Business Travel

Why I Didn't Buy A Mac

machinechoiceWhen I decided to purchase a new PC for the Hand Luggage Only project, I had a pretty open mind about what I might get, but I must admit there was one decision already made: I definitely wasn’t going to buy a Mac.

I was whining on Twitter recently about yet another annoying Windows bug when my brother challenged me: “I still wonder why you put up with it. Vista, I mean.” My brother is an Apple convert of a few years standing, so there’s an implied challenge in here: why haven’t you got yourself a Mac yet?

There are some pragmatic considerations involved (a conservative 90% of the Australian PC market uses Windows, so running a Mac immediately puts you in a minority, which isn’t great when you write about tech for a living). But the answer to that question mostly comes down to a perennial Lifehacker obsession: productivity. I might be inclined to whinge about how Windows works, but I do understand how it works pretty well.

At the very broadest level, if I decided to switch to Mac, I’d be spending a lot of time learning where different features and tweaks were hidden. That certainly wouldn’t have made sense while I was planning to be on the road non-stop for a month (my temper is short enough as it is), and I’m not convinced it would make sense even if I had more time to devote to it.

The Mac is also a very mouse-centric environment, and my work style is designed around using a mouse as little as possible. Yes, I know there are keyboard shortcuts on offer if you choose to dig them up, but the entire platform is still fundamentally based on the notion that drag and drop is a useful way to get things done. That’s not a vision of the world I share at all — pretty much the only time I use drag and drop is to file messages in Outlook, and even that I tend to leave and do in batches. (The same issue is one of the reasons I think iTunes bites.)

I’m also a great believer in working with applications maximised, and that’s pretty much impossible on the Mac because of its “size the windows to the content” philosophy. I realise lots of people like this approach, but for me it just means a screen full of distractions.

A more specific objection to the Mac is that I wouldn’t be able to run Outlook. (Before you say it — no, I’m not prepared to use Parallels or Boot Camp to get that done. For day-to-day work, I want to be running just one OS, thank you.) I’ve written before about how Outlook is an essential element of my day-to-day work, and I’ve yet to see evidence that the various Mac alternatives would meet my needs as well in a single product.

And finally there’s the simple matter of size. Even assuming I could get over all those other objections, there’s no Mac notebook on the market that remotely comes close to the power/size/price combination offered by my Portégé R600. The Air is probably a tad thinner, but it has fewer USB ports and the screen is too big.

So what it really boils down to is a bunch of reasons not to shift versus a lot of enthusiastic claims that “everything just works”. I have a reputation amongst friends and colleagues for being able to find the flaws in pretty much any tech (translation: everything I use tends to crash pretty quickly), and I doubt the Mac would be any different. So it’s really not a difficult decision.

My initial experience with Windows 7 suggests that it may have eliminated some of Vista’s more intractable annoyances. However, even if it turns that Windows 7 also can’t remember folder settings and often treats Wi-Fi as a joke for its own personal amusement, I don’t see myself embracing the book of Jobs any time soon.

Throughout May 2009, Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman will be travelling throughout Australia with just one carry-on bag for the Hand Luggage Only project.