Last week, I wrote a rather controversial post on why I don’t use an iPhone. This time, I’m sticking a bit tighter to this site’s main topic - Apple. More specifically, Macs. And as usual, we start with a backstory.
I’ve used talking computers since 2004. I’ve used just about every screen reader you can think of - first window-eyes, then JAWS, then NVDA when I decided SMA’s suck. Anyway, I was also using a PAC Mate at school for taking notes - even though I over all had issues with freedom scientific, probably the biggest fail being when they took about a month more than they should have to upgrade the PM to an OMNI, which was delayed even more by the guy who then loaded the Polish translation onto it going on leave right after winter holidays ended, leaving me without my notes for a while. Despite all these issues, I did not use a Laptop or even the iPod for taking notes, mainly because the PAC Mate was a lot faster in starting and being ready for typing, having miles better battery life - I could go a week without charging it using it 8 hours a day versus 2-4 hours on any Windows laptop I’ve owned, and it was self-contained and had a braille display (I can’t concentrate very well on what the teachers are saying if I have to wear headphones and also correct any typos.)
Meanwhile, just like previously with Android, I was following podcasts and articles posted Online about the competition, having even played around with Ubuntu in a virtual machine. I knew that the Mac existed, it had built in speech which sounded very good, and people could use it. I didn’t see a need for a new laptop until early 2011 after I had a very positive impression thanks to the iPod, and also my current laptop showing its age. So, after looking at stats and somewhat due to the nature of me wanting to experiment with new things, I decided that I probably want to get a Mac next. However they cost a lot of money, which is a definite downside. You probably pay a lot for what I just call “the Apple logo”, and partly the build quality as well. So, the process for gathering money took a bit longer than I expected - about 2 years. So I saw Lion and Mountain Lion come and go, the retina MacBooks being introduced, etc. Finally in late June this year I was able to get a retina Macbook Pro, and here is what’re my thoughts after 3 and a bit months of using it.
My switch was a headfirst dive experience straight into a waterfall. As soon as I got the Mac, I gave my Windows PC to someone in my family so couldn’t fall back on it. I had previously used OS X only in a virtual machine for all of a few days, but I had listened and read about Voiceover a lot before then, maybe even too much, so I was prepared and knew the basics. To make the adventure more interesting, over the first week I couldn’t go a day without seeing someone talk about how their mac is now used exclusively as a boot camped computer or someone selling one that was a only a year old. Me, I had no problems with it. The most common issue you hear from people that apparently isn’t a problem on Windows is voiceover going busy. You get that on Windows too, except your screen reader just locks up or an application goes not responding. On the Mac you can at least cmd-tab away from such an application, while on Windows more often than not your screen reader gets frozen and you need to wait for what ever froze it to unfreeze, or quit. Reading email and web browsing also works as well. A lot of the extensions I used to use with Firefox on Windows, like Adblock have safari equivalents which works just as well. Safari also has gems of its own, like click to flash which can convert almost any flash video player to HTML5 which makes it a lot more accessible. I now also use the mac to take notes at school, partly because the PAC Mate decided not to detect the braille display anymore, but it’s not a problem. It lasts me a whole day without charging, boots just as fast so I can start typing, and works with the 2 braille displays I have - the aforementioned PAC Mate display, and a very old Alva Satellite that I’m finally able to use again after not being able to thanks to non-existing drivers for 64-bit Windows. I’ve been able to find replacement apps for things that I commonly do - Adium for messaging, Yoru for Twitter, transmit for FTP, Shrook for RSS, etc. Other apps work better on the Mac than on Windows, like Skype, while others are the opposite - Teamtalk§.
Did I completely get rid of Windows? No. There still are things that Mac doesn’t do very well, accessibly or at all, so I have both a XP virtual machine for small tasks, and a Windows 8.1 bootcamp partition if I need full resources (which is mostly for mainstream games). Thankfully, dual booting the 2 systems is much easier on Apple hardware. Speaking of which, I have noticed that lately new Windows hardware is getting worse and worse - look at almost every ultra book. They usually costs as much as a Macbook hair but have half the battery life, a slower CPU and generally rather pour performance. Yesterday I was able to look at such an ultra book, which cost about $1600 where a fresh install of Windows took 5 minutes to boot, NVDA startup alone took almost 30 seconds, and it lasted only 3 hours on battery.
Of course, nothing is perfect. Windows 8 has its issues, Microsoft is causing very drastic changes which so far aren’t really working. OS X also has problems, and Apple is also slowly locking the OS down more and more (most of the good apps are not available in the mac app store thanks to sandboxing), and every new OS X release removes something which was useful before (Starting with Rosetta in Snow Leopard, ending with Sync services in Mavericks forcing you to sync iDevices with iCloud instead of your local contacts and calendars.)
In conclusion, am I happy with the Macbook and OS X? Yes. I don’t run Windows very often, usually once or twice a month, but just like everything in life it can be improved.