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Ultrabook fail leads me to make the switch from PC to Mac

CaptureThanks to excellent service from John Lewis and exceptionally bad service from their Samsung repair agent Regenersis, I have finally made the switch from Windows to Mac OS X. Let me tell the story and then start a sequence of posts about my experience of the shift from PC to Mac.

My 2 years old Samsung Series 5 Touchscreen Ultrabook, which has served me very well, started to bulge in an area covering part of the keyboard and a bit of the trackpad. It carried on working perfectly for a while but then the Q, A, 2, 4, 6 and 8 keys (nowhere near the bulge) stopped working. I’d bought it from John Lewis because they gave me a comprehensive 3-year guarantee, so I contacted their technical support and the device was duly collected by courier and sent off to Regenersis. My backup PC is an underpowered and slow (but cute) Sony Vaio Netbook, so I was keen to have the repair happen as quick as possible. Consequently I rang up JL on a regular basis to check the status and so started a long saga where whenever I called the fine people at JL, they contacted Regenersis and got a slightly different story each of 6 or 7 times. For a while they said the problem was being diagnosed. Then it sounded like the bulge was some sort of battery leak and the device would be unrepairable. Then they could repair it. After about 25 days, I was told it was fixed, actually on the 2nd day of testing and it should be shipped back to me that day or the next. When it didn’t arrive I called again to discover it wasn’t fixed at all, was waiting on a part from Samsung with no delivery date promised or even estimated. Once it went past a month without my laptop John Lewis understood my frustration and annoyance with Regenersis, were clearly embarrassed by their partner, deemed the device unrepairable and proposed a new replacement of equivalent specification — a Lenovo as Samsung don’t sell laptops in Europe anymore. This was a great result. They also didn’t mind if I used the allowance to buy something else. They even added a bit of cash for goodwill and to buy a replacement VGA dongle, and in addition I get a brand new, restarted guarantee (2 years this time, but still great!). Regenersis are rubbish, but John Lewis walk on water.

The Lenovo touchscreen Ultrabook looked like great replacement, but I have to admit my frustrations with Windows 8, 8.1 and the touchscreen in general. I didn’t use touch anywhere near as much as I expected, and Windows 8.1 is a real compromise. Frankly it feels like a desktop operating system and a tablet operating system cobbled together. Then there is the debacle of removing and then bringing back the start menu, and the jarring transition from Windows 7 to Windows 8 with little help to make the transition. I think Microsoft missed a trick by not publishing a guide for power Windows 7 users, with all of the new shortcut commands — many of us got very frustrated trying to find fairly basic stuff in the new Windows 8 interface — just some documentation would have made it easier.

Actually I’ve lived with the PC since 1981 and used all of the versions of Windows from 3.0 in 1990 onwards, pretty much daily. Frankly, after 25 years of Windows I am stunned that a ctl-alt-del reboot is still required on a regular, almost daily basis to resolve issues, and the level of technical competence required to get stuff done. It kind of feels like Microsoft haven’t moved on with Windows. I liken it to the automobile industry. When I learned to drive (some while back) you actually had to know a bit about the engine and the basics of internal combustion — there was a high probability that you would break down en route, and so you needed to know stuff like using WD-40 on the spark plugs to dry them or removing the air filter temporarily to allow more air in to get the engine to get it started. These days I look under the bonnet (that’s hood in American) of the car and I have difficulty finding the spark plugs in the first place. Microprocessors and technology all over the place and the car just works. Why can’t the PC be like that? Maybe Windows 10 will be different and better, but I’m not holding my breath.

So, John Lewis’s excellent customer service presented an opportunity. Some of my Mac user friends have regularly made fun of me sticking with Windows for so long. Some have gone to the Mac, but have then switched back and think some of the current crop of slim, light Windows laptops from HP, Dell and Lenovo are better. Some friends swear by the Surface Pro. My requirement is for typical business use on the move, combined with access to social media, leisure stuff like photos and video streaming, and my music on iTunes. I’m an Office365 user so have installed Mac Office 11 for Outlook but will be interested to see what Keynote offers over PowerPoint. I don’t do anything hugely graphic intensive and certainly no gaming, but will be doing a bit of photo and video editing. I use an iPhone 6, an iPad Air and an iPod Touch (3rd Gen 64Gb) so I am already used to the Apple ecosystem. Well, I weighed the options and decided to add a little to my JL replacement budget, buy an entry level 11 inch MacBook Air and finally convert to the Mac OS. I also decided that this would be a great learning experience — how easy is it to make the switch, and how easy is it, in this time of Dropbox and cloud storage, to live with only 128 Gb of SSD when for years I’ve been used to an environment with something like 500Gb of onboard storage.

I’ve been living with the Mac for 2 days so far, and I have to say I’m very positive. Unboxing my new MBA was a delight, from the feel of the packaging to the beauty and quality of the device itself. The latest incarnation of the MBA doesn’t have a retina display but the screen looks great, and the backlit keyboard is a definite improvement over my Samsung. The laptop feels light but reassuringly solid. You press the power on button, answer a few questions and you are off and running with a working environment. Difficult to assess what the experience would feel like to a technology newbie, but it felt simpler and slicker compared to the Windows experience. The MBA has only got 4Gb of memory and a slightly slower Intel i5 processor but combined with the SSD it feels very fast compared to the 6Gb Samsung i5 Ultrabook it has replaced. One of the nicest differences is what happens when you close the laptop. It goes to sleep instantly. Comes back on instantly when you open it up. There are no choices of sleep or hibernate to configure and no annoying time lag. It’s just the way you want a laptop to work moving around from place to place.

Probably the biggest difference to get used to for a Windows user is the way the trackpad or mouse works. On a Windows trackpad you are used to 3 areas — left click, right click and the pointer. On Mac there is just one area. On Windows you might get in to the habit of using both hands/two fingers for speed. On Mac that gets in the way — just use one hand. Then you have to get used to the fact that a two finger tap is the equivalent of right click, and understand that the trackpad sensitivity and use is completely different. There are a whole range of swipe gestures to learn, but they make navigating around and using your laptop a whole lot easier. I can now see that it’s one of the primary reasons that Apple haven’t bothered with a touchscreen — you won’t miss it once you get used to the trackpad. Also, whereas I’ve always used a mouse with a Windows laptop, so far it feels like I don’t need to with the Mac trackpad… we’ll see.

The only irritating thing so far in my first 2 days is getting the hang of cut/paste. It’s only command and C/V instead of ctrl, but initially you’ll screw a few things up by getting it wrong.

So far so good. It’s a bit easier a transition than I expected and there are plenty of good resources at Apple or on the web to help you make the switch and compare the shortcuts. My next post will go into a bit of detail on what apps I installed, some of the issues I hit, and some of the differences that a Windows user will have to get used to. It’s early days, but the bad luck of a hardware fault combined with great help from John Lewis has turned out to be a rather valuable experience.

(Cross-posted @ Medium | David Terrar)