The Switch (from Windows to Mac)

Near the very end of December Santa Claus came to my door (disguised as a FedEx guy – clever) and delivered a new computer. After 20 years of using Windows, I have now switched to a Mac (before Windows, I was a die-hard Amiga fan and user – until the year 2000, when I began to work in IT in Germany).

I was still running Windows 7 (Home; 64 bit) on a computer that I had built myself early in 2014. That machine was actually still running fairly well – the biggest limitation was the 16GB of memory. In typical Microsoft fashion, this was a pure software license limitation of Windows 7 “Home” of course, and in no way a hardware limitation. Overcoming this would have meant updating my computer to Windows 10 – which would have been necessary anyway, because Microsoft’s support for Windows 7 ended in mid January (no more security updates). The only problem: I quite passionately dislike Windows 10.

On top of that though, I needed a new monitor. I’ve been using my 24″ TFT over two generations of computers, for a total of nine years – and it showed, in the form of some discolorations that were at a minimum irritating, but also made hardware calibrating the device a bit tricky.

Thanks to some good contacts, I was able to buy an iMac with a nice discount – but I had to place the order by the end of December. It was a pretty easy decision to make the switch, considering that the iMac comes with a terrific 27″ 5K display, and the price of a new Windows PC that would be potent enough to serve me for 5-6 years again.

Hi-DPI monitor

The 5K display is astonishing. It means going from a resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels on a 24″ screen to a resolution of 5120 x 2880 pixels on a 27″ screen. In other words, the density is about 200 pixels per inch – the amount of details in photos is gorgeous, and text looks extremely well defined and sharp as well. At this density, it is hard to see the individual pixels (and yes, I’m wearing my reading glasses;). Seeing my photos displayed like this makes me want to print even more…

The 5K display that makes the photos look so gorgeous is also the biggest downside, in a way: its resolution is 5120 x 2880 pixels. That’s 14.7 megapixels. My old Nikon D700 camera was a 12 megapixel camera; its photos are 4356 pixels wide and 2832 pixels high. In other words: they’re not even large enough to fill the screen at 100% magnification!

What’s worse though are online images: photos with a “normal” resolution for the web, like what I’m uploading to my photography website, do not exactly look good. They’re all a bit soft, because they’re getting scaled up. The same is true for viewing 1080p “full HD” video – it doesn’t even have half the vertical resolution that the monitor has! ๐Ÿ˜›

I could upload higher resolution files to solve that problem, right? Well… no. Sharing photos at twice the resolution I’m using right now would mean going from 1200 x 800 (~1 megapixel) to 2400 x 1600 pixels (~4 megapixels). In other words, that’s four times the size. The disk space consumption and performance of my site (and most likely the search ranking along with it) would take a hit.

The bigger problem though is potential image theft – which is already rampant with the low resolution files I’m currently showing here. What’s more though: the small prints that I offer can easily be produced from 2400 x 1600 pixel images. The 6×9″ size would be 266 pixels per inch (ppi) – well within the commonly accepted 240-300 ppi range for “fine art” prints. I’d invite potential image theft that I can’t even track – because it’s literally “offline”. :-/

I’m a geek. I know my way around computers, so there aren’t any earth-shattering differences between Windows and Mac OS, of course. Following is a list of just some “little grievances” that I have. Maybe some are entertaining, even… ๐Ÿ™‚

Mouse & Keyboard

I’m not a fan of Apple’s keyboard and mouse. The mouse I find too flat and small for my hands, and the lack of a physical scroll wheel in favor of a touch interface seriously messes with making adjustments in Lightroom (swiping left/right navigates through photos, it’s horrible). I’ve gotten so used to my nine years old MS wheel mouse that I decided to continue using it until it falls apart, on the Mac.

The standard keyboard that comes with the iMac is one that you’d expect to find in a laptop. It is very small and lightweight. I was missing the weight and stability of a big keyboard, the heft of actual keys with proper switches, and have thus gotten myself a mechanical keyboard. I actually tried to continue using my (also nine years old…) ergonomically superior MS Natural Keyboard 4000 but a) it’s starting to fail and b) the misalignment of the Mac-specific qualifiers like Command, Option and Function felt extremely off.

One thing that REALLY threw me off was the different behavior of the Home and End keys on the Mac! I had no idea how much I use these keys when I’m writing text, formatting it and shuffling it around! As a result, I have built indelible muscle memory using them. Luckily, there’s a little helper program called Karabiner Elements, which allowed me to change the Home/End keys’ behavior, so that they match the one from the PC. ๐Ÿ™‚

Lightroom

The biggest bummer is that it is NOT possible to adjust the sliders in Lightroom’s Develop module with the mouse wheel on the Mac! I loved being able to make fine and precise adjustments that way. There is nothing as convenient on the Mac. I need to mentally adjust to not being able to making adjustments the way I used to. My brain hurts when I edit photos right now because I want to use the mouse wheel all. the. time.

The migration of Lightroom itself took a bit of time – photos and catalog are easy enough to transfer, but all the plugins that I’m using, the little helpers in develop presets, UI adjustments, settings etc. I had to find and redo. It was an interesting experience and quickly got me into knowing where what is stored and how on the Mac! Plus side: I like it. It all seems more straightforward than on Windows, somehow.

Software

Migrating the rest of the programs, or finding Mac alternatives to Windows software wasn’t much of a problem. Many standard programs are available for both platforms, and where I had to find alternatives it mostly meant (or means still) getting used to different interfaces.

The only serious loss is foobar2000, my beloved audio player and music library on Windows. There is a Mac version, but it’s very, very basic at this point. So far, I haven’t found a viable alternative with similar features (DeadBeef would come close, but the Mac port doesn’t get enough attention from plugin developers, unfortunately, and without plugins, it isn’t that compelling). Running foobar2000 in a virtualized Windows installation (Parallels) or in a Windows emulation (WINE/CrossOver) isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but it may come down to just that. I can’t bring myself to using Apple’s own “Music” program (formerly called iTunes).

In a way, it’s similar to Lightroom, actually: I’ve been curating my music collection over many years, organizing and rating it, creating a “workflow” for it – much in the same way that I’m managing my photo library with Lightroom. It’s worse with photos of course, because I’m developing them in Lightroom, while the songs in my music collection are an end product already that I just enrich with some metadata. But it’s really hard to switch. I hope the foobar2000 developer will continue to work on the Mac port.

Other Quirks (mostly keyboard)

Why is there no “Parent” button in the file requester, and no “breadcrumbs” navigation with an address bar, like in Windows Explorer? One has to use a keyboard shortcut for that (Mac OS tips websites sell it as the best thing since sliced bread of course).

Speaking of keyboard shortcuts, they’re just another example of the many little things: there’s a lot of them on the Mac thankfully but oh boy, without being used to the Mac-specific qualifiers (Ctrl is Cmd, Alt is Option), they’re very, very cryptic. And some are pretty complicated, too: on a PC keyboard, there’s a dedicated “PrtScrn” key – it puts a screenshot in your clipboard. On the Mac it’s Shift-Cmd-3 (hey, I’m proud that I memorized it by now). Maybe I need to use Karabiner to map that onto a single key.

You can’t delete a file by pressing DEL (you need to press Cmd+Backspace – DEL means delete, darnit! Maybe this is another case for Karabiner Elements). You can’t cycle through the choices in a pop-up requester with the TAB key. I still haven’t found the keyboard shortcut to simply minimize all open windows and just show the desktop (the equivalent of Windows-M).

And so on, and so on… I guess when I read this in a few months I will laugh about it. ๐Ÿ™‚

Oh and, if anyone has any single (third party) Mac app/program/tool/helper that they can’t live without, I’d love to hear about it in a comment!

12 thoughts on “The Switch (from Windows to Mac)

  1. I like your explanation about how images from your camera won’t fill the screen, and the other pixel-related discussion. I’m a semi-geek who does photo and video editing, and when I need to know something, I just either use trial and error or google just enough to solve the immediate issue without knowing the overall framework.

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    1. Thanks baq – Tiny Player looks pretty similar to what the foobar2000 port for Mac does right now (with the advantage that it also plays Ogg and a number of other less common formats which I have). ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. Donโ€™t think I can help with many of your nits but to say you will get used to it. As a Mac user since 2008, I can still relate to many of your switching griefs. Yep, the screenshot shortcut is a pain, but eventually you memorize it. I use the 4 instead of the 3 to save the screenshot to my desktop a lot.

    I think the close all windows is done through a 3 or 4 finger Swipe down if you have a trackpad. I donโ€™t use one, and this is a pain for me as well. I should really look up if there is a better way. I do like the way it is done on Windows.

    As my MacPro is seriously aging (nearing 12 yrs old) I have been giving thought about going to iMac. I also have only a 1920 px Mac Cinema Display – which actually still works well. But I would like to eventually do something with 4K video. Given I need a computer and monitor update, the iMac seems a natural fit if I can get past some of the upgrade limitations.

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    1. Thanks Mark! For what it’s worth, I went with the model that has a large internal SSD and got an external HDD as the photo storage drive to go along with it. If that becomes a bottleneck I could upgrade to a Thunderbolt drive. I got the fastest CPU available, base memory – and bought extra memory myself, which is easy to install in the iMac (not so in the iMac Pro though!).

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      1. Thanks. Iโ€™ll price out something similar. It is interesting on the 5k display and web photos. I wonder if it will change sharpening habits for prints also?

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      2. Not for me – I always sharpened my images the same way. The 5K display gives me a better idea of what the print will look like for sure, and makes me lust to hold the paper in my hands! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. They do make mechanical keyboards with a Mac layout, you know. As long as you’re willing to learn a new layout, of course… (For the uber geeks they also make some models that are entirely programmable, at firmware level, so you can make the keys so pretty much anything you want.)

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      1. โ˜บ๏ธ for some reason I thought it was the regular PC layout.

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