Remember when Apple first shipped a iPod that ran with Windows? Their website read “Hell Freezes Over,” their way of alluding to the fact that they had until then largely ignored the Windows world.
I did the same thing to Apple Mac computers for decades, considering them mostly overpriced, consumer AOL-grade toys with no substance, pitched at the terminally chic and elementary school kids. The more my daughter and my cousin Marshall became Apple-droids, slavishly extolling Apple products, the less the computers appealed to me.
Finally, after decades in the Windows camp , I bought a MacBook Air last week. And my big revelation? It’s a pretty decent Windows 7 machine, thanks to desktop virtualization.
I have always wanted a very powerful, lightweight laptop. Windows-based ultrabooks are appearing to compete with the MacBook Air, promising speedy startup and performance in very thin form factors. Aside from the fact that ultrabooks are first-generation, their main problem today is that they are really fugly. I just didn’t want to blow $1000 on an ultrabook that felt more like an experiment than a complete machine.
So, courtesy of my broker who gave me an Apple gift card that made the MBA price competitive with an ultrabook, I took the plunge and bought an i5-equipped machine with a 256GB SSD.
Yes, the out-of-box experience is great. But what really worked for me is the fact that OS X found my HP wireless printer and the scanner, setting up both. If you’ve ever installed the HP Windows drivers, you know what a miracle this is. And, no, the reversed mouse/trackpad scrolling in OS X Lion is not natural and Apple is being just as arrogant and insensitive to users as any big company can be. The screen is nice — but the keyboard has very little travel and is a bit uncomfortable. All in all, I think Apple makes a nice machine. But at Apple’s price points, its margins must be very high — the machine feels extraordinarily over-priced.
But the reason I am keeping the machine is that SSD. It’s fast. I can boot to the OS X desktop in about 15 seconds. Windows 7 64-bit under Parallels boots in about 25 seconds. I wait less for Parallels to launch Windows 7 and bring up Outlook in a virtual machine that I do on my ThinkPad T410 (circa late 2010) with its first-gen i5 and 7200rpm mechanical disk drive. In a word, SSDs are a revelation. No more machines for me without SSDs.
The biggest problems for a Windows user using a Mac with desktop virtualization are the complexity of the setup and the keyboard interface. Parallels does a good job of picking defaults for when you allow it to set up the Windows vm “like a Mac.” But it still requires a lot of tricky work to set up Office apps to use (in my case) a Windows Live Mesh synced folder (which is then synced to the Mac desktop). I didn’t want shared drives between the two OSs — I wanted both to sync to the cloud.
For a Windows user coming from decades of using the OS, the biggest adjustment is returning to a TTY-era keyboard mapping, which is how OS X strikes me. Control, Option and Command key combos are complex — for example having to use Option+Command+spacebar to open a Finder window in OS X versus Windows+E for a new Windows Explorer window. I still can’t find a “show desktop” keystroke for Max OS X. I miss the Home and End keys in Windows — and can’t find equivalents to PgUp and PgDn in either the virtual machine or on native Mac OS X apps.
Bottom line: I am taking the machine to work tomorrow — to force myself to see if it can be my work machine. If I don’t come home ready to kill, then my love affair with ThinkPads may well be over.