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Three Months with a Mac

12/15/06 | by JAdP | Categories: Computers and Internet

On September 16th, I unboxed and set up my MacBookPro, Vate. Three months after making the switch to Mac and using MacOSX on the MacBookPro 17", I'm loving it. Does that mean that there aren't some problems or unfulfilled desires? Not at all. However, switching to a Mac has been my best experience with computers in a long time.

Let's face it, software and hardware are software and hardware, and the hardware is really converging around CISC processors. Intel and AMD have really won over Sun, Motorola, IBM, HP and the other great RISC processors. I'm not really sure why - it's rather like the failure of Betamax. I think that it's a shame, as the RISC processors have a lot going for them. Just ask Sun.

Price is often brought up, for and against Apple. Just remember, when comparing prices, look at all the hardware that comes with the Mac you're considering: CPU, RAM, disk capacity and speed, built-in [iSight] webcam, remote control, backlit keyboard, superb styling, etc. Compare price and weight and thickness, component for component, and you'll be surprised that the Mac is cheaper, lighter, and oh-so-svelte. You can get lesser, though likely adequate, machines from IBM, HP, Toshiba, Dell, etc. etc. etc. Also look at the software you need/want, and what licenses are included in the price of the machines your considering. Price-wise, on a feature basis, Apple often wins. Price-wise for configuration flexibility, allowing you to buy a machine that's just sufficient for your needs today, everyone else wins.

On the software side... it seems that the rush to get features out the door, and the tendency of our society to go for convenience over polish, taste, reliability, longevity, and tightness, allows an awful lot of alpha and beta software, on all platforms, to masquerade as production grade. That being said, the OS, UI, and software for the Mac just feels better than that for MS Windows or Linux. Part of this may be that it's a new toy for me. Part may come from my treating it as a learning experience. Some things I enjoy doing now, even simple ones, like using a hot corner to launch the screen saver and lock the screen, I could have done under Windows, but didn't, because it wasn't the way that I had initially learned. The overall experience feels better on a Mac, but that's just my perception, and not any type of detailed results from an in-depth user study. &#59;)

It is really great having Unix underneath the eye candy. Unix is a stable, enterprise operating system. The first computers to which I had exposure were large IBM mainframes, followed by PDP11, AppleII, HP1000/RTE, Z80/CPM, 808x/DOS, Dec:Vax/VMS, SGI/Irix, IBM/AIX, HP3000/MPE, HP9000/HP-UX, earlier Macs, SunOS, Solaris, and then WindowsNT3.5 and on, and on, and on. MacOSX is the ideal Unix desktop we've all been wanting, ever since we first tried a Solaris Tadpole and found it wanting. When Leopard [MacOSX 10.5] comes out in 2007, it will be even better: Spaces - similar to the wiki(Common_Desktop_Environment, CDE) that makes Unix workstations so flexible to organize - will pretty much bring the UI to a new level of magic, and with 64-bit goodness [gee, just like the DEC RISC Alpha/Laser in 1993] to boot; TimeMachine for file system roll back, reminiscent of Network Appliance, looks cool too. And remember, that while wiki(NEXTSTEP, NeXTstep), upon which MacOSX is based, wasn't a popular Unix distribution, it was always called the Cadillac or Ferrari or Rolls Royce of Unix, with all the gold-plated software tools, like ObjectiveC, just like the Mac. MacOSX is a great OS for the desktop and even for the server, and it just keeps getting better.

Things like KeyChain reminds you that you are in the comfort of a secure Unix OS. As does the Updater; you can't install without an administrator password, and updating software that depends on your keychain requires manual intervention to allow that app to use the key again. Kind of like an automated, graphic wiki(sudo).

There is a lot more software for MS Windows, but as I've researched Apple, third party proprietary, and Open Source software for Tiger, I've found that I no longer have to fire up Parallels just to do my daily work [not including cross-platform testing]. The weaning process has been quick and relatively painless. After all that, it's time to join so many others and list the software that is making my MacBookPro the only personal workstation I need.

Apple Software

I love the way this software truly just works together. MS Office promises this, but falls far short by comparison. Just the power of the dictionary that's accessible to all apps, and the fact that it gives definitions, not just spelling, has me committed to the Mac. And in one simple example, for as unfamiliar as the Pages [word processing] UI and command structure is, I've already found that I can do things within Pages that have always frustrated me in Word. iWork'06 is $79, comprises Pages and Keynote [a presentation creator that is incredible] - much cheaper that buying Word and PowerPoint. BTW, TextEdit, that comes with MacOSX is somewhere between WordPad and Word in features, easily opens every Word document that I've tried with it, as well as saves to DOC format, and is sufficient for most users. I think that the FUD over the new Office XML file formats, such as docx, are unfounded; by the time that more than 1% of Office users upgrade to the latest, greatest, Mac software will support the new format as well.

MacOSX comes with the X11 framework. It is on the OS CD and must be installed separately. Having done this means that pretty much the entire Open Source world is accessible to MacOSX. So far, though, most open source software that I want has a native MacOSX version.

I've also begun exploring the possibilities of the xCode IDE that is available as a free [but huge] download in exchange for a simple registration. While I have no desire to become an ObjectiveC, Cocoa, Quartz developer, having it, will extend the BBedit text editor that I'm using for PHP, CSS, XML, JavaScript, etc into a much more powerful development environment than the PHP IDE I used under MS Windows. [All the developer oriented text editors for Mac can use xCode or be stand-alone]. I'm not a developer, but I do need this capability for evaluating open source BI solutions, and for maintaining the open source software on our hosting servers.

I really like Mail.app [once I figured out how to set-up IMAP properly], iCal, Address Book, iPhoto, iTunes and the way that Mark/Space Missing Sync brings these applications on the Mac together with their counterparts on my Palm Lifedrive, and iSync does the same with my RAZR. Missing Sync comes with Mark/Space Memopad for Mac and SplashPhoto; VoiceMemos and Palm Note Pad sync too. And I can access it all through the Missing Sync menubar add-in. In a similar vein, I'm trying dot-Mac services, and playing with Front Row software too.

Open Source Software

Adium X for IM messaging to AIM, Sametime, Yahoo!Messenger, Jabber [private servers, GTalk, etc.] and Windows Messenger chums - oh, and it coordinates any of these with my Address Book [and while not Open Source, I'll put Skype here too for VoIP and videoChat, and the more folk I get on Macs, I'll be able to try iChat too].

RSSOwl under MacOSX is pretty much the same as its Windows version, and has been my main feed reader for awhile now. Since it exports and imports OPML, the transfer of my feeds was no prolbem at all.

FireFox2 on the Mac is faster than Safari, and even faster than FireFox1.5 was under Windows.

NeoOffice, the Aqua UI version of OpenOffice, primarily for spreadsheets so far.

Audacity is the best application for audio editing, and it had no problem opening all my Windows Audacity podcast projects.

GimpShop by Scott Moschella [alternate site GimpShop download from Apple] is a version of the open source GNU Image Manipulation Program software, the GIMP, designed with Photoshop users in mind. I'm hoping to use it to replace JASC Paint Shop Pro, but haven't gotten comfortable with it yet. This is the one piece of software that requires the X11 framework that I may wind up working with frequently. Update: I'm also trying Seashore, and I'll try just the plain ol' GIMP as well. Seashore so far, is making me happy for quick edits. I'll report on these separately once I've decided what to use.

ClamXav, for anti-virus, along with Dr. Web and spamAssassin on our servers; call me paranoid, but there was malware for mainframes, mid-range and Unix computers long before Bill Gates came along. BTW, Mail.app works with spamAssassin on the server, so we're feeling pretty comfortable - but not too comfortable.

Third Party Proprietary

I've mentioned Mark/Space the Missing Sync above, but let me just say here that if you use a PalmOS device and a MacOSX device, you NEED this software. They also have versions for MS Windows Mobile/PocketPC devices and Sony PSP. I am absolutely having the best experience sync'g between my desktop and my Palm that I have ever had.

BrainForest is a simple outliner that I've used on various Palm devices over the years for everything from brainstorming a business plan to keeping a running gift list for the important people in my life. The desktop version for the MacOSX syncs a bit awkwardly with my Lifedrive, but it does sync. It also can export an outline to OPML, which might one day be fantastic for interoperating between my static brain stored on Palm and Mac, and my teleinteractive, dynamic, online, collaborative life using something like Dave Winer's OPML editor.

Documents to Go is a staple for me on the Palm, and it has a Mac version, as good as it's Windows version, for synchronizing between desktop and PDA, with PDA editing of document, spreadsheet, presentation and PDF files. Though as I discuss further down, I need this less and less.

BBEdit has replaced my PHP IDE, WinMerge and CSS editor from Windows, and done so quite well. I'm still exploring how it interacts with xCode to be a true IDE, but for my purposes, it's great.

Transmit by Panic software won for my choice of FTP client. Other's were good, but Transmit has the most complete set of features, including side-by-side file listings and server-to-server FTP.


I found some utilities that I think really help:

  • EasyWMA and Flip4Mac WMV are required utilities to help your Mac play audio and video files from your MS Windows using friends.
  • Perian expands the video formats accessible to Quicktime and Front Row
  • MainMenu is a system utility that allows you to manually run all those cronjobs that are built into MacOSX to keep it healthy - especially useful if you shut down or sleep your Mac during the hours of 03h00 to 05h00 when cron would normally run those scripts.
  • TigerLaunch is a simple MenuBar add-on that searches the computer upon launch and build a drop-down menu with all the applications on your machine, and you configure it to ignore applications, such as those you have on your Dock or that you don't use. Many folk seem to like more powerful productivity apps that do something like this, as well as let you launch an application through typing its name, with hints along the way. The three I've seen most ofter recommended are: Quicksilver, Butler & Launchbar
  • CoreDuoTemp puts the CPU temperature and precent utilization in your MenuBar for easy monitoring. Fan Control adds a system preference allowing you to specify set-points for the Lower and Upper Threshold on temperature, as well as the base speed of the fan. Since adding Fan Control, the performance of my MacBookPro has been much better.

Dashboard Widgets

I also like some Dashboard Widgets: from iStatPro to monitor the system [though there are many neat graphic Unix utilities too] to Tide Widget [I do live on the Coast after all]. Many of these are just for fun, and you should just check out the Apple Dashboard site.

Still Researching

Here are other applications that I've looked at along the way, or that I'm still researching. Some say one of these or another are indispensable, but I haven't seen the need for myself, as yet, but I have them all bookmarked. Let's start with those I've tried out...

  • TextMate — self-styled as "The Missing Editor for Mac OS X" and it is a very good text editor for developers, with many plug-ins and a strong community, especially for proprietary software. I just like the BBedit diff display better.
  • CSSEdit by MacRabbit looks like a great CSS editor, but I'm happy using BBedit for CSS as well as PHP.
  • Two other editing applications that I tried were ForgEdit and Smultron; I really wanted to like Smultron as it's open source, and it is a good program, but not just where I need it to be yet. Another free package is by BareBones, the makers of BBEdit, called TextWrangler and is a great choice if you don't rely on visual diff'g files the way I do.
  • Xscope by Iconfactory is tool aimed at developers for precise measurement of objects on screen. It's only $16.95, but I haven't found a need for it, but it's on the list.
  • Cyberduck is a great open source FTP package for MacOSX, I just happened to like Transmit better, and didn't mind the price.
  • SuperDuper is a backup and recovery tool that gets good reviews. I just haven't gone there yet. &#59;) And i should, I know I should.
  • MenuCalendarClock is a menu calendar and configurable menu clock compatible with iCal or Entourage, so there's your calendar in the menubar; I haven't found the need for this, but you might.
  • Project management tools for the Mac that I'm trying are OmniPlan which in a package with OminiOutliner for brainstorming and OmniGraffle for process charting could be an interesting solution; FastTrack Schedule 9 which would have been very interesting if they hadn't dropped their PalmOS version; Merlin2 looks good on the web, but I'm not certain it has what I need overall; ConceptDraw project which, like OmniPlan, works with their MindMap and ConceptDraw products to provide brainstorming and process flow capabilities as well, and they are available as a bundle, ConceptDraw Business Suite.

Here's a quick list, in no real order, of links to software that I've only read about. There's a lot more I want to try out. Lot's to do, lot's to do.

Other Considerations for the Switch to Mac

Reading about Apple's service seems mixed, as does Apple's hardware quality, but I've had good results both on the phone and in the store for service; not that my machine has needed service, but there was that problem ordering off the web, and I've visited the genius bar in Burlingame to verify and learn. And like any niche, the community helps each other. I do think that if I had gotten my original order, with 2GB of RAM and the speedier hard drive, I would be able to run Parallels multiple guest OSs and Audacity at the same time. With only 1GB of RAM [admittably, somethig I can fix], I can't. I'm generally stuck with one guest OS at a time, and if running Audacity, I don't run much else - maybe Adium & Mail. Here are some links with helpful tips.

With Clarise's help, I've found three good web postings to help with keyboard shortcuts, beyond the cmd-whatever does pretty much the same as ctrl-whatever. It's really nice that I can use cmd-C,X & V when using Terminal to access our Linux servers - yep, cmd-C from the command line, and cmd-V to paste into some file in vim. Expose is also pretty convenient for switching among all open applications and windows, windows within an open application and the desktop. Check out System Preferences > Dashboard & Exposé to find the keyboard shortcuts and mouse hot corners that trigger Exposé for you. Another way to maneuver is to use the Dock: click on the application's icon in the Dock and you'll go there; right-click [or two-finger tap for touchpad users] on the application's icon will bring up a context menu, including all the windows associated with that application, with the last visited window checked. Here are the links for the keyboard shortcuts.

And don't forget that Parallels is improving like mad, and makes using MS Windows on the Apple hardware, under the MacOSX, seamless, without rebooting, and allows all sorts of Linux distros as guest OSs, as well as OpenSolaris and even OS/2, DOS, and others. Great for testing open source software and website CSS on different platforms. There's even rumors that Parallels will be incorporated into Leopard. Who knows? By the same token, I have less and less need to have software that outputs MS file formats. Once upon a time, when all customers used MS, and most deliverables were documents, spreadsheets, presentations, process diagrams, and project schedules that the customer wanted as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Visio and MS Project files, I needed to use those applications to provide the customer with what they wanted. Now, we almost always set up a web site with project workspaces, blogs and wikis for both internal and customer projects, and if anything is generated outside of the project web site, it is made available on the project web site as a PDF.

Two side notes...

  1. The vast majority of computer users use MS products, and thus there is still the need [real, perceived or potential] to have the ability to use MS products too, either for interoperability or for testing. Apple's move to Intel, and software like BootCamp and Parallels, allows us to have that access when we need it. The fact that we need it less and less also helped, to our relief, that we could finally go back to Apple after 10 years of Wintel.
  2. I think that virtualization, and virtualized software appliances have the potential to change how software is developed and delivered. Large, enterprise software vendors may support 80 or 90 versions of their software for different platforms. For smaller software OEMs and projects, the choice may simply not exist to support more than one platform - MS Windows OR MacOSX OR one-flavor-of-Linux OR another. With virtualization, a software vendor can select the platform [OS, development language, API, etc] that best supports the functions they wish to deliver to market, and still have the entire marketplace open to them. A savings and an opportunity in one, worth more than all the offsourcing. But I digress... &#59;)

Could an xServe, iTV, and some Mac Minis scattered about be in my future, for home automation and to work with my DirecTiVo? Will the rumored Apple iPhone replace my Lifedrive and RAZR? Could be.

I can go on, and on, but I need to wipe the drool off the keyboard. :-D And I still have a lot to explore and learn [Spotlight, Scripting, Automator, Sherlock, and third party stuff too], and that's fun too.

Update 2006.12.17;12h04: I've cleaned up some links, and moved them about a bit, and making things a bit clearer. I'll be following up by expanding some of the topics introduced here as well.

Update 2006.12.19;11h05: Added NoteMind to the list of software to review.

4 feedbacks »


Comment from: Antonio

Good thorough disseration. Tid bit of possible interest…Flip4Mac company has a new dvd imaging app out. Check it out HERE
Also a blurb about it HERE

12/20/06 @ 09:15
Comment from: JAdP

Thank you for letting us know about Drive-in. It looks like it would be a big hit with travelers.

12/20/06 @ 15:12
Comment from: Simington

Good stuff =)

09/07/09 @ 15:43
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I'm Joseph A. di Paolantonio and this blog has two main foci: my interest in food, and my interest in the future. This provides a look into my personal life, and is separate from my consulting work…though there will be overlap. I am an independent researcher, working as a strategic consultant and I'm an executive with over 20 years of commercial experience with a technical interest in the intersection of Internet of Things, with advanced data management and analysis methods. I view data science as a team activity, and I feel that the IoT must be viewed as a system. I am leveraging my past activities to understand the adoption and impact of the IoT; first, as a system engineer in aerospace, where I developed Bayesian risk assessment methods for systems within the Space Transportation System (including the Space Shuttle), Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer, Gravity Probe B, and many more, and second, as a enterprise data warehousing, business intelligence and analytics professional. Between my aerospace and IT careers, I indulged my hobby of cooking by starting a food company, Montara Magic, centered around my chocolate sauces. My education combined chemistry, mathematics and philosophy. I performed research into molten salt fuel cells in graduate school, and in photovoltaic materials for a short time in industry. The lure of bringing the human race into space was strong, and when I was offered the chance to combine my chemistry and mathematics skills to develop new risk assessment and system engineering methods for space launch and propulsion systems – I couldn't resist. I perform independent research and strategic consulting to bring value from the Internet of Things, Sensor Analytics Ecosystems and data science teams.I am a caregiver, a lover of science fiction and speculative fantasy, and my passion to learn has led me to a pilot's license, an assistant instructor in SCUBA, nordic and alpine skiing, sea kayaking, and reading everything I can, in as many topics as I can.

View Joseph di Paolantonio's profile on LinkedIn

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