For novel ideas about building embedded systems (both hardware and firmware), join the 28,000+ engineers who subscribe to The Embedded Muse, a free biweekly newsletter. The Muse has no hype and no vendor PR. Click here to subscribe.
By Jack Ganssle
Making the Switch
Summary: Mac or Windows? I've been lured by Steve Jobs' siren song, at least for the laptop.
I have only been to an Apple store on two occasions, both recently, both after the iPad came to market. Each of those trips was both awful and fascinating.
The place was mobbed. Teenyboppers and grandmothers hovered around the Apple goodies. A security guard limited kids' time on the dozen or so operating iPads. Macs, MacBooks, iPhones and iPods were neatly displayed in overwhelming numbers. A bevy of tired-looking but polite blue-shirted Apple employees were explaining and helping young and old alike. So many customers flooded the store that one person was tasked with assigning people to Apple folks, and scheduling meetings on her iPad that was wirelessly linked to a central server.
I am still unsure how one actually goes about purchasing something. There are no cash registers, no checkout counters, no clearly-demarked checker-outers. On the first trip I wanted to buy a MacBook Pro, and eventually snagged a blue shirt. He, born last year, didn't want to just do a simple transaction. He annoyingly - but politely - wanted to explore my "needs" first. We came to an accommodation; he went in the back and got the computer, then pulled an iTouch hot-rodded to a credit card reader from his pocket to finish the transaction. The receipt was emailed to me.
My last laptop had survived five years but too many eval products littered the registry; a bum Linux install sucked disk space, and a long-dead DVD drive and too little memory made me ready for a new machine. Many friends were singing the Mac tune; most of those are embedded engineers running development tools on their MacBooks. I like the idea of having native access to Unix, rather than a DOS command line shell, and the battle with Vista on my desktop left me unwilling to iterate that experience. The claimed 10 hour battery life clinched the deal.
The MacBook is absurdly-priced (about $2k with Office for one of the smaller machines). It's not flawless and I have had to reboot once or twice to fix odd behavior. But it comes out of hibernation instantly, a huge plus, is very fast, and has seamless WiFi. The touchpad supports one, two, three, and even four-finger manipulation which is confusing at first, but greatly speeds navigation.
The machine, both physically and graphically, is simply beautiful, something that once would mean nothing to me. But my wife is an artist and she has instilled some level of appreciation for beauty in me.
The first few days I was pretty frustrated as OS X is very unlike Windows, but time and Internet research have eased the transition, though there are still a few aspects of the machine that I just haven't groked yet.
Oddly, Word for Mac thinks MacBook, iPhone and all of the other iProducts are misspelled.
While I struggled to purchase the computer, my wife became completely entranced with the iPad. It's pretty nifty, but so far I don't quite see how it would fit in my life, occupying an interesting but maybe not important niche between the iPhone and MacBook. But our second trip to the Apple store was to buy one for her. They were completely out of stock.
Published June 3, 2010