This is a bit of an off beat story for MacStories, but I’d like to talk about my experiences from moving to the Mac onto a PC desktop I’ve tossed together in the past week. It irks me that even going into 2011, you still see the age old arguments of software availability, familiarity, and often other non-issues when people partake in with the Mac vs. PC debate. I’d like to discuss software availability, because this is where I think PC advocates are highly mistaken in their perception of what we have available on OS X.
I grew up on Windows XP via an old warhorse Compaq whose Celeron D processor has served me well for six years. That shit was old, but that hard drive never died and the system never once gave out. Only recently did I begin to fear the rattles of failure when I started hearing squeeks and beeps, so I tore the tower out of its cubby and built a brand a new computer. From an Intel Celeron D to an AMD Phenom II, building this computer was no joke — my Windows 7 machine runs as fast as my MacBook (and seemingly boots faster). Startup is still a little laggy since I’ve yet to manipulate Dropbox, Core Temp, Comodo, Catalyst, Steam, and several other apps to my liking, but I can go from login to Chrome in about a second or two. So to clear up any confusion, the “Windows is slow” argument has been tossed out the door since my little monster just chews through anything I throw at it. There’s nothing I can’t do with this machine, and it may give me an excuse to start making videos for MacStories again since video processing should be much faster than my MacBook.
While it was built as a light gaming machine (Counter Strike Source, Half Life 2, and Phantasy Star Online), I decided I wanted to live off this desktop as my main machine for a week or so. Lifehacker and Download Squad are my initial sources for Windows software — also useful is How-To Geek’s website. You simply cannot not find information on Windows 7: every tweak under the sun has been transformed into a ten page novel thanks to passionate users in the community looking to get the most out of their machines. Whether it be a software utility or some command-fu, you can completely transform your Windows 7 experience into anything you want. I very much like the operating system for this reason: there’s nothing I can’t touch if I want it bad enough.
But this is where my admiration for an often under-appreciated Windows 7 does a 180. Everything from CCleaner to WinDirStat to RevoUninstaller is available for Windows, but are there any good applications for getting work done asides from tweaking utilities? This is where OS X has really spoiled me, and this is where I get to laugh at Windows users. OmniFocus, Apple Mail, Linkinus, Quicksilver/LaunchBar, Echofon, TextMate, Yojimbo, TextExpander, and dozens and dozens of other applications are immediately at my finger tips with a few keystrokes. Better yet, those applications have been carefully tailored with scripts to automate tasks for me thanks to Apple’s built in tools.
“Those are all paid utilities! I get my jollies on Windows for free!” Admittedly I’ve paid for a ton of software, but you get what you pay for. And I pay for good software on Windows as well if I think it’s useful to me and gets the job done — paying for software isn’t exclusive to OS X as one might think. Besides, there are open source or free applications such as Adium and Cyberduck that act as replacements for a Windows user’s Pidgin and Filezilla. To say there is “no software” for OS X or “no free software” is an outright lie. You haven’t looked hard enough (I imagine people are going to tell me the same thing about Windows after they read this piece).
Loading up my PC with software, I started with web browsers. IE8 was replaced with the IE9 beta (which I really like), Chrome became my default browser, and both Firefox and Opera were installed for good measure. I ultimately settled on Chrome since Xmarks shares my open tabs and bookmarks as Google Sync copies my extensions between machines. Plus, there’s simply nothing faster than Google Chrome – even the hardware accelerated IE9 didn’t render pages as quickly (at least in my perception of things – science will judge performance once a final version is released). As a quick note, Microsoft is quite snarky and up-to-date with all things IE9: as soon as Firefox updated to the latest beta, Microsoft immediately ran their own performance comparison which you can find here. That gives me some faith Redmond can still do a few cool things.
Back to apps, I began looking for a music player. Winamp and MediaMonkey are popular choices, but I’m partial to the complete opposite of iTunes: Foobar2000. While that’s always a mainstay on any machine, I decided to gun for Songbird (which I was first exposed to during its beta stage a long time ago), iTunes, and of course Zune’s media center. If I wasn’t using Foobar2000 for my vinyl rips, ultimately I would choose Zune over iTunes on Windows. While iTunes is fine on OS X (I’ve never run into any performance issues and I’m familiar with how podcasts are handled), the Zune player just felt like a better fit. Plus, integration with my Xbox is a must have (though I have that on OS X with The Little App Factory’s Rivet). DoubleTwist is also an option for when I need to sync my Droid, but I wouldn’t use it as my main media center yet.
I loaded up on other software that I remember growing up with: Paint.net being the premier tool which I much prefer over Photoshop or any of OS X’s drawing tools such as Acorn or Pixelmator. I downloaded Skype, Belvedere (an OS X Hazel alternative), Notepad++ for when I need to edit XML files for Android, and Microsoft’s suite of Windows Live tools. With the exception of Belvedere, most of these tools are common Windows apps that Windows users will cry about not being available on OS X. Paint.net and Notepad++ are probably legendary must haves, and though my passion for Paint.net runs deep simply because of familiarity, all of these have alternatives on OS X. NotePad++ is comparable to TextWrangler if you omit paid utilities.
Other than these essentials and your common upkeep utilities listed above, I really don’t know what else there is to find. I pay for mIRC (the alternative to Linkinus) because it’s nice IRC software, but what about apps for Twitter? I’m not going to use TweetDeck since I don’t use that on the Mac, and while Seesmic makes a terrific iPhone and Android app, the desktop app isn’t friendly enough for me to stand it (plus it’s Silverlight based). I tried MetroTwit and Blu, but I still can’t get that Echofon or Tweetie experience. A main utility I needed on Windows for both business and recreation doesn’t have a good Mac counterpart. In the end, the web tool I never use has become my mainstay. Twitter.com’s own homestead is now pinned in Google Chrome.
Soon, the music bug began to hit. The problem here isn’t as much of a Windows problem as it is a compatibility one: keeping an iTunes library on Mac, moving those songs to network attached storage, and trying to sync everything with all the machines in my house would quickly become futile. I’ve done it before with some serious equipment: I’ve had a linux server that anyone on my network could access, write to, and delete from via web-based tools, but now that I’m the only chap around I’ve done away with the time-consuming setup and server and have kept my music local simply for personal convenience. (Owning a Mac has always resulted in, “There’s an easier way to do this.”) Not wanting to go through that bullshit again, I’ve decided to toss out all of my Windows music players, convert all of my FLAC files to AIFF for iTunes on my Mac, and decided that while I’m on Windows, I’ll just pin a tab in Google Chrome for Grooveshark. Voila! I have an online music player that has a library of almost everything I want available for free. Do you see where this is going yet?
Email proved to be another pain in my backside. Microsoft has Windows Live Mail, but it’s really just a mini-Outlook by design. Personally I’m not fond of it, and I quickly became annoyed that nothing on Windows can rival the simplicity of Apple’s own Mail. Even my old favorite, Thunderbird, no longer appealed to me. While Postbox is available for both Windows and Mac, again, it doesn’t provide an interface I’m comfortable with. I thought about downloading Mozilla’s Prism so I could have Gmail on the desktop in a Fluid-esque sort of way, but I decided to simply pin a tab in Chrome.
What about Pidgin? Screw it — pinning Meebo is way easier. Writing for MacStories? I’m fond of MarsEdit (and even TextMate) on OS X, but I’ll just use our provided web utility in Chrome. I’ll interlude a positive note here by saying WriteMonkey on Windows is a free alternative to WriteRoom on OS X, though WriteRoom feels much snappier – then again it could be just this mushy keyboard talking. Windows Live Writer would be your MarsEdit alternative, and while it’s very good, I’m not going to have fun writing in Markdown or Textile with it. Am I being picky?
In the end, all of my personal social and email utilities are simply utilized in Chrome. There are powerful applications that I have to use on Windows 7 which include the MOTODEV Studio and Google SketchUp (both also on OS X), but I can’t find decent alternatives for my remaining needs. Everything personal has been moved into the browser, but the apps that make OS X really powerful don’t have the same hold on Windows 7. Looking for a LaunchBar alternative? There is Launchy, but it pales in comparison. Looking for a TextExpander alternative? Lifehacker has a text tool, but it’s buggy and weak. There has to be something right? The fact is: if there is a utility on Windows that has a counterpart on OS X (free or not), the OS X alternative is often vastly superior in both features and UI design. This is going to piss off Windows 7 users, but having gone back and forth between the operating systems and back again, a week’s worth of searching has revealed few promising comparisons.
The apps that shine on Windows 7 would be apps like Belvedere, which I mentioned earlier. As a Hazel-like utility, it watches folders and wrangles files automatically in the background. It’s the perfect sheepdog companion! That’s pretty much as far down the rabbit hole as you’re going to get unless you want to get geeky and run AutoHotKey for those capable with a keyboard, and while I’m currently stuck with a slew of apps that will burn CDs, unzip files, or clean the registry in ten different ways, there’s nothing here that boosts my productivity. I’m sure there’s something out there that I haven’t found yet, but a majority of what I need can be handled by the web browser. I figure at this point, I’m really turning my PC on to use two applications: Steam (for gaming), or Chrome for all of my apps.
The truth is I can overclock my PC from the desktop, but I can’t find good productivity tools to automate writing or upload content with whatever magic developers enable in OS X. So I have to ask: when Windows users say there’s nothing available for the Mac, what in the heck are they talking about? Pardon me, but this whole ordeal is completely the opposite: why isn’t anything available on the Mac available for Windows? Lots of utilities now are cross-platform, but once we get into really specific applications for power-users, most commonly you’re going to find tweaking tools and upkeep utilities on Windows, while you’ll find applications for boosting productivity and automating processes on the Mac. This is my observation, and unless we’re talking business specific tools I can’t find a good reason why Windows users would complain about applications when switching to a Mac. I swear there’s eventually going to be someone who asks me whether or not CCleaner is available on OS X, which will drive me up a wall. People on Windows don’t know how bad they have it unless they’re really complacent with their web browser and Facebook (in which case it doesn’t matter).
I figure unless I needed to work in an IT department, I will never need to touch Windows. I choose to since I have extra horsepower for hobbies like gaming, Android application development, and 3D mock-ups for when I dream up case ideas I’d like to fabricate, but that’s it. Outside of that, nothing is compelling enough for me to live on a Windows machine. Ultimately, I’ve decided to do everything I need to in Google Chrome, almost proving that I could live off of a Chrome Notebook. Google, if you’re listening, I’m up for the challenge of proving you’re right.
There are things I like about Windows 7 that very much make me appreciate how Microsoft has grown up over the years. Like everyone else, I think Snap, the Windows Taskbar, and Jumplists are absolutely incredible features built into the operating system. But they’re only useful if you have apps to use them with. The problem isn’t the operating system (it’s awesome!), but the problem is that the tools I need on top of the operating system aren’t there. Let me bring up John Gruber’s argument he made with Android: what apps exclusive to Windows are compelling enough to make an OS X user lust to use Windows? QuickBooks?
It’s funny really. A mature operating system that has a bevvy of apps was in the end outdone by a web browser. I use apps on OS X because they’re friendly, powerful, and work well beyond my expectations, but everywhere else I’ll be buried with pinned tabs in Chrome and pleasurable web apps that do everything my desktop can in a mobile & portable environment. The Windows apps vs. OS X apps argument is dead to me, and I cringe every time I hear it. This isn’t about a superiority complex or me being persnickety: this is me trying to use Windows 7 in the real world and failing to find anything that matched the ease of use and effectiveness of third-party OS X applications. Complain all you want, but all Windows has proved is that the best app available is Google Chrome.
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