In the comments section of the prior post, Katie asked for advice on computer platforms.  She is just starting at a new job where the “standard” is windows laptops for faculty.  She’s a Mac person.  Does she switch?

Having run IT for a College, my first suggestion would be to ASK if you can have a Mac instead of a PC.  Some departments will comply.  If they won’t or it’s too late, you have three options:

  1. Don’t use the Laptop.  Ask them to take it back and continue to use your Mac.  The bad thing here is that you will be responsible for your own support and if, for example, the machine can’t get on the network, you will have to figure out why.  No one will be able to help.  If you go this route, I suggest looking for grant money that will allow you to replace the Mac regularly and pay for good support contracts with Apple.
  2. Use the Windows Laptop for all of your work stuff but keep the Mac for things you do at home.  There are very few programs that don’t have both Windows and Mac versions these days, even esoteric ones that academics often prefer for writing.  For example I have long heard mac-users sing the praises of Scrivener as a writing platform, but there is also a windows (and linux) version that, while still Beta, is expected to release in production this year.  You will have to learn SOME new skills, but you will have more support from the local help desk than you would going the other way.
  3. Store your documents somewhere that they are backed up to a service such as Dropbox, SpiderOak or SugarSync so that you can access them from either machine.  (Both of these services have PC, Mac and Mobile clients.)  Set up your systems so that the files you work on the most are being synced with these services.  (If you are worried about security, either store your files in an encrypted vault using a product such as TrueCrypt or choose SpiderOak, which has the tightest security of the three.)  Once in place you can then work on whatever computer is at hand.  

If it were me, I would choose option number 3.  There are advantages on campus to being on the machine that they have provided, configured and support.  On the other hand, there are advantages to working in an environment with which I am familiar as well.  Being able to lock the laptop in my desk at night and walk out without it, knowing my key files and my other computer is at home, is wonderful.

I also am becoming convinced that the mode of the future is to manage most files in the cloud.  Yes, there are some big ones that you can’t easily do that with.  And as the owner of over 5 Terabytes of local hard drive space, I’m not there yet myself.  However throughout my dissertation and now as I teach I have taken to storing the files I need on a cloud service and not carrying anything bigger than an iPad with me when I go somewhere.  The day-to-day active files I use aren’t as big as I would have expected.  The bulk of that 5T is media files, most of which I haven’t looked at in years OR are already sitting on my 160G ipod.

One caveat: If you are a technologically impaired person who struggles to do even basic things with your computer and still doesn’t have a clue what their smart phone can do, stick with option 1.  It isn’t a good use of your time to learn a new operating system if that process is likely to take you the entire 1st year.  Efficiency says stick with what you know.