Switching to Mac Easier Than You Think

PERSPECTIVE With Longhorn still at least 18 months -- if not longer -- away from a final release, I decided now was as good a time as ever to try out the Mac OS X operating system.

I have not had a lot of experience with Macs, other than in elementary and middle school with old Apple IIc and IIe's (like most people) and on an old G3 running Mac OS 9 at my job while I was in college. Even though Apple may have sharp looking desktops and a highly regarded operating system, I never had a reason to leave the world of Windows.

Enter Mac OS X Tiger. The fourth revision of the operating system in as many years brings features that are still a long ways off for Windows users. It just works, really.

Right off the bat the operating system impresses. The first time I used the computer, my wireless network was detected, connected without a problem, and I could see the shared folders on my Windows desktop.

Anyone with experience trying to set up a Windows XP home network, especially pre-Service Pack 2, knows how fickle Windows networking is. I cannot tell you how many hours I wasted trying to keep my network working correctly -- and this was on computers all running Windows. Such trouble-free wireless on a Mac was nothing short of impressive.

Immediately upon setup (which works much like Windows XP setup for those wondering), I went to check out Spotlight, probably the most talked about feature of Tiger. Unlike MSN and Google Desktop Search, Spotlight goes farther than just being a nice little search box on your desktop. You can access it from file open dialogs, within programs such as Mail and Address Book, or through a Spotlight dialog box in the menu bar. Search has become an integral part of the UI.

One of the neatest features in Spotlight is the capability to create "smart folders," which are virtual file folders based on a search query. This will make it extremely easy to find what you are looking for, and turns the three-decade old concept of hierarchical file folders on its head. No longer will you have to worry what was put where - smart folders do all the work for you.

Moving all my files over onto the Mac was not difficult at all. With just the operating system alone and no installed third-party applications, I could view my Word documents, PDF files and pictures without a problem.

Apple's built-in Mail client is more than capable. It even sports features found in Microsoft's pricey Outlook 2003, including advanced spam filtering and mail rules - although I didn't delve much into configuring them.

Web browsing and instant messaging on the Mac also required no learning curve. Safari is as fast as IE, with less risk of spyware problems. Tiger comes with iChat, but I loaded up Adium X, Mac's equivalent to Trillian, but more customizable. Adium supports all the major IM networks within a single client interface, and a tabbed message window to avoid clutter.

In fact, I was able to more efficiently browse the Web on the Mac using NetNewsWire, an excellent RSS reader that I highly recommend to anyone looking for features beyond what is available through Safari.

All new Macs ship with iLife, which is available separately for $79 USD. The package includes a number of useful applications for the Windows switcher, including iTunes (available free on the Web), iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, and GarageBand.

iPhoto works without drivers for just about every available camera on the market. Although, if you like to keep your pictures on your camera it will try to re-import them again on your next connect, which can be slightly annoying. Hopefully this is fixed in a future release. Still, I found iPhoto far superior to Windows XP's measly built-in photo capabilities and even third-party offerings such as Picasa, now free from Google.

iTunes, which Windows users can try before they switch, works just like the Windows version; however, it is noticeably faster on the Mac.

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