Cutting The Cord Act 3 – Cordless Is A Myth

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Scene 1 – The Cord Was Already Cut
Newsflash – there is no such thing as going truly cordless not if you’re ditching the cable box for streaming services that require a data connection to stream.  My first act to cut the cord was to establish a healthy data connection and that meant dealing with a cable company since in my area the conduits are completely controlled by cable cos.

It’s at this point I feel a disclaimer is warranted – this is the one post where I will definitely be going into full-on rant mode so for those of you hoping to read an eloquent post full of practical advice (though there will be some) and void of angst then move on.  Nothing to see here.

Still with me? Good then read on as I scorch the cable industry as a whole as the reasons why so many customers like me are ditching cable become crystal clear!
My approach to cutting the cord and one I recommend for anyone else was to overlap my streaming services with my cable subscription for at least a month.  This takes the edge off the shock of cutting cable and allows some extra time to work out at least the biggest and most unexpected kinks.  Little did I know then but I would end up maintaining an overlap for almost 2 months as what transpires over the next few paragraphs is a colossal failure to execute a basic reconnect by a previous cable provider!  My current data connection was capped at a paltry 18 Mbps with my current provider which shall remain nameless (eh hum nickname Ma Bell).  Their tap (code name for the actual distribution box where their lines are distributed to several residences) was the limiting factor and it was barely adequate for our needs to begin with so I decided to return to a previous provider where the tap could feed us up to 300 Mbps.  We would settle on their 100 Mpbs plan which included phone and internet since we still maintain a landline.
This does bring up a good question, what’s the best data speed for cutting the cord?  Generally speaking, I recommend a minimum 25 Mbps if you plan on streaming from multiple devices including mobile devices.  Ideally go for 100 Mbps and above to future proof you for data-hungry 4K content.  Side note of caution…read the fine print when you ditch your cable programming package for internet only.  Since customers are fleeing profitable cable bundles cable companies are fighting back by capping their internet data packages, usually at 1TB per month.  For those of you who sleep with your tv on this may be troublesome for all others a 1 TB limit is more than adequate however as the amount of 4K content increases over streaming services it may become a factor in the future.
So now back to the task of reconnecting the cord (internet sic) so I could cut the proverbial (cable) cord and stream away.  Leaving my current cable service intact I contacted my previous cable provider (who shall remain nameless but whose name just might rhyme with fox) with faster internet to schedule a reconnect.  Bear in mind my last connection with them was only 3 or 4 years ago and since we were keeping a landline we also needed to get our phone number transferred to them as well.  The initial phone call was easy and pleasant.  I was told the cable would be on in a few minutes as it was just a flip of a remote switch for them though I learned that my old modem that I’ve kept won’t keep up with the data speed I’ve chosen so I had to purchase a new one.  I tell them I’ll get my own rather than pay their silly rental fee.  When I’m done reestablishing the internet connection I’m transferred to an automated system to request the phone transfer a process called “porting”.  I followed the instructions and was advised that the porting process would take up to 5 business days.  No problem since I was wisely overlapping my two services anyways right?  So VERY wrong!!
It’s at this point things took a diabolic turn.  I purchased the new modem that day and went online to register the IP/MAC addresses with the cable co. as instructed before connecting it.  It doesn’t register a signal.  After exhausting all avenues of troubleshooting including reconnecting my old modem and busting out a multimeter I’m convinced there’s no cable signal coming into my house.  I finally call customer service and thus enter a pit of misery that I won’t see daylight from for several weeks.  I’ll skip the blow by blow because honestly it could fill a novel and might just come off as so outrageous that it must be embellished and just do my best to summarize:
  • 2 visits by techs just to find out previous cable co. sabotaged box on my house by cutting all cords.  Apparently this is a thing and “I’m lucky they didn’t cut cables in my attic”.
  • Over the next several weeks after finally reestablishing a signal it will lock up on average once a day and sometimes once per hour.  The only way to resolve it is to reset my modem.  Call customer service.  More fruitless troubleshooting which leads to many more visits usually by clueless contractors and not actual cable co. techs not to mention at least two instances of being stood up at appointment times.
  • There’s constant squabbling over service fees and my insistence that nothing has been resolved meanwhile I continue to extend my other cable service until resolution.
  • Coinciding with all this a whole separate saga with transferring my phone unfolds.  It includes work orders never created to work orders mysteriously closed.  There’s confusion between cable co. and techs whether the phone box on house must be upgraded.  I’m also given a ginormous phone modem I now have to find a place for and a temporary phone number until old one is ported.  This would eventually be the last issue sorted out nearly 2 months later!
  • Related to the phone issue is nobody at any point ever asks me if I have a monitored alarm system. Once phone finally gets ported my connection with alarm co. is thus severed. Alarm co. begins making weekly robo calls 8 AM EVERY SINGLE Saturday morning to inform me that the line is not connected.  More visits by clueless contractors until I pitch an epic fit and finally get a cable co. expert tech out to resolve the issue.
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Cutting The Cord Act 2: Why Cut The Cord?

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Scene 1: Why not?

I won’t beat around the bush. My reasons for cutting the cord are almost entirely to do with money. When I ranked my monthly bills my cable bill was consistently my third greatest monthly expense behind mortgage and car payment. After decades of dealing with cable companies (note I’m lumping satellite and cable services together into the term “cable” for this discussion) I’d like to think I’ve become somewhat of a pro at working their systems. It usually goes something like this – sign up for new customer bundle deal, bundle deal runs out a year or two later and price soars, call and get a discretionary deal that reduces price but adds content and features for 6 months, call 6 months later and cancel the new content and features and receive another special offer that lasts for another 3-6 months until finally the price inflates again and fed up I cancel service altogether and repeat process with a different provider. Similar plights to mine are well chronicled on many cable hating blogs in much more angst-filled terms so I’ll stop there and move the discussion on to the second reason of why I cut the cord.

Scene 2: Choice

Over the last few years the market has been flooded with new streaming services all vying to top each other with brand new binge ready content. Their original content is getting really good as budgets continue to increase and as this year’s awards season begins they are sure to follow the trend over the last couple of years and snag up more than their fair share of awards. I decided I wanted in on all the fuss, however, we’ve already established my skyrocketing cable bill and the 475 out of 500 channels I never watched made it unfeasible to splurge on these new services.

I decided enough was enough and I was ready to watch what I wanted to watch when I wanted to watch it!

Additionally, cable is inherently wired and by nature made it difficult to watch my content on the go. It’s only recently that many cable providers are making inroads on their mobile apps to allow for even paltry mobile experiences, for me though it was just too little too late. In hindsight, I wished it was a greater factor in deciding to cut the cord than it was at the time else I would’ve ditched it likely long before I eventually did.

Even 6 months later and 475 channels less my newfound freedom and variety are no less appreciated.

Scene 3: The Gear

Let’s face it I’m a gadget guy. I’m unashamed about this fact and I was simply fed up with my 4 year old cable box and its clunky interface, noisy hard drive, a litany of indicator lights that lit up my bedroom like a Christmas tree, and wretched rental fee to boot!! This was not lost on me every time I passed a tiny Roku stick at Best Buy with its tiny remote and Netflix shortcut button. It sorta gets back to wanting choice and not just about the content I consume but also the hardware by which I watch the content and by extension control over my experience. In fact, I’ll never forget the time when I returned to a cable provider after running the gambit with another provider and literally being handed the exact same hated hardware I had turned in 3 or so years earlier! Not one thing had changed in that time.

I suspect most like me will consider cutting the cable due to the promise of big savings, and make no mistake you will save, however, in hindsight should in some alternate reality the price savings be voided I will NEVER give up being able to choose my own tailor-made experience that I now have to return to the bondage of cable.  If you can ever get past the shock and bumps that I’m about to unleash in my next few posts I suspect you will neither.

Cutting The Cord Act 1 – Kickoff

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Scene 1: Introduction
People are cutting cords in droves this past year and I was one of them.  I considered blogging each step of my experience and perhaps in hindsight it really was a missed opportunity because in so many ways so much went so so wrong; it would’ve been great fodder.  Nevertheless in the next few posts I’ll hit the highlights of just what it takes to cut the cord and along the way offer some perspective after 6 months cord-free (which turns out is not entirely possible) and I will at least cover some of what went so very wrong because it’s so relevant to the conversation of just why so many people are cutting the cord in the first place.
You’ll also notice I’ve decided to label this series by Acts and Scenes as if it was some long drawn out saga because really well it is!  The whole process has been full of drama with highs and lows ranging from extreme rage to ‘Well I’ll be darned’ moments of surprise when things actually work really well so sit tight and enjoy.  I hope my ongoing chronicles help tailor expectations for those just starting your own cord cutting journey or for some validate your choice to stick with cable and for others maybe just feel good to know somebody else feels your pain.

Startup Morale

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Every day I enter the doors to my current place of employment I pass by 3 plaques housing the names of every employee honored for 20 years or more of employment there.  The plaques have accumulated 180 names total.  Sadly this is a rarity in today’s marketplace.  I would wager that 20 years from now, those plaques are removed because few new names are being added.  This is no disrespect to my employer it’s just the reality of the marketplace where jobs are constantly abandoned for greener pastures. Loyalty exists paycheck to paycheck simply because money is usually the only morale driver at least in my region of the country.

I live in the Midwest where the famed startup stories and legends of company perks at places like Google are only part of some mythical place known as Silicon Valley.  Typically the only benefits that differentiate one company from another in these parts is the amount of out of pocket expense incurred for yearly medical benefits.  Boring.  Except for the local Big Oil company or two most benefits and company policies are fairly interchangeable from one place to the next.  Now I currently have a couple entrepreneurial things on the back burner and who knows maybe one day something will take off.  When it does I’ve got a wish list of perks or intangibles I hope to institute from the start that I hope will coax a few people to work for me and stay put.  Here they are and reasons why in no particular order:

  1. Offer A Flex Work Schedule.  Can you say Half Day Fridays?  This is something common in places like Colorado where you live in a real life playground but it makes sense for many other practical reasons besides morale that I won’t list here.  I once watched a 60 Minutes special on Patagonia the outdoor gear outfitter based in California.  One key to their employee success and productivity they highlighted was a very liberal and trusting flexible work schedule policy.  It was simple; get your time in when you wanted to…period.  For example employees still had to put in a 40 hour workweek but if someone popped in the door and boisterously exclaimed, “Surf’s up!”, they bolted for the beach and returned to work that afternoon, evening, or weekend when their cups were full and the waves had died down.  It didn’t matter when so long as you got your hours in.  You can only imagine the loyal employee base they have as a result!  For some this simple flexible policy will cause an employee to think real hard before bolting for a  job that paid a couple dollars an hour more.  That’s a novel concept that certainly goes against the grain of our punch card culture for standard factory workers but perhaps a slightly more restrictive policy will still produce similar results.  I know for me a similar policy would’ve allowed me to catch my son make his first snow angel this year rather than sulk that the moment was enjoyed via a texted photo.  I would have happily came in the following Saturday after the snow had melted if I could’ve left early that day.
  2. Work To Play Is The Company Motto!  I’ll never understand our country’s aversion to vacation allotment but it’s not remotely close in comparison to the rest of the industrial world.  Some will argue it’s a factor that affords us the world’s largest economy but I say bunk.  I say we’re successful in spite of our lack of vacation days.  Two weeks a year seems to be the universally accepted starting vacation policy.  That typically goes up as a reward for different milestones of company service.  I’ll offer 3 weeks starting vacation minimum not counting personal time.
  3. Provide Only The Best Stuff For Employees.  If the smartphone and tablet trend has taught us anything it’s that employees are tired of drab corporate centric products.  Buy them that iPhone, iPad, or touch mouse they envy.  Buy them the best gear available to do their job or at least help them get it.  My company pays up to $100/year for steel toe shoes.  I took the $100 and added $30 out of pocket to buy a premium brand that are ridiculously comfortable.  I haven’t dipped into that $100 allowance the last 2 years because I’m quite happy with the pair I bought then.  I’d say this was a win win policy for my company and me.
  4. Offer Internet Freedom.  Want to foster employee loyalty?  Show some trust.  Naturally all things should be doled out in proper portions but for most company internet policies that means an all or nothing approach.  Bandwidth restrictions I get because we are after all at work to be productive and a few Pandora boneheads can really sap internet productivity for the responsible majority.  Restricting adult sites is a no brainer too, but that’s where I think a line should be drawn after.  For starters open up social sites already!  Get with the times employers and let your employees have a free second to make evening plans with their buddies or even a coworker.  Internet filters in my opinion are a lazy exec’s way of micromanaging.  It’s silly.  If your employees are judged on their productivity and performance and they’re spending all their time on Facebook then their performance will suffer.  These things work themselves out if your people are being fairly judged on performance.
  5. Never Waste Employees’ Time.  Don’t make your accountant take a 45 minute online safety training course covering the proper shop safety gear when he/she will never ever set foot on the factory floor.  Limit the allowable number of meetings/length of meetings for each business day.  I know this sounds restrictive but most employees will actually appreciate such a policy for it’s time-respecting merits.
  6. Premium Toilet Paper.  This one is self explanatory.
  7. Free Great Coffee.  Can I get an Amen!  Don’t be cheap, pick one great perk like free premium brand coffer or an expresso machine to splurge on your employees. It really is the small things that count folks.

How To Select The Right Compact Fluorescent Bulb

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You may have noticed recently the supply for good old fashioned incandescent bulbs seems to be dwindling.  You might have even heard that they’ve stopped making certain ones beginning this year.  Myself I find it near impossible to locate clear 60W incandescent bulbs but an overwhelming selection of compact fluorescent bulbs abound.  It’s like there’s some grand conspiracy to get you to stop using incandescent bulbs.  Technically there is but it’s not as bad as you think and no they’ve not stopped making incandescent bulbs either; just check out this article from The Verge that debunks all the rumors here.  The problem with switching to compact fluorescents is that nothing seems like an apples to apples swap.  The packaging would lead you believe it’s a pretty straightforward affair by printing bold letters indicating 13W bulbs are 60W replacements and technically they’re right but that’s really where the similarities end.  Buy two different brands and try to mix them within the same light fixture and you’ll see what I mean.  One light is more blue, one is more yellow, and one is brighter.  How do you pick the right one and how do you replace one brand with another?  It really boils down to reading the fine print, literally on the bulb that is.  There’s really three key specifications you want to try and match up closely particularly if you’re mixing different brands of compact flourescents.

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The first you already know is wattage.  The package usually takes care of that by spelling out the incandescent equivalent.  The second specification you want to pay attention to is bulb brightness.  This is usually measured in Lumens.  This is easy to follow, simply the higher the number the brighter the bulb.  If you’ve got a fixture with 4 bulbs from Brand A and one burns out and you can only find brand B then you want to try and get this number to match as close as possible.  You will also want to match the color temperature of the bulb.  Color temperature is usually measured in Kelvins or simply ‘K’ as shown in the picture above measured as 2700K.  The lower the number the yellower the hue of the bulb.  The higher the number the bluer the hue becomes.  That’s it.

The Basics | Engine Etiquette

Credit: blogs.cars.com

Sorry folks for the hiatus.  I’ve been working on another writing project and have been blindly devoted to it.  Nonetheless I’ve taken a break to start a new advice column that allows me to as usual scratch an itch to passive aggressively opine about certain pet peeves.  This will be the first post of an ongoing advice column named “The Basics”.  These will be short and very simple “basic” insights I wish to share on things that many people overlook or have never been educated on.  For this first post I plan to tackle three very common mistakes (I politely use the word “mistakes” loosely, see told you passive aggressive) people make pertaining to the use and maintenance of motor vehicles.

‘Tis the season of single digit weather and as such our reliance on cars and their conveniences become ever more important.  For starters simple physics dictates that cold air is typically denser air.  Translation: when things get frigid stuff constricts and this is true of the air in your tires.  Many new cars are equipped with tire pressure sensors that will flash a light on your instrument panel telling you that you’ve got low tire pressure inevitably the morning after the first cold front passes through.  What most people don’t know is that there’s actually two conditions that will trigger that light; one, a tire has abnormally low pressure (ie, you got a flat bro) and/or one or more tires’ pressures vary within approximately 2 psig from one another.  It’s particularly the second condition that complicates things for the layperson who doesn’t know this.  For those people (not judging) the most logical thing to do is to hit a free air station at the local 7-11 and start randomly putting air into tires starting with the ones that look lowest until the low tire warning light goes off.  This could exasperate the problem and potentially cause a more disconcerting issue by overpressurizing a tire.  I won’t waste your time by discussing the hazards with a overpressurized tire, just know this is bad, every bit as bad or possibly worse than a underinflated tire.  My advice is simple, buy a tire pressure gauge and keep it in your console.  But what pressure do you maintain your tires to?  Answer:  it’s stamped on the tires themselves right?  Wrong.  What’s stamped on the tires is a max rating that’s intended to be a benchmark if you were hauling a maximum payload for example (trucker speak).  The real answer can be found somewhere inside your driver’s side door usually on the main upright near your seatbelt.  There you can find a label that will typically detail recommended tires pressures for front and rear tires.  Please whatever you do please don’t aimlessly fill your tires until the silly light goes off.   In that case you’re probably better off doing nothing (unless you’ve clearly got a flat).

To quote the classic movie “Shawshank Redemption” “The world went and got itself in a big hurry.”  One of the most common mistakes we tend to do when we get in our cars to go somewhere is to not wait for it to warm up.  Car engines and car technology certainly has advanced and it takes most cars much shorter spans of time to get that heater blowing warm air than it used to so people seem to forget one important fact that is universal about cars and car engines in particular.  That fact is that they are still made up of literally hundreds of precisely machined and fitted moving parts.  In some cases all it takes is one small nick and you can get a catastrophic engine failure.  Most of those moving parts still depend on oil to keep them lubricated and moving freely.  Most oils, even the overpriced and overrated synthetic kinds, still get thick and gummy when the temperature drops.  My advice is succinctly simple – let your car run at least a minute before putting it in gear, even thirty seconds as a bare minimum.  This allows the oil to loosen up and cover all intended surfaces before putting a heavy load on them.  It could save you many headaches in the long run.

My last piece of advice though begs you to do the exact opposite from the previous piece.  It actually seems silly to me to even mention it nevertheless I’m floored every time I see this warning go unheeded.  Folks turn off your stinking cars when you’re pumping gas and especially when smoking!  I’ve debated with myself how much detail to get into to explain the common sense in this so instead I’ve decided to offer an example link of the hazards associated.  The lady in the video was the smoker’s wife and she did suffer burns.  PLEASE don’t endanger (or enrage) me or anyone else because you simply wanted to keep that heater running longer or wanted those last couple drags from your smoke.  Trust me it’s not gonna make much difference during the time it takes to pump a tank of gas.

Size Matters | The Screen Size Debate

Credit:  Apple

Credit: Apple

September 20th was the official launch of the new iPhones 5C and 5S and just prior to it’s release every tech site and news site all rushed to get out their verdicts on the new models.  For the most part all the reviews were positive.  It’s really hard to argue with Apple’s solid hardware designs and reliable and vast App Store but every single review I read dinged Apple on one common thing – screen size.  The rumors were all abuzz with a larger screen for the iPhone but all proved to be untrue.  Android has toppled iOS in worldwide market share in large part due to affordable designs and big and bigger screen sizes.  It’s the same game that has played out year after year whether it’s TVs, laptops, or smartphones.  What’s lost here is the value of true functionality, portability, and ultimately purpose.  The purpose being that of a smartphone.  By definition a smartphone is limited by size because of it’s inherent requirement to be portable but size can also limit functionality.  How do you define and strike the right balance of portability, functionality, and features?  That’s ultimately the debate in play in the smartphone market with ever increasing screen sizes.  Personally I define it one way with one question.  Can you fully operate the device in one hand?  This is precisely the marketing ploy Apple baits us with.  Most people can touch their thumb anywhere on the iPhones’ screen without having to readjust the phone in any way with another hand.  This simple subtle fact I believe is at the core of the very purpose of a smartphone.  In my opinion if it takes two hand to operate it then just save you money for a full blown tablet.  Don’t be swayed by giant phone screens unless you just don’t care about portability.  Make the overall experience your priority.  I do believe there’s a market for larger screens sans the Galaxy Note 3‘s 5.7″ display but I treat that market as really the outer fringe of the tablet market.  Even Samsung knows the Note’s screen is a stretch that’s why they’re solely paring it with the Samsung Gear smartwatch for now.  Gee I wonder if the smartwatch market will play out the same way?  Will we soon be toiling over whether 1.3″, 1.6″, or 2″ is the proper screen size for the smartwatch?

When Choosing The Right Smartphone or Tablet Specs Don’t Matter.

My title is a tad misleading.  Specs do matter but I’m gonna offer up only the one or two that matter most.  Let’s assume for now you’ve selected your operating system and form factor of either smartphone or tablet.  In the smartphone category you’re generally looking at screen sizes between 3.5″ to 5″.  Tablets generally range between 7″ to 10″.  There’s also a goofy category informally known as Phablets that fall in between these two categories.  After screen sizes you’re bombarded with a bevy of software features, hardware options, and naturally long lists of tech specs and benchmark ratings to comb through before making a purchase.  If you’re purchasing a middle to top tier device (by price) let me save you some trouble and tell you that you can assume generally good processing speed and graphics performance from most devices.  I’m trying to stay away from confusing you with geeky technical specs but must now dive into one spec a bit to illustrate this point.  The iPhone 5 uses a dual core processor that clocks in somewhere around 1.3 GHz.  By comparison the new Samsung Galaxy S4 (man that’s a mouthful of a name) carries a 1.9 GHz quad core processor.  Translation- the S4 blows the processing power of the iPhone out of the water by a mile.  With this said let this geek who’s made the iPhone 5 his primary smart device vouch that not once, not even for performance sapping games, have I ever felt even a slightest lag in performance.  I doubt seriously I would notice a difference with Samsung’s processor in my iPhone.  It’s always snappy and reliable except of course when AT&T is throttling me.  Criminals. Read More

Buying Into A Platform

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The motto of this blog is “Star Wars or Star Trek, Apple or Google, The Battle For Supremacy and Relevancy Thrives Here” and it is in this spirit that I write this post.  Choosing a platform is the quintessential decision we are faced with on a daily basis every time you fire up a PC, smartphone, TV, or glance at a billboard.  This is a battleground waged almost primarily through advertisements and press.  Apple or Android, Windows or Mac?  Let me first burst your bubble, you won’t find a single answer-to-it-all recommendation here.  Don’t leave though because just like you I battle the same desire to go all in on one platform.  There’s the allure of simplicity, uniformity, and accessibility in the idea of buying wholly into one platform.  Nevertheless I recently have come to terms with one fact…no platform exists that can adequately be all things to all people/me.

Oh yes many try, but at some point all fail.  How about some examples starting with Google.  It’s no secret that Google search reigns supreme.  I won’t digress into a comparison with other search engines; after all it’s part of vocabulary to Google something when you perform an online search and not to Bing it.  Besides every time I see the word ‘Bing’ I think of Chandler’s annoying girlfriend from Friends (Janice) wooing him in her nasally voice “Chandler Bingggg!”  Ick!  Yet comparing Google Docs to MS Office is also a gross mistake.  In this case feature by feature Office trumps Google docs by a long shot.  Sorry to disappoint again but for purposes of another article I’ll stay away from the Apple (iOS) to Google (Android) comparison.  That’s a whole different can of worms.  Instead how about another conundrum- internet browsers.  There’s Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari to name a few.  The lines blur a bit here but if you’re priority like me is speed and access to the cloud then Chrome is the clear answer.

Want a piece of hardware, then look no further than Apple the undisputed king (in the court of public and this engineer’s opinion) of innovation and good product engineering.  Let’s talk about some apps.  For instance note taking apps.  Try the popular Evernote or my personal favorite Springpad.  Have you seen the pathetic stock Notes app on the iPhone?  Honestly who still uses yellow note pads anymore, much less a faux one on a tiny screen?  Thankfully Notes is getting a makeover in iOS 7.  I can go on all day and would likely end up with a very long laundry list of me too products to compliment a few very good ones but I think I’ll just get straight to the point.  That point being hardware and software makers have their strengths and weaknesses.  Diving all in on one platform (Apple people are likely going to strongly disagree with me most here) will only be your loss.  My advice, find what you like and go for it.  Focus on things that try to do one or two things best rather than being all things to all people.  If it really is a good product it’ll offer cross platform integration anyways.  After all last I checked you can still open up Word and perform internet searches through Google on the Chrome web browser all on an iMac.  Don’t just stick to meat and potatoes when you can have your cake and eat it too.