How to Buy Your First Mac


So you’re tired of craptastic plastic, and you’re noticing more and more Windows people toting around shiny metal computers? Here’s what you need to know.

Update October 2013 – updated to include the current Apple laptop lineup.

Running Windows On Your Mac

If you’re reading this, you probably make a living working with Windows software, and you’re worried about how it’ll work.  Let’s get that out of the way right here and now with a quick demo video of VMware Fusion:

There’s two products available to help you run Windows in a window, VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop. Parallels is faster and has more recent DirectX support, so if you’re doing graphics-heavy BI stuff like GeoFlow, get Parallels.  They both work better than you’d expect – you can drag & drop files between OS’s, make the OS boundary disappear altogether, and launch apps across OS’s.

For years, virtualization got a bad rap because it was slower, but today that’s just not the case.  Today, I prefer doing my development and research work in virtual machines because:

  • Bad apps don’t take me down altogether – I deal with a lot of beta and third party software that just isn’t as reliable as it should be.  Now if I have to reboot the guest to install or fix something, I can keep working in email while the guest reboots.
  • It’s easy to deploy a new guest – when I want to play with a new 3rd party tool, I simply copy an existing virtual machine and install the app in the new copy.  If the app leaves a trail of garbage in SQL Server, it doesn’t bother me, because I delete the VM when I’m done testing.
  • It’s easy to work with old versions of SQL – I’ve got separate VMs with SQL Server 2000, 2005, 2008, 2008 R2, and 2012 so that I can test code and take screenshots.  If I need to test how something works between the two, like log shipping or mirroring, I can just boot up both VMs.
  • It’s easy to freeze VMs for demos – Some of my demos involve a SQL Server being set up a certain way, but during my demos, I have a tendency to go offtopic and change things.  Now, if I trash a demo VM during a presentation, I can just restore that one VM’s file from backup.  (More on OS X’s cool backups in a minute.)
  • x64 guests work like a champ – if you need to demo 64-bit VMs, virtualization on the Mac is way, way easier than hassling with running Windows Server on your desktop.

So now that we’re a little more comfortable with running Windows in a window, let’s talk about the hardware we’re going to buy.

The stickers are optional.
The stickers are optional.

This post isn’t about whether or not Apple products are overpriced, and I’m not going to discuss value here.  This is strictly focused on what you should buy and what you should skip.

How to Pick Your First Mac

If your computer never leaves the desk, get a Mac Mini.  It’s a tiny sub-$1000 computing appliance that performs well, is nearly silent, and works with your existing keyboard, monitor, and mouse.  Apple does sell a higher-powered desktop, the Mac Pro, but the cost is astronomical and you don’t need that kind of power unless you’re a graphics designer or video editing.

If you travel every now and then, I recommend the Macbook Pro Retina with the 13″ display and the 256GB SSD for $1,499. (Don’t bother with the processor upgrade.) If your photos, videos, and music add up to more than 100GB, consider upsizing the SSD. While you can indeed buy replacement SSDs from some vendors, this is a different form factor than typical SSDs – you can’t just grab one from Best Buy.

If you travel a lot (like 2 weeks or more per month), get a MacBook Air 13″. It’s not as fast as the Pro, but it’s still really fast, and the battery life is incredible – around 12 hours. You can just toss it in a bag without thinking because it’s so light and it’s built so well. The 13″ has a built-in SD card slot for instantly viewing photos from your camera, whereas the 11″ model doesn’t.

I would avoid buying an iMac for your first Mac.  I like these machines for specialized purposes, but not as entry-level machines.

If you buy either laptop, know that the memory is soldered in and you can’t upgrade it yourself later. I’d max out the memory during the purchase process.

Where to Buy Your Mac

Everything about the Mac experience is different – starting with the shopping.  Apple sets their prices the same across all retailers, but during promotions, retailers can throw in extras like an iPod or a case.  Forget price shopping – shop for add-ons.  Don’t choose stores based on service, either, because your service is handled by the Apple Store.

If you live near an Apple Store, you owe it to yourself to visit.  They’re a completely different shopping experience.  For the most part, employees know what they’re talking about, there’s zero pressure, and they really seem to care.  Spend five minutes talking to a big-box-store employee, then spend five minutes talking to an Apple Store employee, and you’ll appreciate the difference.

No matter where you buy your Mac, you can walk into an Apple Store with it and get help and warranty service.  Make an appointment online for the Genius Bar, Apple’s equivalent of a help desk, and show up with your computer on time.  Expect to wait – it’s pretty much like the doctor’s office.  (Another nice thing about the Mac Mini and the laptops is that you can just carry them right into the store – not easily doable with the iMac or Mac Pro, since those weigh more.)  A Genius will call your name, hook up your computer right there, and work with you to find out what’s going on.

The downside of buying a Mac through any retail store, Apple or otherwise, is that you can’t configure the hardware.  If you want more memory or more storage, you have to buy it online.  Normally I’m anal retentive about exactly how my hardware is configured, but it’s easy to add memory later, and Apple’s memory tends to be overpriced.  Therefore, for your first Mac, I’d recommend visiting an Apple Store to compare and contrast the different models and sizes.

What To Buy With Your Mac

Any big USB hard drive – Apple’s Time Machine is the coolest backup software on the planet, and it’s built right into OS X, the operating system for Macs.  Simply plug in any USB hard drive, and OS X will ask you if you’d like to use it for your backups.  Time Machine manages when the backups happen, and automatically keeps as much history as it possibly can given the hard drive size.  Apple also sells a wireless router called a Time Capsule that has a built-in hard drive.  It’s overpriced, but it’s brain-dead-simple.  If you don’t need a router, though, any USB hard drive will do.  Here’s what Time Machine looks like:

Even better, when it’s time to upgrade to a new Mac, just plug in your Time Machine disk.  OS X will bring over your settings, documents, and get this – your applications too.  Eat your heart out, Windows users.

Apple Magic Mouse – the entire surface of this mouse is a touchpad.  Once you use it, you won’t understand why other mice are so big, ugly, and awkward.  Power users, check out MagicPrefs to do all kinds of tasks without taking your hand off the mouse.

One to One – for $99 for one year, you can have as much personal time as you want with Mac experts at the Apple Store.  They help you get set up, teach you how to use Apple software like iMovie and iPhoto, and give you access to tutorial videos.  If you’re buying a Mac for a non-geek relative who lives near an Apple Store, One to One is the best tech support you could ever get.  I make my friends and family buy this, because it helps ’em get up to speed without calling me every weekend.

AppleCare – this is Apple’s extended warranty.  I get this because life happens.  Unlike some big-box-store programs, though, this doesn’t cover accidental damage like dropped laptops.

Things to avoid – MobileMe and iCloud synchronizes files, emails, and appointments across multiple Macs, iPhones, and iPads.  I haven’t had good luck with it, and there’s better tools out there. I highly recommend Dropbox.

Settings to Change

If you’re coming from a Windows world, some of the default Mac settings won’t make sense.  Click on the Apple at the top left of the screen, click System Preferences, and make a few tweaks to make your life easier.

Go into Expose & Spaces.  Whenever you move your mouse into a corner of the screen, Expose makes things happen automatically.  Mine are set like this:

  • Top Left – Application Windows (shows all windows from the one app you’re using now, so if you’ve got several Word docs open, you just see those)
  • Top Right – All Windows
  • Bottom Left – Start Screen Saver
  • Bottom Right – Dashboard

Then click the Show All button at the top, and you’ll be back to the main System Preferences window.  Click Displays, then click Arrangement.  You don’t have to change anything here, but if you ever do presentations with your Mac, you’ll want to remember this screen.  The box “Mirror Displays” is checked by default when you plug in a projector, and you need to uncheck that if you want to use PowerPoint’s presenter display on your Mac.  (You do.  It’s fabulous.)

Click Show All again, and click Keyboard, Keyboard Shortcuts.  At the bottom, change the Full Keyboard Access to say “All controls.”  Otherwise, when you tab through a menu, it’ll skip some controls.

Click Show All, then Trackpad.  Enable “Tap trackpad using two fingers for secondary click,” and that’ll give you the equivalent of a right-click on the touchpad just by using two fingers instead of one.  Us Windows folks love right-clicking.

The Built-In Applications from Apple

OS X includes a few applications that have some features you might not expect, and some you might want to avoid.

Mail and iCal – does what it says on the box, but frankly, it can’t hold a candle to the Exchange/Outlook combo in any category except speed.  It loads blazing fast, searches fast, and lets you down fast.  The calendar integration sucks, you can’t see your coworkers’ free/busy time, and address lookups aren’t all that good.  If you don’t use Exchange as a mail server, though, you’ll be satisfied with Mail.

iPhoto – plug in your camera, and the Mac vacuums your photo into this slick tool.  It automatically recognizes faces once you’ve named ’em the first time, recognizes places if your photos have geotags (like the ones embedded into iPhone photos), and can even upload your photos to Flickr or Facebook.  That last one doesn’t work too well in my opinion – I just want my entire photo library synced with Flickr or Facebook, but that’s not an option.  You have to specify which events you want uploaded.

DMGs – this isn’t an application per se, but DMG files are Disk iMaGes: packaged files that contain an equivalent of a filesystem, like an ISO file.  This is how Mac software makers distribute their stuff.  Double-click on the DMG, and your computer suddenly has another disk attached.  The software is on the disk.  Mac applications are different, too – they’re often just the one “file”.  Drag that file into your Applications folder, and presto, it’s installed.  Tired of it?  Just delete it.  Some vendors still distribute installers – particularly tools that need system integration or tools that install their own automatic updaters.  Here’s how DMGs work:

Quick Look – in Finder (the equivalent of Explorer), hit the space bar and you can preview any file.  Preview is such a lame word, too, because this thing is a monster – it instantaneously loads Excel files (complete with tabs), huge PDFs, movies, you name it.

iMovie, iDVD, iWeb – iDon’tUseThese, and iHaveNoIdeaIfThey’reAnyGood.

Applications That Just Work

Many of the tools you already use every day work fine on the Mac, including:

  • Chrome and Firefox – and every plugin I’ve ever used
  • Microsoft Office – you can open anybody’s Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Publisher files, but Access and PowerPivot users are out of luck.  You’ll need to run a Windows virtual machine for those – more on that below.  If you work for a big company that has a software agreement with Microsoft, go to your sysadmins and say, “Go to TechNet and download me a copy of Microsoft Office for the Mac.  Our Enterprise Agreement includes home use rights, and I just bought a Mac.  You can download the bits right now without paying anything.  Kthxbai.”  That Enterprise Agreement stuff may not be correct for your company, but just mentioning all these keywords makes it likely that they’ll take you seriously and go find out.
  • iTunes – love it or hate it, if you’ve got an iPod or iPhone, you’re already used to this.  The good news is that it’s way faster on Macs than Windows.
  • Remote Desktop – you can use Microsoft’s client, or CoRD.
  • Skype – and if you’re a serious video chatter, you might like the seamless FireWire camcorder integration.  I use a Canon ZR960 camcorder for my instant messaging & webcasts because the quality’s so much better than typical USB webcams.
  • WebEx – you can create and host meetings complete with audio & video.  Microsoft LiveMeeting, not so much.

Applications to Download First

Once you’ve taken the plunge, you’ll want to install software.  Here’s the software I use most often:

Edit files with Textmate – elegant text editor that hides all of its functionality in hotkeys and slideout menus.  Comes with all kinds of syntax highlighting and code formatting bundles that await your discovery and mastery.

Burn DVDs with Disco – if you work with Windows machines a lot, you probably need to burn CDs and DVDs from ISO files. Disco does that really well, and has brain-dead-simple usability.  I demonstrated it in the DMG video earlier in the post.

Note: Textmate and Disco all have wildly different user interfaces.  There’s no standard UI in the Mac world, but what I’ve found is that the very best applications have user interfaces that are perfect for the task at hand.  After using TextMate and Disco, every other editor and burner seems bloated and stupid.

Dropbox – sync your files through the cloud.  Dropbox installs as a service and creates a Dropbox folder in your home directory.  Anything you save in there is automatically uploaded to the cloud, and you can access it on any of your Dropbox-equipped devices – Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, Linux, etc.  You get 2GB of storage for free, and you can pay for more.  Some apps are Dropbox-enabled, so they know how to access files through it natively.  For example, the iPhone/iPad text editor Elements just creates an Elements folder in your dropbox, thereby giving you a text editor that always has access to all the same files, anywhere.  I don’t try to sync all my files – just docs for things I’m actively working on, plus my most frequently used presentations.

Cyberduck – FTP client that also handles Amazon S3, WebDAV, Google Docs, and more.

Flip4Mac WMV Player (free) – you know how you used to hate Quicktime movies whenever they popped up on your Windows machine? Yeah, about that – now you’re going to hate WMV movies. The free Flip4Mac WMV Player at least plays ’em, but they suck just like Quicktime movies suck on Windows machines.

Pro Tools to Get Later

Use strong passwords with 1Password – this app creates a toolbar button in your web browser, generates strong passwords for you, saves them, and synchronizes them across your Macs, iPhones, iPads, and even Windows machines.  I love having a different strong password for every web site, plus having access to all of them everywhere.  It’s not cheap, but the usability blows the doors off open source competitor Keepass.

Rate your music easier with I Love Stars – puts a little display in your tray, and you can rate music quickly.  I leave iTunes running with music all day long, and when it plays a song I love, I like to rate it.  I have a separate automatic playlist for highly rated music.

Record desktop movies with ScreenFlow – if you want to record tutorial videos showing how to do something like the one I did above, you can’t do it easier than with ScreenFlow.  Camtasia also has a Mac version.  Either way, host your videos at Vimeo, which allows you to upload high definition videos.

Who Would Go Through All This?

The easiest way to answer this is by naming some of the Microsoft SQL Server MVPs who’ve made the switch:

If you’ve got questions about what the switching experience is like, feel free to ask in the comments.

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53 Comments. Leave new

  • Having recently tried VM Ware Fusion (and owning a copy of Parallels) I can say that Parallels is significantly faster.

    I also use AppZapper to remove applications, just in case they leave garbage laying around on my system.

  • I bought the 17″ MBP about two years ago and love it. I’m beginning to realize that although it’s the most powerful and solid system I have ever owned, its just too big to lug-around. I use VMWare Fusion and have noticed it runs nearly as fast as a native environment. I also use Chrome almost exclusively for the speed (though it does crash on the rare occasion).

    +1 on maxing out ram – great suggestion!

    • You know, about the “most powerful and solid” thing, the engineering of Mac gear deserves to be mentioned. My Apple gear is always the most silent gear I’ve ever owned, and I’m anal about quiet PCs. I get frustrated when I hear other laptops revving up their fans to take off during meetings – it’s just distracting.

  • I’m another MVP who maes extensive use of Macs!

  • Whilst many Macs are brilliantly engineered, some Macs are substandard – steer clear of the (now thankfully rare) White MacBooks as the keyboard rest tends to break, they run hot, and can be noisy as a result. Having said that, I found that Apple is pretty good at replacing the broken keyboard rests.

    I’ve also had good experience with Apple replacing an obviously faulty (deformed but electrically sound) battery out of warranty. I can’t see any of the PC OEMs doing that – basically I paid for an expensive computer but the aftersales was good.

    Some Apple Store reps can be a bit smug though (thankfully, many more are great guys/gals).

    I’ve also considered buying macs from Apple’s Refurb store to save a few pennies, but not tried it yet.

  • Great article! As a mac user at home and windows user at work, I thought I’d add a few thoughts.

    Free screen recordings: Quicktime X includes a screen recorder that allows you to perform a screen recording. Then you can open the mov back up in quicktime x and edit it (simple edits like trimming).

    Screen zoom: While doing a presentation, I frequently want to zoom the screen for the people in the back. (like the windows magnifier) hold Command and scroll the mouse up (I may have had to enable this in accessibility options) and the whole screen zooms.

    Virtualization: I’ve used Sun’s (Oracle’s) VirtualBox as a free alternative to VMWare or Parallels with great success. It’s not as slick, but it’s cross-platform and free.

    I can’t agree more with how cool QuickLook is.

    Spotlight search (command-space or the blue magnifying glass top-right) searches your entire machine (but not the virtual machine disks).

    Screenshots: press command-shift-4 at any time and you can select a region of the screen to save as a PNG to your desktop. It’s the fastest way to grab a quick screenshot. command-shift-3 saves the whole desktop.

    iMovie is a great way to create home videos, but Apple recently crippled it so it doesn’t integrate as easily with iDVD, so sharing those movies with grandma is harder that it should be.

    Local web server: For a quick proof-of-concept website, I use MAMP. It’s just an application that you can start up when you need it. More applicable to open source web development, but it’s a nice tool to have.

    Thank you again for sharing. With the performance of virtual machines these days, the host operating system is becoming less important.

  • Brent, you’re not helping me here! Already leaning towards a mac when it comes time to replace my home computer. Guess I’ll file this article away for future reference.

  • In honor of the longstanding cultural bizarreness between Mac and Windows, here’s a link to a recent post by Raymond Chen:

  • Excellent blog Brent.

    How do you manage VPN access under the Mac world? My situation (probably similar to yours) is I have 2-6 active clients at any one time, each using different VPN products. I work remotely about 80% of the time. There are times when I have 3-4 different VPC images lying around, each configured to a specific clients requirements. Probably still need to take that approach with a Mac, too, huh?

    • Tom – great question. Some of my clients have web-based VPNs now that work fine with a Mac, and they’re my favorites, heh. For the rest, I have virtual machines set up with my most frequently used troubleshooting tools. (That’s the reason for the SQLNexus virtual machine in the demo video, by the way.)

    • Cisco IPSec, Windows PPTP and L2TP over IPSec are built-in to the lastest version of OS X. I’ve configured both sides of the connection for the first two and they are dead simple.

      5 years ago we were using a SonicWall VPN and I used Equinix’s VPN Tracker software to get our Macs hooked up. It’s been a looooong time since I’ve checked in on that software, and it’s not cheap, but if you make a lot of disparate VPN connections, it’s probably worth a try:

      If you’re looking for a desktop, I’d give more thought to the iMac over the Mini. For what you get, the prices are pretty good, and you get 4 ram slots for that 16GB of memory you crave. And the power of a Quad-core i5 means more vms running at once 🙂

      And the displays are breathtaking.

      I drank deep from the koolaid after the first intel macbook pro was announced. Since then I’ve had 2 MacBook Pros, 3 Mac Minis (they are just so darned useful. One sits under my TV) and I bought the i7 iMac last November as my full-time desktop.

      • Yeah man. I’ve got the VPN setup on my iPad and the cisco on my laptop. It’s the bomb. Great question, Tom.

    • FWIW, I use the Cisco VPN client for OSX (version 4.9.01)

  • I wonder what is the most convenient way to run systems other than Windows on Mac? Both Parallels and Fusion seem to be designed for Windows.
    I’m now using Oracle’s VirtualBox on Windows, would it be as good on Mac? Lets say, if I want to run Solaris or OpenBSD. No drag-n-drop or window integration needed of course, just windowed environment.

  • Really!!! I had already picked out a nice HP laptop that I wanted to get…low price…nice hardware…Windows 7…

    Man!!! Every time you write a post on “Apple ____” , you always pull me back to wanting an Apple…DAAAANNG IT!!!!

    Have you ever used Adobe’s product for “web meetings”? I see it being used at the customer site I work at now. I think it’s called Adobe Acrobat Connect…would image it has a high price tag.

  • Excellent writeup Brent, but WTF ARE YOU DOING RECOMMENDING FLIP4MAC WMV????

    VLC MAN! Plays everything, works on everything, and 85% of the time plays better than the original software.

    Here’s a link if anyone’s interested:

    • Ha! Well, I like VLC, but I haven’t been able to get it to play movies inside the browser, like Microsoft webcasts. Does that work for you?

      • Good point. I honestly don’t remember if that’s come up for me. Either I haven’t been watching WMVs in the browser, or they somehow play and I don’t notice they’re WMVs vs. FLVs. I only use Firefox and Chrome so they might have another way of playing them.

  • You mention multiple VMs, each with a different version of SQL Server installed. I can’t imagine this is accomplished by buying multiple copies of windows and installing each on its own VM, as that would get pricey very quickly. But how does windows validation work then? Do you just validate windows and then make multiple copies of the VM and M$ is none the wiser? Granted you can really only have 1 VM of it running at a time anyway, right?

    • Microsoft ignores him now because he works for (I mean with) Paul Randal 😉

      However, you can also get MSDN subscription (pricy) or TechNet subscription that gives you access to the software for “testing”. Then there’s the Enterprise License Agreements that can cover that as well, until you put it in production you don’t have to pay for it. The license keys or media you get with these subscriptions does not require activation.

    • Yeah, MVP awardees get MSDN subscriptions, so SQL Server is basically free. Plus, remember that even non-MVPs can buy SQL Server Developer Edition for something like $50 last time I looked.

  • iChat is most useful when you’ve started convincing your friends and family to switch to the Mac and they are requesting tech support.

    Have them fire up iChat with either their AIM or GMail account attached and sharing their screen becomes an amazingly simple affair.

  • I’m yet another SQL Server professional (alas, not an MVP) that made the switch to Mac but I’m running on slightly older gear so virtualisation can be a bit sluggish (I tried Parallels + Fusion). Instead, I dual boot into my Windows 7 dev environment using the built-in Bootcamp tool which works really well for me. I have no problem using Remote Desktop, VNC and the Cisco VPN client for remote working.

    Obviously it depends very much on what you’re doing with the machine other than SQL development but I get a lot of use out of having a UNIX shell to hand too. My machines are a few years old now but for anyone considering the switch I’d recommend the 13″ Macbook Pro or the 27″ iMac (the 2560 x 1440 display is superb).

  • What about the guest OS itself, is it only legal, let alone cost effective, to run multiple Win guests simultaneously if you have an MSDN subscription, or does one license allow for this since it’s only on one physical box? I didn’t think it did, but it would be nice.

  • I am loving the Mac Book Pro they issued me at work when I started at this new place a few months back.

    They gave me the choice and I figured I’d take the plunge. Haven’t regretted it since. The keyboard on the laptop isn’t as ergonomic for laptop use but it isn’t really a “laptop” as much as it is a notebook anyway.

    Fusion has handled all of my windows needs just fine. Evernote is a great tool on the Mac for my organization and note taking… I haven’t written a note in a meeting or during a call at work with a pen since my first week there. I have been able to search notes with ease and the performance is great on all uses. RDP windows are easy with the microsoft client to all of my windows boxes, etc.

    Seriously contemplating switching to all Mac at home, once I can afford the jump in price 😉

  • I ALMOST bought a Mac laptop for myself because of your positive posts on your experience but couldn’t get past the additional cost and the positive experience I’ve had with the Ubuntu Linux LTS distributions and VirtualBox. I bought the next best thing from a hardware perspective according to Consumer Reports, a Sony Vaio CW series laptop. Joe Webb’s and Cory Doctorow’s previous experience with Ubuntu also played into my thinking. I do wish I had seen Cory’s post before buying the Sony but life goes on.
    Hmmm, the fact that I have two daughter’s in college tends to factor into my spending too. The premium you pay for the Apple hardware is definitely evident in the thought that went into the hardware and software design. My wife and daughter’s love their Macs. If they’re happy, Dad is happy. The Airport Express I set up in their college residence was dead simple and it’s an amazingly small device. I am running Windows 7 Ultimate on my Sony and I have a TechNet Pro sub for the rest of the software. I run Ubuntu 10.4 LTS 64-bit on my home PC that I built back in 2008. Installed Ubuntu LTS 8.04 back then because Vista was too scary and cost too much. The upgrade to 10.4 LTS was seamless. I also have the netbook I won from Quest dual-booting Win7 and Ubuntu 10.4. Didn’t think I would have much use for a netbook but it’s sweet when you are traveling. Another excellent post as usual which has spurred me to get the VMs spun up on my Sony. I setup an Ubuntu one last night. See you in Seattle at the PASS Summit!

    • Hi, Ron! I tried to switch to Linux several times over the years but got frustrated every time. If you search for Linux on my blog, I’ve got some of the attempts (and my rants) documented. I hear it’s much easier to use and maintain now though. Out of curiosity, how do you do backups?

      • I have read your Linux posts.

        I think you would find that Ubuntu would not cause you so much grief. Like I said, the LONG TERM SUPPORT(LTS) versions are pretty stable. I did try Fedora also but I was always fixing something after every six month release.

        Backups now consist of dumping important stuff to a USB drive. A few years ago, I would have burned important stuff to a CD/DVD.

        I haven’t tried to find a Time Machine equivalent in Ubuntu. The machine has been very stable but I now have this nagging feeling I need to go find it.

        Thanks for the prompt.

  • I run Windows 7 directly on my Macbook Pro 2008 because the Mac OS is so, so, so horrible. It’s possibly the worst operating system that I’ve ever used (and I gave it a very fair chance).

    The biggest problem with running Windows in Fusion is that there is nothing you can do to stop the Mac OS from capturing certain key presses and getting in your way.

  • Thank you Sir (your singing to the choir).
    Now if we could only get David to come over to the dark side.
    Special thanks to Mr. Stein for motivating me to your stuff.

    • HA! Thanks, sir. Well, I don’t blame David for not taking the plunge yet – the gear’s kinda expensive relative to what you get, especially if you’re paying for it out of your own pocket. I got my first MBP from my company several years ago, and when I left that company, I knew I’d have to give up the Apple. My girlfriend pretended a friend of hers was buying one, and she wanted my advice on which one to get. I recommended the 15″, and she kept asking, “Is that the one you’d get for yourself, though? Wouldn’t you get the 17?” I had no idea she was buying ME one, heh. She gave me the 15″ one, and I fell out of my chair. It was WAY more money than I ever would have spent on myself!

  • Sweet, may the MBP and woman of surprise always be at your side.

  • Re: but I don’t bother with iChat because it only works with AOL and MobileMe users,

    iChat should also work with chat clients that support jabber. I had a jabber server installed locally to test with from, and iChat worked okay with that as the middleman. I also setup my parents a couple months ago to use iChat with some of their friends via their Google login, with Google basically acting as the jabber server for them.

    A bigger drawback to iChat is maybe that there’s no Windows iChat version, so another app has to be used anyway if talking to somebody on the Windows platform?

  • Howdy Brent,

    I’m contemplating buying a Mac Mini and would like to run some VMs on there. Ideally, I would like to be able to have a MS Clustering lab running on there. So, that would mean at least 4 VMs running simultaneously: an AD server, a SAN, and two cluster nodes.

    Would I be better off going for the server model since it has 4 cores versus the regular model which has only 2 cores. Or is the regular Mac Mini powerful enough to run all this?

    Also, I’m thinking about using Virtual Box. Have you have any more experience with that hypervisor?

    • Steven – Your biggest challenge will be a limited amount of memory. The Mac Mini only supports 8GB of memory, and as your lab needs grow, you won’t be able to support enough VMs without being absurdly aggressive with memory. If you’re purely doing an MS clustering lab, I’d recommend using Wintel hardware that can handle more memory.

      I don’t have any experience with VirtualBox, sorry.

  • Michael Dreyer
    October 26, 2011 3:31 pm

    For what it’s worth, I have just purchased a MacBook 13″ 2.7GHz i7 with a 500GB drive and 8GB RAM. I installed and configured VmWare Fusion 4.0.2 and set up a Windows 7 environment and installed SQL Server 2008 R2/BIDS. I allocated 3 GB to the virtual. I have downloaded and deployed the Adventure Works data warehouse and have used the cube browser and process function in BIDS. the response times have been better than my work issued windows laptop. This is due mostly to the encryption software my company has put on the drive, I suspect.

    I am only day 3 into my research and have not done anything too CPU/IO intensive. but so far I am really impressed. I have been a Wintel user since Windows 3, and now I am wondering what took so long to make the switch!

    I will make note of particular tasks and response times and follow up with an additional reply for those that may be interested.



  • Justin Sanchez
    January 18, 2012 4:29 am

    Great article. I agree with everything expect maybe that macs are a bit over priced. The only reason it seems that way is because most pcs are cheaper. But most are also just that, cheaper. Macs are known to be the most advanced, user friendly, long lasting computers you will ever purchase. Plus a Mac is more than just capable of basic computing. It excels in performance and user experience, so you never find yourself bored using one. And as a bonus, considering most viruses and hackers out there focus on pcs, you’re most probably bound to never, ever get a virus on a mac, I haven’t. So sure macs are expensive. But would you rather pay $1000 plus for a computer to last a lifetime, or a $500 pc that will require constant updates, fixes, manual checking, anti viruses, (some of these thing being costly on their own) and an eventual upgrade to a new one in a couple of years? The choice is yours. Just be aware that when you upgrade (yes, upgrade) to a Mac, you’re not just changing your computer, you’re changing your technology experience for life.

    P.S in case you’re say a windows fan, and you know your windows stuff inside an out, then windows is probably what you’ll be most familiar with and you should stick with it. I’m speaking from the point of view of a guy who used windows for 18+ years, and finally found apple to be what he was comfortable with, and can’t imagine computing any other better way. So no hard feelings just in case 🙂

  • You can add me as a switching on your list too Bren.

    Another piece of advise for Mac users: The Finder is a horrible, horrible file explorer. Fortunately, there is a killer alternative available: PathFinder. For 40 USD it is good value for money

  • I’m late to this party but add me to the list of SQL guys (not an MVP but an MCM / Consultant / Speaker). Just picked up the new one with the 2.6GHz processor and 1TB of flash storage (it’s too fast to call it an SSD). I am duly impressed. This posting and others like it are invaluable. I am trying out both Parallels and VMWare and unsure which way to go as there are things I like about both. So if anybody has thoughts on that I’d appreciate it.

  • I’m running an iMac for my home machine and still toying with the idea of switching my laptop to a Mac.

    My biggest gripe is office on the Mac, compared to office 2013 on my laptop its quite woeful. I do have the option of spinning up a vm, I just find it overkill for simply wanting to edit a word document.

    Does anyone else have issues with editing word documents in the office 2011?

    • Waylon – not Word, but I will say that Excel for the Mac sucks terribly. If I made a living with Excel, I’d stick with Windows.

      • Dunno hey, I find there is something funky with the cursor when editing text.

        I’ll click on a word and not be able to see where the cursor is.

        Just this morning I gave up on trying to reply to a comment in a word document. Click click, nothing…

        Maybe I’m just OSX inept 😉

  • A bigger drawback to iChat is maybe that there’s no Windows iChat version, so another app has to be used anyway if talking to somebody on the Windows platform?

  • RoyalTSX is a great tool to keep track of multiple RDP profiles, ssh, etc.


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