Why I'm switching to Mac: software
Background informationComputing

Why I'm switching to Mac: software

David Lee
Zurich, on 29.03.2021
Translation: Patrik Stainbrook
My favourite Windows programs aren't all available for Mac. However, I have found viable replacements for almost everything. After three months of home office work, I'm quite pleased.

Earlier this year I explained why I'm switching from Windows to Mac, the sequel detailed my specific hardware setup. But there's one last issue I haven't mentioned: software.

Why I'm switching to Mac, part 2: *hardware**
Background informationComputing

Why I'm switching to Mac, part 2: hardware

Native or with Rosetta 2

Apple's newest Macs use a completely different chip architecture than before. Which is why software for the previous Intel architecture doesn't run natively on these Macs. Thanks to a translation component integrated into the system, some functionalities remain. Furthermore, iPhone and iPad apps also run natively, since the new M1 chip is closely related to mobile ones. Thus, there are three types of software that an M1 Mac can handle:

  1. Programs for the new chip architecture.
  2. Applications for previous Macs with Intel processors.
  3. iPhone and iPad apps.

I've already covered the third type. Quick summary: in my everyday life, Mac iOS apps have played practically no role as of yet.

The Rosetta 2 operating system translates software for Intel Macs into the ARM instruction set for Silicon architecture. This is partly done during execution; to a large extent, however, the code is already adapted for the M1 chip during installation.

I can only confirm what others have reported before: Rosetta 2 works excellently. In everyday life, I don't even notice for which architecture an application was developed. The software looks the same, feels the same, and the performance is excellent. Also, I didn't notice any bugs that could be attributed to Rosetta 2.

Only Spotify seems sluggish when I start it up. Whether this is due to Rosetta 2 can only be said when the native version is out.

Photoshop ran Rosetta 2 until mid-March, but the code is now available natively. I didn't notice a big difference in speed, and none at all in stability.

Here you can find a comprehensive collection regarding the current status of the most popular applications: whether they're already ported, whether there is at least a beta version or nothing yet. The list can be filtered by application area.

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Application takeover

I maintain that the average user can ignore that not all programs run natively yet. What I can't ignore, on the other hand, is the fact that some applications I used on Windows simply don't exist on Mac. Therefore, I looked around for alternatives.

The most important programs I need:

  • All Adobe applications
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Thunderbird
  • Dropbox
  • Web browsers such as Firefox or Brave

Speaking of browsers: the fact that a lot of things are web-based nowadays enables the switch too. And the compatibility between browsers also seems to have improved in my eyes. Anyway, as far as web tools are concerned, I encountered no significant hurdles when switching systems.

With Thunderbird, I was glad that I could just move over the profile. I have three email accounts with smaller providers and zero desire to re-enter all my info. Switching made easy: move over your profile folder from Windows to the corresponding directory on Mac. You can find these directories by going to Help > Troubleshooting Information in Thunderbird. The next time I launch Thunderbird I can then choose which profile I want to use.

Affinity Photo also exists for Mac, but must be purchased again when changing systems. Not that big a deal at 25 francs; I won't buy it again until I really need it.

There are a few tools on Windows that I miss on Mac. I've been looking for reasonably equivalent replacements.

Image viewer: Preview instead of IrfanView

To quickly view or resize an image, you shouldn't have to launch Photoshop. I've been a big fan of IrfanView since 1976 I can remember. It's extremely fast and efficient to use via keyboard shortcuts. There's probably no equivalent on Mac.

My replacement has been the classic macOS Preview. It also allows me to quickly crop, resize, or save images in a different format. Meanwhile, I found out how to edit multiple images at once: Open all the images in question and select them in Preview.

Preview's batch processing is clearly inferior to IrfanView. In return, it has a great screen recording function. Videos can also be recorded flawlessly. Quite useful when it comes to my day-to-day.

Options menu for screen video recording.
Options menu for screen video recording.

Text Editor: BBEdit instead of Notepad++

When writing, I shouldn't have to launch complex office software for every note. Sometimes I even write long pieces in a text editor. I enjoy the typewriter feel, where nothing distracts me from the actual typing. However, the tool should have some additional features such as spell-check, character length display or a powerful search-replace function.

On Windows, I used Notepad++. Which isn't available on Mac, but, of course, there are countless alternatives. I use BBEdit. It's unbeatable when it comes to eliminating incompatibilities with umlauts, line punctuation or invisible characters.

Word processing: TextEdit instead of Office

TextEdit, which comes preinstalled on every Mac, isn't just used as a text editor, but also as a classic word processor with formatting. TextEdit is simplistic compared to Word or LibreOffice Writer, but it can read and save Word files, as well as LibreOffice formats with the odt extension.

I'm professionally dependent on the «typographical quotation marks» necessary in German-speaking Switzerland. I can set TextEdit to automatically convert the common character. You can do this in Word now, but this simple feature took aeons to implement.

On Mac, Pages comes preinstalled in addition to TextEdit. TextEdit is classic word processing, Pages focuses more on the layout. I think this separation makes sense, as writing texts and laying them out are different activities with completely different requirements.

I have Word installed, but I hardly use it.

Music production: GarageBand instead of Reaper

This was a no-brainer. To me, Reaper was an unsatisfactory replacement for GarageBand, which I used extensively on the iPad. Reaper can do more than GarageBand, but only with external extensions, some of which cost a lot of money. There are no integrated instruments and the operation is much more complex. I see Reaper more as a tool for mixing, not for the creative process.

If I ever have enough of free, preinstalled GarageBand, I could seamlessly switch to Logic Pro. As that tool can import GarageBand projects. It's basically GarageBand Elite.

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And if there's no alternative?

There's no substitute for certain specialised software. Mac users who depend on Windows can install Windows on a second partition with Boot Camp. Or run in a virtual machine with Parallels. But only on an Intel Mac. Windows doesn't currently run on an M1 Mac.

However, this might soon change. Parallels already have a beta version, to run Windows on an M1 Mac. Boot Camp hasn't been written off yet either. However: the ARM version of Windows is likely to be used on M1 Macs. It can emulate Windows Intel applications, but not as fast as Rosetta 2 can emulate Intel Mac applications. The 64-bit emulation also isn't final either.

I'll keep my Windows box until the fog lifts.

Verdict: it's alive!

I actually went through two switches. Firstly, the switch from Windows to Mac, and secondly from Intel chip architecture to Apple architecture. All things considered, there are surprisingly few problems. Almost everything runs quickly and is stable. The only exception is OneDrive, which doesn't work properly for some unexplained reason. Most likely, however, the problem has nothing to do with the M1 architecture. A quick look at the user reviews shows that the app has plenty of problems generally.

As I said, my Windows PC is at the ready for safety, but I don't use it anymore. I only do my private and home office work on Mac.

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David Lee
David Lee
Senior Editor, Zurich
My interest in IT and writing landed me in tech journalism early on (2000). I want to know how we can use technology without being used. Outside of the office, I’m a keen musician who makes up for lacking talent with excessive enthusiasm.

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