These days, a key attraction of the Mac—at least as far as switchers are concerned—is security. Viruses and spyware are almost nonexistent on the Mac. (Even Microsoft Word macro viruses don’t run in OS X.) For many people, that’s a good enough reason to move to OS X right there.
Apple no longer refers to its computer operating system as Mac OS X. Now it’s just “OS X,” without the “Mac.” Why? Apple says it’s to match up better with iOS, its operating system for the iPhone and iPad.
Along the same lines, Mail, Mac OS X’s built-in email program, deals surprisingly well with spam, the unsolicited junk email that’s become the scourge of the Internet.
If you ask average people why the Mac isn’t overrun by viruses and spyware, as Windows is, they’ll probably tell you, “Because the Mac’s market share is too small for the bad guys to write for.”
That may be true (although 80 million machines isn’t too shabby, as targets go). But there’s another reason, too: OS X is a relatively young operating system. It was created only in 2001, and with security in mind. (Contrast that with Windows, whose original versions were written before the Internet even existed.) OS X’s built-in firewall makes it virtually impossible for hackers to break into your Mac, and the system insists on getting your permission before anything gets installed. Nothing can slip in behind your back.
But freedom from gunkware and viruses is only one big-ticket item. Here are a few other joys of becoming a Mac fan:
Stability. Underneath the Mac’s shimmering, translucent desktop is Unix, the industrial strength, rock-solid OS that drives many a Web site and a university. It’s not new by any means; in fact, it’s decades old, and has been polished by generations of programmers. That’s precisely why former Apple CEO Steve Jobs and his team chose it as the basis for the NeXT operating system, which Jobs worked on during his 12 years away from Apple and which Apple bought in 1997 to turn into Mac OS X.
No nagging. OS X isn’t copy-protected. It’s free, too. You can install it on as many Macs as your family owns. When you buy a new Mac, you’re never, ever asked to type in a code off a sticker. Nor must you “register,” “activate,” sign up for “.NET Passport,” or endure any other friendly suggestions unrelated to your work. And you won’t find any cheesy software demos from other companies clogging up your desktop when you buy a new Mac, either. In short, OS X leaves you alone.
Great software. OS X comes with several dozen useful programs, from Mail (for email) to a 3-D, voice-activated Chess program. The most famous programs, though, are the famous Apple “iApps”: iTunes for working with audio files, iMovie for editing video, iPhoto for managing your digital photos, GarageBand for creating and editing digital music, and so on. You also get Messages (a Yahoo-, AOL-, Jabber-, and Google Talk-compatible instant messaging program that also offers videoconferencing) and Calendar, a calendar program, plus iPaddish apps like Maps and iBooks.
Simpler everything. Most applications on the Mac show up as a single icon. All the support files are hidden away inside, where you don’t have to look at them. There’s no Add/Remove Programs program on the Macintosh; in general, you can remove a program from your Mac simply by dragging that one application icon to the Trash, without having to worry that you’re leaving scraps behind.
Desktop features. OS X offers a long list of useful desktop features that will be new to you, the Windows refugee.
For example, spring-loaded folders let you drag an icon into a folder within a folder within a folder with a single drag, without leaving a wake of open windows. An optional second line under an icon’s name tells you how many items are in a folder, what the dimensions of a graphic are, and so on. And there’s a useful column view, which lets you view the contents of many nested folders at a glance. (You can think of it as a horizontal version of Windows Explorer’s folder tree.)
When your screen gets cluttered with windows, you can temporarily hide all of them with a single keystroke. If you want to see all the windows on your screen without any of them overlapping, OS X’s Mission Control feature is your best friend (Launchpad).
A speedy, system-wide Find command called Spotlight is accessible from any program. It searches not only the names of your files and folders, but also the words inside your documents, and can even search your email, calendar, address book, Web bookmarks, and about 100 other kinds of data, all at once.
Finally, OS X offers the Dashboard (something like the widgets in Windows Vista and Windows 7). It lets you summon dozens of miniprograms—a calculator, weather forecaster, dictionary, and so on—with a single keystroke, and dismiss them just as easily. You can download thousands more of these so-called widgets from the Internet, making it even easier to find TV listings, Google search results, local movie showtimes, and more, no matter what program you’re using at the moment.
Advanced graphics. Mac programmers get excited about the set of advanced graphics technologies called Quartz (for two-dimensional graphics) and OpenGL (for three-dimensional graphics). For the rest of us, these technologies translate into a beautiful, translucent look for the desktop, smooth-looking (antialiased) onscreen lettering, and the ability to turn any document on the screen into an Adobe Acrobat (PDF) file. And then there are the slick animations that permeate every aspect of OS X: the rotating-cube effect when you switch from one logged-in person to another, the “genie” effect when you minimize a window to the Dock, and so on.
Advanced networking. When it comes to hooking up your computer to others, including those on the Internet, few operating systems can touch OS X. It offers advanced features like multihoming, which lets your laptop switch automatically from its cable modem settings to its wireless or dial-up modem settings when you take it on the road.
If you’re not so much a switcher as an adder (you’re getting a Mac but keeping the PC around), you’ll be happy to hear that Macs and Windows PCs can “see” each other on a network automatically, too. As a result, you can open, copy, and work on files on both types of machines as though the religious war between Macs and PCs had never even existed.
Voice control, keyboard control. You can operate almost every aspect of every program entirely from the keyboard—or even by voice. These are terrific timesavers for efficiency freaks. In fact, the Mac can also read aloud any text in any program, including Web pages, email, your novel, you name it.
Full buzzword compliance. You can’t read an article about OS X without hearing certain technical buzzwords that were once exclusively the domain of computer engineers: preemptive multitasking, multithreading, symmetrical multiprocessing, dynamic memory allocation, and memory protection, for example.
What it all adds up to is that OS X is very stable, that a crashing program can’t crash the whole machine, that the Macintosh can exploit multiple processors, and that the Mac can easily do more than one thing at once—downloading files, playing music, and opening a program, for example—all simultaneously.
A command-line interface. In general, Apple has completely hidden from you every trace of the Unix operating system that lurks beneath OS X’s beautiful skin. For the benefit of programmers and other technically oriented fans, however, Apple left uncovered a tiny passageway into that far more complex realm: Terminal, a program in your Applications→Utilities folder.
If the idea of an all-text operating system gets you going, you can capitalize on the command-line interface of OS X by typing out commands in the Terminal window, which the Mac executes instantly and efficiently. Think DOS prompt, just faster and more useful. (Curious? There’s a free online PDF appendix to this book—called “Terminal Crash Course”—waiting for you. It’s on this book’s “Missing CD” at www.missingmanuals.com.)