Why a Mac ?

Considering Linux far superior to Windows in all its flavours I thought that Linux was the way to go. But then I found out that one of my closest friends has been a Mac user for almost all his life and before that he used an ATARI. Hmmm... I thought by myself, why have I never had a deeper look into a Mac... The interesting thing is that many of the former ATARI users are now Mac users and they all share the same antipathy against Windows - now this is something we have in common ;-)

Watching my friend using his Powerbook (at that time still with OS 9) made me envious and curious at the same time. So I decided to ask my boss to let me buy a PowerBook instead of a "normal" IBM or Fujitsu Notebook. Luckily he agreed and weeks later I have been the proud owner of a 560 MHz Titanium PowerBook, at that time with MAC OS X 10.1, from nowadays perspective not the perfect OS but still much better than Windows 98 or 2000. Since then I am a satisfied Mac user and evangelist.

Meanwhile I am using a 15" Aluminium PowerBook with 1.67 GHz running Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger on it and I just love it. My wife and my son have iBooks and of cause the whole family is using iPods.

Why is it, that all those Mac users are so laid back and satisfied with their Macs ?

Four answers to that:

1. Simplicity
2. it just works
3. no viruses
4. the user interface is very intuitive

So it is UNIX after all, what differentiates it from Linux ? The biggest difference is that you don't have to know anything about UNIX to keep it running or to install software. When installing programs on Linux one has to frequently update one or more shared libraries or even compile the programs before they can be used. On a Mac most of the time it is as simple as dragging the programs from the disk image (DMG) to the Applications folder.

I once had the great honour to spend an evening with James Gosling, the father of Java and he is using a PowerBook too. So I asked him what brought him to use a Mac and he put it into the following words "I spent too much time in my life being more a system administrator than a user for my Windows Notebooks" ... well that says it all. Thank you James !

So lets go back to the way applications are represented on Mac OS X. On the Desktop the application is represented by an icon as you would have it on any other graphical user interface .... well ... the icons are of cause much nicer than any Linux or Windows icon could ever be ;-) Clicking on the icon starts the application - no surprise there.... To explore what is behind the icon one either has to dive into the command shell by opening a terminal window, or by right clicking on the icon and choosing the menu entry "Show Package Content".... hmmm... interesting, what you see now is that almost any mac application is basically a simple directory with the ending ".app", that is what you see on the command line, the user interface however hides that away. But this directory is exactly the trick why Mac applications can simply be dragged from one spot to another and still work, they can even be dragged from one Mac to another via the network of via Firewire and still they work. The reason is that all resources and all libraries the application needs are contained within the application folder, whereas windows and linux programs usually scatter their libraries all over the place. And even if a program has to write data to the disc, there is a well defined space to do this. If the data should be shared amongst all users the application may write to /Library/Application Support/ where stands for the name of the application. If the data user specific then data data goes - well guess .... to $HOME/Library/Application Support/.

As a software engineer one can immediately see the beauty and simplicity in the Mac application concept - it just works. Even Microsoft Office for the Mac - yes this really exists - can be installed the same way, just drag it from the install CD to the Application folder on your Mac and off you go - no need to run an installer !

Another concept which differentiates Mac OS X from Windows or Linux is the multilingual support built into the OS. On Windows the folders - or should I say directories - are always named in a country specific way, which means an English version of Windows will have a directory "C:\Program Files" and a German version will have a directory C:\Programme... need I say more ? Plain crap !

On Mac OS X the folders are always named in English on the disk, but the names are translated on the fly by the OS into the language specific name, that is why the Music folder is called Musik on the Desktop and when I switch the language to French it is suddenly called "Musique". But it doesn't stop there, even the icons are "translated" into the country specific symbol. The mail program displays an "in basket" when used in a German Environment but displays a typical American Letterbox when switched to English.

It is all those little things which make up the beauty of Mac OS X.

Another important thing are upgrades. Since version 10.1 I have simply installed the OS upgrades on my PowerBooks and never ever had to reinstall programs nor did I loose any data. Transitioning from my 1GHz Titanium PowerBook to my current one was a breeze. I have powered up the new PowerBook, the OS asked me whether I would like to transfer data from my old Machine which I answered with yes. Then I simply had to connect the old PowerBook to the new one by Firewire and an hour later I had all my data, all my network settings and whatever else is necessary on my new PowerBook- this is what I call easy upgrade !

Same is true for the updates via internet, they just work it is wonderful and I could go on forever about those nifty little features in Mac OS X, but being a programmer at heart I have also come to love all the features Mac OS X offers to the actual writers of code ;-)

First of all, being a real UNIX (BSD to be precise) Mac OS X comes with a gnu compiler, linker and a completely free development environment called Xcode and free does not mean insufficient ! Xcode is a full featured IDE with GUI builder, debugger and it allows to program in many languages like 'C' 'C++' or Java.

For me as a Java evangelist it is important what Java version is supported and what kind of tools are available. Good news also here. Mac OS X supports Java 1.3, 1.4 and 5.0 all at the same time and the default Java version can be switched at any time via a little GUI driven application. Of cause Eclipse runs on Mac OS X as well as Netbeans. And even Oracle provides a version of 10g which runs on Mac OS X.

The coolest thing from a programmer perspective however is the fact, that the development environment brings along many interesting tools, like a debugger, a profiler which profiles Java and native code simultaneously, an extensive process analyser and a GUI analyser which can pinpoint performance bottlenecks created by the GUI.

My other big area of interest is music and this is a domain where Apple products have been used since the early 80s and most studios nowadays still use Apple Hardware in conjunction with professional software like Cubase, Logic of ProTools. For them and all other people who can not afford"Bluescreens" popping up while recording or editing movies, Macs are the tool of choice.

I run Cubase and Logic on my PowerBook and it is pretty amazing what you can do with that. At one occasion we have recorded a live gig with 24 simultaneous tracks on an iBook with 1 GHz - ever tried that on a Windows machine ....

By the way, the application I am using to create this home page is called RapidWeaver a typical Mac program, easy to use, no HTML knowledge required - and the result...well you see it right here.

So... now you know why I am a dedicated Mac user, I think it is time for you to try yourself, go to the next Apple store or check out their stuff online.