Macs and PCs from an academic perspective

I like macs. I think they’re really good looking, and that OS X is still better than Windows 7 – it’s more stable, and generally seems to run more smoothly on a range of machines. I really, really like Macbook Airs, which run wonderfully well with Scrivener (on which I do most of my writing), and are fantastically light to carry about.

So why am I writing this on a PC?

The problem is that the two pieces of software which are in the end non-negotiable for me because of my jobs as an academic are Word and Endnote. I have to use Word for compatability reasons – the world uses .doc format, and if I’m ever going to submit my work for publication, then I need to use it too. I need Endnote because of cite-while-you-write. Endnote prepares bibliographies while you write papers, and because I’m the kind of writer who usually runs right up against word counts, I need to see how much room (usually none) I have left.

But Word and Endnote are available on the mac aren’t they? Yes they are. But unfortunately, there are both awful in their mac version. Sure, mac magazine have reviewed Office 11 as if everything’s fine, but it really isn’t. Word 11, with any length document, slows progressively down until it starts crawling. I can’t bear being able to type faster than my word processor – it drives me nuts. And I think Word 11 looks terrible – a sort of half-hearted mix between the ribbon and menu interfaces that gets both wrong. And when you add Endnote on top of Word, everything just about grinds to a halt. You have to turn off cite-while-you-write just to make it work acceptably, unless you want to wait 30 seconds every time you enter a new reference. Endnote is shockingly bad on the mac – it even makes Scrivener grind to a halt when entering references into it in their unformatted state.

Yes, I know there are other mac word processors and other bibliography software. I’ve tried them all. There are some good alternatives to Endnote, but they all have flaws I can’t bear. Some can’t deal with some entries having the full first names of authors and format them differently to entries with initials only, some don’t allow me enough flexibility in editing the bibliography style (some journals are very, very picky), and all are more finicky than cite-while-you-write.

If you want to see how bad things are between mac Word and Endnote and its PC equivalent, put a similar (or even inferior) spec PC next to a mac, and use the same document on both machines (isn’t dropbox great?). With any kind of standard academic paper, the mac version will slow down to a crawl and the pc version fly along. Now that Scrivener is just about imminent on the PC (the beta seems pretty stable to me), I’m running out of reasons to use macs. I moved over to them during the vista catastrophe (the most awful operating system I’ve ever used), and even though Mac OS is the one I’d choose if I could, my need to use Word and Endnote means I’m stuck with PCs, and Windows 7 is actually pretty useable, although in my experience at least, nowhere near as stable as OS X.

All of this is pretty depressing. I was hoping that Apple would have saved me by releasing iWork 11 sooner, with improved handling of bibliographies (it’s still not very good in the present version), but, despite claims on the web about it being finished, there’s still no sign of anything appearing soon. And there’s no guarantees things will be better – I’m aware that I’m in a minority in wanting improvements in these kinds of features.

So here’s to Windows 8! I hope they don’t bugger it up…..


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