An Evolution from Windows to Mac

mceThe above photo is the very first photo I ever uploaded to Flickr on January 2nd, 2005. At the time it was my home set up for my Microsoft Media Center PC. I’ve stuck with a Media Center PC in the home now for six years, upgrading with each successive version of Windows. Is now the time to switch the last remaining PC in my home to a Mac and try something new? Fortunately for me, my photography has come a long way since 2005. 🙂

Back in 2006 I wrote a blog post about making my first switch from Windows to Mac after using PCs for 15 years. At the time I was using a Dell laptop as my primary computer. I was tired of all of the stupid little problems I was having with it (I couldn’t disable tap to click on it for example) and I was tired of just all the general errors it seemed to have daily.

It was sort of a difficult move for me to make, as like most people I’d gotten stuck in my ways, and it meant thinking about my computing differently. But in the end I ended up making the switch and moved my primary day to day computing to a MacBook Pro.

I was really happy that I made this change and three years or so later when it came time to upgrade, I replaced my old MacBook Pro with a new 17 inch model. I couldn’t be happier with this decision. Despite a few hiccups here and there, my MacBook Pros have been far more reliable for me than my old Dell laptop (or any previous PC) had been.

And so last year when the PC in the kitchen came down with a virus (even though I try to train my kids not to install things, they were installing crap anyways), after spending about 3 hours trying to fix the PC (this virus was particularly mean and even disabled the DVD drive preventing me from reinstalling the software), I just said screw it and went out and replaced it with a Mac Mini. Again, I couldn’t be more happy with that decision. Only I know the password to the Mac Mini, which means that I get to review anything that’s installed. It’s remained virus free and has performed very well for a computer that is mostly just used to access internet on, email and other light use in the kitchen.

So two of the 3 PCs in my home have now been replaced by Macs.

Now my final PC in my home is going out and I have to make a decision what to do next. Yesterday, for some inexplicable reason, my Media Center PC just started going super, super slow and even freezing. After a while the screen would turn totally black and the only way to get it back was to reboot it. Then I’d reboot it and it would work for a few minutes — but eventually freeze up again. It will last longer when I reboot in safe mode, but I can’t get it to run normally in regular mode at all.

At present I use this PC for three things. I use it to manage my finished JPG photos that I upload to Flickr. I use it as a Media Center PC to stream media to 3 XBox 360 Extender units in the home. And my wife uses it to edit her photos on in Lightroom. My kids also use it from time to time to browse the web.

So I’m thinking of kicking out the final PC in my home and replacing it with an iMac. I’ve been reluctant to do this for a while because I haven’t wanted to spend money on a new iMac, plus I’ve felt like I’ve needed the PC around to read two drobos which are formatted NTFS. (I was able to install Google’s FUSE yesterday and can now access my NTFS Drobos on my Mac — but it’s slow, thanks Tim!)

I bought a new Drobo this morning and two new Western Digital 2TB drives. I think what I’m going to do is to format this new drobo FAT32 and then start my PC in safe mode with networking and transfer all of my files from my main photo archive Drobo over the network to this new Drobo. I should probably have done this anyways a while ago. The old Drobo is a first gen USB2 Drobo and as much as I use these files, it would probably be better to have my Mac Book Pro handle these images with a faster FireWire 800 connection. Once this transfer is complete I can reformat the NTFS first gen Drobo as FAT32 and use it for more archive storage, which I access much less frequently.

I’ve also used this PC as my Media Center and replacing it would involve revisting my home media strategy.

My Home Media strategy is a bit more complicated though. I do like being able to use Media Center on the three XBox 360s. But I think it might be time to replace Media Center with something else. I’ve been disappointed that Microsoft charges me a $60 per year tax to stream Netflix on the XBox 360s and I’ve never been happy with Media Center’s ability to handle my large mp3/photo collections. Having to wait 5 minutes for my music/photos to load at times has really been annoying to me.

But the question is then, what do I replace the Media Center PC / Xbox 360 extenders with? AppleTV? Will it stream my large digital photo / music library through iTunes reliably? Or will I get hit with the same performance problems I saw with Windows Media Center?

Do I wait for GoogleTV to come out? (it’s almost here right?) Will GoogleTV even stream photos and video? And what about watching live TV and using a PVR? At present I use an HD HomeRun HDTV tuner with my Media Center PC and have it record a lot of OTA HD content for me to stream. Can I use an HDTV OTA tuner with an iMac/AppleTV combo? Can I use my existing HomeRun dual tuner? What about GoogleTV? Or should I be looking at something else entirely? Is TiVo even in the game anymore for home streaming?

Or should I just replace the final PC in my home with another PC and *hope* that my next experience with a Media Center PC is a little better. I bought the very first Microsoft Media Center PC the very first day it came out back in July of 2004 and this current PC is my third box running Media Center. Maybe the fourth time’s the charm?

My thinking right now though is that it’s time to kick the final PC out of my home. I’m sick and tired of the unreliability of Windows. Macs can have problems too, I know that. But my experience over the last several years have been that my Macs are far more reliable than my PCs ever have been, and even when I have problems, it is nice to know that I can always set an appointment with a Mac Genius and have someone with a little more know how than me help me troubleshoot things in person locally. So maybe I just do this and then figure out my home media strategy from there.

We’ll see how things unfold in the next few days.

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  1. I’d say go for it. You can always run Windows inside VMWare if you really need it. I’ve run my home setup like this since 2006 and it’s worked well for me.

  2. Are you sure about using FAT32? That is an old, old filesystem. It does not have journaling and is not particularly efficient. Why not format it as a Mac filesystem device? If you are transferring files from the old PC to the new Drobo over the network, that will work just fine.

  3. Thomas Hawk says:

    Jeremy, thanks for that suggestion. I’m not 100% familiar with the various formatting options for the Drobo, but I’ll try formatting it as a Mac filesystem device if you think that this would be better than FAT32.

  4. Thomas Hawk says:

    Trevor good points on both of those. Excited to learn what GoogleTV will be like especially and can certainly wait a few days for the logitech release. Wish I could get my hands on a beta GoogleTV or a review model. 🙂

  5. Martin Diers says:

    I purchased a Mac Mini for my entertainment center, the current model with HDMI. It has been awesome.

    Don’t buy one of those dedicated TV boxes like Apple TV, Google TV, Roku, Boxee, etc. If you buy a Mac Mini, you can run Boxee, or XMPC or my favorite: Plex. You can try all three and find one you like. Plex gives me Netflix, Hulu, and a ton of other plugins. I stream my video and audio library from my Windows 7 desktop effortlessly. Everything is indexed and categorized.

    You can use a nice little program called Remote Buddy, and pair a Playstation 3 bluetooth remote to your Mac Mini and use it to control pretty much anything.

    You will also never run into a situation where you have video files that will not play on your set-top box. It’s a Core2Duo. It’ll play anything, especially if you install Perian and the Xiph components.

  6. Thomas Hawk says:

    Martin, but when a Mac Mini’s $700 and an AppleTV is only $100. For the three other TVs in the house, AppleTV would certainly feel to be the more economical option.

  7. Chris Nixon says:

    I’ve been using Plex for mac for a wee while now. It is AWESOME. It has all sorts of plug-ins that let you do all the extras you could want. It also lets you pick up where you left off on you iOS devices. A very cool added touch. Worth a look.

  8. I use an AppleTV and a Tivo along with 1 Mac and 5 PCs. (And a standalone BluRay player) I stream Netflix across several devices, and so far I am happiest with the Tivo. IN all fairness though I have the First Gen AppleTV, so I can’t stream Netflix there yet.

    I have not had any streaming issues either wired, or wireless on the AppleTV. I have streamed 720P content with no issue while doing other things. My media server handles iTunes pretty well, and is actually one of the PCs. (Like you I switched with a notebook first)

    I use a combination of NTFS and Mac file systems, as the Fat32 OS has a limitation of no files over 8GB, and I have a few (very few) files that this causes an issue for me.

  9. Brad says:

    A few days ago I received a new Apple TV and the Netflix interface is pretty slick, fast, and transparent. The real reason I went with the Apple TV instead of the other choices like Roku, is that Apple TV runs iOS, the same as Apple’s mobile devices. No doubt in my mind there will soon be Apple TV apps via the iTunes app store working in concert with the Apple ecosystem. What will these apps be? Don’t know but I’m certain they’ll be interesting with some working collaboratively/synergistically with my iPhone and iPad. People forget it took close to a year for apps to become available for the first iPhone. Have a feeling it will be much quicker with Apple TV. Being able to stream from my desktop Macs clinched it.

    As an aside, last week I also bought a 27″ iMac to augment my home MacPro when I stay/work at a nearby relative’s home. Gorgeous display (the best I’ve used so far) and a sweet machine overall. Faster than my MacPro as well and great with Lightroom.

  10. Raoul says:

    TH, if you’re inclined to tinker a bit (not sure how comfortable you are with the innards of a computer), you could try putting together a Hackintosh. You’d get the performance of a Mac at the price of a Windows machine. You could probably pay a friendly geek $100-150 to put together a sweet Hackintosh for you with a Core i7 processor and a quiet PSU and CPU fan.

  11. Griffon says:

    So couple thoughts for you. As you know with tech you can allays play the waiting game but that won’t get you a good to go result today.

    1. Check out pargon ntfs for mac. You want fast NTFS speeds, that is the ticket for you.
    2. What you are really looking for is a DLNA server, unless you want the apple lock. The big issue is ROKU and apple don’t want to play nice with DLNA. But your xbox’s will, just fine. Also there are some other decent devices that will. Check out things like Tversity that can stream to any DLNA system including your xbox’s and will transform your media for you. There are some pure os x solutions that will do the same.
    3. The xbox netflix thing is dumb. If you buy a apple tv or Roku or what not it will pay for it’s self in a year even if it’s just for streaming.

    And last, just wanted to say thanks for all the years of great photo’s and blogging. You helped inspire me to get back into Photography 10 or so years back. It’s still not my main source of income (IT program manger) but I love to spend time on it :).
    I don’t allays agree with your take on everything but I appreciate you outing it out there just the same.

  12. Online RSA says:

    Isn’t it going to be a huge deal to have to switch all your mentalities over from PC-minded to Mac?

  13. BigScreen says:

    If your last PC is not running Windows 7, you’re running a version of Windows that is quite old. Even Vista was a long time ago, in computer and consumer electronics terms. How many cameras and cell phones have you gone through in that amount of time?

    I skipped the whole Vista situation (largely because I didn’t have the hardware to run it, and it took Microsoft some time to get Vista stable and performing well, from what I’ve read). Windows XP was good in its day, but that was a very long time ago. Any PC running XP for that many years is bound to have so much clutter that instability should not be a surprise, and hardware that age might be starting to fail (just not catastrophically), which could be causing the issues you describe. Those are all guesses.

    My experience with Windows 7 has been fantastic. A new OS should be on new hardware, which is the case in my situation. I’ve not used Windows 7 in a media center PC scenario like you have, so I can’t speak for its utility in that kind of a dedicated position. My point is that if you don’t have experience with Windows 7, you don’t have experience with Windows like it can and should be. The downside is that you would need to make a not-insignificant purchase in order to find out how it works for you.

    From an ease-of-use standpoint, something like the Roku is going to be much easier for everyone to use, but it won’t have the large amount of flexibility that a media center PC is going to have. If you don’t need all that flexibility, though, $79 is going to get you a nice media player. What are you going to use to record shows? Apple TV and Roku aren’t going to provide that solution for you.

    A family member of mine is currently trying to “cut the cable” and replacing his Time Warner cable service with over-the-air broadcasts and internet-supplied content. We’ve been working on what to get for hardware for recording and for playback, and the HD HomeRun dual-tuner box looks like a winner, and one of the playback boxes will probably be an ASUS Eee Box EB1501P-B016E. If he didn’t need to access the internet, a Roku box would suffice for his needs. The recording will probably be done on a stronger PC in his basement with the HD HomeRun attached. The client boxes will be able to access the recordings via DLNA (or so that’s the plan).

    As far as Apple vs. PC goes, that’s an issue that each person has to decide for themselves. I don’t think that there is all that much difference between high quality PC hardware and Apple hardware, but because PC hardware can be had for cheap, very many people go cheap and pay the price. That said, Apple rewards those who drink its KoolAid. Staying within the Apple environment reaps rewards where many things “just work” because everything is set up to use the same formats, etc.

    My impression is that Apple is not interested in helping you record content (iTunes rentals are their bread and butter in the non-music segment), so I don’t have any visibility on how easy it is to record OTA programming. If go that route, please report on your findings!

  14. Roger Krueger says:

    Sounds to me like you just lost a $10 CPU fan. When the processor gets too hot first it throttles then eventually does a safety shutdown. Booting into safe mode probably just cuts the load some.

    Do NOT trust files copied with a sketchy computer. It’s too easy for there to be some random errors hitting silently in the moments when it’s really hot but hasn’t quite hit shutdown.

  15. I would stick with the XBox’s and just install Connect360 on the Mac. You can access all of your movies right from the XBox without issue, right in your videos folder.

  16. Tom, I recently purchased a new AppleTV and it’s by far the best implementation of Netflix I’ve seen on any device. It also does pretty well with streaming flickr photos to your TV as long as you are using an N based router for wireless or your run an Ethernet cable directly to it, wireless B/G takes a lot longer to cache date before they begin to display. It’s already been jailbroken so there are apps coming, and you know Steve Jobs will have an app store for it as soon as he feels threatened by Google TV.

    On a side note… Looking at the remote for Sony’s Google TV looks like something from 1980, it’s such lack of vision there, a bad first impression. Maybe other manufacturers Google TV boxes will be better, but the nice thing is if you don’t like the AppleTV or if the Google TV is that much better, you could always buy one and then use the AppleTV for something else, after all it was only $99.

  17. Brian says:

    Thomas, Did you get a Drobo or Drobo S? I’m getting ready to move to a Drobo system, and I’m not sure that protection from two drive failures is worth the problem. At this point you have like 5 Drobos? Was your latest a Drobo or Drobo S?

    I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on the two. I think many other readers would be, too. Not many people have as much experience with Drobos as you.

  18. You sure did comtemplate alot of things when it comes to changing brands esp. if you’ve already tested their quality through the years. I hope you made the right decision changing into MAC genius and please update us with the results.