The Thinker

iMac Journeys, Part Three

I promised when I got my iMac last year that I would give you periodic updates on my experiences, pro and con. Okay, I have been a bit tardy, having last written about my iMac last July. My iMac is now a routine part of my life and frankly, I give it less thought that I ever gave my Windows-based PCs. That is for the better. I now spend hardly any time fussing over my computer and a lot more time being productive with it.

I am finding that the myriad cool features that come with my iMac matter a lot less than its ability to behave consistently and reliably. I want it to work when I turn it on and go off promptly when I turn it off. I want it to be rather simple to use and wholly consistent when I have it on. Yeah, it is nice that it has a built in camera and microphone, but being introverted I hardly ever use these features. It is also nice that it takes up a lot less real estate on my desktop than my Windows PC. It is so quiet that most of the time I have to listen hard to know it is working at all. (The old PC always let me know it was alive by the continual whirr of its hard drives.) I like its wider screen and how everything looks so crisp and shiny on its monitor.

I also like how fast the system boots up and shuts itself down. My Dell desktop PC at work is patched most nights to address the latest security vulnerabilities. I generally don’t have to reboot it often, as I just log off and on. However, when I do have to reboot or cold start it, it takes many minutes as Windows XP applies patch after patch after patch. I have no idea how much money our agency spends pushing out these updates and patches to the thousands of PCs across our agency, but it must be a huge sum of money. In contrast, it takes about thirty seconds from when I turn on my iMac until I get a log in prompt. Shutting it down is faster. Leaving it in sleep mode is also an option. Applications generally run spiffily too, typically loading within ten seconds. Only a few times in the seven months I have owned an iMac have I had to Force Quit an application. (A Force Quit means the application was probably poorly written, and is not a reflection on the Mac OS/X operating system itself.) It froze up on me just once.

Like Windows, my iMac wants to be upgraded periodically, but it rarely pesters me more than every few weeks. When the software update icon jumps up and down on my Dock, it is not so often that I find it annoying. I have changed it to check for software updates monthly, so it will be even less bothersome.

What am I not doing? I am not wasting hours worrying about things like is my Norton Antivirus subscription up to date, or is my firewall sufficiently advanced, or has my machine been hacked or whether my hard disk needs to be optimized. I have yet to need to call Apple’s technical support line. I am not sure I will develop the same skills for troubleshooting my iMac as I painfully learned over the years using Windows. It’s probably a good thing that I don’t need to.

My experience suggests that the primary value of an iMac is its simpler environment, which is reliable and consistent. I expect it to be smart enough to heal itself. I assume, but do not know, that the Mac OS/X operating system is optimizing the hard disk in the background. I assume that if it needs more virtual memory it creates it automatically. I assume that if I have some vital data that it is being properly backed up somewhere. (To do this you first need to connect it with an external disk drive and then enable Time Machine.) I assume that it is secure and recently verified that my documents cannot be seen by other users on my machine.

There are some quirks. On my PC I pull out flash drives all the time without worrying about using the Windows approved method in the system tray. Do the same thing on my iMac and it gets very concerned, popping up a worrisome system notice. Just as at some level Windows is just MS-DOS with a graphical user interface, an iMac at some level is just a very fancy user interface for the Unix operating system. In the Unix world, you “mount” drives and “eject” them when you are done with them. A flash drive should not be treated like an external drive but it is. Perhaps the next version of OS/X will chill when it encounters a flash drive.

Nor is Apple immune to trying to get you to open up your wallet. It is very pushy with its iTunes software, just as Microsoft is with its MediaPlayer. Fortunately, my needs are simple. I have no desire to keep a large MP3 library. I have learned to avoid iTunes. If I want to hear an MP3 file on my MP3 player, I find it on the Internet and in Firefox right mouse click on the link, choose “Save Target as…” and point it to my MP3 player. I have no inclination to rush out and buy an iPod just so I can have the full integration with iTunes. At least I will have no inclination until my MP3 player dies and then I will consider it.

There is little cause for concern about software availability for the Mac anymore. So far, I have had little difficulty finding Mac versions of Windows software. My needs though are modest. Quicken is available for the Mac, and both TurboTax and TaxCut are as well. I just finished filing my taxes with TaxCut and it was frankly a superior experience to doing it on Windows. Of course, if you are a big gamer you may not find this to be true. If you really want, you can run Boot Camp and have Windows on your iMac. I am not sure why you would want to do that since you then have to deal with all the hassles of Windows on your iMac. It is better to do a clean divorce and get liberated.

The reality is that for me at least there is no longer any compelling reason not to buy an iMac. Microsoft has even written a version of its Remote Desktop Connection for the Mac. If necessary, I can access my desktop computer at work from home on my iMac, although it is a strange experience to see my iMac with a Windows Start button down in the bottom left corner.

One thing you can do to ease your adjustment from Windows to the iMac is remap the Control and Command keys. You can do this under System Preferences, Keyboard and Mouse. Just swap it so that the Control key works like the Command key and the Command key works like the Mac Control key. This means you do not have to relearn how to copy and paste between Windows and the Mac. Since you do this so frequently, you can save yourself the hassle of unlearning something that for many of us is hardwired into us.

The iMac is not computing nirvana, but it is where the personal computer should be had it evolved intelligently. That should be a compelling reason for anyone to consider ditching their Windows-based PC. My daughter is starting to agree, and is now saving for her own Macbook. She too has developed the expectation she should be able to just use her computer, rather than having to continually fuss over it. I suspect that when she too joins the Mac collective she will wonder why she waited so long.


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