Archive for April, 2004

Mac Photography

I’m a keen amateur photographer, and occasionally shoot weddings professionally. So if I’m going to switch to OS X I need a good system to download, manage, edit and print my images.

I looked around the forums at Photo.net (thread 1, thread 2, thread 3, thread 4, thread 5) to see what programs people are using to manage their photos on the Mac platform.

Now I’ve got to evaluate them all.

More coming soon!

April 12th, 2004

Switching Strategy

I don’t want to make the switch to Mac OS X and then discover I’ve made a costly mistake. Here’s how I’m planning to mitigate the risk.

The most obvious way to de-risk the switch to OS X is to try it out first. It’s actually surprisingly cheap to do that.

After talking to some Mac friends and doing some research on the web (LowEndMac is a good starting place), I decided I’d buy a Macintosh G3 with at least a 400 MHz processor, 512Mb of RAM (apparently RAM makes a massive difference for OS X) and a 10Gb hard disk. This combination would run OS X well enough for me to give it a fair tryout.

I did some research on eBay to see what this type of system would cost. A basic iMac G3 400MHz with 64-256Mb of RAM and a 10Gb hard disk sells for just over AUD$300. To that I’d have to add roughly $200 for 512Mb RAM and $129 for an OS upgrade to OS X 10.3.

While doing this research I came across a G3 500MHz iMac with 640Mb of RAM, 20Gb hard disk and 10.3 already installed. It also included iLife’04, an external Iomega USB CD burner and an Epson 740 colour printer. Perfect! The buy-it-now price was only AUD$600, so I snapped it up.

I’ll be running this iMac until almost the end of the year, when I’ll be able to salary-sacrifice a new laptop. So I’ve got plenty of time to evaluate the platform and, if I’m happy, decide which Mac laptop to buy. At that time I should be able to sell the iMac package for at least $400, and recoup most of my investment. You’ve gotta love eBay – where else can you rent a computer for $200/year?

Since I’ve got lots of time for this evaluation, I’m breaking it down into small bite-sized chunks. By the end, I’ll have looked at everything I do on a computer in day-to-day use, and I’ll know whether I can still do all those things on a Mac. For each task, I’ll try to evaluate whether I think OS X or Windows is better.

As I look at each task, I’ll try to then only use the Mac for that task in the future. So by the end of the year I should be doing almost everything in the OS X environment, and my switch to a new Mac will be painless.

There’ll be some commercial applications along the way (e.g. photo management software, VirtualPC, etc) that I probably won’t buy, though, until I’m commited to fully switching to OS X. I’ll download trial/demo versions of these products and defer the purchase decision until the end of the year.

So that’s the plan – now on with the playing!

April 11th, 2004

The Background

First, some background info. What are my computing needs, and why am I even considering switching from Windows to a different operating system?

Computing Needs

My computing needs are fairly modest, and probably pretty typical for someone working in the technology industry:

  • Geek Stuff. I’m a computer engineer, programming mainly in Java on Unix in my day job. I do a bit of programming at home, and like to write scripts to automate repetitive tasks.
  • Photography. Photography is a passion of mine. I use my computer to scan slides and negatives and to download photos from my digital cameras. I then need to organise, edit and print my images for family albums, gifts, photo competitions, and the occasional sale.
  • Web Site Development. I have a personal web site (this one) and a few commercial web sites. I also maintain sites for Down Syndrome NSW and Kiama Shellharbour Camera Club (not online yet). I use Fog Creek Software’s CityDesk for this – this is a big consideration, as I’m not negotiable on this one and CityDesk only runs on Windows.
  • Work.�I connect to my employer’s network using a VPN, which requires Contivity. I also need to be able to interact seamlessly with their Windows network for filesharing, printing, etc.
  • Home Network. My wife has a Windows XP laptop, which she uses for her bookkeeping business. So I need to be able to transfer files and share printers on my home network.
  • Internet. Just simple surfing, reading, looking at photos, email, online shopping, internet banking, etc.
  • Entertainment. I download occasional movie trailers, listen to music (from my own CDs, not streaming audio or p2p filesharing), and very rarely play games.
  • General. I write documents, create simple spreadsheets, etc.

Why Change?

Until now I’ve been running fairly happily on Windows. I use Windows 2000 at work and Windows XP at home. Sure, Windows crashes occasionally and I sometimes have problems getting hardware working right, but these aren’t huge issues for me. It is annoying to have to reinstall Windows every year or so, though – it definitely degrades over time.

My home PC is now getting fairly long in the tooth. It’s a Celeron 800, so it struggles a little running modern applications and processing large image files from my DSLR. Upgrading it will require a new motherboard, CPU, RAM, and power supply at a minimum. I’ve kind of reached a point where I’m up for significant cost anyway, so I figure I may as well decide whether I want to stay with Windows going forward or buy into a different platform.

I really like the idea of running Unix on my desktop machine so I can write scripts, use tools like grep/sed/awk, have better control over processes/security/networking, and muck around more with open source software. Windows is starting to look uninspiring and a little restrictive, but I’m not sure if there’s a better option out there.

Why Look At Macs?

The most obvious choice when looking for a Unix-like operating system to run on Intel hardware is always going to be Linux. I’ve tried several flavours of Linux at various times in the past, but I’ve never ended up using it for more than a few weeks, when the novelty wears off. The user interfaces available aren’t as mature or stable as Windows XP. Applications for Linux tend to be limited to the open source ones, which vary in quality, performance and usability. Support for some of my hardware items is patchy, too.

I’m sure I could get by using Linux if I had to, but I’ve got stuff to get done and I don’t want to spend all my time fiddling with the OS.

Mac OS X looks like a nice option for me. It’s got Unix under the hood, and a powerful, productive, stable graphical user interface on top. OS 10.3 (Panther) introduced some really strong integration features for working happily with Windows networks.

A potential down side of OS X is the switch to all new hardware. But as I said before, I need to buy a new system anyway, and the extra cost of Apple over a good quality Intel box really isn’t much. Most of my peripheral devices are USB, and they’re all supported in OS X.

So the only question remaining is whether or not I can do the stuff I need to do in the OS X environment.

April 9th, 2004

Thinking About Switching

OK, long time no update.

After many years of using Windows PCs, I’m starting to look for an alternative platform. There’s no single big reason for this, just an accumulation of little reasons. I’m sick of little things not working properly (my PC reboots instead of powering off when shut down, a new graphics card I bought simply crashed it when installed and I never got it working, a USB2 card I bought isn’t working yet, hibernating doesn’t work, Internet Explorer crashes occasionally, sometimes applications won’t start up when the PC boots and I have to reboot it, sometimes the PC locks up on startup, sometimes Explorer.exe crashes, USB disks sometimes don’t show up, sometimes apps lock up and can’t be killed, …).

My current PC is getting old and slow, and the only economic way to upgrade is to buy a whole new PC. The thought of reinstalling all my Windows applications and settings is daunting. It really wouldn’t take a lot more effort to switch to a different operating system (and even hardware platform) and start again.

The concept of having Unix on my desktop PC is enticing, but I haven’t seen a Linux distribution yet that I’d like to use as my everyday platform. Linux is great for servers etc, but its usability is worse than Windows for general desktop computing. So Apple’s OS X is looking like an option worth exploring.

I’ll write about my OS X experiences, in case anybody is interested.

April 8th, 2004

Mac OS X

With the latest version of Mac OS X (10.3, or ‘Panther’) adding excellent support for file and printer sharing on Windows networks, it’s starting to look like an attractive alternative platform to Windows. I figure it’s time to take a look.

Luckily I work with some very helpful Mac users who are only too happy to share their knowledge and ‘rescue’ another Windows user!

I’m a generally-happy Windows XP user. I’ve only ever owned IBM-compatible PCs, but I used Macs at work around the time of OS 7. I’m a bit of a techno geek, and the thought of having a solid, stable desktop computer based on the Unix operating system really appeals to me. I still have to interact with Windows PCs at work and at home, though.

I’ll record my experiences here as I evaluate whether I’ll switch from Windows XP to OS X. Hopefully some of what I learn might help other people with similar questions.

April 7th, 2004


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