Six months with Mac

Do I still believe the hype?

As they say, time flies when you’re having fun. On one hand it’s hard to believe that I have had my iMac now for over 6 months. On the other, it’s hard for me to think of myself back in the days of Windows [he shudders as he types]. (I warn you that I might come across as a bit of a Mac fanboy in this post. However, I realize that most of my previous posts have been preaching to the choir of fellow Mac users, but now I’m going to try to speak to the unconverted, but even so I’ll be singing Mac’s praises. If that’s too much you can skip to the end where I talk about what I miss from Windows, but you’ll be disappointed.)

Am I able to find the right software?

Along with my switch to Mac, I also made the choice not to use any pirated software. I was concerned about that at first because I know folks who have switched to Mac and back (to Windows) when they couldn’t find compatible software. I’m happy to report that not only am I doing fine on the software front, but it’s actually part of the fun. No question about it, there is far more Windows XP software out there than there is Mac OS X. However, when I started this Mac adventure, part of the exercise was to narrow things down to what I really needed to use. We’re not talking about cutting to bare bones, but did I really need five different programs for audio editing, or a million different web chat clients? Just in case, there’s always virtualization, i.e. software that lets you run Windows on a Mac system. Six months in, I still have not found any software that I’m missing so much that requires me to get virtualization software such as Parallels. I’ve found that there is plenty of great Mac software out there.

One of the fun things about Mac software is the world of freeware and shareware. I never really got into that when I was using Windows, but now I have been regularly monitoring sites such as MacUpdate and VersionTracker to find out what the latest program releases are. Mac free/shareware developers seem to follow the Apple philosophy of making the computer experience as fun and easy to use as it is functional. One case in point is a disc-burning utilty called Disco. It’s famous among Mac fans for its graphics of smoke or fire while a disc is being burned, but besides those gimmicks it has a very simple, sleek, drag-and-drop interface that makes it super-simple to use (sorry, it’s not free, but it’s not too pricey either). Also, my previous posts have mentioned Widgets (little programs that run on the Mac Dashboard) and other efficiency applications that are usually free. As far as major software, MS Office is available for the Mac, but I have not yet purchased it (because I’m kind of off Microsoft these days), but I’ve downloaded a free alternative office suite called NeoOffice, which is pretty powerful and good to use. I don’t need to do huge reports or major spreadsheets at home so this program is more than enough, and I’ve saved a few hundred bucks. I use Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird for my browser and email needs, and I also have a whole list of great free (and very inexpensive) software that I use for everything from: managing fonts, editing audio, editing images/photos, cataloging media, checking TV listings, screen captures, burning discs, converting video, playing streaming media, designing web pages, not to mention system utilities for tagging, searching, clipping, and accessing files, and making all kinds of improvements to the system. Also the iMac came with so much stuff out-of-the-box that many of my needs were met. iDVD is great for making cool DVDs (though it doesn’t let you make custom menus), iCal is a very effective calendar program that will remind you of appointments even when it’s not running, and I haven’t even really tried some of the other programs like music editor GarageBand.

Is it truly better to use than Windows?

Mac OS X is definitely easier than Windows for several reasons. For me, the coolest thing is installing applications. Too often in Windows I used to go through the steps (usually there was an installation wizard) and hundreds of little files would be installed God-knows-where throughout my computer. For Macs, I just double-click the installer icon, and when the folder (actually called a disk image) is mounted, drag the new program icon into my Applications folder. The end. To uninstall, just delete the icon from the Applications folder. It’s that easy! That is one of my favourite aspects of Mac. Plus, if I move the application icon to a different subfolder or something, it still works!

File management is pretty much the same as Windows. I drag icons here and there. However, the built in file finder application (called Spotlight) is very good at finding stuff when you don’t know where you’ve put it. Some people don’t like Spotlight, but I think it runs rings around the silly dog that searches files in Windows.

The other thing that’s great in Mac OS X is that programs run independently. OK, I don’t know much about the tech, so I don’t actually know what the programs are doing. However, what I do know is that when a program freezes (yes, it does happen even on Macs), I can right click on the icon and choose Force Quit. The program shuts down and I don’t have to restart the system or anything like that (plus the rest of the system seemed uninterrupted). It’s similar to ctrl-alt-delete on Windows, but far less intrusive.

Are there really no viruses?

I keep an ear out for that stuff. Viruses really suck and they have caused me grief in the past. So far there still don’t seem to be any. No one bothers to write them. Recently there was a contest to hack into a MacBook and someone won it, and before that there was a project where hackers were challenged to present a month of Mac bugs. The great thing is that Apple patches those bugs pretty quickly when found. Even though someone hacked into the MacBook, I’m still not worried. FYI, I don’t run any anti-virus on my iMac. For a viro-phobe like myself, that’s saying a lot.

Do I miss Windows?

Not really. I still use Windows at work, so it’s not like it’s far from my mind. However, I miss certain things that are common complaints of Mac switchers (but they’re really minor). I’ve said these gripes before in other posts, but who doesn’t like to re-complain, eh?

Gripe one: On Mac windows there is a little green button at the top of the screen that is supposed to be like Maximize in Windows. It doesn’t work very well. I don’t know how it decides, but most of the time, the window expands to some arbitrary size, but it’s not the full screen.

Gripe two: Closing an window does not mean closing a program. Often after you’ve clicked the red button to close a window, the program is still running. I think this is kind of pointless. It’s not like programs need so much time to boot up that you want to keep it running in case you need to use it quickly for another file. As a memory freak, I don’t like wasting memory on pointlessly running programs.

Gripe three: I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Windows Explorer. I like having a tree structure on the left and file listing on the right. Mac OS X Finder has various different displays of files (one which displays panels of subdirectories) but none of them are very good to use, especially when moving files from one folder to the next. With all the file indexing and searching tools available for OS X, maybe I’m not supposed to get hung up on folders and old-style file management, but I just like to keep things organized that way.

Any regrets?

Not at all. I love my iMac (though there are rumours of a new model coming soon. I guess that speaks to Apple’s ongoing innovativeness, but it’s sad when your computer is not the latest thing), and I encourage everyone, especially home users and people who don’t like to deal with a lot of headaches, to consider taking the plunge with a Mac.

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  1. #1 by Jim Schimpf on April 23, 2007 - 1:54 am

    Glad to see you have found running the Mac a great experience. I thought your review was a good summary of what you liked and the goodies you found using the Mac.

    I just wanted to add a couple of comments about your “Do I miss Windows” section.

    Point (1) about “Maximizing” window button. Macs never really used a make full screen button. It always will try to make it as large as it can bu leave part of the screen free so you can see the windows of other apps. (Not needed as much now with Expose.) I started on Apollo & Sun workstations and since we were refugees from CRT’s the idea that you would fill this window manager with just ONE window didn’t seem right. You gotta have bunch of windows and be doing all sorts of things… I know the single screen filling window is the tradition in Windows and I always get comments when they see my screen (even on Windows boxes) with bunches of windows scattered all over it. Anyway that is the tradition Apple has come from and it’s still there (see screen shots of Xerox workstations that inspired them).

    (2) Closing a window doesn’t end a program. First don’t worry about memory OS X (like Windows & Linux) has a virtual memory system so if you aren’t using a program it’s memory will be paged out to disk and not be in RAM till it’s run again. So inactive programs aren’t memory hogs they just fill a paging file on the hard drive.
    Second Windows has the tradition of starting a new copy of the program each time you double click on one of that program’s objects. So when you close that window it makes sense for the program to quit. On the Mac each time you click on the same type of object the same application (not a new running copy) will just build a new window to show you the object. Some programs do shutdown when you close the last window but a lot do not. You can think of the system caching these programs for the next time you click on that programs type of object.

    Anyway I thought you might be interesting the philosopy behind these choices and they are choices, there is no right answer to any of these just what we are used to.

    –jim

  2. #2 by alving4 on April 23, 2007 - 2:27 am

    Thanks, Jim. Those are great comments and really gives me another perspective on my little peeves.

    Alvin

  3. #3 by Al on April 23, 2007 - 3:53 am

    I started out on a Mac in 1985 and I’m afraid I organize both my Macs and my Windows PC’s the same way I organized those original Macs. Files in nested folders and frequently used items represented by icons all over the desktop.

    Having said that, my new iMac is not organized at all. Spotlight finds any file or program I need instantly. File organization is an anachronism. It’s no longer needed.

  4. #4 by Chris on April 23, 2007 - 4:23 am

    I’m a mac user for five months and my greatest peeve was moving files!

    There’s a very simple trick to moving files that I learned from David Pogue’s “Mac OS X The Missing Manual” page 21.

    In Finder, column view. you want to drag something from folder A into folder E, but B, C, & D folders are in the way. Drag folder E onto the lower area of the side bar. This makes the E folder in the bar an alias, then you can drag files from A to the alias E in a flash. You haven’t physically moved E, and to get it out of the side bar, just drag it away from the bar and it goes poof!

    You might have already known this, but since learning it a couple of weeks ago, it has made my sifting and sorting so much easier.

  5. #5 by Dylan on April 23, 2007 - 4:24 am

    Instead of using the red close button, you might want to consider using the key combinations Command-W and Command-Q instead. The first one, Command-W, closes the current window, which is the same as pressing the red button. The other, Command-Q, quits the current program, which seems more like what you want most of the time. You can also Control-click on the application icon in the dock, then select Quit from the contextual menu if you prefer to use the mouse rather than the keyboard.

  6. #6 by Johnbdh on April 23, 2007 - 5:34 am

    Gripe one: The little green button can be irritating at times. It is not a maximize button ala Windows maximize button. It is instead a Zoom button. It tries to be smart by zooming to a logical size. Unlike the standardization we see in everything else Mac, the logic differs from program to program. Some like Text Edit zooms full screen and back to our previous zoom. Safari zooms to fit the screen vertically and only wide enough to fit the content. Smart zooming, however, does sometimes challenge what I consider logical.

    Gripe two: The difference in the way windows close in Macs and PCs is annoying if you are switching in either direction. It’s not doing what you expect. I am a long time Mac user and when working with windows I am constantly quitting apps when I did not intend to. If you are a new computer user never having used either, the Mac’s way of doing is far more intuitive. The green button does exactly what it’s name says… close the window. To quit a program you select Quit, and as someone else suggested the best way to get used to this is to use command-quit. By segregating the 2 commands a user cannot easily confuse them and quit when they only meant to close a window, not realizing it was the last window open. New users do, however, tend to leave programs running thinking they have quit them. One last point here, the single menu bar on the Mac lends itself to leaving the app running when the last window closes. On windows, after you close the last window what do you have left to tell you that the app is still running? It makes sense to me to quit the app. On the Mac it makes sense to me to keep it running as the App’s menu bar is still active.

    Gripe three: I have to agree to some extent here. I like the way windows does some things, like cutting a file to move it. I don’t think there is any equivalent operation on the Mac except drag and drop which even with spring loaded folders is harder than cut and paste. Having said that, I think the Mac’s finder has so many navigation features not available in Windows that my overall experience is far better on the Mac.

  7. #7 by ccriste on April 23, 2007 - 5:39 am

    I’d like to make a comment on gripe 2. The way Windows does it is one of the things that bothers me about the Windows system. Too many times I’ve unintentionally closed an application when I closed its window (because the X buttons are too close to each other), and I would have to start up that application again. Some of these graphic applications that I use, like Adobe Illustrator, take a really long time to open. I prefer the Mac way in which if I didn’t need to use the application anymore and I didn’t need to have it running, I would simply quit it by going to the menu bar or the keyboard. I’m doing an action that is intentional and not accidental. It is so easy to just go to the menu bar , then File, then Quit; or, use the keyboard with the keystrokes Command-Q.

  8. #8 by rich on April 23, 2007 - 6:13 am

    In response to Johnbdh:
    It’s not exactly smart zoom. It’s more like a toggle button for the user defined size and the optimal size. It makes sense actually to do it this way because you can easily drag the corner to maximize, but it’s not so easy to find the optimal size/window configuration. So, whatever size you choose, you can find the optimal view using the green button. However (as with good ideas, you’ll always get a ‘but’), setting the optimal view/window configuration to present the content is left to the application developers. They are responsible to implement this in their code and like with anything left to developers, you get different results for different developers. Some have good designs, some don’t and some are too lazy to implement it.

  9. #9 by Johnbdh on April 23, 2007 - 6:58 am

    Rich, I agree with you in that the zoom was intended to be a toggle between 2 sizes determined by the last 2 sizes the user used or the current size and full screen if the user did not resize the window. In OS9 if I remember correctly it nearly always played nice. The fact that in OS X the developer controls the way it works, leads me to call it a smart zoom or at least what the developer hopes will be smart. I think sometimes they fall short. Apple themselves have deviated from the original intent of the zoom box (button) as is evidenced in the way Safari and TextEdit zoom. Calling it a smart zoom was entirely my own way of referring to it and not meant to be any kind of official designation.

  10. #10 by Swissfondue on April 23, 2007 - 7:03 am

    A short comment on the “red button”. It actually tells you the status of a document: If the document has never been saved, you’ll see a black dot within the red spot. Once you save it, the black dot disappears.

  11. #11 by K on April 23, 2007 - 8:37 am

    I am a MacOS X (macBook) user for 2 months now and all is well with it. You’re right, I too made the choice of NOT buying pirated software but a friend who works in an Apple shop suggests that you can buy the pirated WIN XP and download the Boot Camp without even buying the Parallel software. However, I tried it on one of their dummy with the Parallel and I decided, “I will never go back” to Windows (not entirely dumping it since I still like my IBM laptop).

    End of the day, I enjoy Mac even more than Windows. I have not encountered feeling “irritated” of the slight changes that I need to adapt from Win to Mac but did you try using your two fingers on trackpad and see how it scroll up and down? It’s neat.

  12. #12 by alving4 on April 23, 2007 - 10:15 am

    Wow! Thanks everyone for all your comments. There’s a lot of good advice there.

    Alvin

  13. #13 by istara on April 23, 2007 - 12:18 pm

    “Plus, if I move the application icon to a different subfolder or something, it still works!”

    Yes – but you can run into other problems as I recently discovered. I moved all my apps into subfolders in Applications, but then you might find that other installers/patches can’t find them.

    The specific problem I had was trying to install the Nokia N95 iSync plug-in: it couldn’t find iSync (no way to show it manually) and in the end I had to move iSync out of its subfolder and back into /Applications.

    These issues are rare, but can happen, so just keep an eye out.

  14. #14 by Nimish Batra on April 23, 2007 - 2:16 pm

    Elegant post, Alvin.

    Kudos.

  15. #15 by petieg on April 23, 2007 - 3:42 pm

    i’ve been a windows tech for too many years, working on 1.5 years with my macbook pro and i finally feel like an end user of my machine again (instead of having to troubleshoot my own machine. bad enough i do it for clients’ windows PCs all day long). Anyway, re: Finder — buy PathFinder — by far a much better file manager than Finder is (or ever will be?). small investment, big payoff.

  16. #16 by morobo on April 23, 2007 - 3:58 pm

    Thanks.
    I was still thinking about switching from
    Windows to the mac System and philosophy and everything else connected with it, BUT:
    Your post made my decision a lot easier. At least, I now know where to quote from when my parents ask “Why Mac?”.
    Great job.

  17. #17 by Kevin on April 23, 2007 - 4:03 pm

    I switched my home computer to a CoreDuo iMac last fall (still use XP at work). Overall I like it, but the user-interface has never felt as “snappy” to me as XP. I often have Word, Excell, Powerpoint, Lotus all running on my Dell laptop, and I can jump back & forth between applications instantly, with no delays. On the iMac, it seems to “think” for a second before it does anything when I jump to a different application, and that little delay just makes the whole OS “feel” very slow to me (though it does seem to run “processes” like converting video just fine). I often get delays of a couple seconds, such as when trying to jump from Safari to iPhoto.

    Multi-user switching seems terribly slow – I’ll often have to wait 2 or 3 minutes before all the applications become active again. What am I doing wrong?

    I’m not a “fanboy” of either Mac or Windows, but was hoping for the “great” Mac experience that I read about so often – and I don’t have it yet. What’s wrong with me?

  18. #18 by Mack on April 23, 2007 - 4:30 pm

    I still have doubt with mac anyway…

  19. #19 by Jermaine on April 23, 2007 - 5:48 pm

    I bought my Macbook about a year ago and I love it. I work on PCs at work and other than that I’m on my Mac.

  20. #20 by Mark on April 23, 2007 - 7:25 pm

    Kevin, I’d like to follow up your comment on the slowness you’re experiencing. It very much sounds to me like you’re swapping a lot, certainly it wouldn’t normally take that long to switch between applications.

    How much memory do you have installed? When you mentioned that you’re also using multi-user switching, don’t forget that any apps you have running in those other contexts will be using up memory(either RAM or swap space on your hard drive), switching between users will take some time as things are juggled between RAM and swap space.

    As a general rule, the more memory you add to the system the happier(swifter) it’s going to be. The windows interface can often feel a bit faster, the Mac seems somewhat more ‘measured’ but shouldn’t feel unresponsive. With 10.4, I recommend a minimum of 1GB, more if you’re running many apps at the same time…

  21. #21 by alving4 on April 23, 2007 - 10:01 pm

    Kevin, I’m sorry you’re not having a great experience with your iMac. I can’t say why you’re having slowness with iPhoto or Safari, but another reason why you might be having slowness with MS Office is that it’s not intel-mac native.

    In any case, I really appreciate all the feedback. Most people seem very excited about their Macs and I (obviously) can relate.

    Alvin

  22. #22 by hazardouswords on April 23, 2007 - 10:04 pm

    Great, I’m glad to hear that you are enjoying your imac. I just got mine less than a week a go and I absolutely love it. It works great with everything that I want to do.

  23. #23 by Kevin on April 24, 2007 - 12:13 am

    Mark, Alvin, thanks for your advice..

    I have 1Gb of memory on the iMac… I thought that would be enough, since I don’t really think I’m a “power user”. I don’t run MS Office on the Mac (don’t want to shell out that $$) – I run Neo Office there instead, and while it’s sometimes slow, that doesn’t bother me as much, since it’s free. It’s just all the little things in the OS, like the 1/2 sec delay when I click on the menu bar, that seem to add up to a slow system.

    Maybe it’s the multi-user switching that hurts me? Does that suck up free memory even after I’ve switched users? Do you folks use that feature much? I do that so my wife doesn’t clutter up my desktop with all her picture downloads & stuff… but mabye I should just teach her to use the computer “‘right”?

    Anyway, thanks for trying to help…

  24. #24 by Michael on April 24, 2007 - 5:13 am

    About that hacked MacBook the other day…if you read a detailed article about it, the facts are that nobody could hack into the MacBook on the first day of the contest. They relaxed the rules and offered a large reward and then finally someone managed to hack Safari (the browser), but they didn’t get root (of the system).

    Some hack…they couldn’t break into the Mac unless the rules were loosened! I don’t think any loosening of the rules is required to go deeper than the browser in Windows.

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