Why a Mac?
It’s not a cult.
The first time I used a Mac was in the Fall of 1987. This was almost 20 years before the first iPhone hit Apple store shelves, and a long time before the days of sleek and beautiful MacBook Pros. The Mac was the first computer that I used to be productive. Before this, when sitting in front of a computer, I was greeted by a drab black screen with a command line waiting for an input. I played a lot of simple computer games that really weren’t all that great. At this time, I wasn’t the computer-savvy person that I later grew up to be. I was just a high school kid working on a school newspaper. Windows had debuted on PCs two years before this, but I had not seen it yet. My first encounter with a Windows PC happened about 4 years later. When I bought the first computer that I purchased by myself in early 1997, it was a Macintosh Performa 6360. Before I made that purchase, I contemplated buying a Windows PC. Apple was on the verge of going bankrupt at this time, but the return of Steve Jobs and the rebirth of Apple gave me new faith in the company. I chose a Mac instead of one of the many Windows PCs that I had to choose from. Since then, I have always chosen Apple computers over Windows PCs. Here’s why.
It’s about the user experience.
In my career as a systems engineer, I work with not only Macs, but servers, and networks. I work with a lot of non-Apple technologies, including Windows PCs, Windows-based servers, and Linux. I have long mastered the use of Windows PCs. I know my way around them. I can fix problems with them, and I can even advise F1 clients what Windows PC is best for their needs. For myself, I choose to use a Mac. Ease of use and the user experience are huge factors for me. The initial setup of a Mac is very simple. Just answer some prompts, fill in your Apple ID (or create one), login to your WiFi network, and you’re up and running. If you have already been using a Mac, your new Mac will provide you with an easy way to migrate your applications, data, and settings to your new Mac. Apple’s overall user experience philosophy is for the technology to get out of your way. Your Mac will nag you about things a lot less than a Windows PC will. macOS has a built-in notification system that produces subtle alerts. The really important alerts will remain persistent, but most macOS alerts can be easily swiped out of the way until you’re ready to deal with them. Apple has created a wonderful ecosystem around its products. iCloud binds them all together. My MacBook Pro and iMac unlock automatically while I am wearing my Apple Watch because all three are logged into my iCloud account. iCloud creates the trust relationship that makes it easy to unlock my Macs. iCloud Drive keeps my data in sync between all of my Apple devices. Should I need to erase and reinstall any of them, simply logging into my iCloud account will bring back all of the data. My web browser bookmarks, stored passwords, contacts, and other data and settings all stay securely synced. iCloud protects access to my data using 2-factor authentication so that anyone who steals my password will be locked out of my account. There is very little I have to do to keep all of this working. The Apple ecosystem provides a seamless user experience from Mac to iPad to iPhone. The Continuity feature allows me to start a document on one device, and immediately pick it up on another to keep working on it. When I return to the original device later, I find that the work I did on another device(s) is right there waiting for me. Universal Clipboard allows me to copy text on one device and paste it on another. This really comes in handy more than I thought it would.
It doesn’t crash.
Computers do crash sometimes. Anyone who says that they never have computer crashes is either a liar, or a Mac user. macOS is built on top of a strong foundation based on UNIX. UNIX has been powering workstations and servers for almost 50 years. It’s battle tested. It’s rock solid. Starting with the introduction of Mac OS X in March of 2001, Macs have been able to take advantage of features like memory protection and preemptive multi-tasking. These geeky sounding terms mean that no one application can take a whole Mac down, and macOS can control and manage application processes to prevent hardware conflicts. With each new version of macOS, there have been major improvements in resource management. Since macOS and iOS are the same operating system at their core, Macs, iPhones, and iPads all share these features. This translates into a better user experience, and less crashes, or no crashes at all. While working at a commercial printing company many years ago, my work computer was a Windows PC running Windows 2000. Out of all of the versions of Windows that I have worked with, Windows 2000 has been my favorite. It was very stable, and I almost never had problems with it. When my manager told me that I had to upgrade to Windows XP, I did so under protest. That upgrade ruined my PC. After a week of blue screens of death, and other nagging problems, I had to erase and reinstall to get my PC to work right. About a week later, I upgraded my iMac at home to Mac OS X 10.3 Panther. That upgrade was a smooth transition with absolutely no problems. Every major operating system upgrade on my Mac has been easy and painless. Back in the old days of what is now called the “classic” Mac OS, Macs could and often did crash or lockup frequently. If one app misbehaved, it took the whole system down. Mac OS X (now called macOS) did away with frequent crashes and lockups. The longest I have ever ran one of my Macs without rebooting was 98 days. Only when certain apps started acting up did I decide to reboot. macOS ran perfectly.
Security is important to me.
As more threats emerge, computer and device security become more important daily. Fortunately for Mac users, Apple has included several security features which should protect Mac users from most malware.
Starting with Mac OS X Snow Leopard, macOS has included a feature called XProtect. XProtect maintains a list of known malware that could potentially infect your Mac. XProtect updates itself every time your Mac checks for new Apple software updates. As long as you have your Mac setup to automatically check for updates, there is no need to do anything more. XProtect runs silently in the background. It will prevent known malicious apps from running on your Mac.
In 2015, Apple introduced System Integrity Protection (SIP). SIP protects system level components on the Mac from being altered, even by the root user. Malware may try to alter system level components on your Mac that could enable things like stealing your passwords, and sending your web data to a remote server. This malware could also allow a hacker to access your Mac’s built-in camera. System Integrity Protection prevents the alteration of the system components that allow malware to harm your Mac, and your security. If you try to alter something inside of the System folder on your Mac, you won’t be allowed. This is System Integrity Protection in action. Apple does give us the ability to turn off this feature if we need to do, but I advise against doing it. There are very few Mac users who should have a need to turn off SIP, even so-called “power users” and wannabe developers. Leave SIP turned on!
Since the release of macOS Mojave in September 2018, Apple has further improved the security of macOS requiring that users explicitly give their permission for apps to access the camera, microphone, Desktop, Documents, and Downloads folders. These prompts are a little annoying at first, but I’m glad Apple is taking security even more seriously. If you take a moment to properly respond to the prompts, you won’t see them pop up again, unless there has been a major change to the applications that asked for permission. macOS Catalina continued improving security by separating the operating system components from the user space. All Macs with macOS Catalina, and macOS Big Sur installed actually have two partitions on the main boot volume normally called “Macintosh HD”. To the user, the drive looks like one partition, but it is really two partitions that are configured to dynamically adjust their size based on applications installed, and what the user stores on the Mac. The system space cannot be modified by a user, or malware. It is always locked.
Starting with the iMac Pro, Macs have a security chip installed called the T2 chip. This chip keeps your data encrypted while your Mac is running, and it can prevent a thief from being able to use your Mac, even if they erase and reinstall the operating system. The T2 chip is tied to your iCloud account, which enables activation lock, the same as on your iPhone. The thief would need to know your iCloud account information to be able to reactivate the Mac for use. Mac users can go a step further by turning on FileVault. This built-in encryption tool uses Defense Department class encryption to protect the contents of your Mac. Your username and password are required to boot up your Mac, and its contents are always encrypted whether your Mac is powered on or not. Even removing the boot drive inside your Mac will not allow someone to access your data.
The security features in macOS run without any hit to system performance. For most users, the built-in security features are sufficient as long as they are not disabled. This is not to say that it is not useful to run 3rd party security software on your Mac. There is a category of malware known as “possibly unwanted programs” (PUPs). These are applications that get installed without the user’s knowledge, and it normally happens when we download “free” software. Most anti-malware solutions for Mac will detect and remove PUPs. A lot of Mac malware protection can cause system performance issues, so it’s important to find one that does not do this. F1 deploys SentinelOne on Macs that we manage for our clients. SentinelOne operates without any hit to system performance, and will only show itself when a threat is detected.
Finding quality, safe to use apps for Macs is easy. In early 2011, Apple debuted a built-in app store for macOS. Like the app store on iPhones and iPads, apps offered at the Mac app store are verified and approved by Apple. These apps are signed with a developer certificate, which identifies who the developer is. Your Mac will alert you if you attempt to launch an unsigned application. Unsigned apps may have been created by a malicious developer, or someone who does not care about quality, so you should always be careful with downloading and installing apps from third party developers who don’t sign their work. macOS has a built-in feature called Gatekeeper, which helps guard against malicious apps. Gatekeeper is setup by default to only allow apps that are from the Mac app store, or from known developers to run. There are many developers who release their apps through their own online stores instead of using the app store built into macOS. These online stores are generally safe, but you should research the apps before installing them.
There are no “low-end” Macs.
The price of Apple computers is often the number one reason why a lot of computer buyers don’t buy a Mac. There are a plethora of Windows PCs on the market from high-end (higher priced) to low-end models that cost just a few hundred dollars. While Apple does make lower cost computers such as the Mac mini, there really are no “low-end” Macs. All Macs are built from components and materials that are very high quality. Making low-end devices is not Apple’s strategy, and never has been. They choose instead to offer a premium experience. This premium experience comes from not just the hardware but from the software too. Since Apple makes both the hardware and the software, the two can work together to provide a seamless and easy user experience. All Macs have a solid quality look and feel to them. There are a lot of people who just want a computer that is adequate for their needs, but they often regret purchasing these low-end computers. The iMac on my desk at home is almost 4 years old. It works just as well today as the day I first removed it from the product box. It looks great, and it’s a joy to use. It was well worth the extra money. As with any computer purchase, it’s always best practice to figure out what you need before buying. “Normal” people won’t need a high-end MacBook Pro loaded with lots of memory and storage. A MacBook Air or Mac mini will work great for most people. These lower priced Macs are made from the same high quality components as a “high end” Mac, and they will last for many years.
It just works.
If you read any Apple focused blogs, you’ve probably seen that phrase written a lot. It’s true. Apple products just work. They’re easy to use and maintain. They’re a joy to use, and many of the features and services have become an important part of my daily routine.
When I write about Apple, it’s sometimes hard to be objective. For the most part, I love all of Apple’s products and services. I have had some things to complain about though. Apple does sometimes launch products with confounding and annoying quirks. I always point out the flaws. Both Steve Jobs and Tim Cook have received angry emails from me. I received a few responses from Steve. Tim, I’m still waiting on a response!