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Why I switched back: Confessions of a former Mac user

cupertino apple mac to pc switchSwitching from a PC to Mac five years ago was a simple enough transition. Apple ensured this. For years, the company based an entire campaign around it. But in recent years, I’ve made a more unusual conversion: From a Cupertino convert back to a Microsoft man. And I don’t think I’ll be the last. Here’s what turned me around.

How they got me

I am a child of the halo effect. In 2004, I got my first iPod. It was a thrilling idea to be able to carry 1,000 songs in a tiny device — I wasn’t sure I even knew 1000 songs. It didn’t matter that I had to sync with MusicMatch (now defunct and rebranded as a Yahoo service, if you were curious) or have to patiently wait for CDs to rip.

ipod halo effectFor myself and many others, this was the first bite of the Apple outside of the clunky education Macs at school. It proved to be lucrative for Apple: the iPod set the stage for the iPhone, and later the iPad. Of course, by that time we were so entwined in the Apple ecosystem that it was only the next logical step.

By high school, I had decided that graphic design was my calling, and pestered my parents into getting a Mac. Macs are for creative types, I believed, and so naturally using one would make me exponentially more productive. It was exciting, new, cool and most of all, it was trendy. It matched my iPod! How cool is that? I didn’t look back, until now. Over the years, I went further down the rabbit hole, having owned several iterations of iPhone and iPad. My most recent purchase was the iPad 3, new iPad, iPad with Retina display, or whatever Apple isn’t calling it. But that’s when I finally drew the line.

The one that got away

Eight years and two MacBook Pros later, I’m ready to make the switch back to the PC. I’ve accepted defeat. I tried, Apple.

One might think it is a good time to own a Macintosh (yes, I still refer to them in long-form), especially with the recent release of OS X Mountain Lion. I’m sure it is, I’m just burned out.

My descent (or return?) to the PC began a few years ago, when Apple dropped “Computer” from its name. Red flag number one. Apple mobile products were flying off shelves, and you’d have to be living under a rock to not know that it was becoming filthy rich because of it – in fact, they have more cash to spend than the US government. The MacBook Air was released in 2008, and later received an upgrade “inspired by the iPad and iPhone”. Red flag number two. Mountain Lion continues the trend of features flowing backward from mobile devices to computers, with features like iMessage, the increasingly cluttered and useless notification center, and full-screen apps. But some of these features aren’t as useful on the desktop. Didn’t Tim Cook make a joke about a convergent toaster fridge? The trackpads are getting bigger, and Mountain Lion is getting more i and less X.

I already have mobile devices. I want a computer. Remember those?

Don’t get me wrong, there are many cool things the iPad can do – that you can’t necessarily do on a traditional computer system. The seamless way you interact with what is essentially a $499 sheet of glass is definitely novel. But what works there doesn’t necessarily belong on a computer.

Beauty is on the inside

You can’t open up, gut and upgrade an iMac like you can with a PC, and the new Retina MacBook Pro takes that constraint to its logical extreme – everything is welded into the laptop. You get what Apple gives you, nothing more. Ever. Your order becomes so permanent that you even get a warning at Apple’s online store to the effect of “choose wisely now, because you won’t be able to later.”

macbook pro hardware apple store ram

The Mac App store has become another factor. Arguably, the iOS ecosystem kind of works because powerful mobile devices are relatively new. Not having had any expectations of a how an app should install and behave on a device that fits in a pocket, it isn’t a big deal to me that I can’t run some weirdly designed home screen just for the sake of it. (Seriously, please give me one good reason to jailbreak other than “just ’cause.”) That doesn’t bother me. But the computer experience is different. You install software from anywhere you please, and that method was established decades ago.

Mountain Lion is only available through the Mac App store, so Apple clearly intends to push developers into that walled garden. There are a whole lot of regulations and hoops for developers to get their apps onto any of Apple’s various stores. Granted, you don’t have to put your software on there – and you can definitely still install whatever you want on your Mac. However, I can easily see Apple closing off “unauthorized” software in a future version of OS X in the name of user integrity or security or whatever.

Apple is walling its garden

Apple is now engaged in some of the practices Microsoft has been accused of. For whatever reason, the European Union doesn’t like Microsoft. But where is the legal action mandating a mail client choice on your iPhone? Or that a Mac come preinstalled with Chrome and Firefox? The darling email client Sparrow can’t even be your default mail app or send you push notifications. Who do you think is responsible for that?

Google Voice had a similar debacle a few years ago when Apple held up the approval process to prevent iPhone users from having an alternate “phone” app. Only after some bullying from the FCC and backtracking from AT&T did Google’s app squeak onto the iPhone.

This all-controlling approach is creeping back into the OS X universe. As discussed in our hands on with Mountain Lion, the sandboxing and app store requirements restrict what developers can do with software. That’s not cool, Apple.

Time to climb the wall?

Few would openly deny that Apple has had a huge impact on design, interface and the way we interact with technology during its history. When comparing 2012 Apple with 1997 Apple, the “rising from the ashes” story alone is inspiring. Apple remains a great mobile company, but as a computer company, there are a diminishing number of reasons to choose Mac over PC, to justify the Mac tax. So goodbye Mac, we’ve had some good times, but we don’t need each other anymore. At the end of the day, a logic board is just a motherboard.

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