I’m writing this entry on Microsoft Word v. X, Service Release 1. This implies several things. First, that I successfully installed Mac OS X on my desktop. Second, that I’ve been able to successfully install and launch applications on aforementioned system. As you look at those two sentences, it just doesn’t look like that much work, but it was… culturally. I’ll explain.
First, before I get into the nitty gritty details of Week #1 on OS X, I first need to describe my profile as a user of an operating system as it will illuminate why I care what I care about. Let me start by saying that I’ve been a Windows for more than a single decade. This means that Windows conventions have been grinded into me over the course of many years. Other important aspects to my usage profile:
NO MOUSE: I really dislike using the mouse because I find it to be an imprecise tool. For example, why in the world when I want to click a minimize button which I might miss? It is pretty small and I can achieve the same effect by typing ALT-SPACE-M to minimize a window AND I NEVER MISS. Now, the mouse has a great many good uses in the form of drawing and games, but for window management, no thanks.
KEYBOARD CRAZY: I’m extremely speedy on the keyboard. My form is atrocious, I think I use about seven of my ten fingers, but I fly like the wind. Combined with the NO MOUSE issue, this means that I’m ALWAYS looking for shortcuts via the keyboard because it’s reliable and I’m fast. An example, if I want to fire up notepad on Windows2k / Windows XP, I hit WINDOWS_KEY – R – NOTEPAD –
FINICKY ABOUT MY SCREEN REAL ESTATE: This really falls into two different quirks. First, I run everything in MAXIMIZED mode in Windows. Meaning, if I open Word, the first thing I do is maximize the window to fill the screen. This is really a clutter avoidance tactic. If there aren’t multiple layers of windows on my desktop that I can see, I’m less apt to wander off task.
Second, I’ve grown very fond of the dual monitor set-up. This is a by-product of my full screen mania. With two monitors, I can have one monitor be the “primary task” window and the second one contains miscellaneous widgets like instant messaging, audio players, and other toys. The other monitor is also a huge advantage in debugging code as you can have the running application in one window and all sorts of debug windows in the other. A dual monitor set-up is just plain sexy.
DAY TO DAY USE: I’m a manager of engineers which means I’ve got a dual use for my machines. I need them to, first, reliable run the standard set of office applications (mail, word processor, calendaring, etc), but I also need them to serve as a test bed for application development. I often solve this problem by having a manager machine that I don’t touch and a development machine that gets hammered.
As quirks go, this list isn’t particularly demanding on an operating system, but, more importantly, I’m not particularly cranky about my set-up. When Windows XP arrived and made Windows look like a Fisher Price toy, I didn’t freak out, I adapted.
For my new hardware, I have a Macintosh G4, Dual 1Ghz. As far as I know, this represents the best piece of desktop hardware Apple is currently shipping, so I was expecting to see decent performance. The machine came with Mac OS 10.1.5, but as I wanted to experience the installation, I dug up a BETA copy of the next release of the OS, 10.2 a.k.a. Jaguar.
Installing crap on a Mac has always been painfully easy, so I’m not going to delve much into the process. I created a couple of partitions as I’m expecting to have a couple of operating systems on this machine and I installed Jaguar. Just a few questions to answer and we were running. Simple. Simple. Simple. This is why folks love the Mac.
With my freshly baked version of Jaguar, I sat down to try to get actually work done. This is where I began to run into my first cultural differences. As you can discern from my quirks, I’m heavily dependant on keyboard shortcuts to navigate my way around the system… if I have to use the mouse, I feel like I’m working slowly and find that annoying.
As the Mac and the mouse were essentially unleashed on the world at the same time, they are heavily dependent on each other. I remembered from my earlier Mac experiences that there was often no way of getting from Point A to Point B without engaging the mouse. The good news about OS X is that I’m in day #8 and there is nothing I can’t do without the keyboard.
More random details:
The Dock: I’ve been messing with the Dock every single day. It started at the bottom, moved to the right side, returned to the bottom, and is now currently automatically hiding on the bottom. The main reason for the hiding is that I’m on a single monitor and I’m trying to conserve real estate on the screen.
The Dock rocks. It’s straightforward and intuitive to use. I quickly turned off the gee-whizzy features of magnification and the genie-minimize effect. They’re very cool and demo well to people who need to be wowed by your Mac, but functionally useless.
As a means of gathering data about the state of your desktop, the Dock does an elegant job. The moment I hit Command-TAB, I can glance down at the Dock and see what is running, which applications needs attention, and whether I have mail. Also, it’s completely configurable, you can add, move, and delete whatever you want from the Dock.
From a functional perspective, the main reason I love the Dock is that it obeys some familiar conventions from Windows-land. Namely, I can use Alt/Commend-TAB to cycle through open applications. This is the main way that I get from Point A to Point B and its existence in OS X is bliss.
In terms of minimizing applications, I quickly stopped using the Dock to minimize apps via the Command-M convention because there did not appear to be a consistent way to maximize applications that had been Docked/Minimized. Rather, and more usefully I might add, I’m using the hide function (Command-H) to clean-up my desktop which is divine because it’s quick and it’s consistent for most applications that I’m currently using. More good news, Command-TAB brings the selected application right back. Slick.
My biggest complaint with the Dock is provides no means to specify keystrokes to launch applications. A quick search of the web found a System Preference called Key Xing which makes launching applications via the keyboard a snap. Problem solved.
The Desktop / Finder: Because of my keyboard mania and mouse phobia, I’ve slowly removed all icons from my desktop. I was worried that this practice might be at odds with my historic perspective of Mac users in that they use the desktop as the springboard to everything, but with OS X, that isn’t an issue.
Remember that OS X is built on Unix which means under all those sexy candy colored buttons is a flavor of FreeBSD (a.k.a. Darwin) and that means a Unix file system. No more of the loosey goosey put the Applications wherever you like attitude, Mac OS X recommends a directory hierarchy for your applications/documents and while you can still spill stuff all over the place, I hear it will make the usual process of upgrading applications problematic (translation: WELCOME TO WINDOWS).
As of this moment, I still have the hard drive icon on my desktop, but that is mostly because I just love the detail of the Mac icons. That leads us to our next topic…
Performance: This was initially a trouble category for me. Here’s why: I’m staring at a Dual 1Ghz G4. Next to it is my old machine, a Windows XP box running a 800Mhz Pentium 3. After several days of only OS X, I went back to the Windows box and, well, the Windows box “felt” faster.
Let’s talk about “feel”. This term has nothing to do with actual performance benchmarks. I didn’t sit down and run Photoshop filters against MASSIVE images to see which machine was faster. I just used it to do my usual activities… firing up windows, jumping around between applications, and typing horribly. Windows felt faster. Here’s why:
1) I’m used to Windows, which means there are no brief pauses where I’m thinking, “Ok what next?” You can’t blame OS X for the fact that I’m dense.
2) (This is a guess) OS X has devoted a lot of CPU cycles to the interface all over the place. Full color icons, translucent button, animated window resizing effects, the list is endless. This is a design point for Apple. They do this intentionally because they create sexy product and, yes, it does have an impact on performance.
3) It’s extremely difficult to do an apple to apple comparison with two different operating systems. There are million little decisions which went into the code that, say, redraws a window. Given that all of these decisions were made by different people with different design goals on different hardware, how can you compare the two? And we haven’t even thrown differing hardware architectures into the mix, yet…
Terminal Window: Another ancient perception I’d had of the Mac was stability. Since the arrival of Windows 2000, I’d pretty much left the world where I was required to reboot my system on a daily basis and I was concerned that I might be returning to Reboot Land.
It’s only been two weeks since I’ve begun on OS X, but I’ve yet to have to reboot a BETA version of Jaguar. Whew. I have had a few applications wedge on me and I’ve yet to figure out how to properly close them because of the Terminal Window.
In your head you should translate Terminal Window into Unix prompt. Again, Darwin (the underpinnings of OS X) is based on FreeBSD so when you fire up Terminal Window, you’ve got the power of Unix at your figure tips. Mail.app wedged? Kill the process. Some unknown process hogging CPU cycles? Type Top and find the culprit.
OS X has a slew of friendly utilities to do much of the work you can do much from a shell, but THAT IS NOT THE POINT. The point is that OS X functionality appeals to very broad demographic. On one side, you have the artistic types who are (and always will be) Mac zealots. The folks see their Mac in more of a religious content than a practical one and that gives them an unparalleled level of passion.
On the other side, you have a new constituency, the architects. These are hard-core Unix types who have artistic tendencies. This means that while they must have the endless functionality (and complexity) of a Unix command prompt, the beauty of the Mac interface also fulfills them. This is relevant because it’s a different requirement than Joe Blow engineer. Joe Blow wants to get the job done while Joe Architect wants to get it down right (with extra bonus points for sexy solutions). This is also relevant because Joe Blow is always watching Joe Architect and following where he/she is going because they can smell the intoxicating inspiration emanating from Joe Architect and they like it. This is good news for OS X.
I’d like to say that I’ve adapted well to the OS X environment in my two weeks, but I’m still feel constrained by my lack of experience. I’m happy to report the reported dearth of applications for the Mac has yet to bite me, but, then again, I really haven’t had an odd request for functionality, yet.
My biggest complaint appears to be that a comfortably size font that is sent from my mail program is showing up as retardedly large on Windows mail clients and I’m not a big fan of appearing retarded.
Given that is currently my largest complaint, you’d have to say the first two weeks were going amazingly well and that I don’t know what I don’t know.