At the start of 2010 I was an avid Mac user, with all my computing done in OSX. By the end of the year I had an i7 in an Antec 900, a couple of terabytes of hard drive space and a solid state drive to house the operating system to which I had sworn I’d never return.
The spark that caused my backflip was professional. I'd often heard throughout my education and now in the professional field that creative people use Mac. As a dedicated Windows power user I spent two thirds of my media degree clinging to the platform, which was suffering from poor support on the software side of things as digital production made the switch to high definition.
Return to the PC
PC editing suites frustrated me and I finally broke down and switched from my Core 2 Duo desktop to a 2008 Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro, which at the time was an incredibly powerful machine. It revolutionised the way I worked and over time I fell into the fanboy camp, drizzling lines like, “with a Playstation 3 for gaming and a Mac for editing, I don’t think I’ll ever buy another PC again” throughout discussions about Mac vs PC.
Given Vista was released around this time it was a pretty obvious statement to make, as Microsoft looked as if they were losing their touch.
Of course, when it comes to technology you should never say never and by 2010 the new, slick, functional Windows 7 was gaining traction. So I threw it onto my Windows XP Core 2 Duo machine to take a peek.
I’d left the PC platform in 2008 with 2GB of RAM and after using Windows 7 for a couple of days I wanted to see the OS to stretch its 64-bit legs, so I went around to my local computer store and picked up two more 2GB sticks. Low and behold I was in love.
By the end of 2010, Adobe had released CS5, which allowed users to harness the power of an Nvidia graphics card to power their Premiere Pro software, which increased my productivity by around 30-40% and revolutionised the speed at which I edit and simplified workflows. But that, after all, was just the spark.
Many people I know use the opposite system at home than they do at work, which is entirely understandable; they tire of staring at the same UI, which is often controlled by IT personnel who deprive them of any resemblance of freedom on what is typically a Windows machine. Mac machines feel soft and fluffy and fun to go home to, but they are lacking in a few key areas.
Power per Dollar
When it comes to computing, my wants and needs boil down to a couple of factors; primarily: power per dollar. When it comes to cost efficiency the PC cannot be beat. The freedom to choose my parts and build whatever machine suited my usage model was an experience I didn’t even remember I had missed. For under $2000 I built a machine that could trounce a $4000 Mac Pro in almost every department and leave room for expansions, modifications and upgrades.
User Experience: User Interfaces
Windows 7 has provided the most stable operating environment I have ever used. The second would be Snow Leopard, with Windows XP ranking third. In some ways this can be attributed to my former dedication to the PC platform; I know how to fix a PC. Beyond the odd Terminal command I don’t really know how to fix a Mac. Well, I do – I book a Genius appointment. To many this is of great benefit, but not a user who knows how to mash ‘regedit’ into the keyboard, find faulty sticks of RAM by process of elimination and boot into safe mode and destroy viruses file by file. Aside from a lack of knowledge I always felt that this was also a symptom of the many restrictions Apple inflicts upon its users.
I find Windows is in some ways provides a less intuitive user experience than OSX. It does, however, provide me with the freedom to harness the true potential of the hardware inside my machine. I am never at the feet of Microsoft wondering why the latest graphics drivers aren’t working well, when that information is far from easy to obtain on Mac.
Another consideration is adherence to standards. Microsoft might not want to support a standard, but you can usually find a solution and buy the hardware you want anyway. A perfect example of this is Microsoft’s stubborn resistance of BluRay support.
In skipping Vista I unwittingly missed the many changes Microsoft had made to, in some ways, Apple-ise the user experience. The Start menu changed, security was far more complicated and to this day I still have issues with changing networks from unidentified to home. Things I could fix with a few clicks in XP were now hidden behind opaque, confusing instructions in order to prevent users who don’t have advanced computer skills from endangering their system.
Windows gives me a sense of greater control over my computing; I can allocate system resources with greater freedom. With OSX it always felt like there were so many unnecessary, overdesigned processes going on, whereas my msconfig settings boot as I command. The return of precise transfer times into my life was very welcome, too. I was so tired of ‘about a minute’, which was almost never correct.
Windows sacrifices much in the way of sex appeal to bring us choice. As contradictory as that may seem - given the anti-competitive nature of some of Microsoft’s business practices - I find the level of user customisation and interactivity in Windows to be unsurpassed. Apple tell users how to ‘best’ use their software and hardware. In my experience Microsoft tend to avoid this to a fault (unless .docx is involved), but it works for me.
For me any negative aspects of using Windows are immediately eradicated by the freedom it brings. My feelings for Windows are undoubtedly affected by my love for editing and photography, which can now utilise the raw power of my PC so I can be more creative more quickly and with far less frustration.
Beyond work and my own creative projects, another passion of mine is gaming. And in the world of power users, the PC is king. Who wants to play games at 720p when they can play at 1080p, 60 frames per second with 32x anti aliasing and anisotropic filtering so intense you can read a stop sign from a virtual mile away?
Switching back from console gaming has been a magnificent experience, with higher precision with the old keyboard and mouse, richer graphics and shorter loading times all contributing to my ever-increasing love of the platform.
DirectX 11 was a welcome change after everything I had seen with DirectX 10. With Windows 7 I can enjoy the visual enhancements that can be seen in water displacement simulation, tessellation and other technologies that increase the level of immersion.
My Steam account has spiralled out of control, with 80 games on my account as the famous sales let me access all the amazing PC games I missed out on while I was a console devotee.
What I Miss
OSX has many features I miss, such as Spotlight; hitting Command and spacebar together will provide a bar in which to type any application, folder or file name and launch by hitting ‘enter’. I am well aware of Microsoft’s Start search function, but I’ve never found it as fast or reliable as Spotlight.
On the hardware side of things, Windows laptops (including my new Sandy Bridge laptop) lack one feature that is sadly a victim of patents: MagSafe.
There is without a doubt a friendliness associated with OSX and Macs in general. They are well designed – aesthetically speaking - and feature what I believe to be the best trackpad technology available.
When it comes to computing my emphasis has always been on power per dollar and user wants and needs. Simply because I have switched back to PC and Windows doesn’t mean I think Macs are bad or OSX is “worse”. I think it is important to emphasise that they are merely different. If you want to use iTunes, browse the web, watch videos and DVDs then I think a space-saving MacBook Pro is a great way to go. No Mac is, however, worth the price tag in terms of hardware performance.
As for gamers, publishers may be making a solid effort to put games on Macs, but due to the relatively poor graphics hardware Mac may never be a suitable platform for the hobby.
If I didn’t want and need a powerful system suitable for CUDA-powered editing and gaming it is likely I’d just get a Mac because of the simplicity the ecosystem brings. Then I’d always be left wanting for my upgradable, tweakable love: Windows.
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