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The 30 day MacBook Pro challenge: Can a Windows user become a Mac convert?

By Sara Barker, 24 Feb 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

The 30 day challenge: Windows user takes on Mac - Week one. Here it is. A shiny new MacBook Pro. Welcome to a new blog series, which will answer the question: Can a Windows user be converted into an Apple lover in a mere 30 days? Let’s find out. This week I’ll be looking at how it performs at work.

The background

I haven’t touched an Apple computer since the days of the classic Apple Macintosh, with its floppy drives, chunky keyboards and grey interface. They were the days when ‘win an Apple Macintosh for your school’ was the best competition ever. This was also when I started liking tech and when I was exposed to yet another of the operating systems. I’d grown up with the Commodore 64, an Acorn Electron, a chunky laptop running Windows 95, and the Apple Macintosh. 

Once I shifted schools, there was no trace of Apple. My school computers ran Windows 2000. At home we got a computer running Windows ME, and then it was all versions of Windows from then on. At university, it was also pretty much all Windows. Except for those ‘creatives’ majoring in advertising. They used Macs.

I experimented with Linux a couple of times, but that was it. So there I was and here I am, a Windows girl for life. Apple was left in the dust. Here goes round two. I don’t think I’ll come out the other end a convert; but this is a fun experiment.

The physical specs - I C USB C

I hate to open with a negative, but it really is a big problem. USB C. Yes, it may be the future of USB connections and ports and whatnot, but some of us are still living in the past. I have an external monitor, wireless keyboard and mouse. I also use USB sticks regularly. 

Where are they supposed to go? Every single port is USB C. Those external devices go on a giant dongle (which, I’m informed by a colleague, is an accessory and costs extra). There is something rather perturbing about seeing a long tail snaking to the side of this computer. You also need the dongle to connect to an external monitor - whether VGA or HDMI.

I attended a conference (31c0n) this week so got to experience full portability. and managed to appreciate the benefits of a bright display and easy controls, but the fact that I was still learning how to use the computer made for an interesting conference experience. 

Typing on this thing is like typing on air, and yet somehow my fingers don’t even need that much sensory feedback to know exactly where to fall.

I’m liking the touchbar, although it’s taking me a while to remember it even exists. I haven’t used the predictive typing in the Pages word processor, although if I was feeling particularly lazy, I might just indulge. I also like the way the trackpad acts - pinching for launchpad, swiping this way and that. 

Unfortunately I’m having trouble mapping what would be termed a ‘specialist’ Microsoft wireless keyboard to work with the Mac, a problem I’m hoping to solve soon. I’ll keep you updated.

Luckily, the MacBook has a headphone jack. Bonus! Thank you, Apple.

The OS is actually kinda cool

I’m a journalist, so a web browser, internet access and a word processor are crucial for my job. I need to know how to access everything quickly without spending hours finding out how to change a font, for example. Luckily, the dock has Pages right there. Simple and efficient. I'll explore the dock in more detail in another blog.

After asking Siri, the assistant I’ve heard so much about, what the weather’s like in my area and if my cat looks handsome, I concluded that the Australian-accented assistant is useful. I need to experiment more.

Installing third party programmes (once you get around the security settings) is deceptively easy. Am I going to put antivirus on? I mainly write about cybersecurity.

While I was setting everything up, my Windows 10 laptop showed me a blue screen of death. Apparently that doesn’t happen with Apple. Apple still needs to restart after system updates though. Some things will be forever inconvenient.

I actually like the simplicity of the UI, although this thing is pretty much factory settings so there isn’t much to search through if I wanted to find a lost app, for example.

I like that the MacBook Pro has been built with performance and colour in mind. That a software provider can start thinking in NITS obviously means it’s a really big deal in the creative industry.

Week two

Welcome back to the series that asks if a Windows user can be converted to a Mac lover in a mere 30 days. This is week two, in which I look at how it performs on the image editing and creative front.

I think I’m getting used to this - somewhat. This morning Chrome froze with some strange ghost image of Finder stuck to its window, which prompted a complete force quit and reboot. Why am I not using Safari anymore? Chrome is just easier for work purposes.

Having the close/minimise/fullscreen buttons on the left hand side presented a challenge at first, but it is quite literally a case of having to adapt. And adapting I am, it seems, in almost every way except my USB-C gripe.

I’ve been taking this slim MacBook home from work almost every day this week, and its slimness and relatively lightweight build doesn’t escape me.  

I’m even starting to get used to the trackpad, although right clicking with two fingers and then navigating menus is driving me mad. Luckily, my Magic Mouse, Magic Trackpad and Magic Keyboard showed up this week, which means no more awkward Microsoft keyboard at work and a much better working space. 

I’m not entirely sure why they’re so ‘magic’, but they’re wireless (check), they’re compact (check) and after a bit of mental readjustment to the new keyboard and mouse styles (I love the fact that I can scroll up and down so easily), I’m away again.

I guess I was expecting camera driver installs to be straight plug and play, but that was an assumption that I took for granted. If I plug in my camera, it doesn’t detect the SD card as a removable drive like my Windows machine did. I still needed to search for the driver on the web. Luckily it isn’t too much of a hassle.

Lightroom and Photoshop CC are the latest and greatest versions of the famous photo editing software. When you shoot in RAW, you want to get the best out of your images with Lightroom. For the more arty and professional creatives, Photoshop has some wicked capabilities.

It also helps that unlike my newbie approach to MacOS, I knew exactly what I was doing in Lightroom. I won’t exactly be measuring colour/brightness output in NITS, but what I can say with conviction is that this screen has the brightness and colour spectrum that can make both colour and black and white images fantastic.  

Granted, if you’re a professional photographer you’d probably have an external monitor to compensate for the sheer size and detail of image editing, but working on the MacBook screen alone seems to work for on-the-go editing. Unfortunately Lightroom doesn’t have capability for the Touch Bar (funnily enough as I write the word ‘Touch Bar’, Pages is trying to autocorrect to ‘toucher’ - nice to know Apple hasn’t gone fully overboard with their autocorrect).

You can make your images sharp, crisp and full of life, far beyond what the original image can give you. Basically, the pixel resolution on the MacBook is damn good. For reference, Retina LCD that hits the 2560x1600 mark, with Intel Iris Graphics 550 CPU.

The Touch Bar has its time to shine when using Photoshop. Layer properties, colour spectrum, opacity - all there in front of me, without having to sift through the on screen menus. Zooming in on each individual pixel, I can clearly see the borders. For the main image in this article I have used a relatively plain shot without many creative edits, but the main aim is to give you a screenshot glimpse into how it all looks on screen and the Touch Bar.

I can see why the Touch Bar is good for ease of access in creativity. I also grabbed a spare soft point stylus just to see if I could use the magic trackpad and laptop trackpad as a drawing tablet - they worked quite well but you can’t go past using something that is truly made for the job.

The Touch Bar is definitely a selling point, but I still feel myself drawn back to Windows - partly because of the sheer familiarity, but also because that when it comes down to it - the OS might be different, but the common software, be it your Photoshop or your Lightroom -  are all basically the same tools. I’m not seeing any clear advantages of Mac, besides the usefulness of the Touch Bar - and even then it’s only super useful in certain circumstances.

Week three

I’m looking at a few Apple functionalities, the App Store and how the MacBook handles a couple of games.

I’ve been reading many articles about what apparently makes Macs great, and the one thing that jumped out at me is the fact that Macs are resilient towards cyber nasties.

As a cybersecurity editor I’ll concede: most of those threats are for Windows and Android, but Macs aren’t as bulletproof as they’re made out to be.

While I would love to really put this MacOS to the test by deliberately downloading malware, I can’t because a) that would be a dumb thing to do on a work computer, and b) I don’t think Apple would be very happy with me.

Mac has had its share of bugs: Xagent, KeRanger, Backdoor.MAC.Eleanor, Fruitfly, and macro malware to name a few. While I’ve only installed consumer-grade Avast (which overrides Gatekeeper’s security capabilities), I’m glad there’s something there to protect me.

Apple informed me that the safest place to download apps is from the Mac App Store. Apple reviews each app before it’s sold through the store. Apple can quickly remove it if there’s a problem.

App developers can also get a developer ID from Apple for digitally signing their apps. This ID allows Gatekeeper to screen apps. If malware developers try to sell an app, Gatekeeper blocks the nasty from ever being installed.

The problem is, many of the apps I need aren’t available on the App Store, and I still had to go through a website to download both Chrome and Firefox. Huh? Does Apple really want that much control over their in-house branding, or am I, in all my newbie ignorance, just blind? Update: It turns out I'm just blind, as the Windows Store isn't much different.

Moving on to the App Store itself. I was actually rather underwhelmed by the content - I suppose I had this perception that it would be more like Google Play where every vendor of every software app under the sun was on there. 

For testing purposes, one of the first apps I downloaded was the iTheory Driving Test New Zealand. While I’m not going to review the app itself (although at first glance it looks good and even fully qualified drivers could do with a refresh) I did find that the install process was smooth and immediate. Authorising purchases with a mere fingerprint touch was pretty cool too.

I also downloaded GTA San Andreas and Lego Star Wars Saga just to see how they stacked up in the games department. One look at a MacBook and ‘gaming’ isn’t the first thing that jumps out at you, but I wanted to see how well it could cope. 

Conclusion: When you crank the resolution up to full specs, it actually looks and sounds really damn good.  To push the CPU usage up a few more notches, I created a Game Centre account and installed Call of Duty Black Ops. There were a few laggy freezes here and there and the MacBook itself generated a fair amount of heat, but otherwise it was playable.

Mail is Apple’s native email consolidation app. It’s basic and does what it needs to do; no complaints there. Out of habit, I’ve been sticking to email access through my Chrome browser at work, mainly because Google Hangouts is an important part of my work.

There are heaps of native Apple apps on this machine that I haven’t had a chance to use yet, such as Time Machine and Migration Assistant. There are others I’m still trying to figure out, such as Dashboard. I don’t see any immediate use for it in my life, but I’m sure others might.

I briefly mentioned the Touch Bar and how it works with Pages, Photoshop and Lightroom, but it’s also easy to toggle sound, brightness, take screenshots, access desktop views and many other handy features that the F keys used to handle.

In terms of trackpad gestures; they are many and varied. Truthfully I can’t remember them all but luckily Apple gives a basic rundown when looking at the trackpad settings in the system preferences and there’s plenty of information on the WWW. As for the Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse, it has been a week and a half and their batteries have only discharged by 20%.

I also finally understand why people say they’re attending a ‘Keynote’ instead of a presentation; why ‘Let’s FaceTime’ is almost a complete synonym for “let’s chat”, and why ‘take a screen grab’ is actually becoming more commonplace than the word ‘screenshot’. You have to hand it to Apple and its fans - they’re transforming language too.

All that said, we’re three weeks down and I’m getting into the swing of things.

MacBook Pro vs notebook build

This is an unfair category because Apple products are built in the same way, whereas the various PC/notebook manufacturers vary wildly in both quality, price bracket and specs.

MacBook Pro: You get exactly what you see on a demo machine in any tech store. But there is no customisation. You do have to pay extra on an already rather high price tag for the accessories, but chances are if you can afford a MacBook, you can afford to buy the accessories too. It took a lot of adjusting to the keyboard and trackpad; but luckily Apple provided an external keyboard that felt better to work with.

The Touch Bar is nice for image editing in apps like Photoshop but in truth I haven’t really used it beyond basic functionalities like brightness. In fairness, I never really used the F keys that much on any keyboard anyway.

Windows-based notebooks: You can take more time to do your research and drill down into the things such as RAM, keyboard style, design, specs, graphics and portability for something that works best for you, rather than factory-produced and rigid systems. I would never want to be locked into buying only a couple of devices just to run an OS so Windows-based vendors win this round.

The dongle mess

MacBook Pro: Fail. I can understand putting a few USB C ports on a notebook to encourage people to switch to newer technology, but putting ALL ports as USB C really stuffs it if you want to use a humble USB stick or connect an external monitor. It is an inconvenience and eyesore to have a bulky dongle plugged in just to connect a single peripheral. 

This is a good lesson for PC manufacturers: If you’re gonna implement USB C, do it slowly, include traditional USB ports and try not to alienate those of us who aren’t ‘hip’ enough to catch up right now. Not all of us are early adopters or the early majority.

MacOS Sierra vs Windows 10

MacOS Sierra: Despite a couple of glitches here and there, the operating system itself hasn’t given me any troubles in terms of system updates. It’s also user friendly once you know your way around. It is, however, something that doesn’t quite have the amount of user settings and customisation that I would have liked, but it’s an OS and it does what it should do. System upgrades are free so you'll never have to buy a new OS again.

Windows 10: Yes, Microsoft is forcing the ‘upgrades’ on everyone, and yes there are a heap of privacy issues (some of which are easier to turn off if you know how), Windows 10 is a best that takes some getting used to. I am one of those people who loved Windows 7, and I far prefer it to Mac OS or Windows 10. The upgrades from Windows 7 and 8 were also free however those wanting to purchase Windows 10 licences for their older PCs or those buying PCs out of the box may still be shelling out the dough.

Software: Pages vs Word

Pages: It's free, it's effective, and it's a native Apple app. It does have annoying autocorrects, but it’s a basic word processor that does what it needs to do. A quick look at Numbers and even Keynote lead me to believe the same thing. Free doesn't necessarily have to mean basic, but in this case it's all about simple functionality.

Microsoft Word: Word is my go-to. It costs, it can be expensive and it has so much more variety and back compatibility on Windows. There are heaps of functionalities like mail merge; it’s comprehensive, flexible and it looks great. 

Other word processing programmes such as LibreOffice also offer a more detailed look at word processing (and other office applications). It could possibly wipe Office off the map if it tried; and ultimately it's still a step up from Pages.

Finder vs Windows Explorer

They’re both similar in style, but Explorer has the added advantage of showing many more folders and being able to customise most of them. Finder’s interface is kind of drab and I was kind of annoyed that the ‘delete’ button doesn’t automatically send files to the trash.

App Store vs Windows Store

After my spiel a while back, I did a comparison and found that they’re both pretty much similar. I like the Windows Store interface better but using Apple’s App Store to download and authorises purchases using the fingerprint sensor was far better than putting in a password all the time.

Security

Mac: As I’ve mentioned, Mac is less prone to cyber attacks, but it doesn’t mean they don’t happen. Don’t be fooled, because it could cost you dearly.

Windows: Unfortunately for Microsoft, the security timing couldn’t be worse as it held off on a mass of security updates from February - then released them all in March a few days ago. That’s going to hurt your bandwidth. My home Windows computer gobbled up 1GB+ of updates. Windows will be the target of most cyber attacks for the immediate future, at least.

So, I’m going to hand security to Macs - tentatively, I might add. It’s not a deal maker or breaker.  As someone who watches the torrent of security breaches come in over the wire every day, it’s so clear that everyone should back up their data, everyone should use antivirus/anti-malware no matter what operating system you use. 

The final verdict

Side by side, I have to come to the conclusion that both Windows and Mac are good at what they need to do. Mac is let down by a rigid build that lacks customisation; Windows is let down by its ongoing  Windows 10 saga and security issues. 

Both have ethical murky waters (as has been highlighted in the media recently) and both are massive tech giants.

So have I converted to a Mac lover? Not really. I think I can now navigate between Mac and Windows after years of one-sided exposure; but in the end they’re just operating systems that both allow me to work - and play. 

 

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