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A Windows user's life with the Mac, two months in

Giving up Windows used to seem inconceivable, but after two months, the change has hardly been noticeable. One person's experience of the mostly good, with some bad, about leaving Windows behind.

It's been just over two months since I shifted from Windows to the Mac. Overall, the transition has been pretty painless. Amazingly so. But there are some things I really miss, so I thought I'd describe my experience.

Before I go further, I'll repeat my constant refrain in this column. Whatever works for you, works for you. There is no wrong phone, computer, or device. If whatever you use does what you want, more power to you and your choice!

Perhaps more than anything else, I miss Outlook 2010 for Windows. Its counterpart, Outlook 2011 for Mac, isn't as elegant or refined. It has serious problems with syncing information, as I covered in my previous column, The world may be cloud-crazy, but Outlook for Mac is stuck on Earth.

I'm very close to delivering on my promise of detailing why I find Outlook 2010 such a compelling front-end to Gmail. Outlook 2011, for e-mail, works nearly as well. But it's so poor in other areas that I might just give it up entirely.

Taskbars are another issue. I run three external monitors off my MacBook Pro Retina, often with multiple applications running on each monitor. It can be hard to quickly get back to my open calendar if it's hidden "under" another application.

Consider this:

That's the top of a monitor where I have open my Chrome browser, the Mac notes app, and Thunderbird. The latter two are hidden under the browser. The only way to get to them is to use the Mac "Mission Control" key, a painfully slow process for those using multiple monitors.

This isn't an issue with Windows. In Windows, I can have a taskbar for each individual monitor that shows exactly what's running. With a click, I can go between applications on a particular screen. Consider this, from Windows 7:

Here, my browser is full screen, covering up other apps that are open, like Sticky Notes, Paint, and Solitaire. But I can switch to any of these apps easily, because they each have an icon on the taskbar. 

I've explored some taskbar replacements, and I'll keep looking, but so far none are as good as what Windows offers. I get by, but I sure wish the Mac had better support.

Related to this is how with the Mac, menus for a program often live in the taskbar, separate from the program itself. With Windows, menus stay as part of a program. This means that with the Mac, if I'm using a program on one screen, I may have to look to another screen to use the menu for that program.

Consider this:

That shows Thunderbird running on the external monitor to the right of my big central external monitor. The Thunderbird menu bar shows up on the center monitor. If I need that menu, I have to move my mouse away from the right monitor and far over to the extreme left of the center monitor. It's crazy.

The Mac's Finder just makes me sad. It wants to sort folders as if they were files, unlike Windows Explorer. I also miss how Windows Explorer will turn thumbnails into really large images and let me scroll through them. 

I've explored some Finder replacements, but so far none of them feels as good as Windows Explorer. On the other hand, I'm slowly getting used to other ways of using Finder.

Aside from the issues above, I still need to launch Windows (a virtual instance on my Mac, using VMware Fusion) whenever I want to run Microsoft Money 2009). Windows also remains my safety net in case there are other Windows programs I need.

What's surprising is how little I drop into that safety net. I used Windows as my main operating system for about 20 years. I've shifted over to an entirely different platform and feel little significant difference.

For me, the shift meant that I could use the MacBook Pro Retina I wanted for the nicer screen it provides, plus have the fast on-off power saving I've grown used to with my MacBook Air. It's worked very well for that. If anything, it makes me really wish for external Retina-quality monitors that can match my laptop's screen.

Others, of course, might be perfectly happy with a Windows machine doing the same thing. I don't present my story to entice people to shift from one platform to the other, or to say one is better than the other. It's more about how much both platforms have moved to the middle, aided by the rise of Web browsers. So much of my activity is done in a Web browser that it makes little difference what computer I'm on.