As mentioned in a previous article, I recently ordered a MacBook Pro to replace my high-powered Windows machine. This is a no-compromise transition; I need to do everything I did on the Windows machine, and it has to be easy to do so. When my new machine arrived, I had already done a lot of research, planned for the transition and even helped a friend setup his new iMac, so I was pretty sure I knew what I was getting into.
In truth, there have been only a few surprises, all of them minor. In this article, I’ll detail dealing transitioning from a Windows machine to the latest Mac and offer some solutions for the problems that may occur.
THE ETHERNET PORT — No Soup For You.
My first speed bump came before I every turned the system on, and the blame is squarely mine. I went to the Apple store before ordering the computer, I thought I had checked for an Ethernet port. If I did, I checked on an older model. The MacBook Pro I ordered has no hard-wired Ethernet port, only wireless. My stomach dropped because I often need a hard wired Ethernet port for work when setting up industrial automation for work. It’s not a day-to-day need, but it is a deal breaker.
A quick Google search revealed that I had simply missed the fact that Apple has removed hard-wired Ethernet ports from their laptops. Frankly, this isn’t surprising; I hardly see a laptop user plug the port in. The articles also listed a solution; for $30, Apple sells a ThunderBolt-to-Ethernet port adapter that is literally plug and play; not even a driver needs to be installed. I later swung by the local Apple store, picked one up and it worked instantly. This solution is, for me, ideal; I only use the Ethernet port when I’m plugging into embedded or industrial networks for programming, and I already have to carry and assortment of cables for my job. I will toss the tiny adapter in my briefcase, use it when I need it, and, 90% of the time, I’m carrying around a professional laptop that is almost as thin and light as the MacBook Air.
As a side-note regarding the MacBook Air: I don’t see the point. The low-end MacBook Pro is nearly the same price, nearly the same dimension and a better computer. The MacBook Pro on which I’m typing this article is terrifyingly thin; the MacBook Air seems redundant to me.
SETTING UP TO FAIL: The buggy setup wizard.
Considering that ease of use is Apple’s claim to fame, I found it ironic that the buggiest, most problematic part of the operating system is the absolute first thing one sees when they turn on the Mac for the first time: the Setup Wizard. Having just helped a friend with his iMac, I thought this was going to be 45 seconds of clicking and then on to the fun. Wrong.
There are two failures in the Setup Wizard, one minor and one that Apple to should be embarrassed about. Both of these failures happen to be the two features I didn’t use when helping my friend with his iMac, so they took me by surprise.
I’ll start with the minor problem: there is some bug that prevents the Setup Wizard from validating your Apple ID. The Setup Wizard says there is a problem with the Apple servers and that you should try again later. I did some reading and it turns out this is a common problem, and the issue is somewhere in the Setup Wizard. The solution is to skip, then go to System Preferences, select iCloud, then enter your information there. That works and it’s fairly easy, but buggy software relying on workarounds is just so…. Windows. Once I did put in my iCloud ID in system preferences, the rest of the process was smooth. Even my iPhone suddenly displayed a message asking me if it could trust my new MacBook Pro. I said yes, and they’re rather chummy now.
The real problem was the Migration Assistant, which Apple should either fix immediately or remove from the operating system, never to speak of again. On the surface, the Migration Assistant seems like a treasure for anyone moving to a new computer, be it from Mac or Windows. It works well for neither situation.
Problem Number One: The Migration Assistant takes over your Mac for however long it’s copying files. I was transferring 43GB of music and data from my old machine, which is about 4 hours of transfer time. On the Windows machine, where I installed the Migration Assistant’s companion program that would send the files over to the Mac, the computer otherwise ran normally. No matter whether you start the Migration Assistant from the Setup Wizard or later from within the Applications folder, you’re not doing anything but migrating for awhile. Of course, this often leads to people having better things to do and choosing to migrate while they’re sleeping at night, so they skip through the Setup Wizard and run the migration later. This leads to Problem Number Two.
Problem Number Two: If you run the Migration Assistant from the Setup Wizard when you first turn on your computer, it pulls the files into your user account. If you run the Migration Assistant later, it makes a new user account and leaves the account you’re actually using untouched. This makes no sense. You’re migrating, not copying users for an IT department. The only reason anyone would run a Migration Assistant in the first place is to pull files into their current user account; that’s what the name “Migration Assistant” fucking implies. I woke up in the morning to find that my MacBook Pro had indeed pulled all my files off the Windows laptop… and put them in a new account. Some Google searching revealed that this happens to almost everyone that tries to use the Migration Assistant. I also learned that the Apple Store won’t touch the program; they transfer the files for you by copying manually.
There is a trick, however, to fix this situation. It’s again another workaround, but if you’ve already spent the hours pulling over the files and found they all went into another account, the time need not be wasted.
— Delete the user account the Migration Assistant created.
— You will be asked if you would like to save a copy of the user data. Say yes, as a disk image.
— A disk image of all your files is created. The nice that that happens here is that all your files are in the directory structure you need to copy and paste right into your own user data location, thus putting all the files where you wanted them in the first place.
I navigated to the disk image, opened it up, grabbed the music directory, pasted it into my own music directory, then opened iTunes. Boom. My music library exactly as it was on the Windows machine. I did the same for my documents, photos, etc. When I was done, I deleted the disk image from my hard drive.
It was a good way to make the best of the four hours of file copying my MacBook Pro did, but if I just wanted to copy files and manually drop them into folders, I could have done so without the Migration Assistant. The rule of thumb is: if you can get the Migration Assistant to work for you during the Setup Wizard and you don’t mind waiting 3 – 10 hours for the process, then it might be worth it. But if you’re at all computer savvy or need to skip Migration during the Setup Wizard, you’re better off copying manually.
This is where the negativity ends, however. The rest of setting up my new MacBook Pro was fast and simple, and the system is an absolute joy to use.
THE GOOD AND THE BEAUTIFUL
I’ll skip over detailed reviews of the hardware, for which there are numerous articles. Suffice it to say that this is the laptop to beat. The Retina display is the absolute best I’ve ever seen. The keyboard looked like it would take some getting used to, especially after I found the iMac keyboard to feel clumsy, but the MacBook Pro keyboard is superb. I’ve never been a fan of touch pads; I find them slow, sloppy and awkward. I usually disable them and carry around a traditional mouse. The Mac trackpad is the first I’ve liked on any computer. I’m still a handheld mouse lover, but this is the first touchpad that actually seems worth installing into a computer, and the iPad-like gestures it supports for scrolling make it a good mouse companion.
The idea isn’t to compare Dell to Apple, though; I’m interested in how well Mac OSX works when compared to Windows, and how hard it is to get up and running with my complicated setup. Frankly, the Mac did not disappoint.
The network performance of the machine is the most striking difference. Side by side, the same network, both connected over wireless, the Windows computer more powerful and its virus scanner disabled, the Mac loaded pages, downloaded files, uploaded files and simply responded more quickly than the Windows machine. And just in case you think I’m comparing a Chevy to a Ferrari, keep in mind that the Windows laptop is a portable workstation that cost $500 more than the MacBook Pro. The Bitcasa application I use was the clearest example of this. I recently switched from Mozy to Bitcasa for offline backup and mirroring. The Windows machine took three days to sync up 50GB and could sometimes drag the computer to a crawl while uploading. On the Mac, Bitcasa mirrored the 50GB overnight and at no time seemed to cause any load on the computer. Certainly, I’m not doing any type of scientific measuring, but after two days of using the machines side by side, the Mac screamed through every Internet-related task.
In fact, everything feels faster. The operating system has a certain “snap” to it. Click the “Finder” button (the equivalent of Windows Explorer) and it instantly appears. When a program pops on the screen when using the Mac, it’s ready to go. Type a search term into Spotlight (the equivalent of the search box in the Windows Start Menu) and the results appear instantly. Searching on Windows is still a slow, tedious process. On the Mac, it’s an absolute joy. Microsoft’s utter failure to implement a reasonable, performant search engine is glaring, and can take several minutes to respond. OS X returns results in less than a second.
Downloading and installing software from the Internet was quick and easy, and the App Store in OS X is actually a nice touch and brings iPhone/iPad familiarity to installing programs or updates. Most people have no trouble dealing with the App Store on their iPhones or Android devices, but have panic attacks when a program or update needs to be installed. The App Store may sound like Apple’s silly attempt to merge the OS X and iOS experience, and that was my take on it before I had used the program, but watching a 68 year old man that didn’t speak English update the operating system on his new iMac with a calm click changed my mind quickly.
WHEN IN ROME…
There is a slight adjustment switching to the Mac, emphasis on slight because, up until Windows 8, Windows was borrowing heavily from the OS X design. You’ll have no trouble using the computer of finding the files, but you’ll have to adjust to clicking the cute little Mac Face on the Dock to open a Finder window instead of a little folder. If you’re into using keyboard shortcuts, as I am, they are different. And the Delete key is actually a Backspace key, but that’s really just a change in terminology.
Then there is the menu bar always being at the top, which I’ve always been a fan of, but it does seem jarring for most former Windows users. It actually makes a lot of sense; the original designer of the Mac realized the top menu was easier navigation; instead of having to fit your mouse into the narrow menu, you just head up to the top. The combination of the menu bar on the top and the dock bar at the bottom is a winner, in my opinion. I have a very visible and readable interface, icons for the background processes in the upper right, a clear menu in the upper left, and icons for more than 20 programs a constant at the bottom of the screen. Sure, you could pin a few programs to the Windows 7 task bar, but not 20, and Windows 8 is a mess on the desktop. The compromise of having the menu bar always at the top on the Mac is that you sometimes have to look in the upper-left corner to see what program the menu is referring to. This sounds tedious, but, in practice, the menu is almost always set to the program you expect.
What Windows users will miss the most is the “maximize” button. On Mac, every windows sports a red close button, a yellow minimize button and a green… I’m not exactly sure what to call the green button with a “+” sign. It’s not strictly maximize, although some programs wisely treat it as such. Other programs will simply make the window taller and you’re left to drag the window to fill the screen. OS X Mavericks, however, does feature a new button on the right side of the window, which turns the program into a full-screen application. This is a feature I love and has pretty much replaced the maximize button for me.
The mouse wheel will take a little getting used to; it works opposite of Windows because Apple decided that all scrolling should mirror the iPad. This is a decision that works well on the touchpad, not so much on the mouse wheel. Then again, I’m using an old mouse from a Windows PC, while the new Apple mouse doesn’t have a wheel; you use your fingers like you would the touch pad. On my friend’s iMac, I was impressed by the mouse, so it’s very possible Apple made the right decision and I’m still clinging to a Windows mindset. Still, my MacBook Pro doesn’t come with a mouse and they’re $70, so I’ll be adjusting to the mouse wheel for awhile.
[Edit: For half the price, I bought the Logitech Ultrathin T631, which offers the same features as the Apple mouse in smaller, more portable footprint.]
Overall, however, I see nothing in OS X that will send a Windows user running back for Windows 8, or even 7, while there is a lot to fall in love with.
MICROSOFT OFFICE… THE MIXED BAG
One of the first programs I installed was Microsoft Office, since my company would consider this a deal-breaker if the software wouldn’t run on the Mac. The good news is that Office, particularly Word and Excel, work and run well; in fact, since the Mac versions were published in 2011, they feature the desktop-style interface that was far more usable. My suspicion is that someone switching from Windows to Mac and installing Office will breathe a sigh of relief. Word, Excel and Publisher run fast and are easy to use.
So where are the complaints? They’re somewhat nit-picky. Not all the icons in the Office programs have been updated to handle a Retina display, so the larger icons tend to be grainy. Oh well. The main problem is Outlook, which is a program I have never liked. It’s slow on Windows, it’s slow on the Mac. Not the interface, which is snappier than its Windows equivalent, but downloading email, syncing with the Exchange server… it’s no faster on the Mac. All the same problems are here, including sketchy operation if your inbox gets near 5,000 messages. It also decides to go through and download your entire email account onto the computer, including attachments… which isn’t really what a business user would want; your IT department is already backing up your email on the server, so why have a third copy of messages you’ll be ignoring a few days later? While Outlook is busy spending days downloading every attachment you’ve ever received (and chewing up hard drive space), it’s slow to realize you have new emails (sometimes 12 hours or more slow). Initially, I thought Outlook simply wasn’t working and had switched to using Apple Mail, but then I did some reading and found out what was going on. The best solution is to set Outlook to only download the email headers; it leaves your email and attachments on the server unless you click on the email to read it. You save hard drive safe and Outlook works like a charm after that.
Apple Mail, which now supports Microsoft Exchange, syncs far more quickly and works out of the box. It’s easily the best desktop mail client, but ultimately I decided to stick with Outlook because it supports some advanced Exchange features that a business user will use regularly, particularly with shared calendars and appointments. Outlook is what your company is going to want you to use and it will make your Mac fit in easily in the corporate setting. Do you really want to be the person that screwed up a group appointment because you dragged it to a new time in Apple Calendar? However, if you’re not a business user and you’re just connecting to a personal email account, stick with Apple Mail even if you purchase Microsoft Office. Outlook was never designed with the individual in mind, no matter the operating system.
There isn’t much else to say about Microsoft Office on the Mac. Everything works like the Microsoft Office a Windows user has come to expect, only the interface is a bit more familiar to someone that grew up with a traditional desktop.
GRAB THE REMOTE: RDP into the Windows Machine at Work
Because we’re a micro business and I’m the lead developer, most of the IT work falls to me, particularly if there is a crisis. Most crises tend to happen off-hours or when I’m traveling, so I frequently use the Windows Remote Desktop to take over the server or a machine and fix a problem.
This was an early concern for me, and I had already installed Windows 7 into a VMWare Virtual Machine and logged into the server through there before it even occurred to me that Microsoft might be supporting a client on the Mac… which it does.
Remote Desktop Client for Mac: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=18140
There isn’t much to say. Install it and use exactly as if you would from Windows, but without any need for Microsoft Windows or VMWare.
ONE BROWSER TO RULE THEM ALL…
Out of the box, your Mac is going to have Safari installed as your default web browser. Safari is a wonderful browser that is lightening fast and easy to use. Unfortunately, some advanced sites simply won’t work with it, and most websites are starting to employ advanced desktop-like features. Google Chrome remains my favorite browser, regardless of the platform, and chances are good that you were already using the browser on Windows. On OSX, Chrome is a 32-bit program and doesn’t render pages quite as quickly as Safari, but will work with every single web page you’ll try to load. Unless you like switching between browsers, install Chrome and set it as your default.
WINDOWS NETWORKING TIPS
If you’re using your Mac at work — and why wouldn’t you? — then chances are good that you’ll have to connect to a Windows server. OSX is perfectly capable of doing this, but there are some tricks to make the process smoother.
Let me start by saying that, at my tiny office, we have a very poor Windows server that is not set up with comprehensive support for Mac or Linux. If you work for a large company, you may have no issues.
Windows Networking works, but it can be slow unless you use CIFS to connect. For whatever reason, it simply won’t be as quick to use Windows networking shares on your Mac is it was on your Windows machine, but CIFS makes the difference negligible. What is CIFS? Nobody cares. To connect to your Windows server:
- Click on the Finder Icon.
- In the Menu Bar, select Go->Connect to Server
- Enter the address of your server. It’s probably something cute like mycompanyname.local, or it might be a server IP address (192.168.16.2 is a good bet). You’ll probably know this already. The trick is that we want to preface the address with “cifs” not “smb”.
My advice, and this is regardless of operating system, is to copy down the file(s) you need, work on the file(s) locally on your machine, then copy the file(s) back up when you’re done.
There are supposedly some other tricks for making your Mac network more quickly with a Windows network. I haven’t tried them yet, but I will be. I’ll post any progress on this blog.
After 20 years in the world of Microsoft, I’ve been using a Mac full time for three months. In that time, I’ve used it to do advanced web programming, Linux kernel module development, application development in C and C++, industrial programming and serial communication. The only speed bump I’ve had is research into the programs I need to get the job done because I’m new to the ecosystem, but I’ve never needed to grab my Windows machine to do my job, although I do pop into Windows in VMWare from time to time. For three months, I’ve never had to remove spy ware or viruses, never had a long boot time, never had to spend a day servicing or tuning up the computer. I turn the machine on and it works, which is all I’ve ever wanted from a computer. A computer is a tool, not a hobby, and I couldn’t be happier with the MacBook Pro.
Programs you may find helpful, most of which I found in the App Store:
- SerialTools for serial communications. If you need a USB->Serial port, you’ll want one with an FTDI chipset. I searched for this on Amazon: FTDI Chipset High Speed USB 2.0 to Serial RS-232 DB-9 Converter.
- AVI video doesn’t always play on Mac (or even Windows), but some weirdos will still send them to you. If that happens, a free app called SmartConverter will quickly convert the video for you.
- I use SSH often. I found a program called vSSH Lite easier to use than the Terminal command line that is built-in, although I have been using Terminal more and more.
- iZip Unarchiver is a must-have for dealing with zip files.
- If you’re looking to do 2D CAD, DraftSight is free from the company that makes SolidWorks and is 100% AutoCAD compatible.
- iDraw is the best graphics program for those of us that suck at doing graphics. Our local Photoshop and Illustrator expert actually needed me to convert some files for him. Worth every penny.
- VMWare is far superior to Parallels.
- Yummy FTP sounds silly, but works great.