OS X vs Windows 7 on an MBP

14 01 2011

I have an MBP from mid-2009. It’s a great little machine – a 13″ that I’ve bumped up to 8GB RAM. I’ve been a long time Windows user, however there are a couple of things you should know about me:

  • I used Solaris almost exclusively at university, and I’ve been using Ubuntu on and off for the last few years.
  • I’ve never had anything against OS X per se, I just have never really been exposed to it.

So, I’ve been on a mission to use OS X exclusively on my mac, without Parallels or VMWare, and only rebooting into Win7 when I have a major issue.

Here are my findings. I’m aiming to be as objective as possible.

Pros

  1. Better hardware integration
    While improved drivers in Bootcamp have helped, Windows 7 still lags behind. The most notable difference is how long it takes to come out of sleep (seems to be USB driver issues). OS X is super snappy on the MBP.
  2. Intuitive UI
    Nice use of gestures. System dialogs are less form-based than Win (ie. no need to click submit/apply/ok/save).
  3. Notifications
    I love Growl – and it’s terrible on Windows. To be fair, this is partially an idiomatic difference. It seems that Growl has become a de facto part of the OS X experience, so the decision by developers to integrate with it is almost a fait accompli.
  4. Unix commands in terminal
    The DOS command prompt has nothing on a linux shell. Using knowledge from unix on my native OS is a big plus.
  5. Good native applications
    Windows is still behind the ball on this one. iMovie, iPhoto, iTunes are all a MUCH better than their Windows counterparts.

Cons

  1. Window management is cumbersome
    Switching between, sizing and minimising windows on OS X is cumbersome at best. I find it very hard to believe that I’ll “get used to it”. I’ve asked Mac-heads to help me here, and more than a couple have just shrugged. (I even “lost” a window at one time, with the control bar out of sight. I tried apple scripting amongst other options to get it back – no banana). CMD + ~ to switch between windows I may have minimised – is there not a better way? What if I want to maximise something to the entire screen? I have to drag it across? Seriously?
  2. The Dock
    Document handling is messy. I guess you *could* get used to it, but putting thumbnails of docs on the bar unrelated to their application feels wrong. Also, while the light under the application icons signify it as “open”, there is no easy visual cues as to how many windows it may have open (of course it heads to my docs area, and i know i can click and hold the icon, but still – not fluid enough for my liking). The Windows 7  solution of layered boxes and semi transparent thumbnails of each window on icon hover is enviable.
  3. Experience based on applications
    A lot of the experience around OS X seems to resolve around a unified experience on the device. This comes via software which has the look and feel of OS X. To a user, it makes a lot of sense – I love the integrated feel of iOS (incidentally the exact direction OS X seems to be going in). It’s just that if you want/need applications that aren’t designed for the Mac-experience, you’re often bound for disappointment.
  4. Cannot write to NTFS
    This is a big pain when you’ve got an external HD that isn’t FAT32. To be fair – NTFS is Microsoft’s solution, however this omission can make the transition to OSX from Windows a painful experience.
  5. It doesn’t always work
    It just works? This slogan was immensely popular back when Windows still suffered those embarrassing blue-screens. But I tell you – in one week I managed to crash OS X twice. When I say crash, I mean the spinning wheel of death and a completely unresponsive UI – which included Force Quit and Terminal (to be fair, I was running Citrix one of those times).

Two noteworthy omissions:

One thing I haven’t decided on is the unified menu bar. I’m not sure if I like it or not… Logically, it makes a lot of sense – especially when you have multiple windows open.

The other is the context (right-click) menu. It seems that Apple has fought this one for quite some time. Even though right-click now exists, it feels as though it’s looked down on from a design standpoint. Maybe I’ve grown up in a Windows-centric world, but it makes a lot of sense to me when I see something on the screen, I want to interact with it to see what options are available – seems fairly logical to me.

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4 responses

14 01 2011
Loyal Moses

Great read, I had very similar frustrations when I first ‘made with switch’ about 7 or so years ago.

Heavy linux / unix background and Windows was the desktop OS of choice, simply because linux just couldn’t handle the basic day-to-day tasks. For me OS X was what linux was always trying to be. A powerful unix-core with a beautiful interface slapped on top.

Initially I had the same problem, dealing with why there is no maximize-to-full-screen button. The maximize button for many apps resizes the window to the largest appropriate size for the content contained. OS X urges users to multi-task and wants to remove the one-window-at-a-time work concept that Windows users are very much used to. In Windows I had tunnel vision, every application was maximized and I switched between other fully maximized applications with ALT-Tab.

As far as application and window switching goes, from early on I fell in love with Expose’ — I mapped the middle scrollwheel click to Expose’, making application switching extremely quick and nearly an extension of my brain.

Too bad you didn’t get to experience PowerPC Mac’s… Stability was incredible and it wasn’t until the switch to Intel (re-building the OS for x86) that we started to experience significantly more lock-ups and crashes.

After switching, have never looked back.

p.s. Keep at it, you’ll notice almost immediately just how much more productive you will be. I swear by it.

~moses

16 01 2011
Justin J. Moses

Hey Moses,

I get the feeling that you’re right – a lot of the differences are idiomatic; once you’ve made the transition, everything seems clearer. You’ve highlighted the main point here – “productivity”. That’s surely the most fundamental aspect of an operating system. I’m not convinced that any particular OS has it “right”. However I’ll continue to give OS X a chance until I can figure out if all those zealots actually have some substance to their arguments. 🙂

Justin

26 01 2011
Fletch

Nice balanced post, helpful. Windows 7 (Live) movie maker is worse than XP, they actually removed features. Hard to believe, that’s like my number one reason for thinking of going to Mac.

iTunes on Windows is a lesson in how not to develop software. The download is about the size of MacOS itself, since they wanted the Mac look and feel I guess they just bundled the whole of MacOS in and then used the bits they needed. And you can make phone calls while you wait for it to respond to mouse interaction. Which is ironic because it’s Mac software running badly on Windows making you want to switch to Mac so it will run properly.

26 04 2011
Juan Carlo del Valle

Hello, I saw your post and wanted to contribute with my experience:

Since I entered the university I started using linux, before ubuntu came up. So after school I was a happy arch linux user, then you find out that at work most of the applications you need wont run on linux… I used to work in flash MX and I emulated it through wine and used to work that way until CS came up.

I had to go back to Windows (XP at that moment) so for a few years as an adobe developer I got stuck on windows, when my laptop was changed I had the opportunity to choose a MAC at that moment I instead choose a XPS 13 with windows 7 since I always thought that OSX was too complicated and with a heavy mouse driven UI. I had to install cygwin and lots of stuff to be able to use bash as I was used to… (and I cant remember the number of times I had to format and reinstall the whole stuff).

Until finally I decided to try a MBP after they become Intel based, In OSX I could run Flash and that is a must in my work. At first you feel totally lost, so I started to make it a little more familiar, I installed terminal visor, changed my bash to use colors, got used to adium, got Witch for a LOT better ALT+TAB application switching, changed some settings to allow tabs to affect dialogs and every item in the UI so I dont need to use the mouse to much…

Then you realize that with spaces, and a little customization you can make a bound with the OS, you don’t have to worry about antivirus software, you can use macports to have most common linux applications and you start using the computer to work instead of tweaking and fixing and reinstalling… you become more productive and usually every MAC/OSX user I know has this little configuration changes that makes the experience to work just as they want it to work. So as a Linux/Windows/OSX user I would never look back to Windows again (Only if I need to develop something for windows wich is not often), I can admin my Linux Servers from my Terminal as if Im in linux so I never have to reboot to switch to flash. My MBP is always asleep, it takes a few seconds to awake, its really fast. When I minimize a window is by mistake you dont need to do that (at least I dont). Time Machine is a wonderful thing also, UI on OSX is really great and now with the Appstore you can have something like a package manager wich I loved from linux.

Another thing is that If you plan to develop something for Ipad or Iphone you’ll need Xcode… so you will need a MAC. My experience with Objective-C (OSX and iOS programming language) was painful at first but now I’m starting to like it somehow…

And finally for those AS3 developers wich does not like to much or develop with flex you can customize textmate to do a lot of things to make your work faster, there are bundles for AS3/Flex.

So my recommendation is, if you live from computers (you have an IT job) a MBP is a great investment that will pay itself back really quick…

JC

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