MAC USER
Time to Switch?

By Victoria L. Herring

A fair amount of time has passed since Apple adopted the Intel chip and became the manufacturer of computers capable of running not only Mac OS X but also variants of Windows (and even Linux). In the hope of gathering some useful anecdotal information about the switch from PCs to Macs, I asked solo and small firm practitioners on the MacLaw list for their input. This totally unscientific sampling resulted in some useful information for people wondering whether they can use Apple’s Macintosh computers in their law practice.

Those who responded explained that before the switch, they mainly had used Windows PCs. In one case, the switch appeared to have been somewhat gradual: “I switched to a Mac for my personal computer, right after law school. I was using my Mac from law school in a criminal defense firm before leaving to start my own firm. My employer had a PC on every desk. I found ways to work-around the situation but often would have to sit down in front of XP to deal with billing and other Windows-only programs. I eventually loaded up Parallels [on his Mac], and that allowed more dust to gather on the PC.” In other cases switchers seemed to dive right in: “I did it. Bopped down to my Apple store and got the biggest, baddest iMac they had. . . . This thing is beyond beautiful. It’s like owning the computer equivalent of a Ferrari. I am so happy!!!!!”

As to why the switch, it seemed to stem from a desire to gain control over one’s life and practice: “I’d grown increasingly frustrated with the ridiculous amounts of time I’d spent ‘fixing’ Windows problems, and I was highly suspicious of the whole Vista release. . . . At the same time I saw the iMacs and had a real visceral response to them. I call it ‘technolust,’ and I had it bad. So, I bought one primarily for my writing and personal use. But I loved it so much I decided to switch the law firm to Mac, too.” There is a reported “halo effect” arising from the purchase of an iPod, but apparently it may stem from getting a desktop or laptop computer as well.

When I asked what cautions they would give to others thinking about making the switch, the respondents agreed that the main issue is mental: “You have to prepare yourself (if you’ve had a purely Windows past) for a change in how you work with your computer. You have to be ready mentally for a different experience. It’s not a ‘better form of Windows.’ It’s completely different. The keyboard, the layout, the way you interface with the applications—all of it’s different.” But, as another lawyer put it, “using a computer should be intuitive, and while there is a learning curve, it’s not that steep at all.” Because I have been using exclusively Apple Macintosh computers since the mid-1980s, I can’t report any personal experience with a late-in-life switch. However, I have heard that it takes a little getting used to finding the correct or better keystrokes to use because the keys (e.g., “alt,” “command,” “control”) appear to be a bit different in the two systems.

When asked about the benefits of making the move, respondents frequently noted how much time they saved: “I just spend less time working on fixing problems or taking time out to prevent problems through maintenance (defragging, running virus scans, running spyware scans, updating firewall and virus software).” Of course, that doesn’t mean there is no maintenance for a Mac, but much of it is in the background, in the middle of the night, or automatic. And should a program crash, just that program quits; the operating system and other programs are unscathed. That saves quite a bit of time, as restarting a program is usually quicker than restarting the entire computer.

The lack (so far) of viruses, worms, and stability issues is highly touted; not that issues cannot arise, but taking good care of your computers and keeping abreast of the updates is a useful prophylactic. As one switcher put it, it is “just a general sense of relief, frankly, in addition to the time saved and alleviation of stress and frustration.” As another respondent summed it up: “No more frustrating blue screens of death!” I can confirm that. Other than some “kernel panics” arising from bad RAM memory chips a year or two ago, I haven’t had any major problems. I did have a total system crash (which is why I’m a stickler for backing up!), but that happened about ten years ago (pre-OS X) and never since. Programs that are a part of OS X itself help out likewise with the saving of time. For instance, the search feature (Spotlight) is a great time saver.

On the flip side, when asked about problems and negatives, the main issue seemed to be essential software programs that worked only in the Windows world (such as Amicus, CaseMap, etc.). The switch to Intel chips, however, and the creation of various methods for using Windows-based programs on a Macintosh computer (BootCamp, Parallels, VMFusion, etc.) means that any Windows-based program can run on your Macintosh computer. So, Apple’s new hardware really is agnostic; you can run the machine using the Mac OS, or you can move over to the Windows partition and use Windows programs. (I haven’t done this other than with a short test of CrossOver, a year or so ago. I have no need for a Windows program these days). However, it does take a bit of time to learn what is what and which is which: “Some things are just different. Where is my right click? Where is the uninstall program? Why doesn’t a program completely close when I close the browser? Very small things that are just different on a Mac.” And if one is an early adopter of a machine or software, there is a price to pay. Some is financial (witness the iPhone, which I bought after it was out a week), some is that machines and software take time to get settled. If one is in the midst of time-crucial operations, holding back and sticking with tried and true is not a bad idea.

Finally, one respondent reminded me of the real value to be found in being a Mac user: camaraderie. One new user was stunned by how much help she was receiving from the Mac community. Mac users will find that kind help at the Apple Store’s Genius Bar, at local MUG (Mac User Group) meetings and listserves, at MacLaw’s listserve, and virtually anywhere users gather. What I have found during the past 20-plus years of using Macs is that I enjoy taking ownership of my computer and researching or asking for an answer to a problem or issue and finding it fairly promptly.

This brief survey of attitudes is not an exhaustive analysis, but a good overview of the various views of the switching experience. If anyone wants more information, they can contact me or go to www.maclaw.org and join the listserve and gain further enlightenment.

Victoria L. Herring practices in Des Moines, Iowa, in an office that has used only Apple/Macs since the early 1980s. She may be reached at .

Copyright 2007

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