In 2008, despite my failing eyesight, my Windows laptop with ZoomText empowered me to operate my own software development business. I had partnered with Bob, a Mac user. We both had prior Unix experience. With Windows, Mac, and Unix covered, we were a cross-platform development powerhouse.
At a customer site, while Bob was doing a presentation on cache optimization, I mistakenly dumped a binary file in a console window, and my system speaker beeped for every unprintable character. At maximum volume. For thousands of characters. To silence the ensuing cacophony, I put the laptop to sleep by closing the lid.
“Get a Mac,” Bob said, eliciting a few chuckles from our clients.
I laughed along too. After all, the comment was intended as humor.
But there was a lot buried in those three words. Bob asserted that the Mac was a Utopian computing environment that solved everyone’s problems, and he presumed that moving from Windows to Mac would be easy.
I didn’t switch to Mac until years later. But recent discussion on AppleVis has prompted me to recall the story and share my memories. Here it is. Categorize it in the “for what it’s worth” bin.
Staying on Windows
I was not inclined to leave Windows anytime soon. When I sat at my Windows computer, I was in a comfortable environment. Outlook, Word, Excel, and Visual Studio were so familiar they felt like extensions of my fingertips. I was at home.
But Windows also had its flaws. For brevity, I’ll limit my complaints to four.
- Boot slowed over time, and Windows lacked effective tools to improve it.
- Windows was lousy at managing multiple processes. Multicore CPUs made little difference in performance.
- Windows had serious problems waking from sleep mode.
- Many applications were inaccessible, including any software built with the Qt user interface toolkit.
I’m stopping there, but trust me. The list is long.
Despite its flaws, I stuck with Windows. We’d had fifteen years together. I knew that changing operating systems would simply swap problems I knew for problems I could only imagine.
Making the Switch
It wasn’t Bob’s teasing that moved me off Windows. It wasn’t the abysmal boot time, the poor multiprocess support, or the inconvenience of cycling power to get my computer out of sleep mode.
It was Microsoft.
By 2015, Microsoft had made it clear that Windows 7 would soon reach end-of-life. Everyone was being strong-armed to move to Windows 10. I even remember an update that inserted Windows 10 adware into the corner of my desktop, an annoying cattle prod that my residual vision couldn’t ignore. Microsoft forced me to leave Windows 7, and I resented them for it.
I only had one way to get back at Microsoft. If they were going to force me to pick a new OS, I would consider Linux and Mac along with Windows 10.
The improvements to Windows Narrator seemed promising. But upgrading to the latest JAWS would come with a price tag. And the more I tinkered with Windows 10, the more I felt lost in a sea of pointless changes. Plus, there was that whole resentment thing.
Linux was surprisingly usable and had made several accessibility improvements. But accessibility had enough gaps to leave me anxious, and the desktop had an awkward feel that I suspected I would never shake.
I had acquired a Mac Book Pro that I used for work-related tasks. Bob had showed me a few things that I liked, such as the Terminal access to the Darwin shell and the built-in accessibility features.
Of the three, the Mac looked the most promising. I would try the Mac for my new home computer, and if it turned out to be a train wreck, I could always reconsider Linux or Windows 10.
You might wonder what it’s like, switching to a new computing environment. Let me describe my experience.
It reminded me of a recent visit to my dentist for root canal. The dentist seemed friendly enough, but within minutes he was jabbing needles into my gums and drilling past my sinuses and into my brain. And my personal comfort was the furthest thing from his mind.
I’m exagerating, of course. But not by much. As I switched back and forth between browsing the web on Windows 7 to find out how to browse the web on my Mac, that dentist’s chair started to look pretty comfortable. My neck and shoulders ached from using my residual vision to try to grasp the Mac desktop, and my fingers ached from performing strange new shortcuts that could only have been conceived by a psychopath.
I worked part-time when I made this transition. I don’t believe I could have done it while working full-time, or working towards a degree. My productivity dropped to zero. It was some time before I was comfortable, before I could sit at my new computer and simply use it without focusing on which keyboard shortcuts did what.
I want to be clear about this. The Mac wasn’t the problem. The difficulty came from leaving a comfortable and familiar computer and learning a new computer—any new computer. Forgetting everything you know about your home computer is disruptive. This is not a decision you make casually. It is a painful and time-consuming task.
Living with Mac
I never expected the Mac to be the perfect computing environment. But you know what? It’s surprisingly close.
Nonetheless, I told you what I disliked about Windows. Let me do the same for Mac.
- There are plenty of inaccessible apps, and I count MS Word among them, arguably the most popular computer application.
- Intentionally or unintentionally, MacOS updates break things, like the upgrades that broke my Cannon scanner, deleted all my Music library album art, and removed scheduled tasks from System Preferences.
- Some simple tasks are inexplicably slow, like the half-second delay between pressing Command+S and hearing the save dialog open. That small delay makes my modern Mac Mini feel like a Motorola 68000.
- Lack of open hardware. I ought to be able to upgrade the RAM or SSD myself.
Important note. I had to think to create this list. It was way easier to name things I disliked about Windows 7.
My Mac has become a warm blanket, a favorite pair of gloves. It is comfortable—just like my Windows system used to be. I still resent Microsoft for forcing me to switch. But I have to admit, things worked out okay.
Why Don't You Just Move to Windows?
Besides the excellent Apple product news and descriptions of new applications for both Mac and iPhone, AppleVis is the only place I know of where blind Apple users can discuss odd behavior, figure out whether it’s a bug or not, and brainstorm workarounds.
But every once in a while, as we’re discussing Safari Not Responding, the latest text editing weirdness, or the crazy way VoiceOver focus jumps around, some well-meaning soul will ask, “Why don’t you just move to Windows?”
I know these people mean well. I bet they truly believe Windows never presents any accessibility hurdles. They’re confident that switching from Mac to Windows would be a trivial and pleasant experience. And, somehow, they have come to believe that maybe we’ve never heard of the most popular operating system on the planet.
I work hard to ignore their comments.
Hearing someone suggest I move to Windows takes me right back to that day in 2008 when Bob insulted me with his off-hand “Get a Mac” remark.
If we’re being honest, there is no one operating system that is objectively better than all others. Most users will find things to love or hate about any computer. And changing from one to another is a frustrating, tedious, and time-consuming challenge that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I’ve done it once, when Microsoft forced me to. I hope I never have to do it again.
I’m not naive enough to expect that I’ll post this blog, flowers will blossom, the sun will rise on a new day, and no one will ever suggest I change computers again. But maybe one person will think twice about casually suggesting a major disruption to everyone’s productivity. And if the comments devolve into a Mac versus PC war, I’m cool with that too.
I’ll close here and turn it over to you. The comments are open—Why don’t you just move to Windows?