Mac-only network over here (4.70 / 10) (#33)
by Kyrrin on Sun Feb 04, 2001 at 06:09:03 AM EST
My roommate and I have a five-Mac network in our apartment, and we couldn't be happier. Neither of us are hardcore coders; she's a pretty intense end-user, while I'm more of a graphics designer/webmonkey. Here's my experiences; your mileage may vary.
I'm running a 350MHz Sawtooth G4 (insomniac), heavily upgraded; she's got one of the recent Indigo low-end iMacs (hydro), both running OS 9.0.4. We've also got vishnu, a Performa 6115 running OS 8.5 that's the file server and the guest internet connection; kami, a Performa 6112 running OS 8.5 which is on loan to a friend who likes the Mac environment more for web design; and doorstop, the "computer of last resort", a Performa 550 running System 7 that is ~ten years old and needs to be gracefully retired.
Why I Like The Mac:
Ease of use: Take it out of the box. Plug it in. You're done. I bought my roommate the iMac in September and had it up and running, talking to the network and using the internet connection, in under 20 minutes.
Ease of upgrade: I purchased a new 80GB hard drive three weeks ago. I took it out of the box and opened up the machine. While I was doing the install, I got a phone call; the hard drive install took the length of the phone call, getting maybe 10% of my attention (and an occasional swear word when I banged my finger). Hung up the phone, plugged everything back in, turned it on, and the OS was ready to use the new drive as soon as I formatted it. Compare that to the exact same install on a friend's PC running Windows 95; it took me three hours and I STILL couldn't get it to work right. (Partially, that is because I don't know Windows as well, I will admit, but.)
Ease of administration: The damn things practically run themselves. The OS is fairly stable (more stable than I've ever been able to get a Windows box, though again that could be due to less experience). It's been my experience that just about anyone can be taught what to do if the OS hangs. I used to regularly get 4-week uptimes from insomniac (see below), and my roommate hasn't had to reboot hydro in nearly two months.
User interface: I like the Mac OS user interface. Again, this might be because it's what I started using, but I find that it's logical and sensible, and works exactly how I expect it to. The visual cues are simple and distinct, the menus make sense, and with a little bit of tweaking I can get to anything I want within a few seconds. The only thing I dislike about the Mac UI is the fact that it's heavily mouse-intensive; however, some third-party plugins exist to remedy that fact.
Speed: I'm running a G4 350MHz processor. It feels to me roughly the same speed as the 700MHz Athlon I've got at work. Again, that's mostly application-based, and it depends on if the app supports the G4 processor or not, but the G4 is a great chip.
Environment: For what I do with a computer, the Mac is perfect. I find that the Mac version of Photoshop runs faster and "feels" cleaner. For me, though, the "killer app" combination is BBEdit and ICab. BBEdit is a word processor/text editor that does everything but take the garbage out for you while still managing to be light and fast; it's a great HTML/code editor (offering contextual highlighting, intelligent global find/replace, HTML and coding tools at the touch of a mouse, etc, etc). ICab is the best goddamn web browser I've ever used, and getting better with every release (it's still in beta); again, it's light and fast (and stable, which is more than Netscape can say) and it offers such wonderful features as contextual ad blocking, individual cookie accept/reject, and -- the one thing that makes it a must-have for me -- a built-in HTML validator that will let you, with one click, see whether or not the page you're on validates to w3c specs. I cannot begin to say enough good things about these two programs. I would gladly run the Mac just for those.
The slow upgrade treadmill: Up until last March, I was running on vishnu, the 7-year-old Performa. The thing was a 66MHz machine with 500MB of hard drive and 64MB of RAM. The only thing that irritated me about it was that web pages rendered slowly. I expect to be running this G4 for at least the next six years.
The appearance: Okay, I'll admit it. I think that the Mac hardware is sexy. It's plastic! It's interesting colors! It's cute! The iMac is the damn neatest piece of computer equipment I've ever seen! Damn, I'm so shallow.
What I Don't Like About The Mac:
Availability of applications. This is getting better; nowadays, you can find a Mac version of most essential utilities, and a lot of games are making their way onto Mac eventually. I was a Mac enthusiast during the Dark Years, though, when you couldn't find anything for the Mac. Those of us who lived through those years are used to either doing without, or finding a shareware equivalent. (The upside is that there's some really, really good shareware out there.)
The OS: I have a love/hate relationship with the Mac OS. Most of this will be fixed with OSX, I hope, but the one thing that kills me is that every OS up until now hasn't had protected memory space. One badly behaved application -- and there are a LOT of badly behaved applications -- can take down the entire damn computer. I'm having a problem like that now, and having difficulty tracking it down; something shareware that I'm running is conflicting heavily and hard with Photoshop, lately causing crashes sometimes up to five or six times a night. I've honestly given thought to throwing the whole damn thing out the window once or twice; I lost a piece of graphics work that I haven't been able to reproduce, last week, when ICQ crashed. Rrrrr. This would not happen on a machine running an OS with protected memory space. The TCP/IP stack also leads to a lot of frustration; though networking with a Mac is as easy as breathing, I have to reboot every now and then to clear the stack when my DSL connection drops down to 56K modem speeds. (On the plus side, though, getting the DSL to work took all of five minutes.)
The price: It's getting better, admittedly; my roommate's iMac was cheaper in both effort and price than an equivalent PC. It is almost always cheaper, as another poster commented, to buy peripherals and upgrades from another vendor than from Apple. A quick look at store.apple.com blew my mind when I realized that they wanted to add $200 for 128MB of RAM -- I just put in 256MB for under $100. Buy low-end and upgrade.
The lack of command-line: Again, this is going to be solved in OSX, but there are times that I just don't WANT a GUI, no matter how good it is.
My recommendation to you:
Find someone who has a Mac, and play with it for a little while. See if you like the GUI, and see if you'd miss some of the Windows features that the Mac doesn't have or doesn't have very well. If you decide that the Mac is right for you, get one of the G4 desktops; the Cubes are neat, but the towers have more room to play with. Grab the low-end model; you don't need all that processor speed, trust me; the Mac feels like it runs a LOT faster. Upgrade the RAM and disk space yourself, if and when you need to. (You'd be surprised how far 128MB of RAM will take you on the Mac.) If price really is a factor, go with the iMac; for what they are, they really ARE decent little computers.
Once you've got it, pick up a good book on Mac customization and move things around until you've got it working exactly how you want it. The configuration they ship with irritates the hell out of me; it's designed for Grandma, not geeks. (Nothing wrong with that, but it drives me up the wall.) The first thing I do with a new Mac or a new MacOS install is go through and toss out half the stuff that's installed, turn off unnecessary extensions, install my favorite apps, set up defaults, change around the GUI, etc, etc. If you're not touchy about getting down to the bare bones, pick up a copy of ResEdit (you'll want it anyway, for coding) and re-bind your keyboard shortcuts until they agree with what your fingers are used to. (And always, always work with a copy of the applications you're modifying, not the original application; I screwed things up BADLY once by not following that rule.)
For the first few weeks, try to crash it, so that you know how to recover from crashes and other problems. It's better to know right off, before you've got crucial data on the machine. Best book I've ever seen on Mac administration is Ted Landau's "Sad Macs, Bombs, and Other Disasters", ISBN 020169963X, from PeachPit Press. I'd consider that book a must-have, especially for someone new to the Mac OS.
Feel free to email me if you've got questions, and if you do decide to go with the Mac, welcome to the family. ^_^
"I'm the screen, the blinding light; I'm the screen, I work at night. I see today with a newsprint fray, my night is colored headache grey, don't wake me with so much..." -- REM