Leaving Windows Behind

So, I finally switched to Mac a month ago. I've had a Mac laptop since last summer and have been very pleased with the experience, so since Windows Vista has been giving me huge amounts of trouble (e.g. see my last post on getting Cygwin to work, though I won't go into the full gamut of issues I had here) I decided to go for an Apple desktop machine too.

Happily, Steve Jobs has heard my cries of Windows-inflicted pain and ordered his minions to release a new revision of this baby:

Mac Pro

Beautiful, isn't it? With 8 cores of Xeon love, it's no slouch in the performance department either. Salivation-inducing hardware aside, it comes with OS X, which is so much better than Vista that its simply not even funny. Overall it's fair to say that I've been very pleased with my purchase 🙂

There have been some problems switching, of course. I have Parallels Desktop installed so that I can still develop using C# and I will probably end up installing Office 2007 on there at some point as well, but for pretty much everything else I've been able to find an acceptable or beyond-acceptable alternative for OS X. Here are some of my favourites:

LaunchBar

LaunchBar is a very neat application that you can use to quickly access many things on your Mac. For instance, if I want to play the album "Twin Cinema" in iTunes, I just press Option-Space, type "twin" into the box that comes up and press enter: fast and convenient. Similarly, if I wanted to open TextMate I simply press Option-Space and type "mate". Of course, there are loads more things you can do with it such as running any AppleScript you like or make a Google search.. the list goes on. LaunchBar learns over time what abbreviations you want to associate with an action, and hence it becomes so natural that so you soon find it hard to live without it!

Unfortunately it is payware, but it's certainly well worth the price tag.

Plot

Plot is a really nice graphing application. On Windows I was using Gnuplot, which is doubtless powerful but insanely hard to use. Plot just works and supports pretty much every feature I need. The graphs it outputs look very professional: see for yourself.

LyX

LyX is what I'm using instead of Office (NeoOffice, the OS X OpenOffice port, is too sluggish for words so I'm trying to avoid it). It's a nice friendly interface onto an OS X LaTeX distribution that makes the common case fast while still letting you access the full power of LaTeX when you need it. The application is actually nominally cross platform but I had numerous problems with crashes and weird behavior in the Windows version that have yet to occur on Mac.

1Passwd

I bought 1Password (it actually came as part of the MacHeist deal) to replace my long-time Windows password manager Password Manager XP. I have no complaints: on the contrary, 1Passwords integration with Firefox and the OS is much more reliable and complete than Password Manager XP ever managed.

What's more, they are about to release a service called my1Password that will let me get web-enabled access to my passwords from any location and platform! I'm happy as a clam about this as it's proven impossible to find a decent cross platform desktop password manager application. I should give a shout out to Clipperz here as they have had a decent implementation of this for a while, but the lack of integration with my main password manager (so I have to maintain two lists) and minuscule password limit have put me off using it regularly. UPDATE: Marco Barulli from Clipperz has responded to what I said here: please read this post to get the full story.

Time Machine

Time Machine, oh Time Machine, how did I ever get backups done before I had you? The answer is: with great difficulty. On Windows I set up a scheduled task to use SyncBack to clone my hard disk to another server. Unfortunately, this was pretty unreliable (partly because I was backing up onto a Linux file system that had an imperfect emulation of Windows security and didn't seem to support Unicode properly) and also meant that I only had a backup of the most recent version of my filesystem. With Time Machine everything is seamless and I can go back weeks or months in time to see my files at any point, all from within the Finder! Awesome!

Terminal

And finally, maybe you don't find the OS X Terminal very exciting, but for someone who has wasted many hours struggling with Cygwin and its numerous problems (e.g. the awkward attempt to reconcile the Windows and Unix permission models) it is a godsend to finally have a real Unix shell available 🙂

I haven't even mentioned some perennial favourites like Transmission, Perian or AppFresh, but my time is limited! If you really feel the need to peek into all the applications I have installed, take a peek at my iusethis profile.

Overall my switching experience has been almost entirely painless and has certainly made me more productive and satisfied with my machine. Here's to many more happy years with Apple computers!

Champagne

3 thoughts on “Leaving Windows Behind

  1. I'm glad to hear 1Password could help make your transition to Mac easier and more enjoyable!

    Funny enough, it was the pain of setting up Cygwin (especially the SSH part) that caused me to make the jump to Mac 3 years ago.

    Enjoy your stay 🙂

    Cheers!

    --Dave Teare
    Co-author of 1Password
    Everyone is Switching to Mac!

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