Moving Over

I’m typing this post on a second, maybe third hand ThinkPad, testing out IA Writer 1 on Windows to see if the experience mirrors that of macOS and so far so good. Reaper and Mixbus are doing their things as the licenses work for both platforms. Hell, pretty much all of the apps I use these days have Windows versions and they all run pretty damn good.

The dark horse is MainStage which I use quite a bit and is an absolute steal if you’re on the Mac platform. It’s thirty bucks and comes with untold gigs of samples and is, quite simply, one of the most powerful, easiest to use  music performance apps out there. Moving to Windows is going to be super hard without MainStage.

… Wait, what?

We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession

I love my Apple computers. Love them. I love their the style, how sleek they are. I love how things are easy to setup and use. I don’t have to mess around with drivers and weird control panel software to install a new USB interface or printer. You just plug it in and go. macOS is clean looking and responsive for the most part. I love that Macs are durable; the last time I bought a computer for myself was nearly a decade ago.

I started using Macs back when I worked at Adobe and they handed me a monster, 17″ MacBook Pro to use. I went on to purchase a MacBook Air 11″ in 2011 and a Mac Mini in 2012. Both have served me very, very well.

Both are still running macOS Mojave and will stay that way, which is a first for me. I just didn’t find anything overly compelling in Catalina for me to want to make the move. Besides, everything is running fine in Mojave, why mess up a good thing?

Now they are starting to show their age. With the Air, I can only run a few apps at a time and the battery just ain’t what it used to be. Even after replacing it earlier this year it just won’t hold a charge. The Mini doubled as my main music/graphic creation computer and our home media server. Like the Air, it’s slowing down as the apps I make use of are updated and demand more horsepower. Now the Mini mainly just feeds movies to the Apple TV

We’ve already replaced one Mac in our house: my wife’s 2010 MacBook Air was starting to act up so two summers ago so she bought a new one (a 2017 model; the last of the originals before USB-C Airs were introduced) and the kids made use of the aging Air until it just up and died this past spring.

With my computers starting to slow, began looking at the current Mac lineup trying to decide what I’d like to get. And for the first time in a long while nothing Apple is offering appealed to me:

    • Not being fan of all in one desktops, I’ve never been interested in iMacs. Also I already own monitors and they tend to outlast the computers they’re connected to.
    • I’m not overly fond of the recent Mac Mini refresh or the price they’re charging considering the base processor is rather lame and you can’t upgrade the storage at all. While you can upgrade the memory yourself, it’s a huge chore.
    • I don’t like the new MacBook Airs at all. I feel like they’re a step backwards over the previous generation. Also, USB-C only.
    • Some of the recent updates to the 13″ MacBook Pros are decent but expensive once I get the specs up to where I want them. Also, Touch Bar, and USB-C only.
    • The 16″ MacBook Pro is ridiculous to me so I’m probably not their target audience.

Items to note: having tested all of the above during various trips to an Apple Store:

    • I don’t like the new laptop keyboards. At all.  I don’t know if the butterfly keys were as broken as people were harping on about but I do know that I found them, and the recent “updated” keyboards very unpleasant to type on 2.
    • What, exactly, is the Touch Bar supposed to accomplish? Hardy anything supports it and I don’t see why I’d want to dick around with a touch screen-like thingy when I could just tap an F key to change the volume. Next to the current Apple TV Siri Remote, the Touch Bar is one of the worst, recent design decisions Apple has made.
    • As much as some people don’t think it’s a big deal, the lack of USB A ports in favour of only USB-C/Thunderbolt ports on the MacBooks is a huge problem to me. All of the peripherals I use are USB A/B.  If I’m going to spend thousands of dollars on a laptop, I don’t think I should have to buy hubs or dongles or USB-C to USB-older conversion cables just to make my shit work.

Basically, in the time between the last Mac I bought and now, Apple has updated the product line to feature four models that do not appeal to me in any way, no matter the configuration, and two models that are so stratospherically expensive that they’re not even on my radar 3.

The one thing Apple does still have going for them from where I sit is their trackpads. Good goddamn does Apple know how to pull off a trackpad. Strangely, I learned to hate computer mice because of the Apple Magic Mouse (it’s an ergonomic nightmare) and have been using Apple’s trackpads for years. All that being said, an awesome trackpad does not save the rest of the computer. 

Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes …

One friend had recently purchased a refurbished HP workstation as he felt underwhelmed and a little burned by how much the Mac Mini  he had purchased in 2015 was a lumbering turd; mostly that you couldn’t upgrade the memory or the hard drive like you could in the 2012 model and the performance was disappointing. He said that for what he used computers for, Macs were just too cost prohibitive so he decided to move back to Windows and so far so good.

More recently I had several conversations with another friend who is a super talented electronic musician and video creator, amongst other things, who had mentioned that she recently built herself a PC tower to do her multimedia work on. This struck me a little odd as she’d been a Mac user for as long as I’ve known her, and she had a newer 13″ MacBook Pro with her during her visit.

First, she did not like this MBP. Besides being frustrated that she had to carry around a dongle just to plug in her peripherals (yes, this is a bigger deal than Apple wants you to believe), it lagged and stuttered and couldn’t even do half of what she used to do on her previous MBP. “It feels like Apple dropped three quarters of the ports, a quarter of the performance and charged more money for it.”

Second, when she started looking at a new computer with enough oomph to do her multimedia work on,  there was nothing that Apple offered, cost to performance wise, that was anywhere near what she thought was reasonable. After weighing her options, she decided to look up specs for the top rated multimedia workstations, order the parts separately and build her own.  She spent half of what a comparable Mac would have cost and is blown away by the performance it packs.

“What about Windows?” I asked. “One of the benefits of a Mac is macOS.”

Her response was that she was surprised to find that Windows has changed a lot in the last ten years. “It’s actually very stable now and all of the applications I used on Mac have Windows versions and they all run flawlessly.”

The next day I started doing something I haven’t done since 2008: I started combing through Newegg’s component pages to see what was out there and what it would cost.

When deep space exploration ramps up, it will be the corporations that name everything …

I was reintroduced to Windows again for work. Last year, after over a decade of Mac usage,  the company shipped me a Dell. At first I fought the thing. I let everyone know that using Windows “makes work feel like work” and I grumbled and groaned every step of the way.

Finally, as with everything else, I got used to it and my complaining died down. I discovered the little quirks and just went on with life. Work was Windows and everything else was Mac (and all of its quirks).

Fast forward to the recent conversation about regarding how’s and whys of building desktop computers,  I realized how easy it was, without even thinking about it, to slip back into the Windows world. With todays computers I find that there are very little of the frustrations I remember from computers past. In over a year, the Dell had not crashed once. Nor has it slowed to a crawl when I have a metric tonne of applications and browser tabs open. I haven’t had to reformat just to get it feeling new and fresh again. I don’t have to defrag it all the time.

This got me thinking about brand recognition and perceived loyalty and, whether it’s Mac or Windows, existing computer technology has been quietly getting better and better. It’s easier to use, crashing less, and has become somewhat dull. When you realize that something has become dull, you realize that it has taken its place as just another everyday part of life. It’s just another tool we use for our day to day goings on.

Yet here we are. People are still arguing over which brand is better and why. Or they’re focusing on who will create The Next Big Thing®™ as if these companies really care for you and only you.

I flipped through catalogs and wondered: What kind of dining set defines me as a person?

There is no statement to be made based on which computer operating system you  prefer 4. A computer is a computer be it from Apple, or Dell, or some sort of Frankenbox Monster. I got wrapped up in it as well. It’s difficult not to. On one hand here I was writing blog posts about how to get the best bang for your buck by doing your homework before making purchases, testing out budget brands, and/or hitting up the refurbished/second hand stores and on the other I was justifying why I should spend thousands on a brand new Mac for music creation. Why? Is PC hardware and Windows lame and not for creatives? That’s what some Apple users would have you think.

I would shudder at the thought of spending $4000 on a guitar, but would easily justify spending the same amount on a computer? And from where I sit,  only one of those things would make my music sound better and still be in perfect working condition in 30 years.

In reality, a computer is a computer. If you do your homework and are smart, there is no real difference that makes one brand superior over the other. They all have their plusses and their minuses. Once you strip out marketing speak and take down the shiny advertising you realize that everything just comes down to personal preference.

I may not like the new Apple keyboards but others do. The removal of USB 3.0 ports doesn’t sit well with me but others don’t care. So who cares. You do you and don’t yuk someone else’s yum, as they say.

The long and short of it is that I no longer see any real value in the computers Apple offers so I’m trying out alternatives. Who knows, in a few years I may change my mind but for right now, bang for buck, the big, wild Windows world isn’t all what some would have you believe. I’m still looking into a MainStage replacement 5 but for now, here we are.

I’m sure going to miss the trackpads 6.

1: Since I started writing this piece, I ended up ditching IA Writer for FocusWriter. What it came down to this was one of the apps that you have to buy a license for every single platform. Back in the day I paid for the iPad version. Then I paid for the iPhone version. Then I paid for the Mac version. So no. No more. Also, I’m not interested in markup. I just want to write and have the words italicize when I hit ctrl+i, you know what I mean?

2: I have one of the recent Magic Keyboards that I’ve been using for a while with the Mac Mini and I’m not at all enamored with it. The super low profile and key travel makes me feel like I’m typing on an iPad screen and it really starts to bug my wrists after a while. It’s the same feeling I got testing out the new MacBooks in the Apple Store. I still have a working Apple Wireless Bluetooth keyboard and I love it. I have it paired with this laptop when it’s plugged into the monitors and it’s fantastic.

3: The last Macs of real interest to me were the Second Gen MacBook Air (discontinued in 2017) and the Third Gen, 15″ MacBook Pro (discontinued shortly after the introduction of the Touch Bar models).

4: Unless you use Linux 100% of the time. Linux is punk rock.

5: I did find Gig Performer but it doesn’t include samples or synths; you have to use third party plugins. To be honest, MainStage is one of the best products Apple has ever released. Once they carved it out of Logic and started selling it for thirty bucks, it became a no brainer considering it comes with untold GB’s of sounds, synths, samples, and plugins.

6: I’m always flummoxed that no PC manufacturer has figured out how to make a trackpad even half as good as Apples. Oh well, problem mostly averted. Magic Utilities has completely solved this issue. I now have my Magic Trackpad 2 connected to this computer and I have all the Mac gestures know and love here in Windows. It’s only going to suck when I have to rely on the ThinkPads trackpad which is half assed just like all the other PC trackpads out there. Update 11/23/20: I’ve all but given up on Magic Utilities for the track pad. It’s close, but is very jittery and not overly precise. I’ve gone back to using a mouse. A mouse that reminds me that Apples mice truly suck.