The switch from Mac to Windows
Another installment. My first few posts were justifying the return to Microsoft front he point of view that the application quality and utility are less important today when more and more of what we do day in and day out on our computers is via a web browser and some SaaS solution. But today, I am going to talk about another significant contributor, the shift from Intel to Apple designed silicon.
I have been a Mac user since the 68000 based Macs, beginning with a Mac SE that I upgraded to an SE/30, and then several PowerPC versions, and finally the switch to Intel CPUs in the Oughts.
I have been through each of these transitions, and while even with the Motorola to PPC transition, Apple has been clever about managing it, with translators and shims that allow old software to continue to work, well enough that you could survive.
But while it worked, it was clunky, and at each junction, some software developers failed to fully migrate to the new architecture, locked into the translation layers (Carbon apps anyone?) And that sucked.
While the new M1 silicon is mighty impressive, and the interoperability seems pretty solid, it is a patch. I am just at a point in my life that I don’t want to be a guinea pig for these major transitions. A couple major versions of OS X back, Apple stopped supporting 32bit binaries, a perfectly reasonable concept. But it meant that several programs that I liked and used frequently, but weren’t actively supported just went bunko for me.
Lame. Yeah, I was able to find some alternatives, but it was painful.
I love the idea of a super fast ARM based system, and Apple has designed some impressive hardware. But the currently shipping laptops don’t support multiple monitors.
I love the fact that they sip power compared to Intel CPUs.
But I rarely use a laptop as a portable. 99.9+% of the time, I am plugged into my monitor and use external keyboards/trackpads.
Furthermore, many of the reasons that I preferred Apples to PCs have been negated. Windows since Vista (yes, I actually liked Vista) has been a pretty decent user experience. (n.b. if you had a computer that truly was supported on Vista, your experience was pretty solid. If you had an older marginal PC, well, you hated Vista)
And now that WSL is there, it is trivial to have a side-by-side full Unix compliant shell system that is extremely well integrated.
That is not to say there aren’t some killer Mac apps that I will miss. In particular, I love using Ulysses for writing and managing my blog posts. And the few times I edit videos, iMovie is still pretty awesome.
But in hindsight, much of my dislike (hatred is too strong of a word) of Windows was misguided. It isn’t the devil, it isn’t evil. It is solid, it works well, and as more and more of the things I do with a computer are truly cross platform, and the advent of the cloud and cloud services have really eliminated the real world issues between the two platforms. Spotify works well. The bundled browser (Edge) is good and lighter on the surveillance that Google’s Chrome has, and Apple’s Safari is better at the privacy bits, but it sucks so hard that I cringe when I use it.
Some quick hits
Getting set up to write programs was similar for both, but Apple has the edge. Built in to the OS installation are languages like Python, and with the install of the command line tools from Xcode, and you are golden. It was a bit of a struggle on Windows (well, I could (and did) install the community version of Visual Studio) but I finally got it all working with MinGW and VS Code, not painless, but more complicated than it needs.
Apple has deprecated the ability to run 32bit programs, so many old things just won’t work. It seems that every major update of OS X there are more applications that no longer are supported.
The systems both are solid, reliable, snappy in behavior, and visually appealing. Both bundle in many cool adjuncts.
Apple has iCloud, and its ecosystem, and Microsoft has Office 365 (which I have a subscription to) the Store, and plenty of goodies free and paid.
Apple has the terminal and the full Unix/POSIX compliant shell/command line environment. Windows has Powershell that is quite Unix like, at least enough for me, but it is trivial to add the Windows Subsystem for Linux and a distro to give you the full gamut of Unix tools.
Games are where the Windows box wins handily. Apple has some games, but the major publishers rarely support it, and the new Apple Arcade is really, uh crappy. Sorry, they are just mediocre. Some gems (The Last Campfire) but a lot of meh all around. Windows? Well you can run things that are 25+ years old, and current AAA titles as long as you have ample resources. No comparison.
I am not leaving Apple entirely. I still have my Mini, and my MacBook Pro. I have a lot invested in that ecosystem, and frankly, it works for me, mostly. But as I learnt from a colleague who is a developer on one of our teams, the computer is a tool, and as long as you can accomplish what you need to do, go with it. 10, 15, or more years ago, there was a significant variance of what each ecosystem could provide. Today, that line is blurred.