Switching Back

In late 2006 I sold my Sony VAIO on eBay to finance the purchase of my first Mac since my dad’s LC II. I bought an entry level 13″ MacBook. It was a Core 2 Duo running OS X 10.4.11 “Tiger” and I swore I’d never go back to Windows.

Now I’m thinking the only thing I should never do is make such definitive claim regarding technology.

Make no mistake, I don’t have a shred of regret for “thinking different” the past six years. I was able to ignore Windows Vista and the little MacBook ran dramatically quicker than my dad’s Vista-based gaming tower at the time. Plus, I was interested in media production and the resulting products I could turn out with GarageBand, iMovie HD and iDVD were much easier to achieve and orders of magnitude better quality than anything I could do on a Windows machine. Anyone who complains about the “Apple tax” is full of crap– you would pay hundreds more for comparable software on a conventional PC.

But then Windows 7 came along and was pretty great. And I’ve already noted my disdain for OS X Lion. Then Apple recently released Mountain Lion (OS X 10.8). I was hopeful, because while Snow Leopard didn’t really add anything to Leopard, it was very inexpensive and made the code so much more efficient that I picked up about a 10% speed boost in operations on my old white polycarbonate workhorse. Unfortunately, not only is Mountain Lion just as slow, it now chews through my battery faster and has tons of features that should work but just don’t.

I’m tired of undelivered promises, Apple. I’m not doing media production anymore. And I want to play good games.

So what makes Mountain Lion nothing more than a $20 cash grab? I’m running a fairly new 15″ MacBook Pro (version 8,2) these days, and it’s slow. This is their “Pro” machine only a year old running the most current OS, and it’s making me miss my old entry level plastic laptop on 10.4 or 10.6. This is the opposite of improving an operating system.

That would be enough to gripe about, but I don’t know if I’d leave the OS entirely because of it. So why am I threatening to go back to Windows full-time?

Syncing doesn’t work. There are a number of apps that now sync data between OS X and their iOS-based counter parts. I think. Supposedly. Reminders, Calendar, and Contacts still probably work for the most part but Notes doesn’t work at all, despite the option being checked in my iCloud preferences. I was really hopeful this would be my Evernote alternative, because then I could type in a quick few notes even when I’m offline (say, on a flight), which the Evernote app won’t let me do, and then just have it all sync when a data connection is restored. No joy, no matter what I do.

And while I’m glad stupid names like iCal have been replaced with Calendar, it’s still ugly and gave Ars Technica the chance to teach me a new word in skeuomorphic. The same goes for Contacts and Notes- they’re ridiculous looking. No big deal as a single factor, but it is another small straw being added to the camel’s back. I like that Notes has been pulled out of it’s previous home in Mail (where I never used it) because I use it all the time on my iPhone. But why, oh why won’t it sync and actually be useful?!?! I thought the whole point of using a Mac was because “it just works”? It’s becoming less and less the case.

I don’t know how I feel about Reminders being separated from Calendar in OS X, but I don’t think I like it. I know the whole goal of Apple’s desktop OS is to slowly merge and become one with iOS, but this is an instance of where I think it’s a mistake. Having two distinct apps makes some sense on the iPhone, because Reminders can be like a quick-access “backdoor” into a feature of Calendar allowing a user to dictate a reminder by voice (via Siri) or set a geo-fence and have an alert trigger with the GPS enabled. That’s cool, but my laptop and/or desktop don’t have GPS and suddenly the extra app feels like fragmentation in this context. In a desktop setting, Calendar should function as a well-integrated symbiosis of the two mobile apps.

Messages. Again, replacing a stupidly named program like iChat with a more grown-up moniker is a welcome change in my book. Too bad it doesn’t work nearly as well as it should. If the desktops are going to converge with the mobile devices, they need to focus on working as well and seamlessly. Messages doesn’t access Contacts, doesn’t sync with the iOS app for a shared history of conversations, and for the most part just sucks. When I get an incoming message, I’m not running Messages on my MacBook- I have to take a break from the screen and use my iPhone instead, even if the message is coming from somebody using an iPhone or iPad. I thought Messages was finally going to be the IM client I would actually use, and I was wrong.

And Game Center is even more ridiculous on an operating system that doesn’t have much in the way of games. Beside, that’s what Steam is for.

I still love iOS devices and have no plans to abandon them. The iPhone and iPad are truly remarkable in how well they work and the level of refinement and quality of the apps still hasn’t been matched by Android. But despite having gorgeous hardware, I’m really thinking I’m done with Apple’s “real” computers. The elegantly designed hardware just isn’t enough reason to keep using an OS that increasingly doesn’t “just work”. Combine that with tunneling into my remote desktop at work still requiring Windows (they support Apple, but I can’t get it to work) and my desire to play more of the latest graphic intensive 3D games that often don’t run on a Mac with or without Steam…? A garish-looking 17″ behemoth of a gaming laptop looks like a better and better choice. If I could wind the clock back to Snow Leopard, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Apple says OS X releases will be annual now. I’ll give them until 10.9 to get their act together and make my system “just work” again. Because I’ve been through .Mac, MobileMe, and now iCloud without any indication they’re gaining a clue on how to make the cloud work. You know who does know? Google. I already use the Chrome browser 99% of the time and use my three Gmail accounts more often than Apple’s mail. I could be quite content to start using Google Docs. I hope Apple gets it right, because I really do have a weird love for the elegance their stuff used to have (and the software has lost). But right now I can’t recommend anybody get a Mac unless their doing A/V work. I spend 95% of my time Bootcamped into Windows 7. And with Windows 8 Metro being right around the corner Apple better pray that Microsoft makes a huge misstep because I’m getting ready to tell them iQuit.

9 thoughts on “Switching Back

    • The problem is that Apple used to live up to the hype. On their mobile devices, they still do. But their desktop OS just seems like misstep after misstep now. It bums me out, but it’s nothing a crushing gaming rig can’t cheer up.

  1. I would definitely get one before they make you get Windows 8. That is, without a doubt, the most unusable operating system I have ever messed with. And I have been using computers since they stored data on audio cassettes.

  2. As much as I want to disagree with you, Eric, I can’t.

    If it wasn’t for my apathy towards PC gaming these days (I’m perfectly happy gaming on a console right now), I’d probably be looking to switch back as well. I haven’t jumped to Mountain Lion b/c of the reasons you cited.

    My mac is essentially a music and internet machine for me. It works but it doesn’t feel anything like it used to a few years ago when I was using it for other things. These days, my PS3 and XBox are taking over its functions and doing a better job of it to boot.

    I still dislike iOS, though. LOVE Android, though.

    • And I love iOS but loathe actually having to use Android (but still glad it exists). Different strokes for different folks.

      I’d be perfectly content with console gaming, too. I like controllers and have a wired 360 gamepad that I plug in for lots of titles on Steam. Plus, playing on a big ol’ HDTV screen! But I can’t take that setup with me on deployments, etc., so the gaming laptop is my recourse.

  3. Pingback: Apple OS X: letting Windows finally win. | eric.r.shelton

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