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My Dad, the Switcher: Day Zero

Robert Palmer

This is the first part of an occasional series about my Dad, who, as a long-time Windows user, decided to switch to the Mac. If you're interested in the whole story, more installments are here.

As far as database management and Windows programming is concerned, my dad is what you'd call "hard-core." He's been writing software since the 1960s, starting at Honeywell, then Hewlett Packard, eventually starting his own business. He is an expert with the HP 3000 minicomputer, which, in its day, was heavy computing iron to have lying around.

So it came as a bit of a shock when he called last week and said, "I'm ready to buy a Mac."

He and I are working on a web development project together using open-source tools. Because his workstation is set up for the Microsoft world of SQL Server and .NET, installing XAMPP was wreaking havoc with his complicated array of security software, including Norton and BitDefender. He wanted to start fresh, and work on a system without having to worry about something randomly disallowing access to port 3306. Understandable.

My first reaction was to talk him out of it, actually. He's been using Windows since Windows/286. I knew the transition would be difficult and frustrating, lighting a fuse I'm all too familiar with. Knowing I would be the one to handhold him through switching, I tried to convince him that installing Linux on an old PC would be less expensive than buying a new Mac. He knew it would be less expensive, yes, but more complicated.

There was another trait (that I inherited) I knew was behind his decision: He wanted a Mac because he's a gadget geek. He wanted one to have it and toy with it. The vast majority of his gadgets wind up unused after a month or two, so I figured hey, if he doesn't keep the Mac mini, I'll have myself a nice media center for the TV, right?

So, away I went to the Apple Store. I bought for him the lowest-end Mac mini available. It's going to do two things: Run Coda, and serve up web pages with MAMP. Plus, he wanted to hook it up via KVM to his PC's screen, keyboard and mouse. Good deal.

Computer in hand, I drove to my parents' house. Dad had already cleared a spot for the mini, and had the cables all ready to connect. (This is why I love my dad: if anything, he comes prepared.) I was ready with my best dog-and-pony show. I knew that if one thing went wrong -- no matter how minor, it would mean the years of ribbing for growing up as the only Mac user in the house would explode in a cataclysm of told-ya-sos.

The Mac mini, for its diminutive size, performed (as we all knew it would) flawlessly. We ran the setup utility, and connected a drive for Time Machine.

"We'll need to format the [Time Machine] drive first," he said.

"No, it will do that by itself," I replied, with a Cheshire Cat grin.

After a brief tour of the Mac folder structure and included applications, the first task he wanted me to do was install Firefox. So I started Safari, went to, and began to download it.

"You mean it's already connected to the Internet?" he asked.

"Yes," I said, confused. "Why wouldn't it be?"

"I thought you would have to set it up to work on our network."

"Oh." The Cheshire Cat grin. "No, it sets itself up automatically."

I had a fun little gotcha up my sleeve for installing Firefox. I made a big point of saying that he needed to pay careful attention when installing applications, because it's a little complicated, and different from Windows. I opened the Firefox disk image and said. "Okay. You ready? The first thing we have to do is copy the application to the Applications folder."

He studied the screen. "All right."

The file copied. "Okay! And we're done." I turned and looked at him, smiling.

"That's it?"

"That's it."

He swore, laughing.

We set up Coda, Transmit, and Versions all the same way, and got everything talking to the development server we're using. We set up the MySQL database. The first time we tested everything, it ran without a hitch, confirming that it was his security software causing problems on the Windows side.

Only about an hour had elapsed since I arrived. Dad was still in shock that it was that easy. "I was expecting some problems, but none showed up," he said. "It's beautiful."

As a Mac user, it's fun to introduce someone new to the platform, especially someone coming from a bad Windows experience. My dad has used a PC for 25 years. Within an hour, he was ready to move to the Mac.

It's difficult to say if he will, of course, as he has a fickle nature. But his mind is racing with all kinds of ideas, including learning how to write software for Mac, and for the iPhone. Hopefully he can serve as inspiration for other, deeply entrenched Windows users: it's easy to switch. Just give it a try.

I'll periodically keep you posted on his progress, and how the Mac mini works out for him. If he can do it, the Windows user in your life can too.

What happened next? Find out here.

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