Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Mac Office (!)

Our office went Mac two weeks ago! The Artsgarden staff got 20" iMacs; I'm writing this on mine now. It took us a few days to get over the hump in our learning curve, but now things are running relatively smoothly. It's had its pros and cons, but all in all it's been an improvement. Here's a collection of my thoughts on the matter, collected over the last 14 days.
  • I like a lot of the Mac's interface improvements over the PC. The Mac user interface contains everything useful about the PC interface, plus a lot of new ones that actively improve the computing experience; the Dashboard is nice, and I like the fact that clicking on both side buttons brings up a display of all open program windows. I have yet to reach for a PC function and find it's not there.
  • PCs have three function keys: ctrl, alt, and shift. Macs have an extra key, the one with the little apple on it. All of the shortcuts are still there, but a lot of them aren't the keys I'm used to. It's taking some getting used to.
  • We're running a program called Parallels. It divides your computer in two, and creates a virtual engine in which you can load a complete operating system. The second OS has its own dedicated RAM and hard drive partition and functions as a complete computing system. It's highly functional, but it slows the machine down a lot. And it's necessary because we use an event-management software package that is PC-only. Until we get really used to it, it'll be problematic. We keep having problems making it run smoothly. It's more of a problem for Mike and Michele, since I rarely use Parallels. One of the biggest Parallels problems is that it captures devices; in order to function like a complete operating system, the second OS needs dedicated access to CD drives, flash drives, and printers. So whenever you switch back and forth between the Parallels copy of WinXP and the Mac OS, you need to screw around with making sure the devices you need are enabled in the correct OS.
  • We're running MS Office for Mac. They designed a lot of the Windows-Office functionality out of Mac Office; some shortcuts don't exist, and a lot of obvious functionality is missing. Entourage (the Mac-specific e-mail/contact manager that replaces Outlook in Mac Office) doesn't support distribution lists. That is, the Microsoft mail program doesn't work with Microsoft Exchange's distro list functions. And, a lot of the missing functionality is pretty blatant. It's not like it's missing some obscure command to do some obscure format change. Excel, for instance, is missing using the f2 key to edit cells. That's a major oversight. There are so many of these, I'm fairly convinced that MS purposely tries to make its Mac products less functional. Which would surprise no one.
  • The ergonomic experience of the Mac is impressive. The display is highly adjustable, the keyboard and mouse are pleasant to use. My only minor quibble is that the keyboard cable that comes with the iMac isn't long enough to put the keyboard on your lap while you type. And, you generally plug the mouse into one of the USB ports on the back of the keyboard; to put the keyboard on your lap, you'd be happier plugging the mouse directly into the keyboard. The cable also isn't long enough to reach from the back of the iMac to a keyboard shelf mounted under the desk.
  • I'm surprised the iMac doesn't come with more USB ports. Mine are already full, and I have to swap them out to use different devices. Keyboard, mouse, card reader, camera cable, Axim sync cable, data transfer cable. And five USB ports, including the two on the back of the keyboard. More strange, only the one on the back of the keyboard (assuming the mouse uses the other) is accessible for USB security dongles or thumb drives or other frequently-plugged accessories. And the USB ports on the keyboard are only USB 1.1; they're less useful for thumb drives. I think the design assumes you own a USB hub.
  • Another problem: there is no free software to sync a PocketPC/Windows Mobile handheld with the iMac (or, at least I can't find any). I can find software, but it costs $25. I know this is a Microsoft problem, but it's still an irritation attached to Making The Switch. I'm not opposed to paying for software, but this seems like something that should've been included.
  • I miss being able to play with my computer. Mac doesn't allow access to actual program files, or not that I've found. I wanted to copy my bookmarks folder from my old PC to the new iMac. On another PC, I'd copy the .htm file where Firefox stores my bookmarks into the appropriate directory on the new PC. On a Mac, you can't even find the actual location where the bookmarks are stored. One perk of using Camino (the Mac-specific browser from the people who brought us Firefox) is that I can open the bookmarks.htm file, open all the bookmarks in new tabs, and then use the "bookmark all tabs" function. Still, I miss being able to tinker.
  • I miss the impressive availability of freeware for the PC. There isn't a lot available for Mac. I know you don't really need fifteen different sketchbook programs, just one good one. Still, I miss the lack of options.
  • Also, Mac software never gets cheaper. I can find a copy of, say, "Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield" for PC in the $10 discount bin at Best Buy. It was $40 when it was new, in 2000, but it's old news now. I can also find a copy of Raven Shield for the Mac (one of the relatively few good games available for Mac), but it still costs $40. I'm sure there are people willing to pay full price for a six-year-old game, but I'm not one of them.
  • I should also mention that I'm playing with NeoOffice. It's nice so far; I'm not seeing any real reason to use M$Office to open documents. It's technically a beta release, but it seems fine.
  • It's harder to tinker with a Mac. Just a general observation. They have a huge number of options and settings you can customize, but anything that's not on the list is difficult to play with.
That's my take so far on going Mac. Definitely a positive change, but not without problems.


NerfSmuggler said...

OS-X and beyond is roughly a Linux BSD hybrid. This means, while it's fairly hidden, there is a command-line interface.
Once you find it (I forget where, but I found it before), you can use the find command to have it tell you where it hides the bookmark file.
find start_path file_options
i.e. - find /home -type f -name "bookmark*"
will search through /home and all sub-dir for a File which has a name starting with bookmark.
The Unix descent allows you to do some nifty stuff from the command line, albeit not as easily. For instance, astronomers recorded this really spooky sounding radio signal coming from storms on Saturn -- I have my linux machine at work play the mp3 every night at midnight. Probably no-one will ever hear it, but if one person gets freaked out, it'll be worth it :)

Jeff Mountjoy said...

I really, really like the concept of having your work machine play something creepy in the middle of the night. Bwa ha ha ha! I might have to play with that here. Is the mp3 file online somewhere? I'd like to hear that!

One of the reasons I didn't take my recent job offer is that I have lots of opportunities to learn new things here. My bosses are all completely okay if I answer the "What are you working on?" question with, "I'm learning how to write scripts for the Mac" or "I'm studying how to program a lighting console we don't own." And the Mac provides me with new places to learn new stuff. I might even have to start playing with BSD/Linux....

NerfSmuggler said...

Here's the post from slashdot about it from the summer of '05:

I'm sending you the .wav file in an email in case the link is broken.