This is, quite possibly, one of the most difficult articles to write; for starters, it's not a review of hardware, and it's not actually a review of anything concrete - it is a review of an experience. We all go about using our computers knowing that if we don't like something about them, if they are too slow or too unreliable or don't do something we need them to do, then we can upgrade them, or we can swap out the faulty part and put in a new one. Now, it costs us money (sometimes lots of it), but it is possible. But much like the U.S. election system, although there may be the illusion of multiple options for your OS, in reality, there is really only one. If you want any sort of software compatibility, driver support and don't want to be made fun of, Windows is the way to go. There have been righteous attempts by smaller OSes to gain traction, and some of them have (e.g. Linux), but for the most part, we're dealing with a one-party OS system. Now that's not necessarily a bad thing; quite contrary, in fact. I believe that Windows XP is the best thing to ever come out of Redmond and I have very few issues with the OS. I actually liked the XP theme when it first came out and I've been happier with Windows XP than any previous Microsoft OS (except maybe the good ol' DOS days). When installed on the right hardware with the right drivers (and with an eye to be wary of poorly written apps), I found that Windows XP was just as stable as any other OS that I'd ever encountered. My personal machine would go months between reboots without a single problem. It's not that there is anything wrong with Windows; it's that if you want the option, if there's any particular thing that you don't like about the way Windows works, you're straight out of luck.

I think that a bit of me was feeling, after being a strictly Windows user ever since version 2.0 (with the requisite mix of DOS back then), that there were a couple of things that had started to annoy me about Windows, which I would rather do without.

For starters, heavy multi-tasking management under Windows had caused me a lot of grief. Maybe it's just because of the nature of my work, but I tend to have a lot of windows open at any given time. I like quick access to the information that I need when I'm working and much like a messy desk, there is a method to my window-madness that only I know. When writing an article (especially big NDA launches), I'd have around 20 IE windows open, Outlook with another 5 - 15 emails, Power Point with NDA presentations, Word with my article, maybe Dreamweaver if I was starting to put it into HTML, not to mention Acrobat, some sort of MP3 player, Trillian and a bunch of explorer windows as well. After a certain point, the cramped taskbar became difficult to use as a locator tool, and while I could ALT+TAB forever, I just felt like I was idle for too long. I knew what it was that I needed to get to, and I knew I had it open, but the process of getting to it was a pain.

The other issue was with the way Windows handled having so many windows opened; after a certain number of windows were opened, stability and performance both went down the drain. Sometimes applications could no longer spawn additional windows or dialog boxes, requiring me to close a handful before I could continue doing anything, and other times, applications would simply crash.

It's not that I was dissatisfied with Windows and the PC experience in general, but I thought it might be time for something new - to see what else was out there.

I've always been a fan of trying alternate Oses - I was even an OS/2 user (both 2.0 and Warp) for a little while in my early years. So, a while back, I conjured up this idea to try using a Mac for a month. At first, it started as just a personal experiment, but it later developed into the foundation for the article that you're reading now. After doing the necessary research to make sure that I could actually get work done on a Mac, I whipped out the trusty credit card and decided to give the experiment a try.

What you are about to read are my impressions, as a devout PC user, of the Apple way of life.

The Basics
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  • swiedem - Wednesday, October 20, 2004 - link

    Valid questions, GoodWatch. For too many years, our network centered around a Novell server (on Dell iron) with ZENworks managing desktop software deployment, and the primary business computer was an IBM RS/4000 on AIX running Xymox facility scheduling and management software. The rest of the machinery in the building has migrated from dedicated hardware to a mix of Macs and PCs doing video post production and basic desktop business tasks. Infrastructure was always considered a non-performing asset by management so very little has changed there in the last 10 years. Thankfully, a few well timed lighting storms took out enough network equipment to demonstrate that a broken network meant the connected machinery couldn't talk.

    As time moved on, the old RS running at a blazing 150mhz had to go, and ZENworks stopped working as we deployed more XP machines. Microsoft was clearly being as deadly as possible to the Novell environment with each upgrade. The primary AIX business computer was updated with a Windows 2000 Citrix server running the updated version of Xymox called Xytech coupled to a PC SQL server.

    Funny story was the business application vendor said they could work with Sybase or MS SQL, so we bought Sybase for OS X and put that on an Xserve. The cost of MS SQL was enough to take your breath away compared to Sybase on OS X. That database server ran great while every PC SQL server near the Internet was getting killed by the Slammer worm. The whole Xserve/Sybase install was about $5k plus or minus. The new Xytech installation using Sybase was buggy and didn't communicate well with converted databases migrated from the old AIX machine. Turns out the application vendor said "oops, we haven't updated our app for sybase v.4" (they were testing on Sybase v.3 - duh) and they weren't likely to repair the Sybase functionality. We had to get the PC server with MS SQL. That cost us well over $14k all in, mostly for licensing and didn't run as well as Sybase on the G4 Xserve (2ghz DP). That Xserve became the Communigate mail server (insert plug: Sybase license for sale). the Microsoft licensing fees included the free terminal services used by Citrix that suddenly wasn't free anymore.

    Our post production business model was also moving rapidly from tape to spinning disk, so we started applying data solutions to media. There's the answer to your first question - our servers are mostly for file storage of massive proportions, not applications. There's really only one app server and it's not in the primary workflow. One thing to understand about the video post production machinery business is time moves very slowly. This isn't Adobe Premiere, this is $140,000 editing workstations, $80,000 video cameras with $50,000 lenses, $70,000 video recorders etc. We have ridiculous investments in operating environments stuck on a certain level of OS that can't move, otherwise the application will break. There's also the issue of people not wanting to change, but that's a second ridiculous issue on top of the first.

    As XP machines were deploying to the business desktops, the damnedest worms and viruses were coming out of nowhere. Well, we did know where it was coming from - clients walking in with PC laptops seeding trouble to the network, handing us disks with worms etc. We had a technical gathering where every ubergeek came in with their own WiFi laptop. We spent the next two weeks reloading Windows everywhere because we couldn't remove the worms planted by these people. It was bad. We have a mixture of lazy people plugging things into the network without regard to security, turning off virus scanning because it 'slows the machine down' and just plain people in denial over what security risks are at hand. We also had to visit all the XP machines regularly to get them working because they were plain crap. Didn't matter if it was a Dell or Compaq or whatever. It made us lament the passing of Windows 98.

    There was a pattern here. All the effort and defenses and failures were happening to the Windows machines and we didn't hear a peep out of any Macs in the building. They just worked. The cost of maintaining the Microsoft based systems was making us rethink everything, especially since just owning PCs was costing us more than we ever imagined in licenses, defense systems and labor. If everything was a Mac, we wouldn't even need a firewall. Really. The only machines we own directly connected to the Internet are Macs. They've all basically been there since 1996 (five of them - multihome web server, mail1, mail2, dns1 and dns2) and have never been hacked, bugged or wormed. They get hammered and stalled occasionally, but they pop right back up. Everything else is behind the firewall. We connected one PC to the Internet for a short period of time and it was immediately hacked twice, once by the Chinese and once it started yelling at us in Arabic. Sheesh.

    Doesn't matter if PCs cost a little less out of the box, you absolutely have a lot less money in your pocket at the end of a year when you're done fooling with PCs compared to the same number of Macs, especially since every Mac we've ever owned has outlasted 2.7 PCs. In the last two years, we've thrown out about 150 PCs. Can't upgrade them, can't fix them and they weren't THAT old (3-4 years or so). On the other hand, we have groups of 3, 6, 8 and 12 year old Macs that STILL WORK. That's their biggest downfall - Macs get way too old and won't die, so they don't get replaced.

    Finally, management agreed to doing a few right things which are still being deployed; managable networking (HP ProCurve gigabit switches replacing 3Com HUBS, for chrissake), making VLANs for clients (isolation), VLANs for WiFi nodes (screw WEP), decent redundant firewalls, antivirus filtering at the firewall, Communigate Pro mail server (Xserve) running POP, IMAP, and MAPI, taking Explorer off the desktops and deploying FireFox (HUGE difference in spyware), installing Xserve G5/Xraid (3.5TB) to replace Novell for file storage (also runs LDAP, FTP, Web, Samba, DNS, Retrospect Server and a few other things). All our new computer deployments use Ghost for PCs and Apple Remote Desktop v2 for Macs. We're going to deploy an Active Directory solution on top of everything else and really get the roving profiles working. As a note, we have about 28 audio and video editing workstations with large local spinning disk arrays, so no media goes directly over the network - yet.

    We tested the Xserve G5 against every other server we owned and it kicked their collective asses. The graphics and DVD department shoves gigs and gigs of stuff around every day through that machine. The Xserve is amazing and barely breaks a sweat. It's been in for about 8 months and a week hardly goes by without someone in that area running up to you and telling you how great the Xserve is. How often does THAT happen?

    In parallel with this is the deployment of Mac laptops and desktops. After the aforementioned three month whining period, the new Mac users have absolutely no use for the PC. Even the ones you dragged kicking and screaming to their new OS X desktop have become evangelists.

    Idunno. It seems fairly clear to me but I tend to use what's functionally better within a given set of circumstances. Having lived with computers for a long time (I come from the planet CP/M) you have an innate sense of what will blow up in your face and what won't. No amount of ridicule about being in the extremem minority will offset what works for you. Minority doesn't bother me. My old Beta machine still makes much better recordings than any VHS and my old home movies look better for it. I just ran some old web server logs; five years ago, about 4% of our web hits came from Macs. As of today, 31.2% of the hits are from Macs.

    Time's a changing?
    Reply
  • GoodWatch - Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - link

    In an answer to # 202 and 203.
    Although I must admit that buying a Mac to use alongside my PC is high on my wishlist (please don’t vomit), so no comments here, I do want to ask a few questions. What DO you guys use network servers for? (Honest question, no hidden agenda). As I read that Apple servers run circles around even the beefiest Dell servers (we use Dell servers by the way) you must use them mostly as application servers. We use IBM iSeries machines (AS/400’s) for that. The network servers are mostly file and print servers where disc throughput is more important than sheer processor power. One cluster for all the SQL jobs and two applications, one small server to do all schedule and monitoring jobs and one server to do two very specific tasks. We will add a dedicated terminal server to that because we want to consolidate the way we work with remote access through VPN. That’s it. Currently we are building a new desktop environment for the ca. 120 PC’s that are used. Deployment via RIS (and network booting). Need an extra PC? Boot from the network and about 15 minutes later it is up and running. Access to public networks is through a sturdy firewall and proxy server. Hardly any serious virus outbreaks up to now. (Aided by the fact we use Lotus Notes as e-mail platform). Users cannot install software and cannot tamper with crucial settings. We are with two persons running a complex network and we can manage perfectly. Most chores are done through an excellent remote control program which automatically pushes it’s agent to the workstation you have to work on. Reading all that misery about managing Windows PC’s makes me think most guys just to a lousy job (no insult intended).
    Just point me to a viable Linux alternative for Scada and OA based proces control (both server and client please) and perhaps I will look into it :-)


    Take care,



    Frans.

    Reply
  • hh - Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - link

    #194/Goodwatch
    >
    > Monday I’ll go to my CEO and tell him we will
    > scrap 140 perfectly good PC’s...etc...

    If you had a solid, well researched business case that supported that conclusion, you shouldn't be afraid of doing just that (although in your specific circumstances, I think its highly unlikely, because you're "stuck").

    > ...The biggest tasks, like rewriting our
    > dot Net apps and our Windows based technical
    > automation in the field gave me a headache
    > while writing this and made me stop.

    Your business is now "stuck" with Microsoft because your past business decisions were to adopt their proprietary products instead of investing in open standards that would strategically keep your options more open. IMO, its a shortsighted approach, probably because no one bothered to research the business case and the long term risks of being screwed by a Monopolist. You're not alone - - our IT Dept HQ has made the same choice, and we're not allowed to outsource them...they're riding the gravy train at my business unit's expense.

    My advice would be to pursue recommending a strategy of transition away from expensive, proprietary products and into more competitive open standards. The transition cost is managable when systems need major rewrites for upgrades anyway...look around at your local politics to see if the proper buzzeords are 'Technology Investment' or whatever.

    -hh
    Reply
  • swiedem - Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - link

    OS X is what Linux wants to be - elegant right out of the box with frightening power and capability. Most PC users believe their OS in the colorful clown suit is better than someone else's OS in the colorful clown suit. Once someone recognizes the difference between form and function, the Mac takes on a whole different perspective. Anand looked for himself and understood those differences.

    It's always refreshing to see someone break out and try something new. Even I learned some things. As usual, this kind of thing brings out people spitting poison and venom, people with little stomach for examining something disruptive to their lives. Disruption is good.

    We were getting REAL tired of chasing the same Windows specific issues all the time on all 100 PCs at work. REAL tired. So, we started deploying OS X Macs, especially laptops. The initial reaction to Mac newbies is "oh god, a Maaaaaaaaac?" Whine whine whine for a solid three weeks. After three weeks they sort of stopped whining and told you about issues they worked around themselves. They think they're pointing out Mac deficiencies and I think they're learning (they can't find their documents folder, so you rename "Documents" to "My Documents" and they can see it fine). That goes on for another three or four weeks. Then, you don't hear anything for a month or so. We heard from them every other DAY when they had a PC, so that was refreshing. At some point, the magic moment hits where they swallow the Kool Aid - usually about three months out. They LOVE their Mac and never want a PC on their desk again. They don't need it, they don't want it, they feel cheap and dirty if they have to work on one like you just threw up on their keyboard. Some even start smirking and gloating at PC users in the company. I wish they wouldn't do that, but they somehow feel newly annointed. Half of them start asking about which Mac they should get for HOME and they're dead serious. Talk about a flip. It's happened to most of the 14 people we've migrated from PCs to OS X Macs so far and we're still deploying new ones.

    The comment about the "Finder" and "Explorer" where "one company copied (or poked fun at) another" needs clarification. Explorer poked fun at Navigator. The Finder has been around waaaaaayyy before Explorer and was the GUI retrofit on top of a nearly finished OS that became the Macintosh. The whole GUI was just another application - Finder.

    In the classic Mac, the Finder application is required to be launched upon startup. You could quit the Finder and it would simply start again unless other applications were running. With other apps running, you didn't even need the Finder if you didn't need desktop navigation. It was a resource saving trick to quit the Finder once an application was running, like old video editing software.

    An even cooler trick was to make the Mac run a single application almost like a service. You could take any application, tag it with the Finder's creator codes, rename it "Finder", stick it in the System Folder and the Mac would run that application unconditionally upon booting. It was great for web, mail or DNS servers that would never go down.

    My bias; I know the Mac very well and I know Windows pretty well - not every trick in the book but fluent. I support both Macs and PCs at work and just don't understand the world's sad devotion to Windows. Anyone who says a Microsoft based PC is cheaper than a current Mac apparently doesn't need to PC to do very much. The PC servers we've installed cost just as much as the Mac Xserve and quickly got wildly expensive when the Microsoft tax was added.

    Oh, go ahead and blah blah about 64 bit Athlon or whatever. Check the clustered super computer charts and see how the averages fall. An off the shelf Apple G5 smokes the fanciest Dell/HP x86 server in every case and costs a fraction as much to get it working.

    The old Classic Macintosh was a train wreck compared to OS X and most of the venom about the Mac platform must be people working from memory. Take a hint and look at one built this century.
    Reply
  • victorpanlilio - Friday, October 15, 2004 - link

    Frans wrote in #198: what DID you recommend, switching to an all Windows based LAN

    Actually, recommendation #1 was to expand using NetWare for file/print, #2 was to augment the LAN using UNIX servers. They went with #1 to supplement the AS/400 and the project was implemented ahead of schedule and under budget by the VAR I recommended. BTW, their desktop HW was all IBM PS/2, and I didn't even work for IBM by then, but if OS/2 had the application support they needed, I would've recommended that as well.

    I've never tried Stella Artois myself, actually. In fact, I'm not even much of a beer drinker. *hic* :-D

    So if any of you maniacs are planning on doing any drinking this weekend, make sure to do it far away from the hardware! :-D
    Reply
  • pecosbill - Friday, October 15, 2004 - link

    So much for being able to use muscle memory (wrt my blank post).

    Comments on the article:

    Mail App: I sugest you do a Rebuild Mailbox once and a while on each selected mailbox in the drawer (they are separate mailboxes). And, any time Mail crashes, run that command on the active mailbox when you bring it back up.

    IE: A lot of the so called compatibility issues can be laid at M$ feet as they are the ones who did things non-standard. Everywhere I read about how standards compliant Safari is. Yes, it needs a speed boost. As its relatively new, I hope they can get some more speed out of it. And, as another user posted, try Camino (though I've read it's not as fast as FireFox) but the UI is far better.

    Office and other MacBU stuff from Redmond: Years ago, M$ came out with an SDK for Windows code that simplified porting Windows code to Macintosh. Glue, of sorts. Problem with it was the resultant app is MUCH slower than had it been written for the Mac in the first place. As for the cross platform app, Omnis Studio, it runs MUCH slower on the Mac than the PC even when the Mac has faster hardware. The cause? Poorly optimized code on the Mac or CodeWarrior doesn't optimize nearly as well for the Mac. I'm betting the former. If people don't take the time to opimize their code, it shows.

    Games: What exactly can Apple do? The only thing I can think of to get developers to write the Mac apps in parallel is for Apple to commission it. Even then that creates more challenges trying to stay in sync. If you really want to do games, isn't that what a PlayStation is for? (I'm not a gamer; who has time?)

    Conclusion needs Windows bashing: I use it at work (for years) and am constantly dismayed. Everything Anand said about the WindowsUI is right. It's a pain to use. And, with all the different hardware out there, it's a shock it works at all. Why can't Notepad support drag and drop? Why is the DOS prompt née Command prompt such a pain to use? I want EVERY window the same until I say otherwise. Speaking of that, UNIX (which DOS later strived to copy after CP/M died), is worlds more powerful.
    Reply
  • pecosbill - Friday, October 15, 2004 - link

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  • GoodWatch - Friday, October 15, 2004 - link

    Hi Vic, one for the road then: what DID you recommend, switching to an all Windows based LAN? Ha, ha, ha! Stella Artois is the Windows of lagers, no big deal then and ‘good enough’, ha, ha, ha!

    Take care buddy,

    Frans.
    Reply
  • victorpanlilio - Friday, October 15, 2004 - link

    Frans wrote: I may sound harsh and peed-off but I am not, really :-) No really! Ever managed SCADA or OA based technical automation? Hmmmmm, guess we made the wrong decision again

    Nope. SCADA is pretty standard for process control -- I worked in an oil refinery (electrical engineering dept) for two years and the Foxboro people put in a state-of-the-art control center for the gas liquids storage plant; this was before Windows came on the scene. We used mostly HP computers. My closest encounter with AS/400 was years later, reviewing RFP responses for a law firm that was looking to upgrade its AS/400 vs expanding their LAN (they were using the AS/400 as a file server, not just as a database engine). Long story short, they followed the path I recommended, and were so pleased with the results that they invited me to apply for the position of IT Manager, which I declined because I did not have enough relevant experience.

    Anyway, to bring this discussion back to Anand's article, it's good to see people taking another look at Macs now that OS X offers a user-friendly desktop Unix environment. Perhaps we will see OS X added to a few enterprise environments, who knows? AT&T is evaluating it along with Linux, for the desktop. I doubt that they will suddenly transition from their 70,000 Windows PCs but since they are the birthplace of Unix, some deployment of Unix or its derivatives would only be returning to their roots.

    Have agreat weekend, all. Anand still hasn't told us if he's tried Stella Artois... :-)
    Reply
  • GoodWatch - Friday, October 15, 2004 - link

    In a reaction on post #195 and to end this slow chat: apart from stating that 100 million+ Windows users must be wrong (irony), where did I so adamantly defend Windows? We use Linux for our proxy and reversed proxy server and the platform we run our business on is an IBM iSeries 820 (you're old enough to know I'm talking about an AS/400). You're drawing too much conclusions and do that too soon. And as long you haven't been able to take a look at how we run our network, you cannot draw a conclusion on that either. I may sound harsh and peed-off but I am not, really :-) No really! Ever managed SCADA or OA based technical automation? Hmmmmm, guess we made a wrong decision again.

    Have a nice day Vic,


    Frans.

    P.S. And I love Macs and the OS. It's an example how to do some things right.
    Reply

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