One switcher's tale: Once you go iMac, you never go back

I've been relating the story of a professional colleague who, some months ago and under semi-voluntary circumstances, made the switch from Windows to the Mac. Her twisted arm now nicely healed, she has not only switched, she has an unshakable conviction that even the fastest, newest PC would be an embarrassing hand-me-down next to a mature Mac. If I were to swap her early model MacBook for a quad-core PC deskto

I've been relating the story of a professional colleague who, some months ago and under semi-voluntary circumstances, made the switch from Windows to the Mac. Her twisted arm now nicely healed, she has not only switched, she has an unshakable conviction that even the fastest, newest PC would be an embarrassing hand-me-down next to a mature Mac. If I were to swap her early model MacBook for a quad-core PC desktop, she'd accept it with the graciousness one brings to the gift of a fruitcake (or one from a fruitcake), and then covertly scan eBay for a PowerPC Mac. It is not the particular machine or its performance to which she has become attached; indeed, the hardware is, to her, invisible. The Mac platform is home to her now, not out of religious devotion or some wish not to disappoint me, but because it clicks with both halves of her brain in a way that Windows cannot.

I've held forth with her on this subject, namely how creativity and logic get equal attention from Mac developers because Apple's development tools, code samples, documentation, and style guide naturally produce applications that are right brain/left brain balanced. Mac developers' first published efforts often bear an apologetic "this is my first time... don't hate me" in their accompanying README file, and yet they exhibit a degree of usability and consistency that Windows and X Window System developers can't afford to invest. When you're coding for a Mac, form and function progress hand in hand without special effort.

When I treat my colleague to theses such as this that are outside her realm of interest, her advice, borrowed from a film, is "write it, dear boy." One cannot be a friend to me and a stranger to patience.

The vessel that carried her from Windows to the Mac platform was an early Core 2 Duo MacBook, a fit little notebook that I chose for two reasons. I figured that she'd want a Mac that she could take with her when she travels. I was also mindful of keeping Apple's investment in this project to a minimum. Although it nets me the best observational research for which a writer could hope, and it is further enabling my efforts to adapt technology to the changing needs forced on users by the deterioration of their vision, it benefits Apple nothing.

We worked together to fashion MacBook into a functional desktop. It took an old Lexan-encased 20-inch Apple Cinema Display, a trio of Lego pedestals with double-sided tape to raise it to the proper height, and a small, battery-operated fluorescent lamp fixed beneath the display to gently illuminate the keyboard. This weird-looking arrangement works surprisingly well, but the MacBook can only wedge in with its lid closed, and it has to be turned to one side to make room to insert or eject a CD or DVD. This is what you or I might consider extraordinary effort to derive a barely acceptable result, but she's so much in the Mac that she's never expressed anything but delight in her use of what we've put together, be it ever so kludgy.

Even with all of this, she has to lean in to see her work at her desk because she cannot rotate or tilt her display. She cannot hope to use a notebook computer for longer than the briefest periods because to raise its display to a workable height would necessitate the use of a separate keyboard and pointing device (defeating the purpose). While its user hadn't the merest desire to replace or upgrade it, I resolved to cut the MacBook loose so that it would be free to travel as it is designed to do.

I expressed to Apple my desire to carry my research to a new level by bringing in an iMac all-in-one desktop for my subject's use. To my surprise, Apple agreed, at least for a time. The 24-inch iMac has arrived, and my colleague, who shares my lack of susceptibility to anything new for its own sake, is not keen to have it on her desk. In her experience, moving from one computer to a newer one leeches productivity while leaving her no better off than before. My long experience with PCs and UNIX servers and workstations leaves me in total agreement. My experience with replacing a Mac for a new one is something I'm not sharing with her.

I've told her that the MacBook is going back next Monday. Its shipping box sits next to my subject's desk as a reminder. I gave her an external hard drive and told her to make ready for the move by copying everything that matters to the external drive, burning the stuff she really can't afford to lose to DVD, and gathering all of the installation media and registration keys for her software. It's standard operating procedure for a PC swap, a routine that all sensible people put off for as long as possible.

Imagine how pleased she'll be when I tell her that Apple insists on having the MacBook back this Thursday rather than next Monday, and by the way, I'm leaving town and I won't be able to help her set up her new machine. Apple is making no such demand, but there is much to be learned from observing subjects' reactions to unexpected challenges.

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