remap my keyboard, but I'd rather readjust my habits. Even with my tracking speed set to the highest level. I feel like it takes longer to move my mouse to different windows compared to Windows. I'll be exploring a possible fix for this. I hate Finder compared to Windows Explorer, so I'll likely seek out a Finder alternative. I really miss that with the Mac, each screen doesn't have its own task bar, as add-ons for Windows 7 allow or as is now native with Windows 8. But none of these are major issues.

The jarring change of Windows 8
Another factor in my shift was that I was less than impressed with my brief exploration of Windows 8. The new Metro apps made no sense to me, how to move them, how to get out of them. The new Start screen felt like it was in the way of me getting to my desktop. I missed the Start button and its easy access to my key programs. Shutting down from Windows 8 required jumping through more hoops to find the right option.

I know there are probably solutions and workarounds to these issues, and that over time, I might even learn to like Windows 8 for features I haven't yet discovered. But as a longtime Windows user, I didn't find it a compelling upgrade. Going to the Mac made more sense for me to keep doing what I have been doing effectively with Windows.

I'll still be running Windows 8, but virtually on the Mac. I want to explore more how the new system grows, and maybe it will win me back it the future. I still prefer things like Excel for Windows versus Excel for the Mac, so I might use Windows for the odd occasion I need Excel. But with the growth of Web apps, the maturity of the Mac, and the reassurance I have a machine that can go both ways, after years of trying, the Mac finally won me over.

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