About a year ago I switched to using a Mac as my main computer and bought an Apple Powerbook running Mac OS X. It was a homecoming of sorts because when I started my professional career back in 1988 I worked on the original Mac Classic.
When I wanted to advance in my career as a software developer I found it next to impossible to get a job coding on the Mac. After 15 years of working in the PC-dominated business world, I hardly ever saw a Mac. (I obviously didn’t work in the marketing or print shops at any of my companies!) When Jobs and Co. came out with OS X and I realized it was basically running the elegant Mac user interface on top of FreeBSD (Unix) I started to take notice of the Mac again. The real turning point was when I started doing freelance web development work and I realized that I really didn’t need Microsoft Windows anymore.
In the corporate world I was exposed to many different technologies. We used Windows on the desktop and I wrote applications that ran on Windows servers running IIS, ASP and later .NET and hooked into SQL Server databases. I also got a lot of experience using Java/J2EE where we used Windows, Linux and AIX on the server. If there was anything that characterized Enterprise Application Development for me it was this: excess overhead. The business organization as well as the technologies and architectures we were using involved too many people and teams and departments with competing agendas and diverse levels of incompetency.
I started to seek a way out and that way became Papasoft! My freelance web development projects used HTML, PHP, MySQL and Apache running on Linux or FreeBSD servers. PHP’s easy integration with Apache and MySQL made life simple. As I got into the PHP development groove I found that I was using the following apps:
- Images/Graphics Processing – Fireworks and Photoshop
- Text Editor – Ultra-Edit
- Browser – IE and Firefox
- Apache, PHP, MySQL running locally
- Office – Word, Excel
- SSH and FTP to upload files and run scripts on servers
The kind of software tools I was using gave me my first clue that I might be able to live and work in a non-Windows world. Fireworks, Photoshop and Office each had Mac versions and I knew that I could find the necessary utilities for text editing and file transfers. The real eye-opener for me was that OS X would provide me with a local Unix-like server testing environment that was more akin to my target web servers.
But being able to do the same stuff on a Mac as I could on Windows did not give me enough reason to pay more money for a Mac. Let’s be honest, when you are budget-conscious it is hard to justify paying up to $1000 more for a Powerbook than for a Dell Latitude.
So, why did I switch? I switched because of web standards. Over a period of about 2 years as I started to learn about the importance of web standards and put them into practice I recognized that the web world was changing. I was coming from an IE-only corporate culture: if it worked in IE/Windows then life was good. But as I started to build web sites that used standard XHTML and CSS I noticed that I was frequently borrowing my friend’s Mac in the marketing department to find out whether my IE-centric site was broken or not on the Mac. More often than not, it did not look the same on the Mac and I started to see that it was IE that was broken and not Safari or Firefox. I thought, “If I had a Mac I could test on the more standard browsers and then use Virtual PC or somebody elses PC to run Windows just to do my IE testing.” From that moment on my mind was made up; it was only a matter of when to switch.
I went to an Apple store and tried out the iBooks and the PowerBooks. I didn’t like the feel of the iBook keyboards but I loved the sturdiness of the keyboard on the PowerBook. I bought one and have been using it ever since to run Papasoft.
On the Mac I still use Office since most people that I communicate with will use Word or Excel and I use Fireworks and Photoshop for image manipulation. I settled on TextMate and sometimes TextWrangler for text editing and I use Transmit for file transfers. The OS X shell comes with SSH and I run Apache, PHP and MySQL locally. I use Firefox, Safari and sometimes Camino for browser testing and I fire up (slowly) Virtual PC to do my IE and Firefox testing on Windows.
There are two apps that I miss on the Mac. The first is that I have not found a good file and directory comparison utility that even comes close to BeyondCompare on Windows. TextWrangler does a fine job on a file by file bases but if I want to do a recursive directory comparison and see text differences I still use BeyondCompare in Virtual PC. The second app that I miss is Microsoft Access and that is only because I have my worship song database that I wrote in Access and I have not had a chance to rewrite it in PHP/MySQL. I use Access to print out lyric sheets and it saves me a lot of time.
I also have found it hard to get used to the keyboard shortcuts on the Mac. I was very used to using Home, PgUp, PgDn, End, etc., on the PC. I know that I can use different combinations of the Fn and Cmd keys for these but different apps use them differently. There are many times that I have lost my work in a browser because I used Cmd-Left Arrow to go to the beginning of a line but it actually forced the browser to go to the previous page. But, I’m getting used to it now even though I have to “Think Different” when I use a PC or a Mac to remember which keys to use.
All in all, a year after switching I am still very pleased with the decision. Now, I’m just waiting for my wife’s HP to finally keel over and die so that I can get a Dual Core iMac; can you say BootCamp? Apple, if you want to use me as your Switching Poster Boy, I’m available…for a fee.