The Mac Evaluation is Over…and The Verdict Is?

specs_optical20060228In my last posting I mentioned that I was exploring the possibility of switching to an Apple Mac system. Specifically, I was looking at a Mac Mini so I could minimize my investment in a new system and reuse my current hardware (i.e., wide screen LCD monitor, keyboard, mouse). I was able to spend some time at the local Apple Store and talk with a long-time Mac user who worked there, and also had about 2 days of hands-on stick time with a Mac Mini connected to my current LCD Monitor and hardware. Below are my findings:

I have to admit that I was enamored by the coolness factor at the Apple Store, which was loaded with iMacs, MacBooks, iPhones, and iPods. I visited the store in the late afternoon, and it surprisingly filled with customers. I opted to try out a Mini Mac configured with a 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (4 MB Cache), 2 GB of RAM (667 MHz Bus), 120 GB hard drive (5400 RPM), which was the high end model. As you can see from the specs, the speed of the components are those typically found in a laptop (most desktop PCs have hard drives running at 7200 RPM). Of course, this is necessary to fit everything in such a tight, compact package of the Mac Mini.

Instead of giving a length comparison between the Vista OS and Mac OS X, I’ll try to just highlight what I thought was important in my decision whether to switch. First, the Mac booted up very fast (less than 1 minute) and was ready to go, compared to my Vista PC which takes more than 1 minute to boot up, and even then it continues to load system processes in the background as I try to start up Firefox or Outlook. Also, I found the Mac system very snappy in performance, with no noticeable lag in any activity I was doing (albeit, I was just checking email, web browsing, and working with Excel spreadsheets). It seemed that the Mac OS (with UNIX under the hood) was a very well tuned, efficient operating system.

The one thing that really stood out for me, was the appearance of the Mac interface. It reminded me of the various flavors of Linux that are currently available (e.g., RedHat, Ubuntu, etc) with the fonts and appearance of the drop-down menus and windowing system. I’ve always liked the high-res icons that are used in these Linux system, and they are also present in the Mac OS. So, on the surface the Mac OS appears to be just another flavor of Linux that you can download for free from the Internet (although I can’t comment on a performance comparison). Continue reading

Should I Make The Apple Switch?

apple_mac1Every once in a while I get the urge to switch from a Windows PC to an Apple Mac. Usually that urge comes on when I have Windows applications that don’t respond or crash, or when the operating system just runs really slow. Recently my wife’s computer was working so badly I told her I needed to wipe the disk clean and reload Vista, and she responded with, “… maybe I should get a Mac”. After getting Vista re-installed and updated, I had a heck of a time getting her new Epson Color Printer/Scanner to work with the PC (it had a WiFi interface). I had to reboot the PC, uninstall the Epson drivers, reinstall them, fiddle with the printer, etc. Finally, I hit the right combination to get the printer working, but it really shouldn’t have been that difficult. So, should I blame the problem on Microsoft Vista? Or maybe the person who wrote the Epson printer driver? I don’t know.

Of course, the “grass is always greener on the other side” seems to come into play…. would a Mac be better? The last time I owned an Apple computer was in the late 80’s (a Mac SE and a Mac IIcx), so I have no idea how well or reliable the Unix-based OS-X works. After doing some Google searches, I found a lot of comparison between Macs and PCs but most of the info was 5+ years old.

So far as could I live with a Mac (or non-Microsoft Windows based machine), I think I can for my main home computer. I primarily use my home PC for the following:

  • Web page surfing and Googling
  • Dealing with Emails (local client application)
  • Running a Web Server for testing web pages (I’m a web site developer)
  • Some Photoshopping of images for web pages
  • Record TV shows using a TV Tuner card
  • Syncing with my Zune
  • Scanning images with my Canon scanner
  • Running Visual Studio 2005 for developing Windows Mobile Smartphone applications

Most of the items on my list I know I can do using a Mac, but the last item would definitely require a Windows-based machine. Of course, I could always install Microsoft Vista on the Intel-based Macs and either have a dual-boot system or run Vista inside an emulator shell.

My biggest concern is being able to sync with my Zune and also be able to record TV Shows with a TV tuner card. Are there any Mac users out there who can comment on this? Also, are there issues with the Macs that I should be concerned about? What about former Mac users who have switch to the Windows PCs?

Update (23 Feb 2008)

I’ve done some research and have learned a lot about Macs. Some important facts:

  • Macs DO cost more than PCs, period. I can build a very good system that runs fast with Vista at a much lower cost than an iMac.
  • There’s much more options in the PC world for machines and accessories than the Mac world. Lots of different choices with laptops, Desktops, Hybrids, etc. The Macs only have a few fixed models available.
  • Not all Peripherals on the market for PCs will work with the Mac. In fact, it seems that very few will work with the Mac.
  • A Mac Mini is the cheapest entry point into the Mac world, as you can use your existing monitor, keyboard, and mouse from your PC. The cheapest Mac Mini shipped by Apple have 1 GB of RAM and a 80 GB 5400 rpm disk drive, and a Intel Core 2 Duo processor, so they have less memory and disk space than most PCs. From what I’ve read, you need at least 2 GB of RAM to run the new OS X Leopard operating system effectively with no lag time.
  • Upgrading a Mac Mini is possible by the user (adding more memory or changing the hard drive), but it voids the 1-year warranty. Also, opening the case to do the upgrade is very difficult and time consuming for most users.
  • BIGGIE: There is no Zune Software for the Macs. The only way to use a Zune with a Mac is to install Windows XP or Vista on it. You’ll need to do a dual-boot or run Windows in a Virtual Machine (VM Fusion or Parallels) which is an additional cost. Not good.

I do have to say that the Apple web site is very nice, and offers lots of good information on their products, but it just seems to me I can build a better system buying quality components myself at a much cheaper price.

Now, I’m a big UNIX users from my past jobs so getting a UNIX-based system is compeling. Also, I do like different technology, so that is another plus to getting a Mac system. I’m just afraid that I won’t like the Mac OS because it will be so different from Windows. So, I’ll probably see if I can get a cheap Mac Mini from eBay so I can experiment with the Mac system and determine for myself if I can effectively use a Mac for my personal use.

The File That Won’t Delete!

mechanicMy wife’s Windows Vista PC was giving her lots of trouble over the past several weeks, with applications crashing, FireFox not saving cookies, general slowness, etc. With all my digging and Googling I couldn’t figure out the cause of the problems, so I decided to wipe the disk clean and do a fresh install. But instead of using the same disk drive, I bought a new 250 GB Western Digital SATA drive and was planning to use this new drive as the primary disk and the old drive as the 2nd (slave) disk. That way, my wife’s data files will still be available and I don’t need to worry about backing them up, reloading them, etc.

Fortunately, her HP Desktop PC came with the Vista OS install files loaded in a small partition on the original drive and I was able to use an HP program to burn a Windows Vista Install DVD (which will only work on her HP machine). Having the Vista Install DVD on hand, I plugged in her new SATA drive as the primary disk and switched the old drive as the secondary disk. I then reloaded the Vista OS onto the new primary disk, and went though all the Windows Online updates, etc. So, everything worked out just fine.

To make room on the 2nd disk, I decided to remove the old Vista OS files found in the “/Windows” folder (since my wife won’t be needing them). However, the files in the “/Windows” folder are not deleteable! After some Googling, I found a procedure for changing the ownership of all those files from the “TrustedInstaller” to my wife’s login account (using a DOS window and DOS commands), and also changed the permissions for those files. That did help me in deleting  most of the “/Windows” files, all except two files found in the “C:\Windows\System32\Macromed\Flash” folder, specifically the files named Flash9e.ocx and FlashUtil9e.exe. I tried absolutely everything to get rid of these files, but the Vista OS kept replying “Access Denied”.

Ultimately, I found a program called Unlocker which allowed me to unlock and delete those files. This freeware utility worked great, and was easy to use. So, if you’re in the same predicament I suggest you check out this fine utility.

BSG Can Really Be Confusing

bsgI’m a big fan of Ronald D Moore’s Battlestar Galactica (BSG) which airs on the SciFi Channel, but sometimes I have trouble following what’s going on. In the episode they aired last night (called “No Exit”) they revealed lots and lots of information about the history of the Cylon race which was a bit confusing to me. Although I recorded the episode with my PVR system and can watch it again, I still need some sort of diagram, family tree, or better explanation of what’s going on. If you’re as confused as I am, you can check out this link which has an episode analysis which helps to explain what was revealed.

Zune Remote Issue… Solved!

zune_remote1Another issue that I was having was my Zune remote that I use with my 1st Generation round dock. For some reason, this remote seemed to stop working. I tried resetting the remote by opening and closing the battery cover, but it still didn’t work. I also pulled out the flat sliver-oxide battery and checked the voltage level using a multimeter, and it showed 3V left.

In any case, I read in a forum posting that a low battery level may cause the remote to stop working, so I went down to my local Radio Shack store and bought the CR2032 battery for the remote. Once I replaced the battery, the remote worked again! So, the moral of the story is replace the battery if your Zune Remote doesn’t appear to be working (no matter what you think the remaining battery level is!).

Zune Connection Issues… Solved!

mechanicOver the last few weeks, I’ve been having problems getting the Zune Software on my Vista Desktop PC to recognize a connection with my Zune 80. When I plug in my Zune, I hear the tone sound indicating a USB device connection but the Zune Software ignores the Zune and doesn’t make a connection. I tried using different USB ports, different sync cables, but nothing. I also used the Unzoone software to completely remove the Zune 3.1 Software off my PC, rebooted, and then reinstalled a fresh copy. After doing all this, it seems my Zune would only connect to my PC 2% of the time. Even rebooting my PC didn’t ensure my Zune Software would see the connected Zune. Very frustrating!

After doing several Google searches, I finally found the solution to my problem. Mark Akers on the Zune.net forums posted some troubleshooting suggestions and this is the one that fixed it for me:

  1. Click Start -> Run -> Services.msc
  2. Look for a service “Windows Mobile-2003-based device connectivity”
  3. If that service is in the “Disabled” state, change it to “Manual”
  4. Restart the Zune software
  5. Connect device

As it turns out, a few weeks ago I was cleaning up my PC and decided to turn off various unused services to speed up my system boot up sequence. One service that I disabled was the “Windows Mobile 2003-based device connectivity” since I no longer sync a Pocket PC 2003 device to my Desktop PC. Apparently, this syncing mechanism is also used by the Zune Software! Thus, you need to set this service to “Manual” so that Zune Software can do it’s thing to make a connection to your Zune.

So if you’re pulling your hair out trying to figure out this one, you might check that this service is set to “Manual”.

Netbook: Not for Me

mini9I haven’t posted much over the last few weeks because I’ve been busy with the notion of getting and using a Netbook. If you check out my other short-lived blog, you’ll see that I determined that the Dell Mini 9 Netbook was not sufficient for my needs. Specifically, the keyboard size and layout along with the 600 pixel screen height was a deal breaker. I was hoping to use the Netbook for web browsing, checking emails, web blogging, etc. but it just didn’t work out for me.

I did walk away learning a lot about online file storage and document management (Microsoft Live Mesh, Zoho, DropBox, SkyDrive) along with having a chance to work with Windows 7 Beta on the Dell Mini, so if you’re interested in those topics you can check out my blog postings for more details.