When I went AWOL from work while losing my mind, I knew I had to make a few changes. One of those changes was to de-crazy myself (failed), and the other was to try and separate my personal life from my work life.
Working at Microsoft is a big thing. You’re never quite sure what your job is or when you’re supposed to do it. You might get hired to code your little fingers off, but then find yourself in the middle of a marketing effort that has you working until midnight for a couple weeks.
You just. Don’t. Know.
That can be fun and exciting and neat-o, but it can become overwhelming. You eventually tire of thinking through work related problems while you shower. You don’t want to check your work email at 11:00 PM, but you’ll do it anyway.
It’s easy to give your life and mind over to the company.
I wanted to get my life and mind back. And that isn’t an angry sentiment – I was the one who allowed it to happen. Nobody at Microsoft ever asked more of me than I was willing to give, and had I said “No” more often, I may never have reached a point at which I knew things had gone too far.
Step one was to get away from Windows. I work in Windows. I live in Windows. I have several machines across all of which I have Windows installed. At work and at home, it’s Windows.
Windows, Windows, Windows.
At the start of my nervous breakdown (or whatever it was), I switched to my iBook. Living in OS X was a good way to get away from what reminded me of work.
It was fancy, but there were too many things I still needed my Windows machines for, so another solution was needed.
During a conversation with my dad, I mentioned that I was thinking about getting a MacBook Pro. He had just picked one up and loved it. As soon as I told him what the plan was, he offered to buy me one.
That’s about as effing cool as it gets.
I told him I’d let him subsidize the purchase, but that I wouldn’t accept an entirely paid for MacBook. He agreed, although after the thing was purchased, he still gave me a check for the full amount.
Like I said, about as effing cool as it gets.
It’s one of the fifteen inch models. An assload of memory, big hard drive, blah blah blah.
As nice as the thing is, I still couldn’t have used it as a full replacement for everything else since there were still those few Windows apps left that I needed.
If you haven’t seen Parallels, and you’re a nerd, and if you’re a nerd who wants to use a Mac but still needs a Windows machine, then I pity your ignorant soul.
When I first heard about Parallels, I thought it sounded like yet-another-virtual-machine-app. And it is, but it goes a few steps further than anything else I’ve used. To the point that it’s one of the single most impressive pieces of software I’ve ever seen.
For the technically-challenged (who probably aren’t even reading this), the simple explanation for what Parallels does is “It’s this software thing that let’s you run Windows as an application on your Mac.”
Not exactly true, but in appearances, this definition should be good enough.
When I started it up, I expected sluggish, crappy performance. That’s what VMs are for. My opinion might be tainted by having had to do a lot of the kind of work where you keep three VMs open at once, but there you go – tainted opinion.
What I got instead from Parallels wasn’t only all the speed I’d want, but a mode that allows me to run Windows apps without seeing Windows. That is, as though they were Mac apps. Just as I can mouse over the dock and start a native OS X app, I can click on Windows Live Writer – in the dock – and it’ll pop up as an app without the rest of Windows.
It’s so outer-space neat. Fetch me my robot-suit, Jeeves. Entering hyperspace now, captain. Set your flazer to Incapacitate. Plot a course to Tarragon V, and somebody prep my shuttle.
You can also configure “default” applications. For example, if I’m running a Windows app and I click on a URL in a document, the default app is going to be IE, and this goes for Parallels, too. Under Parallels, though, I can configure it so that Safari (my preferred browser) opens the links – the links I’m clicking inside the Windows VM.
It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to rub an app in someone’s face and say, “LOOK, YOU – LOOK – THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE, DAMN IT. YOU WILL RESPECT THIS SOFTWARE. YOU WILL BECOME YOURSELF PROSTRATE BEFORE IT. AND, NO, I DON’T MEAN ‘PROSTATE’ – I MEAN ‘PROSTRATE.’ IF YOU WANT TO BECOME PROSTATE BEFORE IT, THEN THAT’S YOUR OWN BUSINESS.”
Speaking of how it’s done, I’ve been back at work a little over a week, and I’ve gone back to spending my days in Windows and my evenings in OS X. The change from OS X all day to dividing the day between Window and OS X has been shocking. There are things I’ve tolerated in Windows for a long time – things that genuinely didn’t bother me before. Or, perhaps, things I had been exposed to so often that I no longer registered it when one came along.
I have a list. And it’s not so much a list of what I find wrong with Windows as much as it is a list of what I find right about OS X. It won’t be phrased as such, but that’s the general spirit of it.
These are things which, if the Windows team were to implement them, would make Windows far better than it is today.
1. Stop stealing focus
When I’m going about my merry little way in OS X, if there’s an app in the background that needs my attention, it’ll make itself known, but it won’t hijack my whole experience.
In Windows, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing – I could be focused on writing (as I am now), and some other app will happily come along, z-order its way on top of everything else, and refuse to piss off until I’ve clicked on something I don’t even care about. I’ve been dealing with that this week, and it drives me nuts. It doesn’t ask you to pay attention – it pushes everything else out of the way and forces you to get involved.
2. Stop with those irritating little bubble messages
After my machine starts up, I just want a clean space to work. What I have instead is a host of little bubble messages in the lower right-hand corner, telling me things like “Your security is stupid” or “Please click on this message to get rid of this message.”
If my security is stupid, it’s because I set it that way. I don’t think nagging a user to change a setting that was intentionally set is a good way to make things safe.
3. Stopping hardware
When I have an external hard drive hooked up to the Mac, I just drag the drive’s icon to an eject button on the dock to sever the connection between the laptop and the drive.
In Windows, I have to right-click on this obscure icon that most people will never even know about, click on something (“Stop hardware”? I forget the wording), and then select from a list the bit of hardware I want to stop. Problem is, there’s nothing intelligible in the bloody list. There might be five things, all of which look as likely as the others.
I’ve been doing this for years, and it’s still confusing.
What’s the big deal? Drag. Drop. Done.
On the Mac, this is a one-click affair. Under Windows, it’s at least four clicks. And they’re confusing clicks at that.
4. Never, ever, EVER reboot my machine without asking
This one really gets me.
Non-existent on my Mac, but my Windows machine happily reboots itself whenever the fancy strikes.
I was writing a forum post for Channel 9 a couple days ago, and it got up there in length. Not so many words that I sobbed over the loss, but enough work lost and enough frustration gained that I called it a day and went home.
To my Mac.
There’s no excuse for it. Yeah, security, whatever.
5. Stop asking me to reboot – I’ll reboot when I’m good and ready
Another rebooting problem. My machine grabs some updates, installs the updates, and wants me to restart my machine so they’ll take effect. I’m fine with that, but I want to reboot on my own time. I hate having a whiny dialogue pop up every few minutes to remind me to reboot.
I KNOW. I KNOW IT’S TIME TO REBOOT. I KNOOOOOOOOW! NOW LET ME WORK.
When I write, interruptions are a Very Bad Thing. I get into a flow of thought that can disappear if I so much as walk three feet for a glass of water. Having that stupid “Reboot now? Well, how about now? Or now?” window appearing every few minutes is enough to make me scream.
Five simple things which, if changed, would make Windows a much nicer environment in which to spend significant amounts of time. Windows is spiffy, but the things that work are the things I won’t remark. When something happens with so little fanfare that I’m not really aware that it’s happened, then it’s probably a good thing. Unfortunately, when my attention is repeatedly – and we’re talking about over and over every day – drawn away from my work, then all I’m going to remember is the irritating behavior. The good stuff doesn’t even get a chance.
For now, at home, I just run XP on my Mac with most of the automatic features turned off.
And I like it that way.