After Windows, What?

I’m a few week’s into abandoning Windows for my PowerBook and I am doing just fine. I talked about what led up to this step in Dude, You’re Getting a Mac!

In this installment, I will discuss my requirements, and initial thoughts and recommendations from others. In later blog entries I will talk about my initial purchase, first time use impressions, software I added (and what I did not), surprises (good and bad), what I like about my new platform, and anything I do not.

I tried to do a requirements analysis. Knowing that people tend to think of desires as requirements, I was careful to ask myself questions. For example, when I thought, “I need Microsoft Office,” did I really mean, “I need a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation system,” or, “I need something that can read Office documents”?

First, I wanted a listing of all software on my computer. “System Information” (under Accesories, System Tools) gives you this information. A much nicer tool is Belarc Advisor.

I like it better because its html-formated output and organization makes for easier reading. I used it to make sure I didn’t forget anything. If you are like me, you have a whole bunch of software that you used to use and no longer do. Next,

I made my list. Requirements.
  1. It just works. What I mean is, I want it to work consistently without heroic efforts on my part. An example, which—I didn’t mention as one of my reasons for ditching Windows, but it was, is problems I had with my Sony Vaio notebook PC. Four out of five times when I shove in my Orinoco Gold wireless card it just works. But, one in five times (and I am just guessing here, but being generous) the “New hardware found” message comes up and even if I point it at the working driver it does not know what the device is so does not know what to do. I unplug and replug the card. I restart the computer. And finally it works again. I just want it to work. I also do not want to scour the Internet for drivers to get the system working. I want it to just work.
  2. Not Windows. No, really, for the reasons I mentioned in the previous blog entry. The registry is too easily corrupted. It gets too big. It is a terrible idea. There are too many mystery processes running for me to be able to trust Windows ever again.
  3. Complete compatibility with MS Office. I need to be able to exchange documents of all kinds with clients, all who use MS Office. I am not willing to go back and forth trying to find a common exchange format. That common exchange format is not PostScript. It is not PDF. It is MS Office.
  4. Interoperability with a Palm handheld. I use it a bunch for everything it does including the obvious (calendar, etc.) and the less obvious (eReader, Documents to Go, Expense). (I will talk about trying iSync vs. Palm Desktop, in a future entry.)
  5. Secure Shell (SecSH) and Secure Copy (SCP). I have Windows clients for these (SecureCRT® from VanDyke Software and freeware WinSCP). I use them to maintain my web site and to send e-mail from networks that block port 25 (such as hotel networks).
  6. QuickBooks, which I use for my company books. My account wants me to and I want to keep my accountant.
  7. PGP. Maybe. I’ve talked about this many times before. I use it for encrypting email and securing files. Virtually no one I email to cares about securing email. But, somehow I cannot give in on this. I think I need it.
  8. A backup mechanism. But not what I was doing. I was doing incremental backups every night using an automated process copying onto CDRs. It worked very well and I was able to restore files I needed to recover. But, I have a large pile of CDRs now. I now need to purchase a shredder that does CDs. (But, that is not part of this requirement list.)
I think that was it. Oh, I use iTunes for my iPod, but that’s free. I don’t need to list “DVD player,” though I suppose I have three on the PC. I also use Total Recorded Pro from High Criteria, to record streaming audio. I’ll have to find something else. It only runs on Windows.

Possibilities. It seemed to me that I had two possibilities.
  • Linux notebook and Linux server (for back-ups, file storage, etc.)
  • Mac notebook and Linux server.
I asked for opinions from friends. “MS Word, Exel and Powerpoint have worked under Wine for quite a while now. The Xandros distribution has Crossover in it, so it is “guaranteed” to work. A friend of mine bought a Vaio the other day and is very happy with Linux on it.”

“I am fully satisfied with the ShuttleX. Anything that’s going to be close to my head has to be quiet, and i know of no quieter box.”

“I may be the newest Mac convert here, so I should speak up, perhaps. I got a 15” powerbook back in March, and I am still amazed by how wonderful the whole experience is. For me the key items have been:
  • “Suspend and resume—close the lid, open the lid. It always works. I’ve never had that experience with a linux or windows laptop. Suse Laptop suspend support actually does seem to work well though.
  • “Wireless support—always works, and it is not confused by, say, resuming in a different network environment. Close the lid at home, open the lid at work. Open the lid at gymnastics while watching the kids, finds a nearby net. I always had to fiddle with strange scripts to convince Linux to switch networks, and XP couldn’t hold on to a single network while sitting on the table.
  • “Printing—just works. You say ‘print’ in a new network environment and you get a popup of available printers. It even seemed to know which ones were duplex capable. (To be fair, it didn’t know about the duplexer on my HP1320 until after I installed Tiger).
  • “Software—I have not yet learned great Mac skills, although I am starting to like the Finder. …
  • “I have Office:Mac. You know what? It doesn’t give me the creepy feel I get from using Office on a PC. I can’t explain why, but it seems fairly sensible and pragmatic. You have to work with people who use Powerpoint or send you Word documents. It just works. (To be fair, I have had fairly good luck with OpenOffice as well, on Linux.)”

Final Decision I finally decided on “Mac notebook and Linux server.” Looking back at my requirements, here’s why.

  1. It just works. As far as I can tell this is something the Windows strives for and Apple gets. This may be subjective, but this is what people report. I did not hear this about Linux notebooks. Understand, I am not saying Linux systems do not work. They do, and keep on working. As I said earlier, I don’t want to ever again have to wrestle with a notebook PC to have it work. I just want to use it.
  2. Not Windows. Okay, this was an easy one for either a Linux or Mac notebook.
  3. Complete compatibility with MS Office. The jury was still out as to whether I use MS Office on the Mac or OpenOffice. I am attracted to OpenOffice version 2, but do not have a version for the Mac.
  4. Interoperability with a Palm handheld. Palm Desktop runs on a Mac and iSync, I was told, will support Mac.
  5. Secure Shell (SecSH) and Secure Copy (SCP). I “back-burned” this, but have since found that both are already on on the Mac under a terminal window. It’s UNIX. It works.
  6. QuickBooks. There is a version for Mac. It will cost money. I can run it under Microsoft Virtual PC 2004, which also costs money. I need this, but may come up with a “Plan B.”
  7. PGP. There is a version for the Mac.
  8. A backup mechanism. There will be a way to do this, I assure myself. I will wait.

While I have a Linux system at home—running on an old used-to-be-Gauntlet platform PC my friend Allen sold me 5 years ago— I figure I need something quiet enough to put in my office (the other is in the basement), and one with larger disks. Boy, I would really like a Shuttle. For under $500 I can get a system with a big disk on which to put Fedora. I might even need one.

Meanwhile, someone suggested I just buy a large 300 GB disk to stick in my existing Linux box, or just get a USB/Firewire external disk. I may buy a new Linux system in the future, but for now I am sticking with the old reliable one and I did purchase a large external drive for backups and synchronizing files. I’ll not talk more about this, as this is really about the bigger step of moving to a Mac.

Which Mac?
I went a bit crazy for a few days comparing iBook and PowerBook. I compared and compared. Money was important, but so was weight. The 12″ PowerBook is 3 ounces lighter than the iBook. That was not the only reason, but I went with the PowerBook G4. I found it in stock at the local CompUSA at a decent price, and picked it up along with a 250 GB LACE external disk.

Next time I’ll talk about my initial setup and use, what I found, and my initial migration.

Side note: I noticed that I referred to this computer as “my PowerBook.” Little things like that are telling…