Saturday, January 7, 2012

Mac Vs. PC, The Experiment Continues

Okay, so I've had my "new" MacBook Pro for a few weeks, and I thought it was time for a status update.

This is a PowerBook and the early Macbook Pro
side-by-side.  They look very much alike,
only with different ports, and an iSight camera
on the Macbook.
A little background first. I've been a PC user/guru for nearly as long as they've been used in the mainstream. It really wasn't until the late 1980s/early 90s--when Microsoft Windows 3.0/3.1 really took hold--that the average American began to become familiar with them. That's when I started to use them for work and that is when I started taking to them like a fish to water. We're talking the days before hard drives, and booting from DOS. Anyway, as Windows grew, and megabytes turned to gigabytes, megahertz to gigahertz, floppy drives to hard drives to optical drives to flash drives to the cloud, I've been a PC.

In my career as a graphic artist, I've been a PC. Haughty Mac users have for years looked down their noses at me, since you "can't do" graphics on a PC. This is hogwash of course. And as a graphic artist in the sign industry (much as in the embroidery world), the PC has always been the platform of choice. CorelDRAW grew up with the PC, as did proprietary sign-making software. I have had no problem doing anything on the PC that a Mac user can do. In fact--in my experience--Mac artist often (very often)--cheat in their drawings, using special effects, extra shapes, masks and other tools to make their drawing look good on the screen or on printed paper, but useless for making a real-world product.

The Adobe CS5 Suite. Pricy.
So, as you can tell, I've had a bit of resistance to accepting the Mac in my PC world. But more and more, I'm finding that I need to use Adobe Illustrator to manipulate other people's graphics. Some drawings in AI (an almost default file format) simply do not translate well when moved into other programs (again, all of those cheats and special effects). My working knowledge of AI is very basic. With my mastery of CorelDRAW and sign software, using AI is painful. It is much less user-friendly, and many of its features seem difficult (backward, in some cases) compared to my second-nature shortcuts and mouse clicks in the other programs. Adobe PhotoShop is even worse in that regard, when Corel Photo-Paint is easy.

But you know what? If I ever need to know AI or PS (or even the rest of the Adobe Creative Suite), I'd be set adrift in an unfamiliar world, despite my 20+ years of computer graphics experience. So, a couple of years ago, I decided I'd better learn, if for no other reason than I'd be able to bring something to my current job, and increase my knowledge for a future one, should I ever need it. I decided that I should buy a used computer with the software pre-loaded, in order to save costs (the Adobe suite costs over $1,000, not counting the computer). And I also decided, it should be an Apple Macintosh computer, since the goal is learning, and because I had no familiarity with it.

The "spinning beach ball of death" A common
problem with my PowerBook. As bad as the
Windows hourglass or blue circle.
After chatting with a friend on Facebook, I found a used PowerMac laptop for $300 with a pre-loaded CS3 suite. Initially, this worked out great. I was able to learn a little of how the Mac OS X operating system worked. I was able to get (somewhat) comfortable with where everything is, and how to do it. I even tried a few lessons with the Adobe Suite. But the machine was infernally slow. It was (to be fair) at the time a four-year-old computer. But, even with my addition of a 1 GB memory stick (bringing it to 2 GB), it was nigh useless for any serious project. Unless I wanted to drive myself mad.

Travis--a teenaged son of a friend and Cult of Mac adherent--reasoned that I couldn't judge a Mac based on an "old" computer. This may be true, but a four-year-old top of the line computer ought to keep up with an even older bottom-of-the-barrel PC. It sure as hell ought to be able to surf the internet without bogging down, and displaying the "spinning beach ball of death" every 10 seconds. Shouldn't it?

Eventually, I had to just throw in the towel, and admit that my old Mac wasn't going to cut it. I never did get comfortable with CS3, because I couldn't stand the frustration. So, I sold the old Mac on eBay (buyer beware!), and bought a newer old Mac. This time, it was a Macbook Pro, with a Core2Duo processor and 4 GB of RAM. I ended up winning an eBay sale, nearly panicking when I did so, not sure I got the right thing. Upon receipt though, I found that I could scarcely have done better. I got the last Mac model (early 2008) before they started making them out of a single piece of aluminum (unibody). It's the top-of-the-line, but "old" enough not to be too expensive.  It's as old as the PowerBook was when I got it, but newer than this here blog is.

As I was hoping, this Mac is not only better, it's awesome! If I had gotten this one the first time, by now I might be a Mac/Adobe aficionado! Though I haven't yet completed a project in CS5 (yes, it came with the NEW suite!), I fully intend to. I'm armed with a stack of OS X Lion and CS5 books from the library. And this time, it isn't going to be torture. The new computer is quite zippy, the memory-hog programs open in seconds. The computer will even reboot in less time than any computer I've ever owned. To date, the "spinning beach ball of death" has only ever spun for a second or two, where it was a continual presence on the PowerBook.

So, maybe I'm a little nerdy and smart like
John Hodgeman, and a little cool and savvy
like Justin Long?
As far as my PC vs. Mac feelings go, I can't say I'm a Cult of Mac convert yet. It isn't better, it's just different. I have a brand new quad-core Dell PC as my desktop setup, and it's is faster, though not by much. I'm still much more familiar in a PC environment, and can "get under the hood" much faster, and with much more assurance. But my MacBook will continue to be my casual use go-to, since it is portable. It will go with me on trips. And I'm no longer soured by the nearly useless experience with the PowerBook. I only worry that this Mac will grind itself to uselessness as it ages. PCs can be re-souped up even in older age to at least be used as internet terminals. I hope this Mac can do the same.

I'll be posting the results of my first Mac graphics experiment (the first successful one, anyway!) once I have it done, hopefully this weekend. If you are a PC who is bi-curious (in the computer world, silly), I can recommend staying away from Motorola-based older Macs, but Intel Core2Duos or above? Go for it! But weigh the pre-loaded software models heavier. As expensive as these suckers are, you'll be discouraged otherwise.

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