My Mac Mini Impressions


This weekend, I finally found some time to unpack, setup, and use the Mac Mini that I had bought two weekends ago. Even though I am a long-time PC user and have barely dug into OS X, I have to say that I am very satisfied and impressed with the entire “Apple experience”. Well, I am not yet to the point of switching, but let’s just say that I am starting to understand the stereotypical “Machead” now that I am also a Mac user.


The Apple Store


Buying the Mac Mini felt like one of the most impulsive purchase I have ever made in my life. Usually, I like to dig around for information online, read comparative reviews, evaluate random user opinions, look at prices, evaluate my needs/fit, etc… mull over the decision over a period of time far longer than the average impulse… and then I make an informed purchase. Hey, I like making my own decisions, thank you very much… not whatever thoughts the advertisers plant in my mind through some information medium.


But, Apple is in an unique position in that some of those tasks are unnecessary – there are no comparisons, apple.com has all the info, and need/fit evaluation is really simple – if you want something of Apple, then there is only one place to get it. In my case, I got hooked on Mac OS X after briefly playing around with it a few months ago, and I did not want to wait for the Intel port scheduled for release next year… and having Virtual PC for Mac and Remote Desktop helps a whole lot in staying connected with my PCs. So, the purchase was pretty much a done deal when I walked into the Apple Store.


Instead, I decided to focus on the atmosphere and ambience of the Apple purchase experience. The Apple Store in Bellevue buzzed with traffic and excitement, and sales must be good. No, this was not the Best Buy/Circuit City sort of chaotic excitement… it was far more subdued and intimate. Tons of people milled into the store – parents looking to continue the Mac legacy, teenagers teeming over the iPods, college-bound students choosing between iBooks and iMacs… and who could miss the 30″ Apple Cinema LCD displays? The sales associates enthusiastically worked the demos and offered great advice on how to accomplish a variety of common user scenarios, keeping people informed and happy with their upcoming purchase. And as I wondered through the store displays, the thought that kept coming to mind was: “This is how computers should be acquired! Not merely as some generic business instrument to be bought, but as an experience of fulfilling a personal need.”  Unlike most of my gadget purchases, this one felt more like fulfilling a phenomenon and not a purchase. I still have no idea how Apple evoked this imagery for me, but kudos to them.


Unpacking the Mac Mini


Ok, you can laugh at me for taking digicam photos as I unpacked and set up the Mac Mini; I certainly never expected it to happen, but it did and I am not ashamed to say it. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I don’t know how to describe it, but the Mac just seems like it is a work of art done with a lot of care and pride, and it resonates with my stupidly sentimental side that wants to preserve and savor every moment. Call me crazy, but I love these little details…


It starts with the exterior box – I took a lot of care and peeled away the various stickers, tape, and seals from the exterior of the box such that I have the original box, pristine and unadulterated by the process of sales. I cringe at dented, scuffed, and otherwise blemished packaging… so even if it takes me some time, I will figure out how to open something without irrevocably damaging it in some way.


It continues with the box opening. Contrary to most products, which stick the business end of a “Quick Start” or other informative insert to greet you when opening a box, Apple simply had its software CDs inside a classic brushed steel colored folding container featuring the declaration “Designed by Apple in California”. It was so different and unexpected that it made me pause for a moment. Even though the words were simply printed and presented, the effect on me was equivalent to having received a personal hand-written note attached to a photo of the entire Mac Mini development team. The amount of pride and sentimental intent conveyed by those words moved me. Here I am, a customer merely opening up a product I had purchased, and instead of abruptly leaving me alone with a “Quick Start” insert, I get a reminder that I am unraveling a “work of art” designed and built by Apple.


Yeah, that experience completely colored the remainder of the Mac Mini unpacking.


I usually care about the internal packaging as well, and consistent with the “work of art” theme, I really appreciated the fact that all of the packaging sleeves with the Mac Mini are lightly adhesive and does not require any irrevocable ripping. I take a lot of care to preserve all packaging such that years down the line, I am still able to repack any item back in its original state when I first opened it. So, I really hate the cheaper packaging that requires me to cut/rip the plastic bags… and I took notice of the reusable and lightly adhesive wrapping used by Apple. I also keep track of all the twist-ties and rewind them in the exact same way they originally came in… yup, details…


Yes, I am surprised at how naturally the Mac Mini resonates with my sensibilities and the impressions it made. I really did not treat it like some gadget I purchased, but rather a work of art that I had the opportunity and privilege to enjoy. Strange, but true…


First Thoughts on Mac OS X


Ok, now that I have completely freaked out my regular PC-user readership, let me just say that I keep an open yet inquisitive mind that is willing to try new experiences. 🙂 Who knows, it could be enlightening!


I have not fully explored Mac OS X yet. But, the parts that I have encountered blew me away with amazement. The words I would use to describe the visual elements of Mac OS X would be “sexy and sophisticated with a cute edge.” It’s true; that’s exactly how it feels to me! 🙂



  • Icons will lightly bounce in the Dock as the application starts up or whenever it needs your attention. Windows uses a distracting and quickly annoying title flashing in the Task Bar. I just think it is cute for applications on the computer to visibly “bounce” and beckon for my attention. I actually look forward to giving it attention vs. the usual grumble when dealing with a flashing Windows Task Bar title.
  • Aqua makes blue fashionably cute yet sophisticated. The PushButtons even lightly pulsate when you hover the mouse over it, inviting action. The ProgressBar animation actually flows counter to the actual status progression, which makes it seem to complete faster. Matched against a light industrial steel background in the window, everything seems strong yet softly appealing
  • Expose – what an awesome concept for window/application management. I now love leaving my windows open… because I can quickly wonder over to a hot corner and trigger this visual re-location of the window of interest
  • By default the Mac Mini goes to “Sleep” after 10 minutes… after which its single solitary silver light smoothly pulses with a rhythm rather similar to calm breathing… so soothing.

The entire visual scheme of OS X just evokes in me a subtle sense of feminine sensibilities and softened care… yet reinforced along the industrial steel backdrop. I can directly contrast this against the plain, business-like, and sharp edges of Windows 2000 and the gaudy curves and colors of Windows XP. No contest. Visually, I find OS X very inviting and comforting, not to mention interesting.


Yes, I have had a lot of fun and learned a lot by going through the Apple experience.


Thanks, Jenn, for introducing the idea.


//David

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Comments (19)

  1. Rick says:

    Hee hee hee… welcome to the club. Give it time– you won’t want to use Windows anymore. It seems oddly garish.

    I still wonder exactly how Microsoft views its customers. Based on the quality of the work they do, it’s clear how Apple views theirs.

  2. winmac! says:

    Hey I went through the exact same experience few months ago. While I agree with most of what you said – it’s a richer experience working with Apple products – I also have to say MS products are technically more elegant than Apple. I don’t remember Windows Media Player for example taking 20% CPU time constantly – iTunes is horrible in that respect. Simple USB device plug and unplug might render MAC OS unusable, load / unload of network driver is guranteed to crash it (10.4.3) etc.

    But it’s worth living with these flaws for the rich experience. Windows doesn’t feel bad but certainly not the five star experience that Apple’s products are.

    Just my $0.02.

  3. David Betz says:

    I’m about to get a mini Mac myself. Not to replace Vista; nothing will replace Windows. But to compliment it (as is the purpose of technology anyhow). I plan on using it to offload some of my web design work to it.

    My dual-Opteron workstation will be for my WinFX development obviously.

  4. David Betz says:

    I have the same experience with Linux as winmac! does with the Mac OS. I haven’t gotten a Windows blue screen since…gosh…2000? It’s rock solid. Now and again I’ll install a driver written by a crackhead and something will go poof, but that’s a not a Windows BSOD. In Linux, you don’t get a blue screen (which gives you good information), but rather things DISAPPEAR. In Mandrake 10 you will be in something and have your e-mail totally written and FLOP. It disappears. No error. No crash. Nothing. It’s like you never openned the app. Um ok…

    It’s a shame no one has a the same quality standards Microsoft does. Perhaps others need to follow Microsoft’s dog food policy: Microsoft will use their software in PRODUCTION before the rest of the world touches it in BETA. They are THAT confident in their products. Given that Microsoft.com is running on Longhorn Server with no problems, you can see their Q/A power.

  5. winmac! says:

    David Betz : I am with you. Linux is an entirely different ball game altogether and it has it’s reasons behind it (Development model is one big reason). Although I haven’t got a Linux kernel crash anytime, as you said there is no guarantee on the applications part – I get crashes randomly.

    MS gets testing done very well on normal and not so normal use scenarios and has long had a good error reporting mechanism in place which takes care of the rest of the abnormalities. (Recent trends are a little different though.) The only thing I am scared of on Windows is that some random loophole will be exploited – it’s not exactly limited to Windows but due to being a target of so many hackers, I am worried – but so far so good!

  6. Weili Wang says:

    I’ve been a long-time Mac user and although I am no newbie to Windows PC, I am no expert either.

    Ever since with the release of Mac OS X, the Mac has been EXTREMELY stable. I use three different Macs, a PowerBook, a PowerMac and an iBook for both my business and home and I can’t even remember the last time any of them crashed. Whenever I use Windows though, I always run into problems.

    I believe the thing is, because I know Mac OS X MUCH better than I do Windows, I normally don’t do anything that would cause it to crash. This is probably the same reason why many, though not all, new Mac users, namely those who switched from Windows, assume that Macs are unstable and crash simply because they aren’t familiar with the system.

  7. Mart says:

    David,

    As a former "switcher" and now full-blown "mac head" I have to say, you have expressed perfectly what I’ve never been skilled enough to put in to words when I talk about the Mac difference. Well done! My first Mac was an iMac G4 – followed by a 15" Aluminum Powerbook. All I can say is, if you think the packaging on the Mini was nice, it’s a good thing you didn’t get one of those – you’d still be taking digicam pics 🙂 Rock on.

    Mart

  8. John Davies says:

    I just bought a mini for a project and you describe the experience perfectly. I now know why the artist community is so in love with Macs. Every detail is perfect.

    However, I’m a programmer. Unless they can match MSDN I’m going to do as little Mac development as possible.

  9. winmac! says:

    Weili Wang:

    Gone are the days when user was expected to know things in order to crash the OS (Write a faulty program for e.g. on DOS).

    Of course user actions should never cause an OS to crash or hang – this is just going backwards. OS X is not unstable at all when used for normal browsing purposes etc. But the fact that simple load and unload of unmodified, Apple written extensions using Apple provided tools for that purpose, could cause the OS to crash talks a lot. Running on so much speicific and limited hardware I would have expected OSX to be 10x more solid than Windows and Linux put together! It will probably get there but let’s see.

  10. Weili Wang says:

    winmac!:

    I’ve seen new computer users (be them Mac or Windows) who "accidently" deleted certain system files and wonder why their computers won’t reboot.

    Fact is, it’s is EXTREMELY easy to crash a computer, be it Mac or Windows, especially if you aren’t familiar with the system.

    Instead of blaming the system, many users should review what THEY are doing wrong first.

  11. Anders says:

    When i leave work i pull out the DVI.wire, network wire, and 2 USB- wires while the machine is running. I close the lid , put it into my bag and runt to the train. In the train i open it up, get a 15 sec Finder beachball when it looks for the network drive I so violently took away from it, but goes on just fine. I connect over bluetooth/gprs for some 20 minutes, until i get to my station. Close the lid, hurry to my car and get home. Often I have to open my computer at hom, it connects automatically to my wireless network and everything just keeps runing smoothly. This I have been doing for 4 years, practically everyday, never crashing, and hardly ever turning off my Powerbook.

    So how did you manage to get a USB related crash?

  12. David Wang says:

    Ok, here’s my 0.02…

    I think that at the core, Linux, OS X, and Windows XP are all pretty solid nowadays – way better than say five years ago or even two years ago for all respective OSes. This isn’t so say that any of them are perfect – they all have flaws in a variety of areas – and depending on whether your daily usage pattern hits those flaws, your views on the OS will differ.

    My gut feeling about the majority of declarations about how "my personal experience with OS Z is that it is bad/unstable because of blah, blah, blah" is that they are basically second-hand information. Why?

    Well, very few people come forward with a core dump of the segmentation fault or debug dump of the access violation causing the unexpected behavior and debugging it. And until that is done, fault simply cannot be correctly assigned. Debugging provides first-hand information of what actually happened; personal interpretations of what happened is basically second-hand influenced by personal perceptions, amongst others.

    At which point, we are just discussing personal opinions that can degrade… which I’d like to avoid.

    Incidentally, this is where Windows tends to get beat up by consumers because it supports orders of magnitude more devices, drivers, software, etc than any other OS, which combined with users having a hard time (or not even caring to) distinguishing between a failure in the OS vs a failure in the 3rd party device, driver, or software, Microsoft gets the bad rap.

    For example, 90%+ of "crashes/hangs in IIS" reported by customers, when investigated by Microsoft, are actually caused by 3rd party or even customer code. Raymond Chen also implied similar stats when it comes to device drivers and Windows BSOD.

    Coincidence? I think not. People can write bad code no matter the platform. It is th perception that differs.

    //David

  13. winmac! says:

    Anders:

    I mentioned in my earlier post how I manage to crash it by just unloading and loading the unmodified Apple kexts – For USB It’s easy – Unplug Maxtor drive and plug ipod. Machine goes crazy to the point starting applications is not possible. (Even terminal.app).

    It’s another matter that my USB enclosure with laptop hdd works very fine with Linux and Windows but not with MAC OS X.

    But I am fine with that I _am_ addicted to Apple h/w and MAC OS X. I was just highlighting the fact that technically speaking Windows and Linux are two damn good OSes which work well with nearly all the hardware you throw at them (well not Linux but it still has fairly good device support).

    David Wang – Good post, I submitted bug reports for all the problems I faced with OS Z with the appropriate people 🙂

  14. Matt says:

    Care to post those packing images.  I would like to repack my mac mini and it is like a puzzle game that I really just want to have the solution to.

  15. David.Wang says:

    Matt – Sure, no problem. Now that I have some storage space for photos with the MSDN blog, I can link them together.

    //David

  16. David.Wang says:

    Matt – ok, I linked in the picture which most explicitly shows what was where, how it was tied together, and the packing wrap (if you still have it) should be obvious from the geometry.

    //David

  17. Gene Kriegsmann says:

    I was amazed at how similar your first impressions were to mine. I have owned Windows Based PCs for nearly 20 years. My first plunge into Mac was to purchare a Core Duo 17" iMac six weeks ago. The packaging blew me away. The entire ambience was so different than any previous computer I had purchased.

    I must admit that my Apple experience began with a 20GB iPod. It is what first got me thinking about buying a Mac. The aesthetics of the Pod were something unlike any other player I had seen. The fact that shutting it off required a gentle touch as opposed to a harder push on the wheel is just one example of the total feel of Apple products. (I have found the same with my remote on the iMac.) Apple is about Aesthetics as much as it is about computing, and that is a very different experience.

    As to OSX, what can I say? It combines functionality, stability, and aesthetics as well. It is intuitive which Windows never was or will be. I have a powerful PC which gets booted less and less often. I am a Machead.

  18. David.Wang says:

    Gene – Yup… Apple pays a lot of attention to aesthetics and functionality and makes some cool hardware. And Mac OSX is pretty svelte to look at, too.

    As to which is "intuitive" or better, I think there is no right/wrong answer. Using a broad-brushed analogy – Windows is much more flexible and tuned toward the no-frills, reliable Engineer-types, while Mac is more fixed-function and tuned toward the artistic/no-complexity types.

    Sure, it is possible to make a pretty Windows OS and a techie Mac OS, but that is not the default persona. So, to give an artsy type a PC or to give an Engineer-type a Mac would probably not work out. 😉

    For example, I think I am open-minded and flexible enough to appreciate and understand the Mac, but I am not a blind Mac fanatic that will defend it to the death nor will I dismiss the Mac as inconsequential like a Windows user. I merely observe what is advanced as well as limiting with the Mac, PC, and *nix platforms, I know what makes intuitive sense to me, so I concentrate on using the best of all worlds in the right situations…

    //David

  19. Iporã says:

    Hei, very nice that you described your feeling with your first Mac, I got the  first one around the time yout yours, and it is steel the same one I have, is surely needs an upgrade, I’m steel in Panther wuth 256 MB memory, but I love it anyway!!!

    Don’t shame about the photos, it’s exactally what I was searching on google images, just in the wat to pack my mini in the same way it came from the store… I was not getting how to put the cables in the box, now thing fit perfectly.

    Thank you a lot!

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