What I Learned Moving to a Mac

By Adena Schutzberg

Back in March I was ready for a new computer. The decision of what to purchase was purely mine, as I run a consulting firm and select and fund nearly all my own equipment. After some months of hemming and hawing and discussing it with tech and non-tech friends, I bought a MacBook. I didn't think this was a momentous decision. I'd worked with plenty of colleagues who were on Macs and except for an occasional "slip" in the flow of word processing documents, I never gave it a second thought that their operating system was different from mine. That gave me the confidence that I could do all that I needed to do with this new hardware and operating system.

What I've realized three months on is that a huge percentage of what I do is in the cloud. Cloud computing refers to services and storage provided for fee or free by third parties via the Internet. (InformationWeek offers a good primer.) So, as long as there's a Mac way to tap into the cloud (which for me is nearly always via a browser), I'm covered.

I suspect much of what I do is what you do, just in different proportions. When I think through how I spend my time (for all my clients, including Directions Media and Penn State University among others), it breaks down something like this:
  • write/edit articles in word processor (part cloud) - 20%
  • search/read news/blogs in browser (cloud) - 30%
  • write blog (cloud) - 10%
  • communicate via e-mail/Web comments/IM/phone (part cloud) - 15%
  • create/edit audio/video/graphics (part cloud) - 10%
  • manage publication (cloud) - 5%
  • use desktop GIS (Windows required) - 10%
Something like 70% or 80% of what I do every day is based in services hosted on the Internet. These are some services I use:
  • Writely (Google Apps)
  • Various Web search tools (mostly Google)
  • Serendipity (open source blogging platform, hosted by Directions Media)
  • Angel (Penn State's course management system)
  • Drupal (open source content management system [CMS] used Penn State World Campus GIS program)
  • Yahoo Messenger
  • GMail
  • Jing
  • Directions Media custom-built CMS (MySQL core)
There was but one thing to tie me to a specific operating system: doing GIS. I "do" GIS far less than most readers, I suspect. I run various packages for my course at Penn State. The program in which I teach requires students, and thus faculty, to run Windows XP SP2 (for now). To support that work, I bought a refurbished Dell desktop for $400. It was having that "second machine" that helped solidify my use of Google Docs. All my "school stuff" is done there, ensuring that I have everything I might need when I travel with my Mac.

What about "adjusting" to the Mac? Was it hard? No. It took just about a week to find/buy/download/install all the needed software. I bought just one package: Apple's iWork, a suite to provide all the "office" apps I'd need. To date, recipients note a perfect record in reading documents I've exported out to Word, Excel and other formats. The only glitch so far? Working out the kinks when I convert a presentation to PowerPoint; sometimes the images disappear! Everything else has been "easy peasy." I was happy to find that our preferred audio editor, open source Audacity, has an install for the Mac, as do Yahoo Messenger and Jing (I wrote about this image/video capture tool last year). I could not find my favorite FTP program and switched to Cyberduck, nor my preferred HTML editor, which I've replaced with Taco. Oh, and I dropped my anti-virus software, as most agree it's not needed for MacOS.

What's the single best thing about my new machine? Instant on. A very quick boot and almost no time to wake from sleep continue to make me smile three month later.

What's the real revelation here? It's not really news, though I was sort of surprised to hear tech journalist Leo Laporte state it, perhaps for the umpteenth time, on TWIT (This Week in Tech, a podcast) this week. "The Internet is the next killer app." It certainly is for me.

What this all means, I think, is that, save those who "do" desktop GIS 40 hours per week, most of us in the geocommunity will be living in the cloud more and more in the coming months and years. And what of those "desktop GISers"? Are their ranks growing? I suspect their numbers are going down, as more power, more data and more tools appear in the cloud and thus on tablets, ultraportables, phones and Macs.

Published Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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