1 Week On a Mac

(written yesterday – wouldn’t post from cafe for some reason:)

And it is Tuesday.

I haven’t done a journal-ish entry in this blog so here goes.

Sitting here at the Argo Tea Cafe on Broadway – they have free wi-fi. Not many people here right now but it is only 9:47. In the afternoon the place will be packed with college students with big books with abbrevations (MCAT, GMAT, etc).

I thought I’d get out of the house to wake myself up since the bracing cold has descended upon Chicago.

I have also been a Mac user for nearly a week. I’ve had a Mac Mini now for about six months or so but used it as a secondary machine. But since my Emachine power supply failed (or something isn’t working right), I’ve moved the Mac Mini into the office area and have begun using it full time as my main machine.

Luckily I didn’t have any data loss on the Emachine and I used an enclosure case to turn the Emachine’s old internal drive into an external drive I can access with the Mac or with my old Vaio laptop. The good thing about open source software is the file formats are designed to be used on any system  (also with software like Dreamweaver where you can use the files on either Windows or Mac). For example, I used Thunderbird to manage all of my email on the old Windows machine. I simply loaded up Thunderbird on the Mac and then swapped in all of my old data and email and everything was there instantly, without missing a beat.

The old adage about Macs is that they ‘just work’ and for the most part that is true. Plug stuff in, it works and is instantly usable. Software update alerts come up and don’t always force you to reboot your machine. There is something soothing about the interface of a Mac. I never thought I’d be sucker for something as cosmetic as big juicy icons but I feel like the Mac OS stays out of my way.

I loaded up Fireworks and Dreamweaver on the Mac and transferred all of my web design work over to the Mac and it was like I never was a Windows users.

The first thing that will annoy the hell out of you moving from Windows to Mac is that when you close a window you aren’t closing the application. On Windows, if I close the Excel spreadsheet, I am also closing Excel. On Mac I’m just closing the spreadsheet and Excel stays open and minimized. Also the top menu bar (File, Edit, etc) that usually is at the top of an application window is now always at the top of the screen on a Mac. I know that this is because usability studies show that the edges of the screen are the easiest regions for users to target and click. But, it is annoying when you can’t figure out which window is for what.

Sharing files between my drives, Windows laptop and the Mac are also pretty simple. Granted, I found out that my Windows hard drives can’t be written on by the Mac (only read) since they are in NTFS format which is proprietary I think. But that is of no matter. I can move the data into a format both systems can read.

I did put all of my data into a TrueCrypt lockbox. I like this app. It takes a chunk of your hard drive and makes it a encrypted virtual drive. So all you have to do is toss files into it and they are automatically encrypted and the only way for others to open the drive is if they have your password (and the decryption algorithim). This app isn’t available for Mac OS X (yet, the devs are working on it). So for now I have to access super-old data via the home network (with encryption key) through the Vaio laptop. I do like knowing that my files from 8 years back (oh yes, I have emails from 1998 – I’m like a cyber-Nixon) are encrypted on the hard drive. I do need to sync that up with my webhost as well, though.

For office suite, I’m using NeoOffice which is a Mac version of the open source OpenOffice.org office suite. This is where open document formats really come in handy. I can safely work between Mac, Vaio and any other system with these applications and always know that everything will look exactly the same from system to system. I’ve been a long-time fan of OpenOffice.org and have used it a lot over the past several years – and the software gets better with each release. It isn’t super-duper 100% compatible with all versions of MS Office, but then old versions of MS Office sometimes aren’t compatible with new ones. And the 1-click PDF creation always startles people the first time they see it.

For file sync, I was just dragging and dropping files between the Mac and my shared folder on the Windows Vaio laptop, but I am going to experiment with iDisk, Apple’s service for remote storage, and see if I can figure how to do what I need to do.

Instant messaging is completely the same between Windows and Mac. So is Skype.

The only things I’m using the Windows machine for now is my webcasting software and the Camtasia tool that I use to turn my courses into screencasts.

The day before my Emachine crapped out, I told my dad, ‘I’m never going to buy a Windows machine again.’ I always get frustrated watching my dad use his WinXP desktop at home and get angry that hardware is so advanced and software is so advanced but usability remains confusing. Computers are appliances. The interface shouldn’t be in the way – it should guide you to what you want to do.

Apple beefs: I hate hate hate that iTunes updates every 2 weeks it seems. Drives me batty. Apple mouses don’t have a right-click. I love me some right-click but I seem to be doing okay with the click-and-hold or click+CTRL combinations. ALT-TAB switches between applications, but not between windows of the same application. I looked up the keyboard shortcut for that but I can’t remember what it was.

Installing and removing software on a Mac is a dream. I do think downloading a DMG file and then understanding how to mount/open it is confusing at first. But to add a program you just drag and drop it into Applications. How obvious. The OS hides the guts from you. Removing apps is exactly the same. Just toss it into the trash.

I still think making the Trash and Eject icons the same thing is confusing at first. That to unmount a DMG file or drive you drop it into the Trash which turns into an Eject button when you hover over it.

Transparency of the operating system seems to be the primary unified direction right now. With tools like Google Docs and Spreadsheets I can do rudimentary document composition and editing in the browser – and from any browser in the world. Granted, there’s security and reliability to iron out but it feels good to have been talking about ‘ubiquitous computing’ to my clients for the past several years and to see it starting to take shape. You don’t ‘log on to the internet’ or ‘go to the internet’ it is already there. All around you. Like TV airwaves or radio broadcast waves. In my ideal cyberutopia all your data is available instantly and securely from any device anywhere you are. I still dream of buying a sheet-fed scanner and taking a weekend and scanning every piece of paper in my file cabinet into the system, then uploaded and encrypted and secured – but available from anywhere.






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