Thursday, August 27, 2015

Switching contexts

WARNING!  There's some technical stuff in this one.  Skim over anything that makes you too cross-eyed.

My first computer was a Commodore 64.  I got it in the 6th grade, and it was a fantastic computer, I didn't do much programming on it (I was only 11 years old at the time), but I did play a ton of games with it.  It became my de facto gaming machine, graduating from the coarse user experience of the Atari 2600 (which I also played the heck out of, and may it rest in peace).

When the power supply for the Commodore 64 eventually burned out, I graduated to the Commodore 128.  Again, I did very little programming on it, and in fact spent most of my time booting into 64 mode in order to play games.  This was a wonderful feature for me, as I didn't have to learn very many new operations.

My mom got an Apple IIc at some point in my junior high or high school career, but I didn't warm to it too much -- too different from the Commodore line, and I was pretty loyal to my current context.  Mom eventually got a Vendex Headstart II, which was the computer I used up until my junior year of college.  It had a word processor, which was the most important thing to me since I needed to type papers.  Nevermind the fact that I couldn't type properly.  :-)

My junior year of college was a turning point for me, as I got an IBM PS/2 25 SX running Windows 3.1.  From that point on, I was a PC/Windows guy.  I spent the next 20 years doing software development in that technology stack, being mostly successful along the way.

Two years ago, I joined a company that doesn't do Windows/PC development, and the default work station was a MacBookPro.  It took me a while, but I managed to get a pretty fair handle on the new paradigm.  I suppose an old dog can learn new tricks when forced to.  I liked the machine so much that when it came time to replace my personal computer, I went with a small MacBookPro instead of a Windows PC.  This marked the first time I ever bought an Apple computer for myself.

Despite this new-found adoration of Apple, I've been trying to keep tabs on the Windows world.  Some really good things are happening in the company.  I installed a release candidate of Windows 10 on my personal MacBookPro (using VirtualBox) and ran it quite successfully.  I was very pleased with the changes they made, dumping most of the annoying Windows 8 features and pulling some of the best things about Windows 7 forward (including the Start button).

Two days ago, I took the plunge; I created a BootCamp partition and installed Windows 10 on my personal MBP.  The installation went flawlessly.  Dual-booting has been a breeze.  I've been really pleased with the experience so far.

There are, of course, some struggles.  Strangely, they aren't in anything to do with the software.  Instead, they have to do with the small context switching that's required when going between the operating systems.

Key bindings are the worst.  For example: in OSX, you press command+tab to toggle through open applications.  On Windows, you should use alt+tab.  They're right next to each other on the keyboard, and I constantly press the wrong combination (aside: Windows 10 handles this quite gracefully; OSX does not).  The command versus alt/ctrl context switch is rough.

A minor context switch has to do with the trackpad.  On OSX, you can tap the surface to click.  On Windows 10, you have to click the trackpad to click.  It's a subtle difference, but my fingers tend to ache a bit if I have to click the trackpad too much.

The good news is that even though I'm struggling a little, it doesn't have anything to do with either OS -- it's a PEBKAC issue.  If you've been considering trying Windows 10, I encourage you to do so (especially if you're on Windows 8).  I won't try to convince anyone from the OSX crowd.  They're pretty loyal to their current context...

1 comment:

  1. First off Vista foreva! I cut my teeth on my grandfather's TI-99/4A where I remember doing sprite programming. I was so hardcore. Also AMIGA RULEZ all. I had a chance for a job the summer after high school programming hardware drivers, pretty sure that would have resulted in neckbeard Ferrante, who also is probably filthy rich in another dimension.