Why not the iMac

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time, but it has required a lot of thought. After my older computer’s latest death, I needed a new computer for some website work I was doing. For over a year I debated in my head if I wanted to buy a Mac or build my own computer, and I tried to get input from my wife as well. Over and over in my head it was the Mac vs. PC debate, but in my case it was really more about what Linux and Windows together can do versus what a Mac can do. The Mac I was most strongly considering was the iMac, mostly because the mini isn’t quite powerful enough and the Mac Pro is a bit above my price range.

I ended up building a computer myself, and overall I’m quite happy with the decision. I don’t have anything against the Mac, but it just wasn’t for me this time around. Here are a few reasons why not the iMac:

  • Cost. For the money of a 24″ iMac (I wanted the larger screen because anything smaller than 22″ felt really tiny after my dual 24″ setup at work) I found that I could get a pretty good system.
  • Building a computer is fun! I’ve built four computers myself now (and helped in the building of several others), and it has always been fun. I found myself window shopping quite a bit for computer parts, and building my own computer was a great release for that.
  • Customization. I find myself being picky about my computers sometimes. I like to choose a monitor and peripherals that fit me, and I didn’t feel that an iMac met my needs here.
  • Future Upgrades. I can open up my new computer and upgrade anything I want. That just doesn’t happen with an iMac.
  • Learning. This fits in with several of the above reasons, but I think it’s a reason in itself. By building my own computer, I learned a lot. By using Linux daily, I’m learning a lot, too. I already have a place to learn the Mac better (I have a Mac Pro at work), but most of my studies have involved Linux or other UNIX systems, so it has helped me a lot to play around with a real Linux system. I could have just virtualized Linux like I do at work, but I was ready to take off the training wheels and really use Linux almost full-time at home.
  • Free software upgrades. Note that this really only applies to the Linux side of things, not the Windows side (which is OK, since I’m using Linux 95% of the time). I love that I can get the new features of a new release of Ubuntu without any extra dollar cost. I also love many open source programs like the GIMP more than their paid alternatives. (Note: I’m not trying to hate on Photoshop, but the GIMP fits in much better with what I need it to do. Using the Mac version of the GIMP is just not fun.) There are plenty of free Mac programs, but almost everything is free on Linux.

If I had decided (and I was really close) to buy an iMac, I needed to justify it to myself. Here’s why the iMac:

  • Mac OS and Apple Software. This is a pretty big plus in my book. I like iPhoto and iMovie a lot compared to their Linux counterparts. I’ve found out that I have to deal with Vista a bit if I want to make a movie on my computer. The one drawback here is Finder. Just let it be known that I really don’t like Finder and all the Save dialogs in Mac OS – there are just too many ways to interface with it, and it’s really tricky to figure them all out. I’ll probably have it all figured out by the time they redo the interface. If iPhoto and iMovie updates were cheaper or free, I might have gone with the iMac.
  • Wife Acceptance Factor: I didn’t make this term up, but the iMac’s form factor fit really well into a family setting. The fact that everything is integrated means fewer cords, which is a big plus in this respect. I made my way around this one by getting a monitor with integrated everything and doing a better job of cord management up front.

In the end, I will say that the things I miss out on the most by not having a Mac at home is the software – particularly the iLife suite. iMovie and iPhoto are really easy-to-use applications, and that’s probably what I need. I’ve found myself using F-Spot on Linux, which is just OK, and Windows MovieMaker on Vista, which again, is OK. I like Vista quite a bit as a part-time operating system, but it’s way too annoying to use every day. If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Vista’s annoying UAC “are you sure you want to do that” dialogs, trust me, you’ll hate them if you ever meet them.

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