Monday, July 18, 2011

Lenovo A700 vs. iMac - update

Lenovo A700 with Windows 7 and OS X


iMac with OS X and Windows 7

So.... the funny thing is that after all my gloating in a previous post about the Lenovo A700 i5 (two physical cores and two logical cores) and how I got OS X to run on a Windows machine, and how the Windows machine is superior and costs one half the price of the iMac, even I find it hard to believe that I went back to Fry's and traded the Lenovo for a iMac 27 inch with an i5 quad-core processor. Yeah, and I had to cough up another $600 or $700 for it, too.

Why did I do it, you ask?

Well, I decided in the long run, after experimenting with trying to run a bootleg copy of OS X on a Windows machine as a virtual machine under VMware, that the whole thing was too unstable -- a kludge. Not to mention that it's illegal, and difficult to update OS X as new software upgrades come out. It was much more easy, sensible and stable to do essentially what I had done with my Mac Mini, which is to simultaneously run Windows 7 and OS X using VMware Fusion (or Parallels) and do that on a larger Mac for my main computer.

I know it's kind of like heresy, coming from someone who has written 20 books about Windows and its various incarnations over 20 or so years (probably 25 years), and thumbed his nose at Apple fanboi's, but the upshot is that the pricey Apple machines are made very well and the host operating system knows what it should expect as far as hardware goes.

Windows is amazing in that it can run on tens of thousands of combinations of hardware. OS X could never do that, so that is one of the strengths of Windows — you can run it on many many different kinds of PCs, out of the box. There are a gazillion drivers built into Windows, and the installer sniffs around and discovers what you have in your PC box and does a credible job of installing and working. But it's also its weakness: With unexpected hardware changes and so many outboard devices and variations of internal busses, graphics boards, power supplies, BIOS chips, motherboard chipsets, drives, etc, the operating system can still fail to boot, shut down properly, can give you blue screens of death, etc. You can pretty easily install a driver that crashes the system. Also, Windows is the target of many more viruses, ad-ware, and malware. Not that it's more vulnerable to hackers, per se, it's just that hackers go for the biggest target possible, and so they write viruses and malware aimed at PCs.

By contrast, by running Windows under OS X and having OS X be the host operating system, the basic computer is more stable. And VMware or Parallels virtualizes all the hardware, so that further protects the host operating system from crashing. Speed tests show that unlike the pre-Intel days with Macs, Windows runs very fast under virtualization.

Add to this that the 27" screen is probably twice the quality of the one on the Lenovo. It has LED backlighting instead of edge lighting, is bigger, has higher resolution, and it looks amazingly clear and gorgeous. It was hard to give up the Lenovo's touch feature, it's true. But I tested out the Apple Magic Pad, and it's almost as good. It beats the Apple Magic Mouse by a country mile. Furthermore, you don't have to lift up your arm and aim your finger at a spot on the screen, nor wipe off fingerprints every half hour of use.

So in the end, it's turning out that my favorite Windows machines are Macintoshes. How weird is that? I still use an ergonomic Microsoft wireless keyboard with a number-pad, wrist rest, etc., and remap a few keys using the Mac system prefs and remapkey.exe (part of the Windows 2003 Resource Kit), because I hate having the Caps Lock key to the left of the A key. So that takes a little doing. I want Alt in the lower left corner, Ctrl to the left of A (like on a real old-fashioned terminal) and I hide Caps-Lock just to the left of the space bar. It gets a little kinky using two remapping utilities - one in OS X and one in Windows - but I'm getting used to it. Between Command, Option, Alt, Ctrl, and Caps-Lock, it's a kind of free-for-all down on that corner of the kbd. But I do it so that I can use my old, time-tested Word editing macros that are based on MicroPro's WordStar word processor program that I was born and raised on (I'm dating myself here). 

The icing on the cake is that by using one of the virtualization programs like Parallels and VMware I can run both the Mac programs of my choice (such as Final Cut Pro) and all my Windows apps simultaneously. I can cut, copy, and paste between them and switch between them effortlessly, so it's like having two computers in one.

The next dragon I have to slay, however, is importing everything from my existing desktop PC into the Parallels virtual machine on the Mac. Both Parallels and VMware Fusion offer utilities that will essentially suck up an entire PC -- including its documents, settings, applications and so forth, and create a virtual machine that is one gigantic file that includes all that stuff from your old computer. Then you import the virtual machine into the destination Macintosh under OS X via VMware, Parallels, or Virtual Box and then you've got your old computer inside your new computer. You don't have to install all of your applications and create all your settings again which could take a week, for most mortals. In theory, great. We'll see how well it works in reality.

There are so many potential gotchas to this scenario that I can't even begin to list them all. I have so many external and internal hard drives on my old computer and all kinds of stuff like video capture, scanners, printers and mirror drives hanging off of it, and two operating systems (there is a dual boot system of Windows XP and Windows 7 on the machine), and all kinds of other stuff like registry hacks that have happened over the years, that I may be shooting myself in the foot by importing kind of an old, war-torn version of Windows 7 rather than starting from scratch as many people would advise. Still, I am curious to see how well the process will work.

Actually, I tried this import approach last year when I bought my Mac Mini. I wanted to import through VMware Fusion a pre-existing HP tablet laptop running 64-bit Windows Vista. It took the better part of a day, connected over Wi-Fi or USB as I recall, and in the and the system failed to boot. It was a mess. I tried several times, and it never did work. I had to install the Win OS fresh. (Probably wiser, because I used Win 7 instead of Vista.) But that import was done using Fusion 2 Converter, and I'll try Parallels 6 Transporter this time.

- Posted by dictation into Dragon on iPad, then using BlogPress from my iPad

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