Computers

Going Mac – first impressions

I received my first-ever Apple Macintosh computers yesterday, a 20″ iMac and a Mac Pro.  As I mentioned in my previous post on why I decided to switch computer platforms (see link above), the iMac is for the wife and kids, and the Mac Pro is for myself.  Up until now, we’ve all shared one PC, and since I run my photography business through the computer, that made things tough at times (though each of us has always had our own accounts), not to mention that my den was not my sanctuary.  Now it will be once again.  ;)

So, first impressions:  beautiful and awesome packaging:

I regret that I did not take pictures of the inside; I was too excited to think of that.  But opening these boxes was an experience quite unlike opening the packaging for any computer I’ve previously owned.  My PCs always came in large brown boxes, and while the contents were always packed securely, I usually ended up with masses of cardboard strips, plastic wrapping, flexible ties, plastic ties, styrofoam, and other assorted crap.  Much of this packaging had to be destroyed in the process of liberating system components.  Opening those boxes was usually an ordeal, and unpacking them an exercise in puzzlement.

Not so the Macs.  A box knife nicely sliced open the tape securing the top of the boxes, which then unfolded easily.  Each box contained the mouse, keyboard and system manuals and discs tucked neatly into a specially formed cardboard compartment, under which was the computer system itself securely packaged in styrofoam.  Get this:  the Mac Pro, a large and pretty hefty tower, has handles on the top for ease of carrying, which made it a cinch to pull out of the box.  The iMac was even easier – just grasp the sides of the monitor, and up it comes.  Sure, there was “packaging” – the components couldn’t be safely transported without it – but it was kept to a minimum, and was easily unwrapped.  The keyboard and mouse were tucked into neat plastic bags, cords (what few there are, more on that below) were tied simply with flexible ties, and in the end, I ended up with much less garbage than in the past.  I didn’t have to rip or tear anything.  I didn’t have to break or destroy anything.  If I want to move these computers somewhere, it will be a simple matter to re-pack them just the way they came.  A small matter?  Maybe.  But the elegance of the packaging design isn’t an isolated case for Apple – it’s just the beginning, and an indication of the thought and attention to detail that is put into these systems.  And, as I’m finding out, elegance is the key word when it comes to describing these computers and how they operate.

I started setting up the iMac first, since it seemed simple.  Turns out, simple is too complex an adjective.  See the picture directly above?  That’s the computer.  That’s the whole computer.  No box, no tower; the computer is built into the thick white strip of plastic below the monitor.  Setting it up is literally as simple as plugging a power cord into the back, and inserting batteries into the wireless mouse and keyboard (not pictured, unfortunately; again too excited to remember.  I’ll get better pictures of both my new computers soon).  Turn it on, and OS X leads you through the initial setup process.  It synced up with the wireless mouse and keyboard, asked me a few setup questions, and booted up.  The whole process took about 5 minutes, from unpacking to being up and running.

The machine is whisper quiet (in fact, I can only hear it if I put my ear right next to it), and the presentation is so inviting that my wife and kids were enraptured watching me do the intial setup over my shoulder.  I got up from the chair to put away the packaging, and started talking about how there was no internet connection yet, how I would have to set up their accounts and e-mails and stuff, and it might be a while because I didn’t have time right that minute, and how they’d have to be patient, and…I look over my shoulder and the wife is already sitting at the computer, moving the mouse along the dock at the bottom of the screen and seeing what’s there.  The kids are watching what she’s doing.  I shut up and just watch.  “It Just Works,” right?  I want to see this in action.  My wife is competent enough on a PC, but is often frustrated by all the quirks and walls she hits trying to use it for what should be basic, everyday tasks (this is, after all, one of the main reasons I bought the family a Mac).  I can see her moving the mouse one-by-one over each icon, just soaking it in.  My daugher is reading it too.  “Hey, there’s your mail.  It’s just called Mail.”  She is unconciously contrasting this with Microsoft’s oh-so-intuitive name for e-mail:  Outlook.  Jen clicks on Photo Booth, and up pops a screen, displaying their 3 smiling faces in a window, captured by the webcam inconspicuously embedded at the top of the monitor.  Laughter ensues as the three of them spend the next 15 minutes taking pictures of themselves in various goofy poses, and as Jen finds the built-in effects filter that distorts and colors the image in a variety of ways.  They are having fun, and they haven’t read a single page of any manual or spent more than 2 minutes looking at the possibilities.  This is exactly what I wanted out of their computer.

Next up is the Mac Pro.  It’s a tower that takes an external display, so it’s slightly more complicated.  Like, plugging in one more cord than the iMac required for the external monitor (sadly, my new 30″ Dell widescreen has not yet arrived).  Oh, and plugging into my wireless router.  Much like the iMac, that’s it.  I plug it in and turn it on, and go through the initial setup.  I start exploring on the internet with Safari, changing system preferences, checking out the cool screen savers and stuff.  It’s fast and silky smooth.  I’ve left my PC set up on another monitor for ease of migration, and I decide I want to see how easy it is to make the two computers see each other.  I open Finder on the Mac, click on Network, and I’ll be damned if my PC isn’t right there already.  All I have to do is turn on Windows Sharing on the Mac (OS X tells me this, so I don’t need to guess at it), type in my PC password, and I’m in.  Total time – about 2 minutes.  The Mac can now see the PC, and all that’s left to do is set up sharing on Windows XP.  Notably, this takes several minutes longer than it took on the Mac, and I had to look up exactly what to do through Google.  Unlike the Mac, the PC did not see my Mac until I pointed it directly to the Mac’s IP address.  Funny how the Mac didn’t require that information on the other side.  Again, this is why I’m switching – I’m tired of mucking with my computer and trying to make it work for me; I just want it to work.

I effortlessly copy a bunch of stuff from my PC to my Mac without any problems.  After a little while, I finish and decide to turn my PC off.  Now, to this point, I haven’t noticed the noise in my den.  I’m used to it, after all.  My PC is a big, bulky Alienware.  It’s a powerful machine (well, it was 4 years ago), and I always figured that noise just comes with the package (more power = more heat = more fan action).  I tell Windows to shut down, my PC powers off, and suddenly everything is quiet.  I’m not used to that, and besides, shouldn’t it still be noisy since my big, powerful Mac Pro is still on?  The difference in volume is simply amazing, in fact it’s unbelievable.  I think the Mac has somehow shut down.  I look at the monitor and check – of course it’s still running.  I look at the machine.  I simply can’t believe it.  I have to sit still and strain to hear it at all, and all I can hear a very, very slight hum from the fan.  But.  It…is…so…quiet.  I wasn’t surprised that the iMac was quiet, but this beast?  Now I start up iTunes and play a tune at the same volume I play tunes on my PC, a volume loud enough to override the din created by my PC’s fans (there are 4 fans in my PC).  The music totally drowns out any noise the Mac Pro is making, and in fact seems to blast out of my speakers since they have nothing to compete with.  I turn the speakers way down, and am amazed that I can now listen to music at low volume and still not hear the computer.

And now I know it for sure:  I am going to love this machine.

More tomorrow…

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