The iMac: the Best Computer with the Best Operating System
The iMac is by far the best computer I have used to date. I have used many, many different machines from the time I was young, and many different operating systems, and as an IT professional, I typically put a computer through its paces. But just as I was starting to lose faith in the computer industry in general, I made the jump to Mac--and it has been a very rewarding experience.
My story is part history lesson about my computer experiences, and part review of the Mac. The history lesson may be helpful to you if, like me, you are not the kind of person who just throws away your current computer investment and jumps into something new. I was not about to bail on Microsoft and PCs just because some people like Macs. I needed Macs to prove to me that they were better. But now, I am a total convert. (If you are already a Mac person, you can skip a few paragraphs to the review part.)
My last PC was a speedy Dell XPS loaded with RAM, a large hard drive, and top of the line processor. But I noticed quickly that having the latest and greatest hardware wasn't getting me the experience I was looking for. I would double-click on the Internet Explorer icon, and wait...1...2...3...for the browser to open up. I started to wonder--for the first time ever--if I actually needed to change operating systems to get a better user experience. On the one hand, this seemed like blasphemy. I had been using PCs since I was 13 years old. I relied on PCs for business. How could I even think about something other than a Microsoft operating system? (Before Windows, I spent my first decade on the PC in MS-DOS.)
I tend to make small, incremental changes rather than big changes until I am comfortable, so the obvious next choice was to dual-boot Linux Ubuntu on my PC. Ubuntu is a good way to dip your toe in the water with Linux because it has a similar interface to Windows and is nicely packaged, ready to download and install. Ubuntu ran gloriously on my PC. Clicking anything brought it up immediately. Web browsing was fast and responsive. OpenOffice ran well, and my faith in computers was restored. I no longer feared that hardware was the problem.
But Ubuntu suffered from a few glaring issues. Although this was fairly trivial, I was annoyed that my TV tuner card didn't have a drive, and was therefore not usable. This was merely an annoyance. What really started to bother me was the lack of apps available for the kinds of work I was doing. Everything felt like a challenge to set up before I started working. (I know that Linux and open source software have come a long way since I tried this experiment, and also that I was probably just intimidated about trying new software. But either way, Linux was too big a step for me at that point.) Soon I was booting up into Windows more often than Linux, and eventually I didn't even want to boot into Linux at all. But I still missed the speed and responsiveness of Linux.
Then things took an interesting turn. I got an iPod Touch (this was before the iPad had been released), and realized that writing games for this new device could be profitable. But there was a catch--if you want to write native apps for iOS, you need a Mac. There was no way around it.
The Mac had always held a special mystique for me. When the Mac was first released in 1984, I was just starting to get into computers. As a middle schooler, I looked at the Mac and saw tons of possibilities, a cool interface, and the amazing accessibility that only the Mac had. But with my father's company turning to PCs for work, the dream of my family getting a Mac was completely dashed.
For years, especially as Apple went through its hard times, I was really glad my experience had been with PCs. I had a level of comfort and experience programming and maintaining PCs that helped me get side jobs in high school, got me my first job, and also ensured that I could always get (relatively) cheap commodity hardware to do my work. At times, especially in the 1990's, I laughed that I had ever wanted an Apple.
But now confronted with the option to try something new, get some apps in the App Store, and maybe make some money--I began to remember the things that I had thought seeing the first Mac back in 1984. I decided to get the lowest-end Mac, the Mac Mini, to try it out and see what I thought. For about $650 I got a Mac, hooked it up to my own keyboard, mouse, and monitor, and started my Apple experience. Quickly I realized I needed more horsepower and portability, so I got a MacBook Pro. A Mac Pro desktop followed a few years later. Then I traded my MacBook Pro for a Retina MacBook Pro. And I traded my Mac Pro for an iMac.
Which brings us to the review. The iMac provides some of the greatest features you will find in any machine, on any operating system. The most impressive is something I think few people talk about--the Fusion drive. The Fusion drive is a hybrid flash-based (or SSD) and hard drive combination. Mine is 3TBs, for not much more than the cost of a 3TB drive. The Fusion drive gives you the performance (and silent operation) of an all flash drive, by using the flash portion for the majority of its reads and writes. But it uses the conventional hard drive for the huge and cheap data storage, transferring things back and forth between flash and hard drive as needed. The cost/performance blend of the Fusion is unbeatable. And I love the fact that my computer is silent almost all the time, with no whirring hard drive.
The latest iMacs have the latest Intel processors, fast memory (1600MHz DDR3), and powerful graphics cards. These keep everything you do running smoothly, giving you the instant responsiveness that you want from a computer. Like most users, I don't need to be editing full HD video and ripping CDs while running high frame rate games and browsing the internet. I want to do one or two things at a time, but I want them to be fast. Unlike any other platform I have ever used, the Mac gives me that satisfaction, no matter what hardware I have been running.
Mac software is outstanding. The basic applications that you will use, especially Safari, are solid, run smoothly, and never crash. (I am pretty sure if you are a PC user you don't believe that, because it sounds unbelievable. But it is true.) You almost never have to reboot--but if you do, the Mac remembers all the applications you had opened, and reopens them for you, right where you left them. (PC people--I am still not joking.)
One of my most favorite features on the Mac is the ability to have different desktops. Pressing a hotkey, you can jump between these different desktops, allowing you to have different workspaces with different applications set up in them. I will frequently have my web browser for testing on one workspace, my development environment on another, my email on another, maybe a web design tool or Photoshop on another. I have always found the lack of ability to do this with PCs to be very frustrating--you instead need to have different monitors, and of course only one is set up comfortably behind the keyboard in front of you. If you are a PC user, you should give this one feature a try, and you will wonder why you have been missing this all these years.
There is one thing that I absolutely hate about the Mac, and that is the lack of a dedicated PC-style Home and End key. The Home and End key on the Mac take you to the top and bottom of a document. On the PC, they take you to the beginning and end of a line of text. Since I still do my day job on a PC, I am pretty sure I am not breaking this 30-year-old habit any time soon. I still type Home and get frustrated when the document scrolls to the top. I guess I need to invest in one of those key mappers that you can define what the keyboard keys do....
One last thought if you are on the fence. A lot of people look at the price tag on a Mac and reconsider. This is totally reasonable--Macs are often more expensive than a similarly equipped PC. But there are three things that really make up for the cost difference for me. The first is the lack of headaches. PCs will require maintenance, anti-virus, upgrades, networking issues, etc that you will never have on your Mac. As a computer person, one of the things I found most frustrating at first about the Mac was that it didn't give me any chances to get under the hood and try to fix anything. The second benefit you get from a Mac is resale value. Every machine I have sold I have sold years later for 50% or more of the purchase price. Macs hold there value much more so than PCs--take a look on eBay and you will see the high price for several year old hardware. Finally, the third benefit you get from the Mac is that you don't need outrageous hardware to get outstanding performance. For most people, the Mac Mini can give you what you want. I personally recommend the iMac if you have a little more to spend because your experience will be even better. But the point is, you get a much better experience with lesser hardware running OS X than you will running Windows.
Hopefully this long explanation of my journey through operating systems and computer hardware is helpful to you. If, like me, you are reticent to try the Mac because you have spent your entire life on PCs and/or because your day job is on a PC, I can tell you the transition is not only easier than you think, you will wonder after you have made it why you waited so long. With more and more of our lives spent online and on the computer for a variety of things, you owe it to yourself to try the Mac.
Last updated on April 4, 2014
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