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I’ve Taught and Owned Macs for 20 years, but I’m Switching to Windows… Here’s Why.

Categories: Education,Life,Photography,Technology No Comments

The argument of Mac vs PC is as old as the two computer systems themselves, but I’ve always ended up on the Mac side of things. As a teacher, I proselytized the virtues of Macs. I helped convert and influence whole generations of students into the cult of Mac, and many of my friends have fallen as well. And I don’t feel guilty about it – I really do believe they were better machines, with better software. But I’m not so sure anymore.

I’ve been using Macs since they first showed up in my classroom in 5th grade (that would be around 1985). I’ve always loved them. Now, don’t get me wrong – I also used and loved PCs. In fact, I have many memories of being an elementary-aged kid and working in DOS, Basic, and the like. I would use any excuse I could to play on my friend’s Commodore 64. So I’m not a straight-up Mac snob. But there was something about them – the software was special, the whole computer was just different. Even when I was 10.

Mac8500Fast forward to college in 1994 when I bought my first Mac. I dropped an insane amount of money on a PowerMac 8500. 120Mhz, 16 Megabytes of RAM, and the humongous 17″ AV CRT monitor (with speakers on the bottom). That monitor weighed about 50 pounds or maybe even more, and I thought it was the coolest thing. I had the computer that everyone wanted to borrow (and many did). And then, after many years, I started buying the Mac Pros. And iMacs and Mac Minis for the wife and kids. We were a Mac household to the max. But before you think I’m some rich guy, I’ll tell you that many of those computers were always bought used, and I always took full advantage of the educators’ discounts for my Mac Pros.

But why Apple in the first place? Well, it was simple – they were the computer for the graphics professional. The OS was far more robust when compared to Windows when I started, even though when XP came around it was pretty good. Also, their software was amazing, especially in the early 2000’s. From Shake to Final Cut Pro, Apple was bringing truly professional software to the masses. Anyone with a great desktop could do what the pros were doing in movies like The Lord of the Rings (which used Shake) or No Country for Old Men (edited on Final Cut Pro 7). So all of that, or so I argued, justified spending the extra money on a Mac.

My classroom full of the very best 27" iMacs in 2014

My classroom in 2014 – Full of the very best 27″ iMacs.  But not anymore.

Once Apple’s Aperture came around, I was truly hooked. Final Cut Pro, Motion, and Aperture were my mainstay applications. Firewire in the 90’s brought digital video to the masses by offering a cheap and high-quality way of getting digital video footage from your camera to your computer without expensive capture boards. So, as a teacher, I was able to teach students in Final Cut Pro, Motion, and Aperture, with Photoshop right beside it. My school district spent tons of money getting me the best iMacs, loaded with the best Apple software. I’ve had plenty of students graduate and go on into the professional graphics and film/video world. It’s been money well spent, as has the money I’ve spent on my own Macs for the photography work that I’ve been doing. Just ask any of my former students. Most of them will be shocked if they ever read this blog post…

But now, Apple is not really an option for me personally anymore, and I’ve also worked with my district to switch over all 56 computers that we have in the 2 Art Department labs to Windows machines. So, if you’re interested, I’ve outlined my reasons for switching below, and I wonder how many of you will agree with me, and how many will think I’m the devil incarnate?

Software:

picture2The first area where Mac is falling apart is software. First they discontinued Shake in 2009. Even though I was upset that Apple discontinued Shake, it never meant much to me because I only fooled around in that program – I never actually used it for anything serious. I was more upset about it because I was worried about what it meant. Turns out I should have been more worried. Maybe not a big deal for everyone, but definitely a sign of the things to come. For years, Mac has been trying to simplify their software, but recently, they haven’t just been simplifying it – they’ve been removing functionality in the name of simplification.

Next to fall was Final Cut Pro. FCP X is horrible. I tried to be patient with the interface, figuring that I could get used to anything over time. But really, the interface may be awful to an old-school photographer/editor like me, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many functional things that were removed from version 7 to X that it’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. I won’t go into a full list, but I’ll briefly highlight 2 major issues I’ve had since switching to FCP X.

The first is the inability to animate the color corrector over the time of a clip. Something that was simple and easy to do in FCP 7 just… disappeared. The only way to do anything like that is to now take your video clip and import it into Motion, which doesn’t even have the 3-way color corrector, but you can find something suitable that will work in similar fashion.

FCP_XBut that leads me to the second major issue with FCP X – You can’t import Motion projects into the timeline directly anymore! What. The. Heck? There must be some reason why they felt that wasn’t necessary, but since it was ALREADY A FEATURE in FCP 7, and one a ton of people relied on, you would expect that they would keep it, right? Of course not! And since Adobe allows you to directly import After Effects comps into Premiere, you would think that Apple would want to be slightly competitive. Nope. So now, if I import a clip from my FCP X timeline into Motion, I have to fully render the clip as a movie file and then bring it back into FCP X as a new clip. I have several issues with this workflow, the biggest one being time: If I make a Motion composition, render it out, put it into my video, and then realize I need to change something, I have to go back to Motion and re-render out the clip. I don’t do a ton of video jobs personally, but when I teach my students we are always working under huge time constraints, and I have done some video projects for clients and I don’t ever have EXTRA time with which to watch Motion render a series of effects. So now I haven’t waited for this clip to render once, but twice. Or however many times I decide to change something.

The other issue is one of hard drive space and resource issues – because now I have at least TWO versions of the clip floating around, instead of just one that is used by Motion and FCP.

This also introduces the idea that rendering from Motion also allows you to accidentally change the quality of the clip and therefore possibly (not necessarily likely, but still possible) degrade the quality of the clip before you bring it back into FCP. This would technically be the user’s fault, but still, why bring it into the equation?

Now some people might say I’m silly because I still have to “render” After Effects clips that I have imported in Premiere, and while that’s true, The rendering process of a preview takes a lot less time, and there’s the added flexibility of being able to move back and forth between applications easily without too much having to happen in-between.

Apple_apertureThe next software issue that I will bring up is the issue of Aperture. This past spring, Apple announced that Aperture was not going to be supported anymore. Instead, Apple will be moving towards an integrated “Photos” app, one which will basically blend iPhoto and Aperture together, but with many pro features lacking (Maybe it should be called Photo X?). But even before this announcement, Aperture had begun disappointing me – the inability to truly control your photographs (the right-click, “show photo in finder” option was gone) was very annoying. The ability to “relocate” your photographs was there, but I tried this, and the latest version of Aperture crashed multiple time when attempting this, so I stopped trying, for fear of corrupting/destroying my library. I’ve been reduced to right-clicking on the library file and selecting “show package contents” to go sifting through a mountain of folders to find the source file of a photo. It’s ridiculous. And then I found Lightroom – a friend of mine suggested I download the 30-day trial of Lightroom, and I took that trial to Africa with me last summer and I loved using it!

Lastly, the biggest software issue I have is the newest versions of OS X: For years, I would defend Mac OS X to my friends – yes, it was simpler. On the outside. But on the inside, it was a robust Unix-based system that allowed a TON of customization. I was able to single-handedly install and implement an OS X (10.5) server for two Mac Labs with active directory support and desktop management with no formal network training. On the surface level, you could get started immediately and have machines up and running pretty easily. Once that was done, you could easily drill down into the depths of the system and start custom-tailoring things however you wanted. It was extremely powerful. And the OS X client software was just as good. I could customize the Macs in my classroom (or at home) in any number of different ways. On the surface, it was slick, clean, and simple. Underneath, it was powerful. And, for your casual user, a lot of that is still the case. I’m not a huge fan of having NOTHING on the desktop – I like to be able to double-click on the hard drives, etc., but that stuff is easy enough to turn on. And I love the way OS X is easy to navigate through – renaming folders and working within the Finder is far easier than Windows Explorer. It’s just more intuitive. But when it comes to using a Mac in a network/lab environment, with networked home folders and quotas, it has turned into an ugly mess.

We recently (November 2014) attempted to upgrade our Mac labs to OS X 10.9, along with the latest version of the OS X server software, and it has been a nightmare. The biggest issue being the implementation of the server management software. We aren’t able to do any of the advanced techniques that we have been doing for years. What techniques, you might ask? Well, pushing home directory folders from the home directory (on an active directory server) to a local folder on the client’s hard drive. That feature, which was easily done with a script on 10.6? (We skipped 10.7 & 10.8) Gone. The ability to push certain System Preference panes and their settings – gone. The ability to control the way the finder looks from the server – gone. It’s been hellish trying to control and manage the labs. And before you say, “well, yeah, but you haven’t even taken a class in networking and server management,” I should tell you that a few years ago we hired a Mac-expert-tech-guru who has taken all those classes and gotten all those certifications. I don’t do any of the administration anymore, so it’s not just me and my inexperience.

So, add all of those issues up, and what do you get? The need to use 3rd party software. Adobe Premiere has been around longer than Final Cut Pro. But for a long time, FCP worked better, and was cheaper. You would spend more money on a Mac computer, but spend less on the software, and get something that was easier to use and more stable. But now, if the cheaper software stinks, as I’ve outlined above, is the hardware worth the extra cost, since we’re going to probably be buying Adobe’s software anyway? But I guess that begs the question – is Apple’s hardware worth it?

Hardware

mac_proI’ve always spent some good money on my Mac Pro. I never buy the most expensive one, but I always wanted to spend the extra money on a Mac Pro vs. an iMac. I wanted Mac Pros because of the flexibility the offered. The ability to add hard drives, PCI cards, just like a typical mid-tower PC, but it had all the best software, including the best OS. Well, rather, it used to (see above). But the Mac Pros from a few years ago were awesome. And the lack of flexibility in an iMac was exactly why you would want to buy a Mac Pro over an iMac, Mac Mini, etc. The hardware was a little better, but it was really the flexibility that drove me to the Mac Pros. But now, they’ve integrated the worst part about the iMacs into the new Mac Pros, and have made it more expensive, too!

MacPro_Back_Glow_PRINT From here on out, I’ll just call it the “trash can.” Now, it’s not like I really have anything against the new Mac Pro from a form factor or design standpoint. In fact, I give Mac a lot of credit for offering something that is completely new and different. I like the idea of this central “cooling core” that it has – what a great idea. (Of course, I’m not an engineer, but the concept of that huge heat sink in the center seems to me to have merit.) But I hate this computer from a feature standpoint.

First off, the lack of PCI support. This is huge for a couple of reasons. The first being the ability to upgrade your computer without buying a whole new one. As I stated above, I’m still using my Mac Pro 1,1 from 2006. What a great machine.
But the only reason why I’m still using it is because I was able to replace my GPU to add power and keep it chugging along nicely.

Along with that is the lack of RAM slots – My 2006 Mac Pro has 8 RAM slots, so I’ve been able to fill them up rather cheaply and keep the computer running well. The “trash can” only has two. Premium price for not a lot of upgrade options.

The hardware specs combined with price is another huge issue:

  • apple_mac_pro_raid_controller_card_a1247_ma849zb___battery_needs_replacing_1_lgwThe lack of support on internal storage options. The reliance on thunderbolt (as nice as it is) forces you to use expensive external options, whereas many PC motherboards support on-board RAID, 10GB/s SATA etc. For less money, too. And Thunderbolt is an option for PC users with a cheap PCI card, if you want it. But you’re not hemmed in. Especially after spending $4K (minimally) on a computer, to have to spend another $3K on a Drobo and WD Red drives is almost an insult when you can just slap the same number of drives into a PCs case and RAID them via your motherboard for the same or less cash. Even though I know that Thunderbolt is better, and Drobos seem to be awesome, too, even though they do have their detractors.
  • The hardware of the Mac Pro may be robust and stable, but it’s not truly bleeding-edge, high-end by any long shot. Which might not be a big deal if you didn’t pay such a huge premium for it. With the new Intel
    LGA 2011-v3 chips, DDR4 RAM, and multiple GPU support, you can build a PC that will kick the “trash can’s” butt for a TON less money. And I don’t mean just a few hundred dollars less.
  • TitanNewThe choices are all made for you: You want CUDA cores for Blender or for Premiere? Sorry, no dice. You want to overclock your CPU? Nope. Again, this “Pro” computer is really not for Pros anymore, just priced that way. (In all fairness, my old Mac Pro was like this too, but the other pros always outweighed this specific con. And, honestly, things like multiple GPUs and overclocking have become so easy to do. So commonplace that Intel even offers a special “overclocking” warranty so you can overclock your Intel Core CPU and keep the manufacturer’s warranty.)
  • The price is very high for the “trash can,” but then we’ve decide that we’re not buying FCP, so we will most likely be buying Adobe software, which also costs a lot of money. So why spend more money for less machine (hardware), and then spend more money on software? Since I’ve already decided against using FCP in my classroom, it only makes sense to spend less to get better hardware, right?

So what went wrong? Apple was making such great machine, great software, when did it shift it’s priorities?

iphone-2gI think it cam along with the iPod and iTunes first, but really, I think the biggest start of the downfall of Apple’s computer/desktop legacy was the iPhone. I was so excited when they first announced it. I never imagined that it would spell out such a huge success for Apple, as well as the doom for the company that I loved so much. All of the sudden, in a few short years, Apple went from being a small(er) company that served the professional graphics and video market to a huge company that was making far more money on gadgets and consumer-level software. The company slowly lost its focus on the professionals that it had served for so long, and became a company that was focused more on being cool than making good computers for graphics professionals.

The truth of the matter is that Apple is primarily a gadget company now. So much so that I believe that Apple will stop making Mac Pros in the next few years, and iMacs are likely to follow. I wouldn’t put any serious money on that prediction, so take it with a grain of salt, but that is what I think. I just don’t see serious professional-level machines making enough money for Apple to put more than a secondary effort into them. Apple isn’t going to fail as a company – in fact, they’re going to continue on the strength of the iPhone and iOS. So don’t think I’m saying that Apple is finished, I think the company will do just fine. I just think that this is the start of the rapid decline of the Macintosh as a tool for the professional graphics artist. I know that I’m not the first, and I also know that I am not the last.

More than that, I’ve been using a Windows machine at home for over 3 months now, which has been great, and am excited to start the new school year with a new classroom of Windows machines.  I think that all will be well, even though it’s going to take some time to teach this old dog some new tricks!

My classroom now - with brand new Dell workstation PCs and 4K monitors

My classroom now – with brand new Dell workstation PCs and 4K monitors

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