As a companion piece to Matthew Eshleman’s article on purchasing a new Windows laptop, I wanted to share my thoughts on purchasing a new MacBook. I had been a reliable Windows user for my entire computer career. In fact, the last time I had used a Mac was in college in the early 90s when I had a Mac Classic.
Like many of our clients, a laptop is an essential business tool and last year my Latitude D430 was starting to show serious signs of age. Because of Community IT’s flexible BYOD policy I started to think about purchasing a new laptop for both personal and work use.
Looking around the office I noticed that nearly all of my colleagues who had purchased a laptop in the last 2-3 years had gotten either a MacBook Pro or a MacBook Air. Intrigued I added the MacBook Air (MBA) to my list of options.
After extensive research…and soul searching…I decided to make the leap from Windows to OS X. OS X (pronounced “OS ten”) is the MacBook Operating System.
I. Learning to speak OS X
I’ll admit, I was nervous at first. I had honed my technical chops on the Windows OS and it is an environment I know like the back of my hand. I can pretty much do anything I need to on a Windows machine and OS X was strange and unfamiliar.
However, Apple is renowned for its user-friendly interface and design, and I quickly discovered that the MacBook and OS X were no different. In fact, over the past few years, Apple has done its best to merge features from iOS into OS X, so much of the UI (User Interface), UX (User Experience) and design language were already familiar territory.
I also discovered that while Windows is perhaps more functional in some ways, OS X offers a superior aesthetic experience. For example, I have given up on trying to use windows in, well, Windows. Most of the time when I work in MS Windows, I go full screen. But with OS X, a variety of tweaks (such as a slight shading provided around the window) creates a completely different experience. Even on the tiny 11″ screen of my MacBook Air 11 I find myself layering window upon window with no problem.
The MacBook also supports a full screen option that literally uses the entire screen. This can also be useful on a small laptop and works better than the MS Windows full screen option.
The touchpad on the MacBook is also significantly better than that of any other laptop, and the wide variety of gestures available in OS X make using the MacBook fast and efficient. So much so that I use a mouse less and less.
These are just a few of many, many examples. But one after another added up to the point where I started to prefer working in OS X.
II. Is a Mac for me?
So…intrigued? Already thinking about making the switch? Here are some factors to keep in mind.
A. Be prepared to learn
OS X is different from Windows. It is going to take time to learn a new system, interface and, as they say, design language. Such learning can be fun, but many times people just want to get their job done.
B. Office works…differently
Office is the fundamental app for most business users. Microsoft does provide Office 2011 for OS X, and it is fully compatible with documents created in Office 2013/2010/2007/etc. But the software itself works differently. The ribbon layout is different, the way you format, pivot, crunch, present…it’s all just slightly different.
It can take a while to (re)learn, but, as with OS X itself, I actually grew to like it more over time.
C. Outlook works…not so much
As well as Word, Excel and Powerpoint work on the Mac, Outlook 2011 is a slightly different story. For every Mac user I know who finds the Outlook experience to be similar enough to Windows, there are users for whom it is too different…and even some where it does not work right.
I personally have become a convert to the Mac Mail client and rarely use Outlook. I will be posting an upcoming blog post on letting go of Outlook.
D. Using on your Network
OS X works on Windows-based networks…sort of. The integrated experience provided by using a Windows machine on a Windows network can be achieved…sort of, but there will be gaps. The most notable is using a Windows based file server. It can be done from OS X, but it will not be as easy or fluid as on a Windows computer.
In the end, I think it would be a mistake to assume that Windows is better than OS X or OS X is better than Windows. They are complementary in some ways. Much of it will come down to personal preference and the specific work you are trying to do.
III. So…I’m sold. What should I get?
If you are ready to take the plunge, then here are some things to keep in mind.
A. MacBook Air vs. Pro
The MacBook Air is the original “ultrabook”. It created the entire niche. And it is still the undisputed champ. It is extremely lightweight and uses a solid state hard drive, which can be quite fast. The processor is not as powerful as the Pro, and it lacks a DVD drive. In general, the Pro is only needed if you are doing more intensive work such as graphic design. For email, web browsing, and Office docs, the Air has more than enough oomph.
B. If Air, 11″ vs. 13″
The keyboard and mousepad are, in some ways, nearly the same on both size MacBook Airs. The most significant difference is in the screen and the battery life. The 2013 version MBAs get 9 hrs and 13 hrs of battery life (respectively, for the 11″ and 13″). The smaller screen on the 11″ should not be underestimated. It makes for a smaller, more portable device, but it can be challenging to work on a screen so small.
The 11″ is great for travel, meeting notes, etc. The 13″, however, is a more all-purpose device that you could probably use for the majority of your work. I personally like my 11″ and dock it to a keyboard, mouse and monitor when at the office for more intense work. Next time around, though, I will probably get the 13″.
C. If Pro, Retina vs. non-Retina
If you decide you need a Pro, you can pay a $300 premium to get it with a Retina display and a smaller, but faster, solid state hard drive. The Retina display has a higher pixel density and resolution that is just gorgeous. It is incredibly beautiful. The standard MacBook displays are nice, but the Retina is amazing.
For many, though, the Retina is a luxury that may not be necessary, or they may require the added space of a traditional hard drive. (The Airs do not have a Retina option just yet.)
D. Other specs
Hard drive space: Pay a little more to double the hard drive space. I was talked into getting the 128GB MBA 11 rather than the 64GB, which would have been a big mistake.
Processor: If you are going to get an Air, chances are the default processor will be more than enough for the work you need to do.
Memory: In general, if you are getting an Air for basic business use, the default memory should be sufficient. If you like to run a lot of programs at once, or know that you are going to use memory-heavy applications, then get the extra memory. Unlike the Pro, the Air is completely hard wired and cannot be expanded.
So there you have it. If you aren’t sure what to do, take a trip to the Apple store and play around with the various MacBooks and see what might work best for you. The MacBook Air 13″ is widely considered to be the best laptop you can purchase right now and is worth a serious look.