Thoughts on A Complete Experience

I recently posted a quote from Steve Ballmer discussing a key difference between Apple and Microsoft, which I titled A Complete Experience. Having spent a bit more time thinking about it, I thought I would capture some of those thoughts here. This is basically a brain-dump, so it is by no means comprehensive, or for that matter a fluid discussion.

For Ballmer to claim that Microsoft is committed to choice doesn’t match their past business practices. I’d love to see them truly commit to changes that support real user choice and a better end-to-end experience. The subtle knock of Apple (a “narrow” experience) is to be expected, though again it stretches the truth.

OS X, Apple’s computer operating system is not as broad as Windows in terms of configurations and options (six versions of Vista to choose from – two for OS X, one of which is targeted for servers – no confusion there), but that’s a very good thing for the people who buy and use computers. Windows provides every possible configuration option just in case one person out of 10,000 may want it. That’s pretty cool, except for the fact that it often clutters the experience for the other 9,999 folks.

Apple has gone the other route, making a vast majority of decisions for the users – focusing on normal people instead of edge cases. Power users can dive into the command line and utilize the full power of the BSD subsystem. They both have to strike a balance, but have chosen vastly different ways to do it. I’ve come to love Apple’s way of doing it.

If the experience were truly “narrow”, you wouldn’t have the wide swath of user types – students, lawyers, parents, kids, entrepreneurs and hard core developers. That last one is important – many dedicated techies who write programs and Web applications that millions of people use day in and day out switched to the Mac. These are the people most likely to tweak their system, to be that one out of 10,000. They chose the focused end-to-end experience over the bucket of options.

The experience is so much smoother on the Mac and my levels of frustration are amazingly low when I work on my computer. Hell, frustration doesn’t tend to crop up very often. I should say that my level of contentment and the occurrences of elation are rather high compared to any other product or service that I use on a regular basis.

A Complete Experience

In the competition between PCs and Macs, we outsell Apple 30-to-1. But there is no doubt that Apple is thriving. Why? Because they are good at providing an experience that is narrow but complete, while our commitment to choice often comes with some compromises to the end-to-end experience.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

The quote is from a memo that Mr. Ballmer sent to Microsoft employees this past July outlining the company’s strategy for 2009. Aside from the not-so-subtle “narrow” swipe, it’s a concise summation of why so many of us have switched to Apple products (not just the computer) after years, if not decades using PCs running Windows.

The experience matters.

Print to PDF on Windows Without Acrobat

I recently needed to produce a PDF on my XP box at work, but as I didn’t have Adobe Acrobat Professional installed I had to do some digging. Luckily it didn’t take too long to find a convenient solution. Even better, I found an easy and free solution: doPDF. This utility installs itself as a virtual printer, providing the ability to create PDFs by selecting the plugin as the printer of choice in any program, in the same manner as Acrobat’s”Print as PDF” functionality.

It does exactly what it says on the site, even on a 64 bit install of XP.

For folks using OS X – the functionality is baked into your computer!

Debugging Safari

Check out this post by rakaz, which provides a quick walk-through on enabling the debug menu in Safari for Windows, which provides the ability to access JavaScript exceptions, show the JS console, enable a runaway JavaScript timer and turn off “Site-Specific Hacks”. This should make life a bit easier.

Safari's Font Rendering on Windows

I just ran across an interesting feature of the Safari 3 Beta for Windows. Apple has included a copy of Lucida Grande and Lucida Grande bold. But instead of dropping them into the main Windows font directory, where all apps could make use of it, the fonts are under the \Program Files\Safari\Safari.resources\. So, sites that set Lucida Grande as the first font in their styles will look different in Safari than the other browsers in a Windows environment. Add the font smoothing capabilities built into Safari, and you can see some visible differences in text rendering on many sites across the Web when comparing IE, Firefox and Safari on Windows.

Virtual PC set free – further thoughts

After my initial post about Virtual PC and subsequent mailings to a couple of Web dev lists that I am subscribed to, I had a couple of interesting conversations on what this release means and why/if it is important. The question also came up as to whether or not the release is related to Apple’s BootCamp, which I asserted.

I do see a connection to BootCamp and Parallels. Virtualization is a powerful tool for develoeprs on any platform and I think Microsoft has recognized this about a step behind Apple, which has started to push this feature in one of the new commercials.

While Virtual PC won’t allow folks to run OS X software on a Windows box, it will provide a lot of folks the ability to set up a very cheap test environment for multiple operating systems and browsers, which will be important with the coming releases of IE 7 and Vista.

As a developer, I had been pondering the jump to OS X but held off for quite a while as I didn’t want to maintain a PC and a Mac at the same time. Once the Intel-based Macs came out and people started hacking the system to support XP, the need for a separate box for secondary/multiple OSes was gone. Now I can run multiple versions of Windows on my Macbook to test various OS/browser combos in addition to the Mac ones. Ultimately that means that Microsoft, and Windows-centric software makers will get less of my money (I won’t need to buy anything but the OS licenses) and Apple will gain another ardent user who has the ability to ensure his sites are compatible with their software.

This is an interesting battle as Apple sees itself as a hardware company that makes software and Microsoft views itself as a software company that produces products to work on most any “standardized” machine.

This may signal a new front in the war for computer market share; one that I hope will translate into more competition and improved features for all of us.

Virtual PC Set Free

Microsoft has set Virtual PC free. Makes me wonder if the folks in Redmond have taken notice of Apple’s free BootCamp or Parallel’s Desktop app. Use Virtual PC to “run multiple operating systems at the same time on the same physical computer. Switch between virtual machines with the click of a button. Use virtual machines to run legacy applications, provide support, train users, and enhance quality assurance.” This is great news for those of us wanting to test IE 7 (or for that matter, Vista) without installing the beta on a production system. It will also prove useful once the full version is out, and we want to keep a version of IE 6 handy.

Software for a Switcher

Update

I’ve published a new list of software: My OS X Software Setup

In the not-so-distant future I’ll pick up I’ve just purchased a MacBook Pro, cementing my switch from the world of Windows to that of OS X (well, with occasional visits to the land of Gates). The switch brings the opportunity to try, and adopt new software, so here’s a list that I’m compiling of software that I will install, or at the very least, try on my new Mac:

  • Quicksilver – “A unified, extensible interface for working with applications, contacts, music, and other data.” Additional info available:
  • Firefox – The ultimate browser
  • Camino – Another great browser that “combines the awesome visual and behavioral experience that has been central to the Macintosh philosophy with the powerful web-browsing capabilities of the Gecko rendering engine.” I look forward to running it through its paces.
  • Thunderbird – My favorite e-mail client on any every platform!
  • Adium X – A great chat client that I’ve used on the battered ol’ beige Mac in the past. It is the equivalent of the Windows-only Trillian.
  • TextMate – Considered the editor for developing with Ruby on Rails on OS X
  • Apple Developer Tools (Xcode)
  • DbVisualizer – “a feature rich, intuitive and cross-platform database tool for developers and DBAs, providing a single powerful interface for a variety of databases. DbVisualizer supports simultaneous database connections, it lets you explore and manage database objects, execute SQL queries, visualize information and a lot more.”
  • Netflix Freak – “a full-featured Mac OS X application for managing your rental queue that enhances the Netflix experience. The program offers many unique features not available on the Netflix website.”
  • Dock Dividers – Visual dividers to organize the dock.
  • BootCamp – Dual boot windows XP and OS X!!!!! The last piece has fallen into place.
    • Windows XP Home – Seein’ as I won’t be running my ol’ PC any longer, I can just move the install over to the Mac.
    • IE 6 – For testing
    • Mozilla Firefox – For testing, though it shouldn’t vary much, if at all compared with Firefox on OS X
  • Web Development
  • Open Office – A multi-platform, open source office suite, compatible with the big boys.
  • Delicious Library – This program harnesses a Web cam (in this case, the built-in iSight) as a barcode scanner. Simply point the camera “at the barcode on the back of any book, movie, music, or video game. Delicious Library does the rest. The barcode is scanned and within seconds the item’s cover appears on your digital shelves filled with tons of in-depth information downloaded from one of six different web sources from around the world.” I’ve wanted to play with this for quite a long time!
  • Open Terminal Here – An AppleScript that sits in the tool bar of finder windows, allowing an easy way to open a terminal session in the directory being viewed.
  • FontExplorer X – A free font manager from the fine folks at Linotype. This is another app that I’ve wanted to use for quite a while, but have been unable to as it’s Mac-only.
  • Carbon Copy Cloner – Creates an exact replica of your hard disk. Ideal for creating a restore-image.
  • RSync – RSync already comes with OS X, but I’m noting this for the helpful tutorial.
  • NetNewsWire – I’ve used the light version of this news aggregator in the past, and am looking forward to trying out the full version.
  • Disk Inventory X – ‘[S]hows the sizes of files and folders in a special graphical way called “treemaps“.’
  • Fugu – A spiffy little FTP utility.
  • Cyberduck – Another FTP utility I plan to try.
  • Launchd Editor – Launchd replaces cron in OS X. This app is a “graphical editor for launchd’s property list files. It makes sure that the proper keys are of the proper values and lets you enter in whatever information you want in those keys.”

Useful Customizations & Recommendations

I’ll be adding more over the next few days, and appreciate any suggestions you may have!

Boot Camp

The pieces are falling into place… My shift to the Mac will be complete, now that Apple has released Boot Camp, software that will allow users to run Windows XP on Intel based Macs. A tasty quote from the release:

“Apple has no desire or plan to sell or support Windows, but many customers have expressed their interest to run Windows on Apple’s superior hardware now that we use Intel processors,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “We think Boot Camp makes the Mac even more appealing to Windows users considering making the switch.”

Life. Is. Good.

Now… to go order my MacBook Pro.

XP on MacTel is official

The fine folks at Engadget bring word that the installation of Windows XP on an Intel-powered Mac has been verified, generating $13,000 of prize money for the winner, narf2006. It sounds like extensive hacking was involved, so it is by no means ready for the public, but it should provide a starting point from which developers can build an open source project to spread the love. More info to be posted on the official site.