Monday, July 11, 2005


Apple, here I come

So I've decided. Sometime in the next couple of weeks I'm going to buy a PowerBook. My current computer is in serious need of an upgrade (the sad stats: 4 Gb hard drive, 64 Mb RAM, Windows 98 because the system can't even handle XP), and although I've always been a PC user, OS X is too enticing to resist any longer. Be gone, Blue Screen of Death! Hello, Tiger!

I admit I've had twinges of doubt, especially when I see PC laptops with the PowerBook's hardware specs for almost half the price. And I've also worried, as I'm sure every first time Mac buyer does, about compatibility issues with my files. One of the big things holding me back was the fact that I use a bibliographic software program called Citation, which has no Mac version. But from what I can tell, Macintosh even has that covered, thanks to VirtualPC. Apparently this program actually allows you to install and run Windows on your Mac, so that you can still run recalcitrant Windows holdouts like Citation. (By the way, does anyone out there actually have experience with this prorgam? All the reviews and screen shots I've seen look excellent. The only drawback seems to be that it slows down the system a bit, but I can't imagine that my dinky little Citation software will eat that much. Most of the reviews say that you only notice a difference if you try to run high-res video games and graphics software in VirtualPC, which I don't plan to do.)

The difficult decision has been deciding between a 12-inch and 15-inch Powerbook. I'm leaning pretty decisively towards the 15-inch because I use my current laptop more as a desktop replacement. I'm worried that the lower resolution of the 12-inch would strain my eyes, and looking at my dissertation all day is eye strain enough. So I think I'm going with the 15-inch, 1.5 Ghz processor, Combo Drive, 256 Mb RAM 512 MB RAM [oops! that makes a difference!], and 80 Gb hard drive (I get giddy when I type that; remember, I've been living with a computer that has less storage space than my MP3 player--four times less, in fact!)

Okay, all you Mac-users out there. I'm standing on the borders of Mordor, about to fling Windows into the abyss. Feel free to reassure me that this is the right thing to do, and please weigh in with any purchasing advice.

Collective Improvisation:
Get as much RAM as you can. 1G is enough for a start. Virtual PC is fine for all the things you could possibly do with it. I use it all the time. RAM intensive, hence my suggestion.

Welcome to Tiger. 

Posted by sepoy

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/11/2005 11:56:00 PM : Permalink  

I'd go with the 15". If you only buy a computer once in a blue moon, don't nickel and dime yourself into something you'll regret later.

And, speaking as an employee of a RAM manufacturer, I've got to agree on the RAM thing... my profit sharing depends on it :) 

Posted by Benjamin

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/12/2005 12:34:00 AM : Permalink  

Although I am new to this blog and my English isn't perfect...

I am studying history and have switched from Windows to Mac as well. All I can say: Don't worry, you'll love it!

Have you thought about using LaTeX? It's a scientific document-programming-language, although not as complicated as it sounds. It works perfectly well on Mac OS X (using TeXShop, BibDesk and i-installer). It's fast, free and easy to use (especially if you are familiar with things like HTML).

LaTeX includes BibTeX, a tool to manage your bibliography and I am sure there will be an export-option from Citation to BibTeX.

Good luck!  

Posted by martin

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/12/2005 04:22:00 AM : Permalink  

I just switched over from PC to Mac this spring, and have loved my PowerBook. I got the 12" and it's been perfectly fine for me. I couldn't afford to get the 15" but would've if I could've because this is also my desktop replacement. But now I'm happy to have the smaller one, because it's so much easier to move around. I figure if it gets to be too much strain on my eyes, I can always plug it into my old monitor, which I still have.

Getting RAM's a great suggestion, but get it after market, not from Apple. Much cheaper.

I've had no problem moving over most of my files--though that's a process still underway.

Congratulations on the switch! 

Posted by Scrivener

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/12/2005 10:10:00 AM : Permalink  

You will not regret getting something larger than a 12". You will also not regret getting oodles of RAM.

Have you thought about switching your citations to EndNote (available on the Mac), and going with an iBook instead?

If you're mainly doing word processing and internet stuff, the new iBooks are excellent, and quite a lot cheaper than the Powerbook. When I bought my iBook the salesman at the Apple Store told me that for my dissertating needs, the Powerbook was overkill.

Enjoy. Tiger is great. Very stable. 

Posted by Evan

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/12/2005 12:46:00 PM : Permalink  

Thanks for recommendations!

I did look at EndNote, but it would cost me about as much to buy it as it would to buy VirtualPC, and it allays my compatibility concerns more generally to know that I would have that. Plus I want to avoid a new learning curve for bibliographies as I near the end of the dissertation.

I had the sense that PowerBook might be a bit more than I need right now too, but I think within the next few years I'll want to be able to do photo and video editing, which the Powerbook seems better for. Plus, when I bought my current computer, I also did so on the assumption that I wouldn't need more than 4 GB of hard drive space and 64 MB to write papers--that was right before the digital music revolution arrived for good. I'm willing to pay a little more now in the hopes that I'll be a little better prepared for whatever's around the corner.

Thanks for the reassurance about the 15 inch screen. 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/12/2005 02:30:00 PM : Permalink  

Those are all good recomendations. Get the dvd writer if you can. The OSX dvd software is pretty cool--and they make great backup options too.

I switched right after jaguuar came out and have not really looked back. I have the 12" and love it, but I like the portability of the smaller size.

One other recomendation: pickup a screen protector. I didn't immediately, but now have one and really see a difference. I am sure there are a lot out there, but this is the one I have
Radtech . Makes it easy to clean the screen and just keeps the keyboard from smudging it.

Mac's rule. You will love it. Not having to restart every damn time something goes wrong is just one of the reasons I am happy.  

Posted by Streak

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/12/2005 03:03:00 PM : Permalink  

I have one of those Radtech screen protectors and it's a Good Thing, I think.

One advantage of Mac over PCs, based on conversations with friends much more knowledgeable than myself, is that the Mac laptop will in fact last you for a long time--it just doesn't get outdated in the same way PCs do. I'm hoping they're right on that score. I debated between a 15" iBook and a 12" PowerBook--the price difference was negligible--and decided to go with power for future expansion and portability over the smaller screen. 

Posted by Scrivener

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/12/2005 08:01:00 PM : Permalink  

I love my 15" powerbook with an undying passion. You will not regret it. 

Posted by bitchphd

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/13/2005 07:50:00 PM : Permalink  

I'm typing this on my 12" powerbook, which I originally bought just for taking notes in libraries on research trips, but ended up writing my 4th year thesis on. It was just so much nicer to write it in OS X than clunky old Windows, even though my PC was more powerful. I'll be using it for all my PhD work too, though it may need to be upgraded in a year or two.

I'm also an IT manager, and I fully agree that you'll want more RAM than 256 Mb. Buy as much as you can afford. I'm not sure about VirtualPC though - I have used it and it really is a resource hog (especially on the G4 that the Apple laptops use - though you may
not notice the difference compared with your old PC!). But more importantly you will eventually get tired of switching back and forth between OS X and VirtualPC whenever you need to look up a reference. Not only that, but it would also make integration with Word impossible. I can well understand wanting to keep Citation around as a safety net, but I think at some point you will stop needing it and you may then regret having spent so much on VirtualPC.
Endnote is pretty easy to use and academic pricing is available.

Having said all that, I was interested to read Martin's comments about LaTeX/TeXshop/Bibdesk, because I'm strongly considering writing with that instead of Word/Endnote. I used to use LaTeX in unix many years ago when I was a physics student, and it produces much better looking output, and as it is all plain text, doesn't have the potential for file corruption that Word documents have. I still haven't decided yet - very very few historians use LaTeX as far as I know and it might just be easier to go with the flow ... plus I may have forgotten too much LaTeX by this stage! (Although TeXshop eases the pain; it is very easy to use.) But it's nice to know I wouldn't be the only history student using it.


Posted by Brett Holman

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/15/2005 02:07:00 PM : Permalink  

Thanks for the additional encouragement and advice. I just realized that I mis-reported the amount of RAM on the model I'm looking at--it's 512 MB, not 256!

I may look into EndNote a bit more. But one problem would be figuring out how to convert the Citation files on the PC into a Mac version of EndNote; is that kind of conversion possible without having both the old and new program installed on the same machine? If it's just a matter of running the Citation file through an import filter, then it would probably work, but I'm not sure.

Another reason I'm so wary is that I tried importing my Citation database into an online RefWorks database program, which is provided by my university, and, despite promises from RefWorks' promotional literature that everything would go smoothly, it didn't. It's a tough call but one I should probably continue to think about. 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/15/2005 03:34:00 PM : Permalink  

Good news about the RAM, 512 Mb is good enough (it's what I have on mine) ... but 1 Gb would be nicer :)

You are right to be wary of the import/export functions ... they don't always work as they should. It's another reason why I hesitate in going to Bibdesk. But it looks like there are a couple of ways. The first way is to export from Citation into Endnote format . The second way is to import into Endnote using these import filters - these are Windows only, but you could download the demo version of Endnote for Windows onto your PC and try doing it there.
In fact, it would be worth trying all this with the Mac demo before buying the full version, that way you can't lose.

Of course, there's always the option of spending a day or two entering all of your old Citation references into Endnote by hand! :)

Good luck! 

Posted by Brett Holman

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/15/2005 10:22:00 PM : Permalink  

I have a 15 inch powerbook (and wrote my dissertation on its ancestor, a G3 Powerbook). It's a great machine, and you'll be happy with it.

A couple of notes:
1. To save money, get the minimum RAM configuration from Apple and then buy the largest RAM chip you can from an independent vendor (I use which has a lifetime guarantee). Apple overcharges for its RAM something chronic. OS X *loves* RAM, the more the better. It's very easy to install RAM in the machine: pop open a door on the underside and click it in).

2. I assume you're buying using the Education discount?

3. LaTex has a long learning curve. Stick with what you know.

4. Make sure that Citation works with VirtualPC--it should, but better safe than sorry.

5. Endnote is, in theory, a great piece of software. In practice, it's somewhat buggy.

6. What word-processing program are you using? 

Posted by David Silbey

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/16/2005 09:13:00 AM : Permalink  

Thanks for the advice, David and Brett.

I use Microsoft Word. [Runs away with tail between legs.] 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/16/2005 10:22:00 AM : Permalink  

You're welcome. No need to be ashamed about Microsoft Word. I used it to write a dissertation with a great deal of success, used it to revise the dissertation into a book, and am now using it to write the second book. It's got it's flaws, but I think it's still the best word-processor around. 

Posted by David

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 7/16/2005 10:40:00 AM : Permalink  

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