My wife and her switch to Mac

I had anticipated that I would be writing a lot about my wife's experiences using her "new" MacBook. After all, it's been two weeks since I got her the machine, yet she has barely touched it by my standards. The reality is that computers are just not that important to her. She's an experienced teacher with 8 years at the same school under her belt and for the last two weeks has had to do little more than e-mail and web based activities from home. She averages just under an hour a day on the machine right now.

She is also becoming mildly amused by my regular queries about how she likes her MacBook. Her standard response?

"It's great. I love it."

There have been moments where she has struggled with the machine however. She did offer up that she doesn't like the Delete key. Why? Well, she's used to using a Windows based delete key that deletes forward, not backwards. Backspace is what she expects that key to do. I assumed that she simply had a problem with the name of the key—it still performs the same action that it did under Windows and sits in the same position.

I then realized something I had overlooked for years; my wife likes to delete backwards (er, forwards). She always had a full size keyboard available to her and as a result would actually place the cursor—either with the mouse or even using the arrow keys—to the left of the word/character she wanted to delete and then strike the Delete key on Windows.

That little snag could be easily solved by planting a full size keyboard on the machine and letting her whack away at the Delete Forward button that full size Mac keyboards have, or teaching her to hit "fn" and then hit the Delete key. Instead, I'm going to spend a little time retraining her keyboard skills to adjust to using the Delete key properly.

She's apparently been doing this since she learned to type on her father's ancient IBM PC with the original keyboard. Old habits die hard.

Minor Mail Struggles

Allison is a Gmail user and for the last couple of years simply used the web interface to access her account. Since I'm also a Gmail user I decided to set her up the way I am; using Mail and the IMAP interface to manage my Gmail inbox.

I like that Mail uses the base Address Book, which she is very fond of since she has everything in that because of her iPhone.

The problem is that she uses Gmail a little differently than I do. I am a tag / folder nut and like to have a pretty empty inbox. As a result I tend to drag messages that I have finished working with or responded to into the appropriate folder in Mail. Since Mail takes the tag model that Gmail has and emulates it as folders that works great for me.

Allison however does not use tags or folders. She would simply select all the e-mails and hit the Archive button. I don't know of a way to do that without having to load up the web version of Gmail.

If anyone has a suggestion on how best to adjust Mail to use Gmail and leverage the Archive feature please drop a note in the comments. I'd also be interested in hearing from anyone that uses Gmail on their Macs and what they are doing to make it work besides just loading up the web interface.


seanlb said...

"retraining her keyboard skills to adjust to using the Delete key properly."

I hope that was a joke. The delete key found on most PCs is the only things I still miss from PC world.

The thing I think you're missing, or don't care about, is efficiency. If you have to take a few letters out of a long complicated string, and you have a backwards and forwards delete key, then you can be faster with where you insert the courser into the line. If you are behind the middle"i" in "22111i11148fdkw" then got forwards and if you're in front of it- go backwards. Either way, you don't have to think as long or hard about where you put it. Just see where it landed and use the right button.

I still run into people who say "whoa! how did you delete forwards!?!?!" I just say to myself "Wow. My favorite key on the whole keyboard isn't even on some people's radar."
I just wish there the function and command keys were on both sides of the spacebar. Then I wouldn't have to use two hands to delete the 'proper' way. Oh wait- there is no proper way.

tufty said...


The Gmail thing can be done quite easily. Instead of setting it up as IMAP, set it up as a POP account then set GMail to archive the message once it has been picked up by Mail. Set Mail not to delete from server.

You're a clever bloke, you'll work it out. BTW, Great blog. I've been following it since the beginning at it is now recommended reading for my converts.



Andrew L. said...

To archive a message with IMAP, just drag the message to the "All Mail" Gmail folder.

David Alison said...

@Seanlb: What I said was that my wife never even used the "Backspace" key (now the Delete key) in Windows - though I probably didn't express it too well. I use both the Delete and Delete Forward keys as appropriate. If she needed to delete a word in a sentence she would navigate right through it then start deleting it from the beginning.

@Tufty: She also pulls her Gmail from her iPhone so I don't know if that will work. Thanks for the comment on the blog!

@Andrew L: Exactly what I needed - thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi david, a quick tip

get rid of that stupid 'all mail'


Gregory said...


I'm like your wife a lot of the time. I like to backspace while typing but delete forward while editing.

I'm reasonably sure you already know this but here it goes anyway: hitting the delete key on a MacBook Pro is "backspace". to get to "delete" you do fn-delete.

Anonymous said...


when at the i pres alt-shift-left arrow and delete. who is faster now?

Anonymous said...

you know gmail integrates very well in mail?


Anonymous said...

So what you're telling me, is that her name is Allison Alison?

David Alison said...

@Bert: Yep, been using Mail and Gmail myself (through IMAP) for some time - it was the Archive feature that I wasn't sure how to accomplish. That link to the advanced Labs work on Gmail is very interesting though.

@Gregory: I do indeed use the fn-Delete combo when I'm using my MacBook Pro, though lately I've been spending most of my time on my Mac Pro's full size keyboard.

@Anon: Indeed, my wife's name is Allison Alison. After 22 years of marriage she's adjusted to it though ;)

April said...

in Apple Mail deleting from inbox still keeps the mail in All Mail i.e. its archived. See Gmail help file for how actions sync in IMAP

Pascal said...

Rome wasn't built in a day, and old habits die hard. I remember when I got my first Mac (sixteen years ago now). I got myself a copy of SoftPC with it so that I could use it as a PC if I needed. I think I wanted to switch, I just wasn't mentally prepared to. SoftPC was the biggest waste of money ever - not that it didn't work, it did, I just didn't need it once I got used to the Mac.

I periodically cursed the Mac way of doing things until I discovered that, even then, there isn't really a Mac way of doing things - there are so many ways to skin a cat that there's just your way of doing things. The Mac will generally do what you want intuitively.

Eventually, I ended up cursing the Windows way of not doing things (like dysfunctional drag & drop, a schizophrenic control key, dog slow search, the registry) that I came to love my Mac and wish that Windows was half as good so that Apple would get a run for its money, to propel it to new heights of excellence. Imagine how cool our OS's would be if Windows was fully POSIX compliant, with a working control key, with rapid searching etc - the competition would be tremendous!

Sorry. I got sidetracked. Basically, these things take time. How about asking your wife how she likes her Mac in a couple of months time?

David Alison said...

@April: I didn't realize that deleting the message from the Mail inbox actually archives it on Gmail! Very helpful - thanks for the link. This is one of the reasons I blog and ask for comments because everyone benefits from things like this.

Interesting to note that the default iPhone behavior is a little different though, as documented in the linked page.

@Pascal: She does really like it, though I think in large part that's because she simply loves her iPhone and her MacBook is getting the early benefit of the halo effect from it.

April said...

You're welcome David. I should've also noted that to actually Delete a file from Gmail you Move it to Gmail/Trash in Apple Mail.

Joel Esler said...

If you delete an email in Gmail from the inbox, it's still in the "All Mail" folder. However, even better. If you set your GMAIL IMAP path to "INBOX" You won't see the "All Mail" folder and Spotlight won't index it. (Causing you to have duplicates in your Spotlight index)

jaded said...

I actually switched this behavior on my ibook via a 10.3 add-in. You can remap the key to the *right* delete if you want. I was confused till i did that!

Anonymous said...

check out the mailbox menu item for things like smartmailbox and archive mailbox. Good luck. Great blog. I've followed it since you switched and it's been mostly typical except for being very well written. Apple since IIe.

Dylan said...

Why archive or painstakingly maintain folder/tag organization? I just leave everything in the inbox and use search to find what I need. It's the same reason I stopped using bookmarks a while back. With good search tools it's not usually necessary to organize in advance.

RobInNZ said...

Great to hear your wife is enjoying her Mac experience.

I dont believe it is possible to 'hard' remap the Del key to forward delete in OS X.

However, it does look like this utility will let you do it:

David Alison said...

@Dylan: My inbox is essentially my todo list. If it's in there I either haven't responded to it yet or acted on it. Once archived it's not something I worry about any longer. Unless of course I want to find something later, which is where the tagging comes in. Often I want to see messages grouped together in a specific way and the tagging / folders allow me to see conversations in context.

Josso said...

Maybe she should try MailPlaneApp. :)

Then she can use GMail, but with enhanced features. :)

Anonymous said...

David just came across your blog today and I am a hardcore windows user like you switching to a Mac. I have started reading your posts from Feb 2008 and finding it very helpful. Just wanted to drop a note and thank you and I am going to be checking your blog for more insights and tips for windows converts. Thanks again!


PS: How much disk space do you allocate for your VMWare Fusion windows VM for windows development tasks?

pseudonym said...


I'd love to see another post dedicated to the close integration of Gmail and Mail.

Unlike many I came to Gmail late - I was put off by the aesthetic of the interface (I know - I'm shallow like that). But having bought an iPhone, a quick hunt around the web tended to suggest using IMAP with Google Apps mail (equivalent to Gmail) would be a good way to get my address working nicely with both my MBP and my iPhone.

But, having already adapted to Mail's quirks after moving across from Outlook on a PC earlier this year, I now find myself confronting a whole new set of idiosyncrasies.

This blog post (and its 382 comments at last count) has got my Mail configuration a lot closer than where I was originally, but I still encounter behaviour that's driving me nuts.

I have lots of smart mailboxes in Mail, dedicated to emails to and from my various clients. Now every communication appears at least twice in these folders - three times if I've flagged something as requiring attention.

I'd love to hear more about your setup and strategies.

David Alison said...

@Bharat: Glad to hear the blog is helping you out! Make sure to read the comments of the posts as many folks have provided a lot of valuable feedback to me as I went through it.

On the VMware space allocation issue I gave my VM 20GB of space. It's a relatively smallish number but I really only have the OS (WinXP, not Vista), and the critical applications in it. I stored all of my data on shared folders that I could also access directly through the Finder on my Mac.

A quick recommendation: if you are using Time Machine then exclude your VM from it and back that file up manually every once in a while. If you keep your primary data files outside of the VM instance and on your Mac then TM will pick those files up.

@pseudonym: Thanks for the post idea. I'm getting to the point where my rate of new discoveries is pretty low (hence the infrequent posts these days) so it may be time to go back through my primary applications and talk about how they are set up as many have evolved since the first time I wrote about them. I've gotten some new ways of looking at Mail/Gmail integration recently as a result of comments in this post so that's a good candidate.

Larry Atkinson said...

Warning about Firefox/Safari on Mac and Microsoft Office Outlook Web Access.

My university just switched to Microsoft Office Outlook Web Access for mail.

Accessing it from Firefox or Safari on a Mac puts you in a Web Access 'Light' mode that is a very rudimentary version (poor folder access).

Worse yet I cannot forward/redirect from it to Gmail.

And to make matters worse I have a Gphone coming ......

Oh, the joys of being on the 'bleeding edge'!

MaxPug said...

"She is also becoming mildly amused by my regular queries about how she likes her MacBook. Her standard response?

"It's great. I love it.""

My wife says the same thing when I get her a new piece of technology. She loves it but she does not get they way I do when I buy myself a something.

I have to admit is sorts sucks the fun out of it.

Enjoy the blog but more post. You have a good writing style.

David Alison said...

@Maxpug: Thanks for the comments on the blog. I've been slowing down the writing lately for several reasons, the strongest being I've been pretty consumed as I get ready to launch my next product. Hopefully shortly I'll be able to post more than once a week. On the other hand you can always follow my aimless ramblings on Twitter.

Christine-Megan said...

When I switched to Mac I tried to learn to use the Mail interface for Gmail on it (via Pop, as Imap wasn't available with Gmail at the time), but just hated Mail. I ended up sticking with the web interface, which I find clean and attractive and overall love working with.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if this addresses the gmail question and I didn't click the links, but what I do is I set up rules (what gmail calls filters) to automatically assign tags to e-mail. Mostly I've been lazy and just use simple rules such as assigning a domain to a tag (mostly business e-mail), or an individual e-mail address to a tag (mostly friends and family).

The advantage here is that I can assign multiple tags to the same e-mail, and it does a pretty good job of assigning the right tags to my incoming mail.

(You can also assign the tags manually.)

Then I just select all of the mail, hit "archive" and everything goes where it's supposed to go. This is much simpler than manually dragging the individual mail into the folders and I no longer have to make decisions when an e-mail really belongs in multiple folders.

I would say this method of working with e-mail is almost transformational. All you have to do is read your mail and when you're done, select it all and archive and you're done. It's easy to kill spam this way too.

chesapeake ag said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to post without a handle. The gmail filter post above is mine.

David Alison said...

@chesapeake ag: An excellent tip - thanks!

ralphjh said...

Hi David,
what about using the forward delete key ctrl-D which should be a bit less difficult (one handed) than the fn-delete?

David Alison said...

@Ralph: Thanks for the suggestion. She's actually adjusted pretty well now to using the Delete key / fn-Delete key combination.