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Why I’m Buying Another Windows PC, And Not Converting To Mac

I had an interesting discussion on my Facebook page last week about this. Our current desktop PC is an aged Dell. I’ve tried this, that, everything and more to keep it running but Anno Domini is calling and it’s time to replace it. Given that I’ve had frustrations with Windows, I thought this might be the time when we’d have to consider an iMac, even though my beloved brother-in-law works for Microsoft and that would feel like a family betrayal. So as part of the research I borrowed a MacBook from a friend. I also downloaded the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 onto a spare laptop. I asked friends on Facebook for their opinions, and had constructive thoughts from people on both sides of the debate.

Before any of this, I had ruled out going over to Linux. I’ve had bad experiences of it, and if it sent me scurrying around Internet forums for hours trying to find solutions and spending more time than I’d like on the command line than in the GUI, then what would it be like for Debbie? A price of free, gratis and otherwise no charge is very attractive, but is sadly impractical.

Why, then, still come down in favour of Windows when so many can eloquently describe the superiority of Macs? Here are the reasons that led to my conclusion:

Macs may look very nice, but over a period of years I’m not going to be comforted by an attractive appearance when there’s a problem to solve. Yes, Rebekah our daughter loved the sight of the shiny MacBook and the way the keyboard lit up in dark conditions, but I need more.
Then there’s integration. Some of my friends need synchronisation with their iPhones and iPads. I possess neither. My smartphone runs Android, and my contract is coming to an end in the next few weeks, but I just can’t afford iPhone prices. The only way I could afford one would be an old iPhone 3GS, and that would be no better than my existing HTC Desire. So I’ll be sticking with Android, and that’s not compatible with Macs, whereas it is with Windows.

An advantage of the Mac is the possibility of running both Apple’s OS X operating system and Windows. There is a variety of ways that can be used. However, the spec level we could have afforded in an iMac, while fine for running Mac software (which has a lower RAM footprint), would be no better than what we currently crawl along in for Windows programs. Hence a Mac would be little use for keeping some essential Windows apps. The spec would likely mean a complete conversion to Mac, and that would mean further expense. Had our budget been larger, this would have been a strong argument for change.

What about the learning curve? I picked up the bare essentials of OS X from an hour’s tutorial by my friend Richard, who loaned us the MacBook. I ran into trouble after a couple of days, when a utility refused to allow me to shut down the computer. Fortunately, after a couple of emails I learned about Apple’s ‘Force Quit’ application, which is much neater than holding down Ctrl-Shift-Esc to bring up the Task Manager in Windows. Overall, one friend who is experienced in using both systems and who for work reasons has had to alternate between them estimated it took him between three and six months to adjust to the change each time, and he is computer literate. Debbie, my wife, was just too daunted by that time scale, especially at a time when our children still consume much time in their dependence upon us. “Perhaps I’d be willing to consider a Mac next time,” she said.
So Windows it is, and I’m aware that what has gone above doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for it, more a case that our circumstances led us to this decision. Well indeed, there are certain Windows bugs that in time will infuriate us. However, one of our current limitations was that we were confined to 32-bit Windows 7, and that meant a much lower RAM limit than the 64-bit versions. Also, given the fact that I’m sure one of our problems has been an elderly hard drive slowing down, I’m going for a system that combines a 1 terabyte hard drive spinning at 7,200 rpm with a 120 GB solid state drive, with much faster performance. Furthermore, my early impressions of Windows 8 are good, even though there will be several new ways of working to learn with that.

What have I ordered? Essentially, I looked at PCs specified for gaming and photo and video editing, in order to have the sort of power that would last. One friend who makes particularly heavy duty use of computers (full-fat Photoshop, Indesign and the like) raved about a company called Cyberpower. I spent a lot of time trying out different configurations on their website. They have an amazing range of options and components, bigger, I think, than any other company whose website I’ve visited.

But in the end I couldn’t quite get the spec I wanted within our price range, and so I went to a company that keeps winning awards for its computers, namely Chillblast. Here, then, is an image of roughly what our new baby will look like:
I’ve tweaked the sound card and monitor, plus I’ve gone for an internal card reader so I can just take memory cards out of cameras rather than plug the cameras into the USB ports.

That’s our story, then, and I share it in case our experience is any help to you. How have you decided about computers? Why not share your stories briefly below?

Just one condition. As I said on Facebook, no fanboy stuff, please, from any party. Sensible, rational accounts would be much preferred!

Sabbatical, Day 56: Catching Up On Photography At Lee Abbey

I got back from Lee Abbey last night. As I expected, there was no Internet access, let alone wifi, for guests, but the place is as beautiful and spiritual as ever.

Setting off on Monday morning after the school run, the weather got progressively poorer the further west I drove. The most direct approach to Lynton and the Valley of the Rocks where Lee Abbey is situated requires slogging along the A39 and tackling two 25% (1 in 4 in old money) hills, one at Porlock, the other at Lynmouth. The latter is also combined with a hairpin bend. I chickened out, looking forward to a drive instead across the rugged beauty of Exmoor.

What a mistake. As the rain increased, I found myself driving through low cloud, in fog-like conditions. The 1 in 4s would have been less problematic!

After an initial welcome on Monday night (and my by now customary poor first night’s sleep – this time waking at 4 am and not slumbering again), the course kicked off on Tuesday morning. Our leader was Paul Judson, communications officer for Durham Diocese and editor of their online newspaper. A trained artist and photographer, he is ordained and married to a vicar. His theme, based on the Emmaus Road story, was ‘And their eyes were opened’. Each day, he took a theme from a Paul Gauguin painting and gave us just a few thoughts to set our fingers twitching on our shutters. 

So it was that on Tuesday I walked down from the back of Lee Abbey to the rocky cove at Lee Bay, shooting whatever I fancied, and inspired to look more closely at some features. I found some surprising features. 


Stones at Lee Bay

Here, for example, is a collection of stones I liked on the beach. I didn’t move them about or do anything fancy with filters either on the camera or in software, they just looked like this and I found the arrangement appealing. I hope you do, too.


Colourful branch washed up at Lee Bay

Colourful branch washed up at Lee Bay

And I liked the colours here, too. This branch and the green net appeared to have been washed up in the bay. What had made the wood go orange, I wondered? I’m sure there is a simple answer, but again, I have applied no digital trickery to the shot. This is more or less just how I saw it. 

But whatever I say about the lack of any software manipulation, I hit a severe problem that night when I reviewed my shots for the day on the laptop. A couple of marks that I could see in the viewfinder, and which I had thought were just dirt there, appeared in every photo. I didn’t have any blower, brush or lens cloth with me (and I knew it wasn’t a lens issue, because they appeared regardless of the lens I was using). I borrowed a blower and a brush from someone else the next day, but didn’t think I’d got rid of them. Someone else kindly offered to lend me his laptop that had the latest and greatest Photoshop CS4 on it.

I was rather nervous about playing with such high powered and exalted software, and explored other solutions – although I felt at one point like jacking in the course and coming home, because I thought all my pictures were going to be ruined. I thought that especially when I also noticed that shots from Rebekah’s birthday party last Saturday had also been afflicted. Debbie suggested on the phone that since that party had been at a pottery painting studio, maybe clay dust had got into the camera. That would have explained the difficulty in removing the dust, because it would have been more moist. Worse, given the lime component in clay, such dust could have been a nasty irritant inside the camera. The friend who loaned me the blower and brush found an advert in a magazine for Colchester Camera Repairs, and suggested I visit them on my return.

Meanwhile, leafing through my Nikon manual, I thought I had found a solution. I had never installed the accompanying Nikon Capture software. The manual said that if I took a reference shot of white in RAW format and took all other shots in RAW, then the software could compare the two and remove the blemishes. It wouldn’t solve Tuesday’s photos, which I had shot as JPGs, but I could prevent problems with future pictures. So I installed it onto the laptop from the CD. Problem: it needed to be version 4.3 or later, and Nikon had kindly only given me 4.2.

So I thought that on Wednesday, I would drive into Lynton with the laptop, install mobile broadband and download an update. Problem – big one: mobile broadband was so slow that the update would never have completely downloaded before my laptop battery would have expired. I gave up, and decided I’d download when I got home.

Meanwhile on Wednesday afternoon, Paul gave a lecture on using Photoshop. Now Photoshop is far too expensive for us, although we have Photoshop Elements 6 on the desktop here at home. I didn’t have the latter on my laptop for licensing reasons, but as Paul talked about the ‘clone tool’ that will take a colour from somewhere in a photo and apply it over something you want to remove, I wondered whether I had anything like that in any of the free or open source software I had put on the laptop.

Step forward to the rescue, The GIMP 2.6.4 and IrfanView 4.23! Both have such a tool. I removed the marks from all of Tuesday and last Saturday’s images. You wouldn’t know now they’ve had a problem. And although I said I hadn’t engaged in digital trickery for the photos above, both of them were doctored with The GIMP’s clone tool to remove two blemishes.

Maanwhile, none of Wednesday’s pics seemed to have the marks on them at all. So maybe my friend Sedge’s blower and brush had worked, after all.

More on Lee Abbey in tomorrow’s post.