Switching to Mac

[This article originally appeared on AOL Shopping in December 2007.]

Mac vs. PCIf you’re thinking of switching from a PC to a Mac for personal or business use, you should consider a few things first…

After two and a half decades of using PCs exclusively, I recently opted for a MacBook Pro when I needed to upgrade my home laptop. The prevailing reason for this was because I do a lot of personal multimedia work at home (video editing, audio production, etc.), and Macs are ideal for this kind of work.

You’ve seen the “Mac vs. PC” commercials on television. And what they’re saying is true. Apple’s hardware is, indeed, superior to PCs; the Mac operating system (OS X) is more streamlined and stable than Windows. But just because the hardware and platform are better, doesn’t mean Macs are best for everyone. There are other factors to consider.

In addition to my personal multimedia work, I also needed this laptop to act as my remote machine for work. Unfortunately, the tools I use for work are not supported by the Mac operating system or the Safari web browser. This may be the case for you, as well.

The way I got around this was by installing a Windows partition on my Mac, where I could install all the Windows programs I needed and access them for work. You can either boot your Mac in Windows, or you can access your Windows programs side-by-side with your Mac programs using VMWare Fusion or Parallels software. This gives you the best of both worlds – superior hardware & the operating system/software of your choice.

If you choose to go this route, you’ll need to purchase a copy of Windows XP or Vista to install on your Mac, which can be a big additional expense.

One downside to installing a Windows partition on your Mac, is it can take up to 32GB of hard drive space. Since you may only start with 120GB (depending on what model you choose), this really limits the amount of storage you have on your laptop. Since I do a lot of video editing, I need as much free space as possible. I had to remove my digital music collection, in order to free up additional space.

Since you can run both Mac and Windows programs on your MacBook or MacBook Pro, you don’t have to spend money on any additional software (other than Windows OS and VMWare Fusion/Parallels). But if you, like me, want to eventually switch over to all-Mac software, you will find that you do, indeed, live in a Windows world – many of the software utilities you use on a daily basis aren’t available in Mac versions. And even if they are available on the Mac, they’re usually limited in functionality compared to the more robust and fully-developed Windows versions. For instance, the AIM client for Mac is less functional than the Windows version. Other utilities (like FTP clients, bit torrent clients, etc.) rarely come in two versions. You’ll have to find completely different Mac products to complete these daily tasks.

If you’re a corporate user tied to Windows software, there is a Mac version of Microsoft Office. Or, if you want to save a substantial amount of cash, you can opt for iWork ’08, which has comparable programs that can export (or save) in Microsoft file formats.

One thing you won’t ever get on a Mac is a version of Internet Explorer. Microsoft stopped making Mac versions of its dominant web browser a while ago. If you have online tools you use for work that aren’t supported by the Safari or Firefox browsers, you have to have a Windows partition on your Mac to run Internet Explorer.

The other big difference between buying a Mac laptop and a PC laptop is price. The Mac will cost roughly twice as much as a PC. This, above all else, is the biggest barrier to switching to Mac. Not only is the software selection miniscule compared to Windows, but the cost of the hardware is a show-stopper for most folks.

The Macs are superior products, and if you are financially able to get one, you should. Just know that you’re going to have some growing pains on the software side. And be prepared to spend even more money to create a Windows partition for your work programs.

And be aware… Once you switch to a Mac, you’ll never go back.