Saturday, December 3, 2011

Changing habits

    I have been using computers for as long as I can remember. My first computer was a TRS-80 Color Computer II. It was good for what it was. You could plug it into a TV and write simple BASIC programs for it. It was a lot of fun. My first "real" computer was an IBM XT with a clock speed of 4.77 Mhz (Not Ghz) and had 64Kb (Not Mb) of ram. It had no hard drive and only a single 5 1/4 inch floppy disk drive. In order to use the other side of the disk you had to cut into the disk casing (there used to be a special tool for this as well) and actually flip the disk over. This was not unlike an old fashioned record player. It came with MSDOS 2.1 and could display text in four colors. It was a powerhouse for its day and was the machine that got me into low-level "assembly" language programming.

    I have been coding in various languages for over twenty years now. In the last few years my actual time writing programs has taken a dramatic fall. I have relegated myself to keeping track of developing software and trying to stay on top of the latest trends in software development.

    I blame this on my Apple Macbook Pro. Why? Because it just works.

    About a nine months ago my wife and I switched from PC to Mac. We did it all in one day and haven't looked back since. Usually we would by a new (or upgrade an existing) PC around every nine to twelve months. We had to do this one person at a time for cost reasons and so we had developed an "upgrade cycle" that was nearly never ending. I managed to convince my wife that an initial layout for higher priced Mac's would be cheaper in the long run because we would be able to break the upgrade cycle.

    It was a tough fight that took a few years, but finally she relented. She had concerns about applications she used on the PC and the total cost of switching over. These are justified and I did my best to assure her that everything was going to be fine. So far that has held true.

    For me at least, I am still forced to have Microsoft Windows. This only due to a single program that I "must have" for work; the IBM Workplace Forms Viewer. There is no alternative to this application and it is Microsoft Windows only. I also need to be able to digitally sign these form and the software for windows that does that prevents me from using such applications as "Wine Bottle" or other methods of virtualization. So I use Parallels Desktop and now I can run this one application that my employer forces upon me on my mac desktop. If I could find a way to get rid of this one application I could dump Microsoft altogether.

    My wife, on the other hand has already dropped Microsoft from her radar. Her only regret is that we didn't make the switch sooner. She loves her 21" IMac, and I must say the display really is beautiful.

    No, we have not become "Mac-O-Lites" although I do frequent the "Cult of Mac" web site. We just really like that our computers just work. It even found and setup our network printer on the first try. No installing drivers, or setting up network configurations. It found everything on the network and it took less than twenty minutes to get everything up and running.

    It is also because everything "just works" that I really have no interest in writing software anymore. I think my MacBook Pro is making me lazy. Yes, I can re-write the IBM Workplace Forms Viewer for Mac, but I really don't want to. I started to at one point and even got to the point that i could open and edit a few of the forms and save the data back to the file.

    But alas, I have found an easier "more Mac Friendly" solution. Adobe Acrobat Pro. You see, Mac's can natively print to PDF. I can then use Acrobat Pro to make a "blank" form not only fillable but also digitally sign-able. I even found "ezPDF Reader" for my Android phone that lets me edit these PDF's right on my phone. Once I get a tablet (I hoping for a new Kindle Fire for Christmas) I will be able to load that app on the tablet and continue to work from the tablet using PDF's.

    Mac, has once again, screwed me by "just working". Thanks.

    So what now? Now, I am in that transitional phase between developer and user. I am sliding away from writing my own software and just using what works. Its amazing how much is really available. Oh, I also haven't had to restart my Macbook Pro in 18 days, 14 hours and 31 minutes as of this post, but that's just bragging.