On Switching to a Mac – Some Random Reflections

For the past three weeks I’ve gradually, painstakingly, sometimes exasperatedly converted from using a PC to using a Mac as my work computer. I know, I know – First World Problems and all that. Anyway, I started off gently, deploying my MacBook Pro purely for domestic tasks like listening to music, posting contributions to my Facebook and Twitter accounts, sorting out family photos etc. But then, before term began, I made the really Big Switch – adopting the Mac as my professional workhorse – and in an IT context reliant on a Windows server and overwhelmingly defined by PCs rather than Macs. Sure, a few colleagues have been devoted Mac users for a while, but brilliant though they all are, they tend to be part-timers and less dependent on continual access to the server, printers, etc. For me as Principal to cross over into the Jobs-Ive-Cook domain felt like laying down something of a marker, and I must admit that I was apprehensive. I had been happily using an i-Phone and an i-Pad for a number of years, but I didn’t generally write academic papers, sermons and reports on them; they were useful for keeping my Inbox under control, but my PC laptop bore the brunt of my emailing activity, stored the default archive of my files, and functioned as my main tool for online research.

So how has the conversion gone? Well, it certainly wasn’t an overnight phenomenon, but three weeks in I reckon I’m just about ready to echo the Apple fan’s slogan of choice and say that having switched to a Mac, I’ll (very probably) never go back. I’m enough of an aesthete to cherish the sleek, clean lines of the MacBook’s design as a key element of its appeal. The sound from the integral speakers is phenomenal. On screen, most of the programmes I use on the Mac beat their PC counterparts for look and feel – although it took me an inordinate amount of time to work out the right Display settings to view everything clearly on the external screen that is essential to avoid a permanently cricked neck. Given that our whole administrative set-up is based on the Office suite, and that I’ve been working with the PC version of Office myself for years, it’s been helpful to have MacOffice available to smooth the transition – I never could get on with Pages or Keynote on the i-Pad, and they’re no better on the MacBook as far as I’m concerned. Even so, I have to say that some key features of Office don’t translate from the PC to its Mac variant very well: attaching files to calendar entries is annoyingly complex and roundabout, for instance, as is saving emails as .eml or msg. files. PDF attachments have to be ‘exported’ for some reason rather than simply saved. Why? You can change the font size of email messages in Outlook on the Mac, but not, apparently, of email sub-folders or preview panes.

If I had been a ‘cradle’ Mac user like my two children, I’m sure every routine operation – every click and keystroke – would have seemed entirely natural. But as a convert it has often seemed like I have entered a foreign country with a very different language, culture and semiotic system, with all the initial disorientation that entails. Windows are cancelled, minimized or expanded from the top left rather than the top right. Yet Desktop icons are right-aligned rather than left-aligned. In the West we read from the left, so that seems weird. The lack of a delete key on the MacBook itself (though not on the external keyboard I use with it in the office) is just plain crackers. Remembering when to use the ‘cmd’ as opposed to the ‘alt’ and ‘ctrl’ keys can be tricky when the PC deploys only ‘ctrl’ and alt’. In coming to terms with all of this, my IT Manager, Martin, has been absolutely fantastic. He is a Windows/PC genius and has not had a lot of interaction with Macs, but he has been game for walking this ‘road less travelled’ from PC to Mac with me, using all his transferable professional skills to look ‘under the hood’ of this new vehicle while I try to steer it in a straight line.

In short, the familiar claim of Mac devotees that their chosen kit ‘just works’ might make good sense if you started with a Mac, have always stuck with a Mac, and have consistently looked upon PCs as alien beasts to be mocked as lumbering inferiors destined always to lag behind the Cupertino-defined curve, the Jobs-determined embodiment of computing cool. But if you are forcing yourself, as I am, to launch out from ‘PC World’ and relocate to ‘Planet Mac’, be warned: the journey might take a while and even after you land there might well be a good deal of acclimatization, settlement and adaptation to undergo before you are truly indigenized. But will it have been worth it? Three weeks into the process, I am pretty certain I can now say Yes – Yes, it will have been worth it.

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