Monday, March 26, 2012

Did you update your hood ornament?

I know some people who have gotten hold of virtual machines running Mac OS X.  There is currently a discussion in the LinkedIn iPhone Developer's group as to how best to develop iOS apps using virtual Macs.  In fact, a couple of people showed me today 10.6 Snow Leopard and 10.7 Lion running in VM's.  What one told me was, he didn't see anything special about Mac OS X, and he really likes Windows 7.

While I will grant the one nice thing about Windows 7 is dragging an app to have it fill half the screen [EDIT: you can do this with Cinch from Irradiated Software for $7], I will rant about Windows 7 down below, as to why I think it has so many shortcomings that it is not worth it.  Meanwhile, what I told him is that running Mac in a VM on a different hardware platform not built by Apple is only getting a small part of the Mac experience.  I would equate it to putting a Cadillac hood ornament, trunk lock emblem, and nameplate onto your Honda civic and thinking "what's the big deal, why is Cadillac so much better?"

Soup to Nuts

My experience with Apple over the last 3 years has led me to believe they are a complete package company.  They think through every last aspect of a product - from inside out, from the product, to ownership and support.  Even opening the packaging on a new purchase makes you feel like a pampered spoiled brat.  If that were all they did, they would be an extraordinary company.  However, they then have this suite of products that work well together - it's not just the Mac OS X, it's OS X on the Apple hardware, with an iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Apple TV in seamless synergy.  The synergy is that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  What you can do with them together is so much more than the sum of what you can do with each one separately.

And, when I say every last aspect has been thought out, I mean everything.  So you have this smart phone - now you need apps.  What about security, making sure the apps are from who they say they are, and that they don't do something malicious like upload all your contacts, or wipe your phone?  The App Store rigorously reviews and tests submissions, only allowing content that is certified safe.  Developers have to sign their apps with a certificate issued by Apple, and it has to be renewed each year, and can be revoked at any time for violations.  Further, when you purchase an app (or music, or a book, etc.) it signs that purchase with your very own store ID, so that digital rights are managed and you can use it on up to 5 devices, no more.  Digital rights, distribution, and therefore a market is created that protects revenue streams for developers and content providers - making a viable economy that can thrive.  This is good for the consumer because content is cheap (much is free, $0.99, $1.99, or $2.99) and plentiful, and of good quality.

It's The Hardware Too

Just like putting the Cadillac logo on your little banger doesn't give you the feeling of floating down the road in luxury, running OS X on a non-Apple hardware doesn't give you the experience.  OS X has multiple desktops to help you organize a busy life.  You can run apps in one desktop, then flip to another, and run some more, keeping them separated for organization.  On Lion, you seamlessly flip between these desktops with a swipe of your fingers on the touchpad.  Pinch out to fly out your windows and reveal the desktop beneath, pinch together to put them back.  Pinch to zoom, push to scroll, flick to display all desktops and switch between them.  These gestures are what truly make the Mac experience a dream, floating down the road in efficient luxury.

On a notebook, you have both a minimalist simplicity that makes it elegant, and a completeness that fulfills every need (like USB, digital, Thunderbolt ports, an elegant lit battery meter, infrared port, SD card slot, and the Magsafe power cord connector).  That last thing, the Magsafe connector, is truly a brilliant innovation.  Get the power cord close to the port, and it magnetically snaps into place and charges.  Accidentally pull too hard and it comes away without damaging any pins.  A simple LED light indicates power and charging status.

The combination of elegant, powerful OS and hand-selected hardware means you float luxuriously through your work, focusing on the task to be done, and not on all the myriad of problems that pop up in the way of completing your task.  Does this "Cadillac" cost more than a Windows machine?  Actually, you'd be surprised.  For comparable hardware it is comparable or less - and when you include the apps that come for free with the OS, it is a really good bargain.


I have dealt with a lot of companies over the last 25 years, with a lot of products or services that I bought.  Almost always, there is a dread when I have to call them for support - I will spend X minutes on hold, digging through a maze of phone menus, and perhaps several calls before I can reach someone who will have only a slight pulse.  If they have any clue about the question I am asking, they might be able to answer it - if they cared.

Very few companies have outstanding service - Vonage, Wagner, and Apple to my recollection.  Apple, by far, exceeds all of them.  Each and every time they answer the question right the first time, provide instant coordinated feedback that integrates seamlessly with technology (e-mails, web sites, iPhone apps, calendars, and more).  Really, I have said it before: Apple should offer a series of courses on customer service, and open a training business to other companies.

Backup & Restore

Recently, my hard drive died on my laptop.  With a Windows machine this would be a nightmare.  How many of you back up?  Yeah, I'm a professional, so I do back up.  Even still, backing up and restoring a Windows machine goes like this:  Hmm, what do I need to back up?  Documents, Music, Photos - yes.  What about the applications I bought, downloaded, and installed?  What about all the settings?  (Has anyone delved into settings in Windows?  There is a central database called the Registry, this is a nasty, dirty cesspool of collected flotsam and jetsam since you last installed Windows.  What, you haven't reformatted your hard drive and reinstalled Windows in the last 6 months?)  What about all your system configuration you have done - printer drivers, preferences, network configurations, etc.?  Yeah, it is a NIGHTMARE.

On the Mac, here's how it works.  You get some kind of backup system (it could be a USB hard drive, it could be a network drive like a NAS, or it could be your Time Capsule - which is an Apple wifi router with a hard drive built into it that backs up your Mac over the network).  Then, you go to Time Machine, and turn it on with the On switch, and tell it to back up to the selected drive.  Done.  Voila.  That's it.  Yes, everything is backed up hourly (as long as you are connected to the drive).

Now how do you restore a PC?  You hopefully have copied all your data to your backup drive.  Now, you load your Windows restoration DVD, reformat your hard drive, and restore your computer to how it was installed from the factory - before you began using it.  Right, remember way back then???  OK FOLKS: WHO WANTS TO GO BACK TO SQUARE ONE WHEN THEY FIRST BOUGHT THE MACHINE?  That's what I thought - no one.  Then, you retrace your steps - did you install MasterCook?  Which version, 9, 10, or 11?  Oh, where's the 11 CD?  Oh, right, I also installed those 25 utilities, so I have to download them again.  Wait, the free one I had is no longer free?  How do I get the old version?  Damn it!

Oh, now that you spent several days reinstalling all your apps, and changing all their settings to be the way you want (did you remember all of them?  yeah right!), now you restore your data from the backup disk.  Ahhh, now you are back to something approximating how it was.  OOPS!  YOU REALIZED YOU MISSED THAT IMPORTANT FILE!

So, how did I restore my dead laptop from over 2 years of work?  Reformat and reinstall the OS.  Oh, I had upgraded it, so I had to download the new version (Lion) from the App Store and upgrade again.  Once done, I hook up the USB hard drive, go to Utilities, and pick Restore.  I waited a few hours for over 200 gigs of data to restore, then reboot.  I am done.  DONE.  EVERYTHING is back the way it was, every last setting, printer drivers, all those little files I touched outside of the Documents or Photos or Music folders.  Hey, it's all there!  Painless.  So easy, my 7 year old could do it (Back Up, that is).

For Time Machine alone (all other considerations aside) I would say forget about it, never buy another Windows machine again.  Nor Linux nor anything else for that matter - why bother?  Who can afford a complicated scheme, Acronis TrueImage and take the time or knowhow to do your backups so that they can be restored?  Yeah, right.

Windows 7 Rants

So what are my pet peeves with Windows?  I think I am not going to have enough space on to post it!
  • The 1 nice thing - remember, dragging an app to have it fill or half-fill the screen?  This is because you don't have Lion.  Full screen apps in their own desktop, and flipping between desktops, you don't need to arrange windows like this. However, there are some times when you want to show windows side by side to compare.  In this one small respect, I wish the Mac were better.
  • Compatibility.  How many times have you been burned because your 64 bit machine can't run 32 bit software?  Come on, when they transitioned from 16-32 they had the same problem for years, and did they learn?  No, still 64 bit issues for years after the 64 bit is mainstream.  So many things seem to require a tangled net of software updates or new downloads just to work.
  • Performance.  Windows gets slower over time - the Registry builds up, and the hard drive gets fragmented.  I mean really, folks, fragmented hard drives?  That's so '80's.
  • Annoyance.  You know those constant prompts, "Cancel or allow?"  Remember those Mac vs. PC commercials?  They were right.  So many things just pop up and interrupt what you were doing.  That is much less intrusive on the Mac.
  • Usability.  This varies greatly depending on which hardware you run it on.  Dell?  Lenovo?  HP?  Sony?  Which model?  On some, the keyboards BITE.  On some, the touchpads REEK.  Isn't there one machine where everything is a dream?  Haven't found it yet.
  • Errors.  Come on, people!  When I hit print, and it says "Windows could not print, OK."  It used to at least give you an error message.  And have you ever tried the "fix this" button?  Useless.
  • Access to networks.  First, joining a WiFi network is slow (I never realized this until I got a Mac).  Second, in Windows 7 to join a WiFi network you have a ton of clicks to go through - it is NOT anywhere near simple nor intuitive.  It was in Windows XP, so they went way backward.  Now, when you browse a network drive in Explorer, it is often hung, often crashes Explorer (which is a key core component of Windows).
  • Access to administrative tools.  They moved everything around in 7 and 2008 to non-intuitive locations with technical titles like "Roles" instead of "Control Panel".
  • Reliability.  I had 7 Windows machines at home a couple of years ago.  I was constantly fixing things that broke (in the software, not hardware).  My wife, I kid you not, called me at least once a week to ask me how to fix a problem.  I now have 0 Windows machines at home (4 Macs and 4 Linux), and very few such issues (the one problem machine is an old Mac running 10.5, I wish I could upgrade it to Lion!).
  • Software Cost.  There are fantastic tools that come free with the Mac.  Many others are available through the App Store for very reasonable prices.
  • Support.  Have you EVER tried to call Microsoft for support?  Yeah, if you work for a big company, you get good service.  Otherwise, forget it!