Macs and Academia

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Mar 24, 2005, 2:30:03 PM3/24/05
I've been a PC user for a long time. I'm a J.D. now seeking a Ph.D.
and have a comprehensive exams and dissertation ahead. Is there any
reason why I'd have a better time doing a dissertation with a Mac than
a PC? I'm going to buy a notebook and am impressed with how much you
all like the Macs, but does it make a difference for someone who will
primarily word process, use bibliographic software, and do
internet-based library research?


Mar 24, 2005, 3:25:07 PM3/24/05
You can't really quantify the benefit of using a Macintosh in specific contexts, as the Mac is
much more than just a shell for word processing.

I guess it comes down to whatever makes you more productive. With a mac, there is less to
worry about, less bariers between action and cognition and getting work done, in my opinion. I
don't segment where the productivity lies in terms of doing my thesis, programming, etc, its
just a more intuitive, better looking, more stable and more secure OS.

I only recommend Macs to people who ask me for computing advise because 1) it means I don't
have to help them as much and 2) it provides them a better platform from which to explore the
nice world of personal computing. OSX is miles ahead of WinXP in terms of architecture and
featureset (more so in two weeks with Tiger) and that I think is worth it in and of itself, outside
of specific usage of the computer.


Mar 24, 2005, 3:42:35 PM3/24/05
Don't buy a new computer when you have real work to do! You'll have so
much fun with it that you'll play around on it all the time and not get
anything real done.

But if no matter what, if you're going to buy a new laptop, buy a Mac.
Not only will you save time in administering it ("it just works"), and
not only are there better tools available for the Mac than for the PC
(there are /more/ PC apps, but they all tend to suck, whileas your
average Mac app does not. Who needs 100 versions of the same thing
when you can just have the 5 best?), but a Mac is cheaper. Costs less
money. Heresy, I know. But an iBook, given its capabilities and all
the free software it comes loaded up with, costs less in the end than a
/similarly equipped/ PC. There are good Windows programs that do what
good Mac programs do, but you have to buy them. And I'm sure you've
used iTunes. Now imagine if all of the software on your computer
worked so well.

If you have really huge amounts of quotations and so forth that you
have to manage, read this article about Devonthink:

The best tools I've found for doing long papers and so forth are all
Unixy: LaTeX for creating the paper, and stuff like BibTeX for
managing references.

There is a great OS X front end for BibTeX called Bibdesk, and a great
LaTeX studio for OS X called TeXShop (although I now use a couple of
scripts and TextWrangler instead.)

This route is not for everyone, though. It really is, though,
honestly, much much better than using a word processor. (and LyX, a
weird LaTeX front-end that is sort of word-processory, is horrible.)

I have found, though, that MS Word for OS X is more elegant and usable
than MS Word for Windows--- in fact, I think Word has been around
longer on the Mac than on Windows! Also, Pages is very nice, but I
haven't used it for anything big.

The Mac also has loads of neat little information management apps---
things like Notational Velocity, VoodooPad--- check the wiki. With
Tiger you will be able to do real-time full-text searches of your
entire hard drive.

The Mac is tailored for people who create. If you're really interested
in getting a good workflow, there's no other way.

Josh Rothman

Mar 24, 2005, 3:50:59 PM3/24/05
I think the word-processor Mellel[1] is reason enough to use a Mac for
academic work. It beats the pants off MS Word, or any other word
processor I've ever used. You will, however, be able to write your
dissertation using a Windows PC. :)


Mar 24, 2005, 3:53:31 PM3/24/05
yesno, that's a very helpful reply. I've noticed some of the other
posters here mentioning devonthink, but I didn't have a clear idea of
what it was prior to reading the essay to which you link. I'm heading
toward the mac.


Mar 24, 2005, 4:10:40 PM3/24/05
If you're not absolutely sold on a Mac, might I suggest you consider a
TabletPC? I just purchased one a few weeks ago, and I really like the
format. Too bad Apple doesn't make a Tablet at this time. Seems like
ink might be a big help in your research process.

Good luck with your upcoming work!

Cathy Lewis

Roger T. Alexander

Mar 24, 2005, 4:17:32 PM3/24/05
Well, I'll offer my two cents as well. First, just a tad of background
for the sake of context. I am now a member of academia after having
retired from a 23+ year career in the software industry. During my
professional career, I used/worked-with Windows boxes (and DOS before
that, plus a bunch of other stuff). When I came to academia (4 years
ago), I became disenchanted with Windows and gradually migrated to
Linux. Last summer, I finally had my fill of dealing with Linux on a
laptop and decided to take the plunge to the Mac. From my point of
view, the Mac is UNIX, but with a decent interface (I can hear the
gasps now!). Actaully, that was my view last summer; since then, I have
come to be more dependent on my laptop (i.e., a Powerbook) than I ever
was with the Windows on Linux boxes. Why? Because, as many have
stated here,"the Mac just works". I haven't had a single problem since
I switched. Further, I spend virtually zero time doing sysadmin tasks,
which is a far cry from the Windows and Linux worlds. In short, I think
the Mac is a great box (though I was never fond of its pre-OS X
incarnations). As for writing a dissertation, I think you will be
happier with the Mac, whether you use Word (yuch), Framemaker, or some
other markup system such as LaTeX.

Roger Alexander.

Claudia Scholz

Mar 24, 2005, 5:14:15 PM3/24/05
a bit off-topic, but for academic work, I've started using wikindx
an open-source, web-based bibliography manager

Wikindx allows the user to keep track of the bibliographic information
AND notes, quotes and ideas associated with each record. It can
export to a variety of formats, including Endnote, one of the most
popular bibliography programs and bibtex, the bibliography manager of
the tex/latex world.

If it's important to have access to your research in multiple
locations, or if you're collaborating with someone and want to keep
your records together, this is a great solution. I've only been using
it for a couple of months and there are still a few features I'd like
to see implemented, but this is the best solution I've seen for
managing academic work. I wish I had it when I was writing my

Best of all, since it's web-based, you can try it out no matter which
OS you end up investing in.

Oh, and I second yesno's statement about not buying a new toy, er,
laptop when you have real work to do!

Good luck!

- Claudia

Josh Rothman

Mar 24, 2005, 5:21:40 PM3/24/05
Along these lines I've been using CiteULike, which is like
for citations. It's working great so far--it has a neato bookmarklet
that imports bib data right from JSTOR and some other sites.

Mar 24, 2005, 10:50:02 PM3/24/05

Nick N. Ame

Mar 25, 2005, 10:49:36 PM3/25/05
I used an IBM thinkpad to write my dissertation, but have since
switched to a powerbook (which I love). Other than aesthetic factors,
and my preference for how OSX and mac applications work, one advantage
I've found with my mac is that it connects *without fail* to LCD
projectors in lecture halls and at conferences -- where PC colleagues
sometimes run into problems.


William Neumann

Mar 25, 2005, 11:22:33 PM3/25/05
On Fri, 25 Mar 2005 19:49:36 -0800, Nick N. Ame <> wrote:

> one advantage
> I've found with my mac is that it connects *without fail* to LCD
> projectors in lecture halls and at conferences -- where PC colleagues
> sometimes run into problems.

Which is a nice change from the early days.

I've got a Rev A. TiBook 500, and back in the early days it hardly
worked with any LCD projectors, causing me much grief. But you're
right, last year at a conference I was presenting at, I had a few
people use my machine for their presentations when they couldn't get
theirs working with the projectors.

William D. Neumann
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