I am migrating.
From a Microsoft and Windows dominated world to an Apple and Mac dominated universe. For almost two decades I’ve been a pure PC and Windows user. Much of my professional career has dealt with Personal Computers and the ICT industry at large. I’m an absolute professional when it comes to most of the (Enterprise) Microsoft technologies and developing large scale solutions in C, C++, C# and using Visual Studio etc. I’ve been using Word, Excel and PowerPoint since their DOS incarnation.
Mostly due to time constraints I’ve not spent too much time with Apple products besides the iPod which I’ve purchased once it hit the market and since then “upgrade” to almost every model which Apple released. Well, I am a technology addict – kind of.
It’s actually my investment into an iPhone Development start up which kind of forced me to put an Apple desktop PC, sorry, an iMac right onto my desktop. As I assume for most of the people out there who transition from Windows/PC to a Mac OS X/Mac environment my first steps where – at best – scary. After years with MS DOS and through all iterations of Windows I know almost everything about the MS Operating System. I know every hack and I can fix things without even looking at the screen.
On my iMac I literally had to google for keyboard shortcuts. (And many, many of the Mac OS X features are accessible only via non-intuitive shortcuts…) I kind of started from scratch. I had to leave Visual Studio – without any doubt one of the best integrated development environments available today – and replace it by a tool called Xcode on the Mac. I had to leave my beloved Windows task bar behind and started to work with a single central menu bar and a beast called “The Dock”.
To make a long story short: Last week something extremely significant happened in my life: I made the iMac my main computer. :-)
Initially the iMac has just been planned for iPhone related development. While in the past weeks the PC has still been the central computer (and screen) on my desk and the iMac stood right beside it I noticed that I slowly and kind of subconsciously had started to not only do iPhone development with the iMac but also slowly started to use it for some of the other tasks. I surfed the Web with Safari instead of Internet Explorer, instant messaged with Adium instead of Trillian and used Entourage and Mail for my electronic communication.
The interesting thing is that in retrospective this had happened for no obvious single reason. In fact most of the programs (Safari, Entourage, Adium) are not so different from their PC equivalents but it had to do with the sum of these almost ideal user experiences. I cannot point out a bulleted list of facts but it just is more fun to do stuff on an iMac than on a PC. And Mac OS X simply rocks. It’s fast, reliable and visually appealing. Its consistent user interface and its many hidden features which just become accessible when you need them by far outperform Windows. (Maybe I’ll do a separate post and provide some examples.) Everything has just gotten easy, intuitive and fast.
Once I’ve made the decision to use the iMac as my new main workstation and keep the Windows machine as a backup what I’ve found difficult was to find replacements for many of the tools that I’ve become so used to on a PC. Over the years some of the available software for Windows has become kind of mandatory for me and significantly boosted my personal productivity – however, most of these tools are Windows only. Unfortunately as many of the Apple programs have more fancy names – opposed to the somewhat technical marketing in the Windows world – I was unable to resolve the situation by simply googling for replacements.
This search for “give me back my tools” is what actually inspired me to start this post. I believe there might be others who like me changed to a Mac OS X environment and are looking for the right tools for their day-to-day work. Well, here is my current list. It is in no way complete nor do I know whether there are better, cheaper or newer alternatives available. If there are, I’d be happy if you’d leave a comment.
- I used to use Windows Live Writer as my blog publishing tool. I loved Windows Live Writer. In my opinion it still is one of the best blog publishing tools available for the Windows platform. As blogging is a very important part of my professional and private life I kind of missed WLW the most during the first few weeks on the Mac. In fact I regularly switched back to my Vista machine purely for blogging. I tried many of the programs for Mac OS X but none really worked well for me. (In fact the blog engine I’m using is Microsoft ASP.NET based Subtext which works perfectly fine with WLW…). What finally changed the game was Infinite Sushi’s Ecto. Infinite Sushi is the company name. You’ve got to get used to somewhat strange company names when you deal with a computer manufactured by a company named Apple! :-) Ecto delivers 100% of what Windows Live Writer does. I could reuse all of the tagging and categorization infrastructure of my blog and setting up Technorati tags worked like a charm. All of the September blog entries have been produced using Ecto.
- For my professional work and for blogging I heavily rely on screen captures. A leading solution for the PC is TechSmith’s SnagIt. It’s been one of the rare tools that I’ve actually had in my Vista Autostart folder. Unfortunately there is no Mac version available and I don’t know whether TechSmith is actually planning to release one. Mac OS X’ built-in screen capture capabilities are, sorry, a shame. For a computer which is largely used for imaging and design I’ve expected something with the quality of SnagIt right built into the OS. Well, it’s not. There are many screen capture utilities for the Mac available as freeware and commercial solutions. I tried more than ten different ones and finally purchased FlySketch. FlySketch has a great intuitive and simplistic user interface combined with just the annotation features I need.
- While FlySketch is good for taking the actual screen captures and creating some simple annotations it does not make up for the editor which ships with TechSmith SnagIt and Camtasia. I therefore had to look for an additional solution for quick image editing. I stumbled across Pixelmator. In short Pixelmator is an Adobe Photoshop clone. While it does not offer every single feature found in Photoshop CS 3 it is extremely close and ships with an absolute astonishing feature set at a price point below 100 US$. In fact I do own Adobe’s Creative Master Suite for the Mac but find myself using Pixelmator more and more because of its great user interface and low footprint. If you’re not a Photoshop Pro chances are you’ll find everything you need in Pixelmator.
- Need a multi protocol instant messenger for your Mac? Go for Adium! I’ve been using Trillian and Windows Live Messenger in concert on my PC. On the Mac Adium simply rocks. You can customize every single aspect and it integrates so well into the Menu Bar and The Dock that you’ll never look for another instant messenger.
- Are you in need of an SFTP, SCP and SSH client and used to work with Putty on your PC? Well, get Fugu for your Mac OS X computer. It’s free and works brilliantly.
- As an advantage of Trillian over Adium you can get an IRC plug-in for the first one. I could not find one for Adium. Therefore if you’re following IRC discussions (as I do) I recommend Snak a pretty straight forward IRC client supporting the latest features of the IRC protocol.
- As I’m a native German I quite frequently used Babylon to translate text snippets on the fly. Luckily Babylon just started to support the Mac platform and I had to learn nothing new!
- When it comes to the (Microsoft) Office programs I simply had to keep a version of Microsoft Office 2008 for the Mac. Word, Excel and PowerPoint are still predominant file formats in the business world and while many other solutions come with import and export capabilities I almost always ran into trouble when I used some of the more advanced features of Microsoft Office and tried to import/export. So I do use Microsoft Office 2008 on my Mac. I kind of hate Entourage. It’s slow. It’s totally different from what Microsoft Outlook and it hangs more than every other application I’ve been using in the past 12 months. (I also don’t understand why Entourage – the Mac version of MS Outlook – does support multiple Exchange accounts on the Mac while it does not on its native Windows platform…)
- While I keep using the Microsoft Office suite for the above reasons whenever possible I use Pages, Numbers and Keynote (the Apple equivalents for Word, Excel and PowerPoint). Pages outperforms Word in its simplicity and clean user interface. It has everything I ever needed for word processing. Keynote clearly leverage the graphical power of the Mac. It ships with beautiful and meaningful animations that help your presentations look great even if you’re not an artist.
Well that’s it for my little rundown through my Applications folder. I might occasionally come back to my list and amend or add stuff but so far I’m almost at the same level of confidence with power using my iMac as I’ve been on my various Vista machines.
In case you can recommend additional utilities, tools, helper applications are have better alternatives than the one I’ve outlined above, please do submit a comment and let me know.