Brendon Walsh
Making "The Switch"

Making "The Switch"


With Apple's market shares in the computing world continuing to grow, more and more people are beginning to look at Macs to see what all of the commotion is. Many people get very anxious about making such a drastic change to their computing lifestyles. That's why I'm here to help those interested in a Mac see what troubles you may encounter during the switch and how to overcome them.

If you haven't already, I highly recommend you read about the Macs user interface to understand how the systems looks and operations differentiate from Windows. Once you've read that, come back and join me...

Done? Good. Now that you have a decent understanding of how the user interface functions, I suppose the next thing to focus on will be deciding how to continue your regular habits on Windows with OS X. This guide will mostly tailor to post-secondary students and fulfilling their needs (and more importantly, their wants) in order to get through the school year.

Office Suites on OS X

Everyone knows that Windows is a great platform for Office software. Microsoft Office is arguably the most functional and certainly most accessible, widely-distributed office suite available for Windows (or Mac OS X for that matter.) In most cases, that's what students tend to choose either out of necessity because their course demands that specific functionality, or - more understandably - they choose it because that's what everyone else uses. It seems as though Office has become somewhat of a standard for publishing papers in university.

Office is a great choice for students that need specific functionality for their courses and papers, but it carries a hefty price tag of approx. $180 with the educational discounts. I have no qualms with recommending it for students that feel they need Microsoft Office. However, if you don't specifically need Office, you may want to consider this free alternative.

NeoOffice is a free office suite based upon OpenOffice. It functions precisely like OpenOffice and offers numerous features. I use it as my primary office suite simply because it is free and very capable of producing spreadsheets, presentation slides and numbering pages accompanied by various header data along with footnotes and endnotes as well. I've never delved too deep into any office suite in particular, so I may be putting my foot in my mouth here, but I don't think that there's anything NeoOffice is incapable of doing that Office can. For this reason, I can not condone a purchase of Office simply because it doesn't seem necessary (unless of course you are one of the few aforementioned students that require it for your program).

It may be worth mentioning that OpenOffice is also available for the Mac, but it requires a much more adept user to install as it requires the X Window System (or X11) component for the GUI as Sun never properly wrote OpenOffice in compliance with the standard Aqua GUI of OS X. This is something that is now changing, but will undoubtedly take time.

Migrating Your Media to OS X

A major factor of post-secondary educational lifestyles is media. Internal campus networks such as DC++ allow users to access vast amounts of music, movies, tv shows and other various media. Due to the nature of how accessible this media is, it becomes essential to have software to manage this media. For many Windows users, this software is Windows Media Player, iTunes and VLC along with myriads of options to back-up media (which I'll discuss to a much greater length in upcoming posts.)

For OS X there are the obvious choices of iTunes and Quicktime. For most users, this will be all they need to play their media. But there will be times where movies will be encoded in DivX or XVid or other codecs that are not initially supported by Quicktime. To solve this issue, some will opt for VLC for OS X, but I prefer to stay with default system software and stay aware from 3rd party software if I can help it. (I guess I'm just a little picky about what software goes on my system. Those of you who have seen my computers know that I like to keep a very clean system.)

So in order to avoid the use of VLC where I can help it, I have come across a very convenient codec pack for Quicktime that includes most every codec that any user will ever need. Occasionally I still find videos that aren't encoded with something that Quicktime can understand so I have to bring up VLC.

For those of you who like to listen to FLAC rips of your music, the above codec pack also doubles as an iTunes plugin that allows playback of said files. Unfortunately, this does not mean that your iPod will play FLAC rips, but because iTunes can playback the file, this means that iTunes can re-encode FLAC media to MP3.

Games? Forget About it

You really don't have much of a choice here. Although there are companies that support the porting of popular Windows games to Mac OS X, but I don't think you see the same performance with the lack of DirectX. Although there is hope as the market share continues to grow I don't think you'll be playing CS or Battlefield 2142 anytime soon on your Mac.

Of course, if all else fails and you find yourself left helpless in the realm of Mac, you could always use BootCamp or Parallels to run Windows on your Mac, but again, I'll delve into that on a later day.

I hope this helps some of you understand a bit more of the workings of OS X and how simple it can be to make "the switch." Of course, there's always more to come, but I need a starting point and I'll branch out from there. Leave a comment with any requests on further information that I may have missed.