Falling in Love Again. . . with a Computer

Back in my college days, I used to hate computers. Real writers, I proclaimed, used typewriters. What can you do with a computer, anyway? (Know that these proclamations were happening circa 1982.) By 1985, I had learned just what you can do with a computer. And after a week with a Tandy Color Computer II (the model affectionately known as CoCo), I took it back and replaced it with a Tandy 1000, a mostly-MS-DOS compatible machine. (You're curious about the "mostly," aren't you? Don't ask.)

 All in all, the Tandy was fine, and I remained faithful to the PC world as DOS gave way to Windows, as the shareware PC-Write gave way to Microsoft Word. The machines and applications were affordable, abundant. They did the job.

Earlier this year, though, I realized that my commitment to Windows had been waning. The reason? Apple’s remarkable resurgence over the last decade.

My gateway drug was a 160-gigabyte iPod. Today, it’s packed with more than 12,000 songs, and I can’t imagine giving it up. I have even more affection for my iPad 2. Next came an iPhone 4s and then an 11-inch MacBook Air.

Since I am truly impressed – not to mention well-served – by these devices, the idea of buying an Apple desktop has been slowly moving to the foreground. Besides, I was bored. Change was in order. So when my Dell desktop blew out its motherboard in May, I decided it was time. I visited the Apple Web site and ordered an iMac, an all-in-one machine that incorporates the drives and ports in its 27-inch display. The iMac also ships with enough basic productivity software to get up and running immediately – and without any of the ad-laden bloatware found on every new Windows machine.

If, like me, you're new to the Mac environment, let me explain a couple of things. 

The most distinct difference between Windows and Apple machines is that a Mac is a closed system. Only Apple makes Apple computers and authorizes Mac App Store programs (“apps” in Apple-speak) for use on those machines. As a result, Apple’s machines are able to deliver better overall stability, strong consistency among apps (which helps speed workflow), and better native protection from viruses and malware. These are probably the main reasons users choose an Apple computer over a Windows machine.

The downside, of course, is that there are fewer apps available for the Mac than the PC. I discovered that not every program I was using on my Dell was available for the Mac. But I've been able to find equivalents, so I haven’t sacrificed any functionality. (Of course, Microsoft Office and Word are readily available.) I also discovered that Apple didn’t support the scanning function of my printer/scanner. So I had to buy a new, standalone scanner that was Apple-compatible. (But it also turned out to be significantly faster than my old scanner, which took away some of the sting.)

Despite the small hurdles, I’ve become an avid iMac fan. Here are just some of the reasons why:

  • The “Magic” Mouse – This wireless mouse exemplifies Apple’s approach to design: sleek, smooth, and touch-driven. Pressing down on the smooth glass surface “clicks” the mouse. But the “magic” comes when you use the mouse as a touch surface, swiping and lightly tapping on it to scroll and to access a variety of helpful features.
  • Time Machine – Time Machine is the iMac’s set-and-forget backup utility, which, every day, backs up the drives and/or folders I specify, copying them to an external drive. Initial setup took about two minutes, and I never have to think about it again. Brilliant.
  • Mission Control – Double-tap on a Magic Mouse, and you open Mission Control, a program that shows all of your open programs at once and makes it possible to set up any number of different Spaces, or desktops, for your work. In my own case, I like to keep a number of programs open all the time: Google Chrome windows, e-mail, any number of Word files, iTunes, etc. It would be a huge mess to have all of these apps open on a single screen, even a 27-inch one. Spaces allow you to set up different screens with different programs running in them. So in one Space I have e-mail and Internet-related apps, on another I keep all of my Word windows open, iTunes gets a space all its own. I can be working in Word and easily switch to the Space with Google running simply by swiping across my Magic Mouse with two fingers. No clicking, no mousing around the screen, no searching; just one swipe of a fingertip and I’m there. This, more than any other feature, has transformed the way I work.

Features – and fun – aside, though, it must be said that Apple machines remain more expensive than their Windows counterparts. And if you don’t live close to an Apple store, it may be challenging to get repair help. But if you’re a Windows user yearning for something more from your office computer, if you’re wondering if a change of platform might yield a change of outlook, or if you’re simply looking for a better workflow and a bit more inspiration, I can tell you that, for me personally, the iMac is ticking every one of those boxes.

My only real disappointment: It doesn’t yet seem able to make me a better writer. But maybe that’s coming in the next OS update.