True Tales of a "Switcher"

Why I Abandoned Windows

by Robert Velarde (Posted: 3/7/03; Updated: 3/12/03)

Did you know that Webster's Unabridged Dictionary lists 25 definitions for the word "switch"? I didn't either, until I looked it up. Among other things, "switch" can mean "a slender, flexible shoot, rod, etc., used esp. in whipping or disciplining." It also means "a hairpiece consisting of a bunch or tress of long hair or some substitute, fastened together at one end and worn by women to supplement their own hair." In Basketball it can mean "a maneuver in which two teammates on defense shift assignments so that each guards the opponent usually guarded by the other."

I don't think any of those definitions are quite what Apple had in mind when they began their "switcher" advertising campaign in 2002. They certainly didn't mean what Webster's has to say about a "switcher": "a locomotive for switching rolling stock in a yard." Apple probably had in mind something like Webster's definition number seven for "switch": "a turning, shifting, or changing." For some reason, this definition brings to mind memories of a discussion of "repentance" in a seminary course I once took, in which our professor commented that repentance involves a radical change of mind, a turning and shifting in thought. An Apple "repentance" campaign, though, would probably have been a bad marketing idea ("Repent, for the kingdom of Steve Jobs is near!" has a certain controversial tone to it, as does "Depart from me, you who use Windows, into everlasting fire!").

Background of the Switcher

As the title of this article suggests, you are about to hear true tales of a switcher. Since around June of 2002, I have been a faithful Macintosh user. I own a PowerMac G4 800MHz and a 700MHz G3 iBook (which you will have to pry from my cold, dead fingers--unless, of course, you want to trade me a 12" PowerBook, in which case I'd consider the exchange). I've had a home computer since around 1981 and have never, up until my switch conversion experience on my figurative road to Damascus, used a Macintosh regularly. Mine has been a dark and treacherous world dominated by DOS and Windows. Over the years I've used a variety of PCs, including a 286, 386, 486 and a few Pentium-class machines.

Now, it should be pointed out that I'm technically inclined by nature. In other words, I don't mind tinkering with computers both on the software and hardware end of things. Over the years I've installed a variety of hardware in my PCs from the simple memory upgrade to the more complex (sound cards, CD-ROM drives, modems, video cards, etc.). I also recall my DOS days and having to battle with configuring my AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files in order to get games to run properly (or at all). I've also been through my share of "Windows updates" (3.1 to Windows 95, 95 to 98, 98 to 2000, etc.). As such, I'm probably not the main target of Apple's "switcher" ads. Also, I "switched" just before the "switcher" ads began to appear in print and on television, so they did not affect my decision to abandon Microsoft Windows-based PCs.

Why I Abandoned Windows

If the "switcher" ads were not responsible for my switching to Macs, what prompted me to make such a drastic "turning, shifting, or changing"? No single factor influenced my decision.

OS X played a big part--specifically, OS X 10.1. I had heard a little about OS X when it was first released, but, like much of the mainstream media coverage of Apple, what I heard was not good. Many people had problems with the upgrade and it was purportedly "buggy". Some even likened it to a "beta" or test version of software. My purpose here is not to debate the quality of the first release of OS X, but to point out that the fact that I heard that 10.1 addressed many concerns and provided a higher level of stability caught my attention.

Another reason why I abandoned Windows is OS X's "Aqua" interface. OS X is simply stunning to behold, especially when compared with the look and feel of Windows. When I had a Toshiba laptop running Windows XP Home Edition, a friend aptly commented that the "new" Windows OS looked like it was designed by Fisher Price. With all the primary colors in the standard look of the OS, I was hard pressed to disagree. OS X, on the other hand, is, well, slick--very slick. The attention to visual detail that has gone into OS X is impressive. This may not necessarily seem like a big selling point, but I was drawn to the exquisite design of the OS X interface.

A third reason for my switch to Macs is that they just work. This is not to say that Macs never have problems, but based on my many months as a loyal Mac user I have only experienced a fraction of the issues I would normally experience on a regular basis as a PC user. Furthermore, the "issues" I have experienced with my Mac have been minor and, more often than not, were the result of a blunder on my part. None of my minor issues with my Macs has been a show-stopper, i.e., I can still get the work done that needs to get done. Admittedly, my exposure to Windows XP is limited (I used the Home Edition for a while), but experience leads me to believe that Windows has yet to reach the level of sustained stability that OS X seems to have.

Take "sleep mode," for instance. I never trusted sleep mode or "hibernation" mode or variations of it in different versions of Windows. I had been burned too many times by a Windows machine that simply would not wake up after sleeping. It had an annoying habit of reminding me to properly shut down Windows after I recovered from bad "sleep mode" experiences, despite the fact that the fault was with Windows. I have yet to experience similar problems with my Power Mac. I leave it on all day and "wake it up" when necessary. I would never consider doing something like that with a Windows machine. Of course, I don't mean to say that Mac users will never experience "waking" issues, but my experience compared to Windows has been very good.

A fourth reason for my interest in switching to the Mac computing platform involves the Unix underpinnings of OS X. Sure, most users will probably never look under the hood, so to speak, and utilize the powerful Unix features of OS X, but it's nice to know they are there if you need them.

A fifth, and key, reason for my abandoning a Windows-based PC was Windows itself. Frankly, I was just fed up with the Windows operating system. "Fed up" can mean a lot of things. In my case, I was fed up with having to tinker with the Windows OS on a regular basis in order to get it to behave properly for one reason or another. Now, I grant that my experience with Windows 2000 Professional was pretty good in comparison to previous releases such as Windows 98 (I have heard Windows ME, though I never used it, was a disaster). Also, my short time with Windows XP Home Edition was pleasant enough, but, still, I did not see anything really revolutionary in the latest version of Windows.

The Challenges of Switching

My switcher experience was not entirely headache-free. Several issues kept coming up, it seems, not long after I made my switch. First, I could no longer use my Canon multi-function device (I have a USB-based Multipass F50). There are no drivers for OS 9 or OS X. So much for my printing in color or scanning. It now serves as a copy machine and fax. I bit the bullet and purchased an HP Laser Jet 1200, which works just fine with OS X. I also had to purchase a scanner.

Second, I did incur some software costs. This involved purchasing, albeit with an education discount, Microsoft Office v.X. I also purchased Bible software for use on my Mac (specifically, I went with Accordance), since my old PC-based software would not run in a Mac environment. Since that time I have purchased Virtual PC 6 and am running Windows 2000 and, much to my delight, I am able to run my old Windows-based Bible software and thus have access to reference material such as the Expositor's Bible Commentary without having to purchase it again as an Accordance module. I'm also able to run the InterVarsity Press CD reference library just fine within Virtual PC.

A third area of greater concern to me involved the lack of an easy method to import my Microsoft Outlook data into Microsoft Entourage. I have since learned that there are some third-party solutions that claim to easily accomplish this transfer, such as Outlook2Mac, a $10 program available at http://www.littlemachines.com/. My solution has been to keep my old PC Outlook information in Windows 2000 running from Virtual PC. Thankfully, other companies have put together helpful tools to make the data transfer adventure from Windows to Mac easier. Apple touts packages available from Detto called Move2Mac, http://www.detto.com/move2mac/. Detto sells Move2Mac packages ranging in cost from $39.95 to $69.95. When I made the switch, Move2Mac was unavailable. I spent a good deal of time backing up my PC data on CDs or Zip disks, then copying the files to my Mac. This certainly was not the most graceful transfer method, but it worked adequately.

A fourth problematic switching area involved my PDA. Please don't stone me, but I have grown quite accustomed to using a Pocket PC, which, of course, runs a Microsoft OS.

A brief comment may be in order here. I am not "anti-Microsoft" per se, I just want to get my work done (and have fun, too) in a simple, straightforward manner. In other words, I don't want the OS getting in my way unnecessarily. To this end, OS X has succeeded. However, I still use some Microsoft products, such as Microsoft Word and Entourage.

Getting back to my PDA adventure ... I started out with a Palm-based PDA (a Handspring Visor Deluxe), but wanted to do a lot more with my PDA, such as multi-tasking, mp3 playing, etc. Consequently, I've been using a Pocket PC for a while now. The problem I face is that Microsoft does not offer OS X-based synchronization software (ActiveSync is only for Windows). I am aware of third-party solutions, such as PocketMac http://www.pocketmac.net/, but the cost seems a bit steep ($49.95 for the regular edition and $69.95 for the "pro" version). Since I discovered Virtual PC, I've been synchronizing my Pocket PC within Windows 2000.

What's another downside to my switch to the Mac? There aren't as many games available for the Mac format. I used to be an avid gamer, despite Blaise Pascal's warnings on the dangers of diversion (see my article on this topic at http://www.cornerstonemag.com/features/oct2002/pascal-diversion.htm). I still play every now and then, but not as often as before. My kids have a PlayStation 2 and if I have an itch to play a game, there are plenty of options available there. I'm not saying there are no quality Mac games available, but merely that there are not as many as are available for Windows.

Mac Misconceptions

Early in my switcher experience I came to understand that PC users have many misconceptions about Macs (see http://www.apple.com/myths/ for a response to some of these "myths"). Thankfully, I came across an entertaining book that helped me address these misconceptions: Macintosh . . . The Naked Truth by Scott Kelby (New Riders Publishing, 2002). This humorous book dispels many of the misconceptions PC users, as well as the media, have about Macs.

One example from my own experience is in order. I'm often told how Macs are so much more expensive than comparable PCs. When I tell people than certain iBooks and eMacs can be had for around $1000, they are often surprised. Sure, you can get an entry-level, budget PC for maybe half that cost, but, well, you usually get what you pay for, as the old adage goes.

Help for Switchers

So what is a potential switcher to do? It's easier for some than for others to take the plunge. But let's face it, not everyone is technically inclined and all of us need help with something at some point in our lives. That's why I'm pleased to report that there are numerous resources available to make the switching experience relatively painless. In addition to resources I have already mentioned, such as Move2Mac and Outlook2Mac, Apple maintains a helpful site at http://www.apple.com/switch/ and a "Guide to Switching" is available at http://www.apple.com/switch/howto/. Peachpit Press has recently released the book Mac OS X for Windows Users: A Switchers' Guide by David Coursey. Even more recently, O'Reilly & Associates has released the book Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual by David Pogue.

Despite some of the switching difficulties I encountered, it was all worth it. Based on my experience with my Macs thus far, it would take a lot to pry me away from them.



Robert Velarde, co-author of Examining Alternative Medicine (InterVarsity Press), is a writer and editor based in Colorado. He received his undergraduate degree in music from the California State University Long Beach and is pursuing graduate studies in philosophy of religion at Denver Seminary. Recently he began collecting old Macs, most of which have been given to him when others have carelessly considered dumping them in the garbage. He has a small collection of vintage (and functioning) Apple computers including a Mac Plus, a couple of Mac SEs, a Performa and even an Apple Newton Message Pad 130.