This past weekend was a long weekend thanks to Memorial Day (Observed). When I came into work on Tuesday, I won’t deny that I would have liked to take another day or two off. But while I was a good worker and showed up to be productive, my workstation PC wasn’t so enthusiastic; it refused to boot up. Yes, it is plugged in, and yes, I did try switching it on and then off again, and no, I don’t need to put any more IT Crowd references into this story. Anyway, I called tech support, but no answer, so I sent them an email that was supposed to be “replied to promptly”. Feeling like being productive just to spite my computer I had to find another workstation.

Horror of horrors, the nearest computer to me was an iMac (1GB of RAM, OS 10.4.9, 1.25Ghz PPC). Well I have little experience with actually using Mac computers for anything more than “oh, you just have to reboot it to fix it” so I decided that this would be a good time to try and educate myself. I decided to spend the whole week using the Mac, regardless of the status of the other computer. And while I’m at it, why not keep a decent log of all of the things that please me and irk me about the Mac system? Sounds like a useful story. Keep in mind, that this is a 4 day week, so we’ll see how well I become accustomed to the Mac Way after 4 days and if I want to go back to Windows.

Day 1

So the first thing I had to have done was to get one of the other administrators to make me an account. This is actually kind of nice since on most Windows XP machines anybody can go on there and make themselves a new administrator account because they aren’t very well secured. Anyway, once that was all set up I started configuring my tools the way I like them. A couple of things annoyed me right off the bat.

First, I don’t like the keyboards. While this is definitely a hardware issue and not something that is wrong with OS X, the Mac way seems to be to have everything packaged together, so I’m going to complain about the keyboard as I would the rest of the system. The keys are too stiff and I don’t get enough feedback from them. I am accustomed to more of a clickity-clack when I type and I can feel my wrists actually getting a workout while typing on the Mac keyboard. The only thing nice about this is that when I am typing very fast, I seem to be getting few wrong keys because my fingers aren’t actually registering a hit when I brush a key. This may be something I will grow to like; we’ll see.

The next thing that bugs me is the fact that the Home and End buttons do not work as expected. After a day of using the Mac I’m still not sure how they’re supposed to work. Thankfully, they are fairly predictable inside ofDreamweaver. This might be a Macromedia thing or maybe Apple has special rules for special text areas, I’m not really sure yet. When I hit “Home” I expect the cursor to go to the beginning of the current line. In Dreamweaver it does. Anywhere else…. nope. In a textarea form field in Firefox, I can use home to go to the very beginning of the textarea. Since most of my work is done via typing, this is most likely going to aggravate me immensely.

Dreamweaver is working as expected, the only real difference between the Mac version and the Windows version being that the Mac version doesn’t encapsulate everything inside one large window, but rather spreads the different toolboxes out into their own components, similarly how to The Gimp does (sorry if it is a bad analogy, Gimp is the only other application I have used that does this). I also had to change a couple of the default key bindings inside of Dreamweaver so that I could use control-tab to move between open files. Not a big hassle.

One thing that I am actually enjoying a lot is the dock. For those stuck on Windows, it runs similar to something in the System Tray. The icons are links to start the application, but so long as you only close windows and don’t really quit the application, these are also used to reopen the window. For example, I am using iTunes to listen to somebody else’s music collection and when I close the iTunes window, the music is still playing. If i click on the iTunes icon in the dock it opens iTunes back up and shows the music playing. I like this a lot, sort of like a more intelligent task bar. It is also being useful for Thunderbird since the icon changes to reflect the number of new messages I have waiting.

I am also happy to have working shell. As a sometimes-Linux-dabbler I like having the power of bash at my finger tips. Also having vim is nice. I actually used it quite a bit today to debug an image generation script I was working on. One thing that was mildly annoying was finding out that “Console” didn’t do what I expected it to and having to search around until I found that “Terminal” was actually what I was looking for.

The last thing that annoyed me was the fact that I couldn’t use any of the delete keys to delete a document on the desktop. Why not?!? I even tried different combinations with the command (apple) key and control key. I ended up either having the click and drag the document to the trash or just use rm from the terminal.

Overall, the first day went fairly well. It was definitely easier than learning any of the Linux interfaces (sorryKDE, I still love you!) but there are some things that still aggravate me and I am not sure if I can customize them out. It is a good thing I didn’t wait for tech support to get back to me, their first reply came at 5:22PM after I had already left work and that was just to tell me that they needed all of the support numbers off of the side of the computer as well as its make / model.

Day 2

I am getting more comfortable with some of the key bindings. Just about everything is done with the Apple key (or Command Key, I don’t know what the official name of it is…). The standard stuff for copy/cut/paste is Command-C/Command-X/Command-V respectively. Undo is Command-Z, redo is Command-Y. I think I actually like the default binding to close the current tab (Command-W) better than the Windows default of Control-F4, I don’t have to stretch my fingers as much and it is a key combination that I use often. The only thing that I’m still finding aggravating is the Home-End dilema (see Day 1). I really like having the volume buttons built into the keyboard, it is much nicer than the extra small buttons that they put on some of the “multimedia” keyboards for Windows.

The directory structure (colon’s are used where I am used to slashes) is fairly straight forward. Having all of my applications in one folder is nice for when I need to find a program. I’m not sure how nice this is from a logistics standpoint, or if this is just a fake so that it looks that way from the finder, but from a usability perspective this is very nice and intuitive. It is sort of like the “Program Files” folder in Windows, but better organized and Apple doesn’t try to hide it from me by default.

I have been using Firefox as my web browser just because it is what I am already used to, but I have fired up Safari a couple of times just to play with it. As a web developer I have to make sure that my sites don’t go completely awry in this browser, generally this isn’t any real extra work beyond being standards compliant (aka, passing the W3C Validator) which is a good idea anyway. I used to use Firefox because it had a cleaner feel than Internet Explorer, but Safari has an even cleaner feel than Firefox right now. It also seems to be a bit snappier than Firefox, which may be do to some optimizations because it IS the default browser for the operating system. I am on a PPC, so we can’t run Parallels and thus I am stuck with IE 5.5 for testing my work in Internet Explorer, which is slow as sin and twice as bad. But I seldom use IE on my Windows machine anyway, so I don’t feel very crippled by this.

One thing that is kind of interesting to me: Firefox seems a bit slower here than it is in Windows. This is something that I have noted to be true in Linux as well, especially when there is any Javascript involved. It might be a version issue however and I am thinking of Firefox 1.5 with a biased memory on Windows. On Windows I typically use Firefox 2.0.x but I haven’t gotten around to upgrading this Mac’s version yet. According to a quick Google, it seems that Firefox is generally faster than IE at Javascript in general. I must keep this in mind when working on any Javascript tricks for my web applications. We have kept FugitiveThought mostly Javascript-less but some of my other projects have used it a little bit intensely.

I have been using TextEdit to actually write these blog entries, and I must say, it beats Notepad to death on the first bell with its functionality, I enjoy using this far better than Notepad or Wordpad. I don’t seem to be able to bold text with key-bindings, but I can do it using the drop-down menu on top and it actually keeps me from going crazy bolding everything in sight. Overall, it feels clean and snappy.

Current opinion of Mac’s: about twice what it was before starting this little stint =).

Day 3

I realized that I was getting comfortable with the Mac when I found myself trying to use some of the Mac keyboard shortcuts in Windows on my own computer last night. Steve was kind enough to point out to me that the Ctrl-W is the standard tab close key combo in windows, so I guess all of this time I have been reaching up the keyboard to the Ctrl-F4 for nothing! Oh well, I have long fingers, so it really doesn’t make a big difference to me. The Home-End key problems are still the most aggravating thing to me. Thanks to an anonymous poster (hmm, according to IP addresses it’s somebody else in my web development lab!) I found the key combination to delete files on the desktop. Apparently I did not try to universal do-everything Apple key! Since I am using a PowerPC architecture, I cannot run Parallels, and can’t get Internet Explorer 6 or 7 to run on it at all! I tried downloading a Wine port for Mac named Darwine, but it says on the website that it is unable to run Windows binary .exe files on PPC architecture. So what is the point of installing it on a PPC?? If someone can enlighten me on that one, I would be very appreciative. I can see the value of Darwine for Intel Mac’s though, so I am by no means trying to dis the project.

I have gotten very much attached to the dock, I need to find a Windows equivalent that I can use. I have used the similar launcher in XFCE in Linux, but it doesn’t work in the same way. Aqua Dock from Softpedia looks incredibly interesting. I’ll try it out and post a review later on.

Day 4

The technician came today from Dell and replaced my motherboard on my PC, so Monday I will have a PC to go back to. I can’t say that I will miss the Mac, there are some things that aggravated me, but overall I have had a decent experience. The one-button mouse got annoying to me today so that I swapped it out for a regular two button Dell USB mouse for the rest of the day, and I’m happy to see that it works. Gone are the days when Mac requires its own particular brand of mouse (yes, I know it was a long time ago, but it has been a very long time since I have tried out a Mac for real, so cut me some slack here…). With the right click working, the Home-End issue was really the only thing that aggravated me.

Keep in mind that this experience was in a work environment, so I did not play around with a lot of the other features that I would be using if it was my personal machine. The AIM clients, etc are there but unused. From a general usability perspective, the Mac was faster to learn and more intuitive than Windows. A couple of times I found that I was only having issues because I was over thinking the task. Once I got used to the default locations for everything (Preferences are under the first drop-down menu that has the name of the Application, and qiorks like that) I found that everything I used had the same layout, which made learning new applications easier.

One argument that I have heard from Windows and Linux users before was that the Mac wasn’t customizable enough for them, and while I did not do anything too complicated in the way of customization, it was fairly straight-forward and easy to configure all of the settings that made me comfortable in the operating system. It was the fastest system I have ever used to adapt to my own usage patterns. With the integration of the terminal, I don’t think that many people would find whatever customizations they would normally use hard to integrate either. One other thing that was very impressive was that dragging and dropping worked for everything that I tried it for. From rearrange menus to opening music, to transferring files from one application to another. This is matched only by the drag-and-drop abilities of Ubuntu Edgy (I have not yet tried Fawn).

Final Recommendations: FIX HOME AND END KEYS!!!!!!!!!!