Thursday, 15 August 2013

What are the advantages or disadvantages, strengths or challenges of having a Mac as your home computer, especially if you use PCs at work, and considering you already a user of apple hardware, namely the iPhone and the iPad? 

Here are some observations of mine which I hope will be helpful. I've written it as a sort of blogpost, which this may become in due course. 
Firstly, it is important not to exaggerate the differences. In broad terms the operating system of the Mac (OS X (ten)) and of the PC (Windows) look very similar, and organise files in much the same way with a directory (folder) structure. The general user may not notice many differences at all - except perhaps that the desktop looks different. Files can be read and edited by both systems, and peripherals (memory sticks, printers, cameras) work with both. It is important to be aware that there are exceptions to this general principle (as there are with different editions of Windows) but in broad terms it is true to say that what you can do on a PC you do on a Mac. 
Secondly, and this is a connected point, the major programmes which are available on Windows are also available on the MAC. MS Office and Photoshop indeed started life on the MAC but are now available on both. In other cases there are strong equivalents on the Mac for familiar PC programmes - and some programmes come as part of the Mac system such as iPhoto, iMovie, PhotoBooth and iDVD which you may have to buy separately for a PC. 
Thirdly, as a balancing point, the user needs to be aware that there are differences, which may, in particular circumstances be considered disadvantages. The systems have their particular strengths. The Mac has long been the preferred computer of creative professionals, especially those working in graphic computer arts, such as photography and publishing. Many writers and journalists too, opt for the Mac. However, the Mac has not traditionally been the home computer of choice for serious gamers.The PC has been a workhorse, solidly established in offices. Accounting software, in particular, is more strongly represented on the PC. MS Office on the Mac has never included Access, the database programme. It is however, possible to run almost any PC programme on the Mac, using additional software which creates a "virtual" windows environment. 
Fourth, moving to a Mac does involve climbing a bit of a learning curve. The buttons appear in the left not the right top corner of the window, and they work in a slightly different way; the menu bar at the top of the screen changes with the application you are using (there is no menu bar on the app itself); the keys CTRL CMD and ALT work in a slightly different way and are positioned differently too; in most programmes you centre text not with CTRL-E, but with CMD-| (though MS Office (un)helpfully sticks to the windows usage). There are a few little things like this … You soon get used to them. 
Fifthly, Apple do not provide you with anything they don't think you need, which sometimes can be a bit of a surprise. Their devices have fewer slots and buttons than others. No place for a memory card in an iPad, no possibility of replacing a battery in an iPhone, no CD/DVD drive in most of the latest computers. If you really think you need these then you may be affronted that Apple haven 't give you more slots, connections, buttons, drives - but they calculate that you probably won't need them, and your device will work much better without something else to go wrong. 
However, even having made these points, there are three BIG advantages of using a Mac. 
For some this is the big objection, but Apple stuff works together so well. Many aspects of OS X have been drawn from iOS (iPhone/iPad) and are very familiar. Reminders on the Mac syncs with Reminders on the iPad and the iPhone, as does Notes, and the Calendar if you so set it up. If you use Pages, Keynote or Numbers, these sync through iCloud too. Photos you take on your phone will, through photo stream appear on your computer within seconds (all of these services can be disabled of course). You can even use Messages on the Mac to send iMessages (texts) to your iPhone and iPad - and send files and photos - via your wifi networks (no text charges). 
And none of this stops you using Google Mail or Maps or other services like Dropbox and Evernote. 
Don't get me wrong - everything Apple makes is not perfect - but in general terms the quality of both the Hardware and the Operating System leads the market, rather than follows it. After years now of using a Mac, I have almost forgotten how often PCs crash, or how spongey keyboards can be, and how unresponsive mice, or trackpads are. Apple computers are generally more expensive if you only compare the specs, but they work much better. They look good and they work well. Most Apple devices, including computers, are almost entirely sealed units which you can't add cards to, or memory or drives - at least not inside the box. The software and the hardware are built together, so you rarely get problems with drivers, and the software makes use of the capabilities of the hardware. 
Security too, is much better. Mac's don't have virus blocking software, and while the user should always beware bogus emails and "phishing" scams, viruses are almost non-existent on the mac. 
And finally, and this cannot be under estimated, the whole mac experience is very good. 
And the icing on the cake is the service which comes with the MAC. You can buy an extended warranty, called AppleCare, but the aftercare in general is excellent. You can go to an Apple Store and get advice and guidance, including courses and tuition. For some of this you have to pay, but a visit to the Genius Bar with a problem is free and the staff are very helpful. This kind of service just does not exist elsewhere. 
The hardware may be more expensive, after all, the cost includes this kind of service, but the software generally isn't. The equivalent of MS Office on the Mac - Pages, Numbers and Keynote - costs about £30, while non-discounted MS Office is about 10 tines that. The design standards of both the operating system and the hardware are high, so that ergonomically using a mac is a pleasurable experience. It is, I guess, like the difference between driving a BMW and a lesser car. Both may do the job, but its a lot nicer with a mac. 
And finally … 
To answer this question you need to decide what your needs are. 
Do you need a large screen? Are you likely to want to keep the Mac in one location? If so, consider the iMac - the desktop version. If you already have a large monitor, you might consider a MacMini which is unusual in that it has lots of slots and drives and is just a box to connect to your own peripherals. 
Do you want to be able to use the mac in different locations, perhaps away from home? Then consider the MacBooks. The MacBooks with the "retina" display are extremely good - but expensive. The other MacBooks still have a CD/DVD drive. 
Do you want something super light and portable and are not too concerned with how much storage space it has? Then have a look at the MacBook Airs. 
My recommendation - if you can afford it, the best all round machine is the 13" Retina MacBook pro. Stunning display, powerful machine. (A close second is there MacBook Air, but this is a bit underpowered as a main computer).  
Aha! You are getting the idea. (Apple seem to make their money out of cables). Depending on which choice you make, you may need an external CD/DVD - only the Apple one works, and that's about £60. You may also need suitable cables if you want to connect the MacBook to an external monitor. They generally run at about £20. If you go for a MacBook Air you might want an external drive for photos and music, though that's something you may already have, and you may need to buy some software. I strongly recommend Pages, Keynote and Numbers. You may also want to get MS Office, which is expensive, though there are educational deals, such as from Software4Students (ab0ut £40). AppleCare is probably a good idea, too, as most Macs now are not serviceable. 
Oh and by the way, there are lots of websites, including Apple's own site, which include guidance on transitioning from a PC to a Mac. 
I hope this helps!

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