I may be losing my faith. No, not in the important way. I'm sticking with Rome on that score. I'm simply referring to my faith in Apple. Ten days ago I bought a Dell laptop running Windows XP Professional. I've used it all day every day since then. And I like it.
It's not (very) ugly (anymore)!I have mixed feelings about XP blue. But the real problem with Windows - especially compared to the Mac - used to be that the fonts were ugly. I couldn't understand how anybody could write in front of a Windows machine.
Well, Clear Type has substantially fixed that problem. It took me a while to get Clear Type, my default resolution, and the fonts used as defaults in various apps to synchronize with one another, but I think the text I see in my word processor, on my FileMaker layouts, and in web browsers, is satisfactory. Looks different from Mac text; I'd have no trouble recognizing a Windows screen from the fonts alone, in an instant. And I still don't think fonts render quite as "realistically" on the PC as they do on a Mac, but the differences are relatively minor now.
And the other graphical elements of the UI - things like the taskbar, normal buttons and dialogs - are also satisfactorily attractive.
Windows XP Pro
I'm hardly prepared to write a review of Windows XP. I'll need to read at least a few pounds worth of the 74 lb Que book on XP Pro that I bought from Barnes and Noble the other day. But I have a few thoughts. There's no question that the first several versions of Windows were horrible. Windows 95/98 and whatever else I tried in the late '90s also sucked. But Windows XP Pro isn't half bad. And there are a few things about Windows that I think Apple should steal. I like the Windows Explorer much better than any of the views in Mac OS X. I work with the Explorer's folders view (a kind of outline) in a panel on the left; and I view the contents of folders in a list on the right. I find this a heck of a lot easier to use than the Mac's column view.
The "Start" menu is badly named and its organization is a bit curious, too. But I've gotten used to it. And I like the fact that I can hit the Windows key and select an app to run. I know Mac users who love a utility for the Mac that lets them do something similar.
Actually, I am rather fond of the fact that, in Windows, it's quite easy to select almost anything from the keyboard.
One thing I like about Windows a great deal: It's pretty easy to uninstall almost anything, because nearly all installers come with uninstallers, and also because there's a Control Panel for uninstalling software. Not always so easy to uninstall stuff on the Mac.
One gripe: I find the Windows XP task bar's listing of open windows worse than useless - it's downright confusing. But the other thing I loathe about Windows is the use of the window to hold the application as well as the documents. Applications should go into layers; documents go into windows.
The software on my computer is pretty good. OpenOffice.org works extremely well in XP Pro. Doesn't work at all on the Mac. Ironic that, to get away from Microsoft, I have to buy and switch to a Windows machine.
Google Desktop is very nice and strikes me as more useful than Mac OS X's Spotlight. They're both iffy as search tools; both return more hits than I want. But Google Desktop also tells me what new mail I have and provides other handy utilities.
While I'm mentioning Google, I might mention also that Picasa seems to me every bit as good as iPhoto, and perhaps even better. The general UI is somewhat similar, but Picasa has more photo-fixing options.
FireFox for Windows is as good a browser as Safari.
Thunderbird, the Mozilla email client, is not as good an email client as Apple Mail, at least in some fairly basic ways. But it at least uses a standard file format for mail. I'm angry at Apple right now because getting my mail from Mail is proving to be a daunting task.
FileZilla is a freeware FTP program that works quite nicely, now that I've figured out how to get out through my firewall. Compared to Panic Software's Transmit, FileZilla is so ugly and so old-fashioned looking that I've actually come to regard it somewhat fondly.
What about utilities? Well, As-U-Type (from Fanix) is much better than TypeIt4Me. Don't mean to knock TypeIt4Me, which is one of my favorite all-time Mac programs. Just that As-U-Type combines all of TypeIt4Me's glossary expansion capability with a powerful spelling checker, multiple clipboards, and more. TextSOAP on the PC isn't anywhere near as useful as it is on the Mac but that might not be TextSOAP's fault. Apparently it's not as easy to tap into the contextual menus (or whatever you call what you get when you right-click) as it is on the Mac. SnagIt 7 strikes me as every bit as powerful as Snapz Pro.
I bought a Dell Inspiron 6000. Pentium M processor at 2.something GHz, 1 GB of RAM, 60 GB hard drive. Performance is as good or better than performance on my PowerBook G4 (Aluminum, 1.5 GB RAM). The Dell is big and heavy and, with the PowerBook sitting beside it, would not be called sexy. Actually, I'd say that the Dell has a Made in Russia feel about it, except for the fact that it seems to work very well. And it cost less than half as much as I paid for the PowerBook ($1100 vs about $2400).
And there are some nice things about the Dell. I don't like using the trackpad left and right buttons. But I do like the fact that you can slide your finger vertically on the right side of the track pad and the document onscreen will scroll up or down; slide side to side on the trackpad and the document scrolls left to right. And I like the placement of the arrow keys on the Dell better than on the PowerBook.
I like it, but I don't love it
Windows does have some problems.
For starters, what I have to do to type non-standard English characters like an é (e + acute accent) or ñ (enya) is just nuts. The Mac has had this right since 1984. Why can't Microsoft figure this out?
It was much harder than it should have been to connect my new, inexpensive but very standard ViewSonic external monitor. Eventually I figured it out, but plug and play apparently still involves the occasional prayer. On the positive side, my La Cie mobile external hard drive plugged in and mounted just fine.
Practicing safe sex, er, computing
Of course I'm worried about spyware, etc. But I think I'm reasonably safe. I have a firewall. I work on a closed network. I don't use Internet Explorer or Outlook Express, at all. Don't have Microsoft Office installed, either. I have an admin account that I use just for installing software and I try to get in and out of it quickly when I need to install something. The rest of the time I work in a user account with limited privileges. My passwords are reasonably secure.
Still, I'm worried, in a way that I never was on the Mac. And for this reason, I can't recommend Windows to anybody else yet.
Has it been difficult to switch?
No, it has not been difficult to switch. I've had to learn a bit more about Windows than I knew already. My FileMaker developer friends have been a great resource there, but I know how to use online help, and I've answered a lot of my own questions. And, without meaning to pat myself on the back, I'm not an ordinary user.
Many of the things that are different about Windows from the Mac are simply that - different, and not necessarily worse. Actually, I think I've answered a question I've wondered about for a long time: the use of Alt-F4 as a shortcut for closing a window. Given the placement of the control key on a PC keyboard, Alt-F4 is easier to type than Control-Q. I understand now why so few of my clients use the nice keyboard shortcuts I give them in my databases. Typing control + number on a PC is awkward. On the other hand, using the Alt key to get into menus is brilliant.
I've moved all my FileMaker databases over to the Dell. My initial reason for switching to the Dell was so that I could work on my FileMaker databases on a Windows machine. I recently discovered that my databases do not look on Windows the way they look on the Mac, and that's not good. Working in FileMaker for Windows is 99% identical to working on a Mac. So no problems there.
The biggest problem with the switch has been - and remains - getting Apple Mail to let me have my mail back. I'm fairly angry about this. Google Desktop can search my mail in Thunderbird as quickly and thoroughly as Spotlight can search my messages in OS X, and Thunderbird doesn't seem to require that I store my mail in a non-standard format.
In the immortal words of Sir Charles Barkley, I don't want to be a role model. I am in no way ready to suggest to my family and friends (many of whom are using Macs on my recommendation) that they chuck the Mac for a PC next time they're buying. But give me another week and ask me again.