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I love Time Machine because...


...I don't have to think about backups.
Usually hard disk failures and accidentally deleted data happen without thinking. I only start thinking when something that's important to me is no longer there. Time Machine just chugs away in the background, backing up my stuff every hour.

...it's so efficient.
I'm not even aware that it's running unless I happen to glance up at the menu bar at the exact moment it's pushing out a change to my backup and the little clock is spinning for a few seconds. My system doesn't slow to a crawl, I'm not swapping disks, nothing. Backups just happen. It happened while I was typing this post!

...it's got a seriously cool restore interface.
Yeah, Okay, I'm a sucker for cool UIs. Time Machine has one of the coolest UIs I've seen when it comes to restoring files. The animation is first rate and it's not just eye candy; when I needed to get to a version of a file that I had made dramatic changes to I could roll back in hourly increments to the point I needed very, very quickly.

...I have a feeling it's going to save my ass.
I have always been horrible about backing up my personal data at home. At work it's easy - large scale shared systems that backup important data all the time. But there's always an IT guy at the office that worries about that stuff. At home, I'm the IT guy and backups are one of the things I hate thinking about. 

If you have Leopard but are not using a backup system, start using Time Machine right now! Go out and get a cheap USB based hard drive (you can get a tiny 320GB WD Passport drive for $200), plug it in, reformat it to a single Mac OS Extended (Journaled) partition and then point Time Machine at it.

If nothing else setting up an "always on" backup system will ensure the data gods look on you with favor and don't wreak havoc on your hard drive. 

That reminds me - I better trigger my Windows backup!

Little adjustments - from Windows to Mac

There are a few little things that four weeks in to my Mac adoption are still presenting me with small challenges. Since I run parallel desktops; both a high powered Windows machine and my now trusty MacBook, I'm constantly battling with them.

Closing Applications
One of the little "gotchas" for me with my Mac has been closing down applications. In the Windows environment when I am done with just about any application I'll save what I've worked on and then click the little X in the upper right hand corner. My youngest daughter even uses that as a verb: "Just X the window..."

On my Mac the little X has moved from the top right to the top left of every window and is now under a little red orb. Much like under Windows, when I'm done with an application I'll find myself simply closing it by clicking on the little red orb. While this closes the window it does not close the application. The menu is still alive - and with it most of the memory for the application - until you actually quit the application (Command-Q).

It took me a little while to really understand this. If you've read my blog you can probably tell that I'm trying out a lot of applications now, seeing what will work best for me on my Mac. Early on I would load up and application, play with it for a little, then close the main window and try out another application.  Before long I had so many application still running that when I hit Command-Tab to switch to a different application it looked like an icon party on my desktop.

If you make the move to Mac from Windows it's a good idea to remember how to actually close down an application. Command-Q is your friend!

Keyboard Shortcuts
The keyboards on the machines continue to mess me up. While the secondary key for nearly every action is the same (C =  Copy, V = Paste, X = Cut, Z = Undo), the primary key is different. On Windows it's the Control key, on Mac it's the Command key. While I considered remapping the keyboard on one or the other to switch those keys I quickly realized that would be a losing battle. It's just something I've had to suck up.

Resizing Windows
On Windows I am used to grabbing any edge of a Window and dragging it to a new size. On Mac, the resizing only works in the lower right corner of most windows. That gets me all the time. While it's nice to have the "leaner" windows on Mac because there isn't area dedicated to scrolling, I find on Mac I am constantly grabbing the top part of the window, repositioning it, then grabbing the bottom right corner and resizing it. Seems like extra steps to me.

The other thing I haven't quite figured out is how to maximize a window, at least in Safari. On Windows if I hit the Maximize button, the application takes over the entire screen. Click it again and now you're back to the size it was before. Most Mac applications behave the same way, except for Safari. Click on the Maximize button and it simply make the window as tall as the screen is; it does not effect the width. Not sure about the logic in that decision.

Drag and Drop
While most Windows applications are pretty heavily drag and drop oriented - and there is integration between applications within Windows, drag and drop models on Mac are more elaborate. If you scan through some of my other posts you'll notice I like to throw application logos into things when I talk about them. I do that because it makes the post a little nicer looking and because it's so easy to do on Mac.

See a picture on a web page you like? If it's just an image and not a Flash object just click and drag it to your desktop. No Right Click, Save As, Select Directory, OK. Want to upload an image to a web page? Usually you get a text box and a Choose button on a web form. Just grab the image from your desktop and drag it over the Choose button. So much easier than Click Choose, Navigate to photo, Click OK.

It's little things like that that make Mac cool.

Adobe Photoshop or Pixelmator?


I've been looking for a Mac based image editor and was agonizing about what to do. I had been a long time Photoshop user and was quite comfortable with that product but the price was so steep and my use now so casual. I really only need it for basic photo retouching and simple graphic cuts for web sites. Given that, Photoshop's price seemed really high at a retail price of $649. The lowest price I found for CS3 was $289 and I would need my wife to use her teacher discount in order to get it and the site looked a little shaky. I decided instead I would look around.

My friend Bradley mentioned I should take a look at Pixelmator.  I pulled it down and installed it and was immediately comfortable with it. It's effectively a nice light version of Photoshop. It's got layers and most of the tools and if you are a Photoshop user you will be immediately comfortable with it.

It's not without a couple of quirks - at times I find myself having to click several times to activate items but there are a number of possible reasons for it - since the UI is a series of palettes that sit on your desktop that may be my problem; I'm used to the Windows version of Photoshop where everything is contained within a master window.

That minor complaint aside, Pixelmator is excellent. I'll keep playing with the trial for now but at $59 it's hard not to see buying this.

iChat - video chats are really different


I've been using the video capabilities of iChat lately. It's the best part about having the built in iSight camera - if I see one of my contacts has video capability (which usually means they have a Mac) then I simply initiate the chat and off we go.
My last company had video conferencing capabilities and they were excellent. It really made it easy to get together with people in remote offices and not make everyone jump on a plane all the time. While I'm used to video conferencing, this has been my first experience using it in my home.

What's Cool
The first time I got a video chat running with my daughter off at college it was an event. She didn't want to bother with it. When I finally convinced her to try it out and she saw my face on her MacBook she immediately thought it was incredibly cool. I picked up the MacBook and promptly walked around the house with my daughter on the screen. Everyone in the house was suitably impressed. My daughter even made me place the MacBook on the bed that her cat was lying on so that she could talk to him. Jupiter appeared unimpressed and barely glanced at her. Cats just don't get computers.

The Effects feature on iChat makes it fun to waste time too. Want your head to look like it's the size of a watermelon? Use the effects feature. My personal favorite is conducting a chat while riding a moving roller coaster.

What's a Little Odd
There are two things about iChat videos that I find a little odd. The first is that I feel like I'm invading some people's homes when I use it. I was chatting in a text window with a buddy of mine and noticed that he had the video capability (and I knew he had a Mac), so I invited him to a video conference. He had never used it before and clicked on the accept button.

I suddenly found myself transported to his family room where he was watching American Idol with his wife. He looked genuinely shocked to see me - he didn't realize that I would be effectively sitting on his lap while he watched his show. Needless to say it was a very short conversation. I'm just glad he wasn't watching TV naked.

The second thing that's odd about video chats is the way they tend to work. Have you ever been on an AIM chat conversation with someone and the texting just kind of trails off? You know, you're doing something else while texting someone and that becomes your new focal point? Well, that happens with video chats too and it's weird. You're sitting there chatting with someone and ask a question and they grab a web browser to look something up and it obscures the window you are in. Before you know it they are off in Web Land and you're just staring at them as their eyes dart all over the monitor. Very disconcerting - a new form of etiquette needs to be developed around video chats.

Overall though I really like the video chatting capability. If nothing else it makes me feel like my daughter isn't 4 hours away anymore.

Of Mice and Men

While I recently bought a new mouse for my MacBook and was quite pleased with it I felt something was missing. I really wanted a wireless mouse solution. I often grab my MacBook and head upstairs to show something cool to my wife and kids (they think I'm a Mac Fanboy now) or grab it for a meeting with someone. Unplugging the mouse from the USB port is not really that big of a deal but I've got Bluetooth capabilities on this machine - why not use them?

My requirements were quite simple: a Bluetooth mouse that would work with Mac and have at least 5 buttons and a scroll wheel. Why 5? Well, 1 is for Left Click, 2 is for Right, 3 is for navigating to links in a new tab, 4 is to go Back in the browser and 5 is to go forward. If you haven't used a setup like that you are missing out; it's wonderful.

There are wireless solutions from all of the vendors that include a dongle you plug into your USB port but that's silly - I already have a device to handle that and I want the USB ports free for other things. That and an appendage on such a sleek machine as the MacBook is just wrong.

I checked out the Mighty Mouse, which technically has 4 buttons, though that's a mouse that takes getting used to. I spent a lot of time at the store playing with a wired version and it was... hard for me. I tend to rest my hand on the mouse and found that I was clicking things all the time by accident. Right clicking was a hit or miss for me too. I may still get one but right now it's way back in the pack.

Logitech is my mouse vendor of choice. They make wonderful products that last forever, have great drivers and fit my hand perfectly. They even have a Bluetooth mouse! Great! One catch - it's a 3 button mouse! Why? That makes no sense! If I can't have a back button on my mouse it's useless to me. I could lose forward but Back is just indispensable.
 
That left one mouse standing for me: The Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000. It was bluetooth, had 4 buttons (ok, as long as I can have my Back button) and has the little Mac Finder logo right there on the box. I pulled it out, fired it up and sure enough it connected to my MacBook easily. 

Now for my first Rant:

My hands did not shrink when I moved to a laptop!

What is up with vendors that think since you have a "laptop mouse" that you must have a little tiny workspace with little tiny hands working little tiny keyboards. At first I thought "Ah, that's a cute little mouse". Then I started to use it and I felt like I was trying to move a peanut around on my desk. After just a few minutes of use my hands started to curl up into a ball so that I could actually grasp the little thing.

Hey mouse manufacturers, here's a tip: every laptop manufactured in the last 10 years has at least one and often two pointing devices built right into them. If I'm short on space, I use the wonderful trackpad on my machine. If I'm on a plane trying to use my laptop I guarantee you that no matter how small you make that mouse it ain't fitting on my seat tray. Yeah, ok, I can fit it there if you make it small enough but I won't have enough space to actually use it.

/Rant

Pushing aside the size issue of the Microsoft Mouse for just a moment, I noticed that mouse button 4 does not work with the browser.  Hmmm. There was no software in the package, there was nothing to download off the Microsoft site that matched up with that mouse; I couldn't configure the 4 button to go back!

I did some research and found that the only people that have gotten button 4 to work on that mouse were people that downloaded and purchased SteerMouse, a program for $20 that customizes your mouse buttons and works with this mouse. Steermouse looks fine and worked with the mouse but I couldn't justify $20 on top of the $50 I just paid to make a mouse button work that is supposed to right out of the box. Look at the MS site from the link above - it says "Use the back button to easily navigate folders and Web Pages..."

In a fit I decided I'd do something I never do. Call Microsoft. While I got right through I spent a decent amount of time on the phone going through a battery of questions that made me feel like I was opening a new credit card, not asking about a product feature that didn't work as advertised.

Tom, a nice guy that didn't know the product too well had me do all the usual things. Reboot the machine. Turn the mouse on and off. Can you try it on another machine? Dude, I know this doesn't work, I need YOU to find out why. Microsoft needs to get some drivers that actually work; their Intellimouse for Mac is outdated and needs updating. Yesterday Tom was going to try to round up a Bluetooth enabled Mac and the 5000 mouse and see if it worked for him, then get back to me.

For now I'm going back to my wired Logitech mouse.

Safari vs. Firefox


Prior to becoming a Mac user I had a deep hatred for Safari. Why you ask? Safari was the bane of my existence as a web site developer. Since I had a Windows centered view on the world I built everything with IE and then Firefox in mind on the Windows platform. We would spend huge amounts of time getting a dynamic web site to work properly and then someone would load it up on a Mac in Safari and it would just fall apart. Things didn't line up, pages that used DHTML and more advanced presentation capabilities would simply not work. It was a mess.

The only way we could get our web site to work on Macs was to request that people that wanted to use our applications just use Firefox on the Mac. It was very consistent with the Windows version and since it was free we figured it was a reasonable compromise.

When I started using my Mac I figured I would immediately use Firefox for everything; it was one of the first applications I downloaded. I kept Safari as my default web browser though and started to play with it out of curiosity. Nearly every web site (with a couple of minor exceptions) worked fine. And I noticed something else too; Safari was fast - really fast.

Having not followed Safari closely I can only assume that Apple has made significant improvements in the rendering engine for Safari, both in terms of performance and HTML rendering. Safari looks great from a UI standpoint, has tabs and all of the shortcuts I'm used to on Firefox.

What Safari doesn't have that Firefox does is a huge range of add-ons that really add value to the web browsing experience. There are plug-ins for anything you can think of. Firefox is nearly a small operating system of its own.

Did I mention that Safari is fast? Well, Apple has a public beta for the next version of Safari and it's supposed to be double the speed of the current version. I've played with it and it does seem even faster, however it's still in beta and I've found a couple little glitches here and there. The nice thing is you can install it along side Safari and they peacefully coexist.

Firefox is also making some big improvements with version 3 - and their beta is also available to the public, though I haven't installed it yet.

Even when I was on the Windows platform I always had two browsers handy; Firefox and IE. On Mac it's the same way but I find myself spending virtually all of my time in Safari and whip out Firefox when I don't have a choice.

After three weeks, what's really being used?

When I started writing about my MacBook three weeks ago I figured it would be a great way to capture what it's like for a total Windows snob to open up and add a Mac to his collection of computers. What I didn't expect was that I would actually make a small 5 pound laptop my primary machine when I have some serious Windows and Linux hardware sitting right next to me.

Okay, it's not really my primary machine just yet because I'm still doing all of my product development on my Windows XP system. I'm still searching for something that can even come close to replacing Microsoft Visual Studio and the .NET development environment but I can't. Since I'm also in the process of building up my next online product it would be too much of a wrench in the machinery to move everything over to Mac. Not that I haven't thought about it!

When I decided I would blog about my adoption of a Macintosh, I wanted to try and capture what it's like for a Windows guy to get a Mac. Many of the people I've spoken to about their Macs have been using them for a long time and they take for granted things that newbies like me would find helpful.

What that means is that some of the stuff I write about I will fall out of favor with - or I'll find new things to replace them. I'm always on the lookout for cool stuff that could make my system perform better or make me more productive. So here is my list of what I'm using regularly three weeks in:

Safari
I'm actually going to put together an entire post on Safari vs Firefox shortly. Suffice it to say right now I spend the vast majority of my time using Safari. There is a lot to talk about on this.

iChat
I'm on AIM all day and right now iChat is my client. Without question the greatest appeal with iChat is actually the fact that my MacBook has an iSight camera attached and that being able to visually chat with friends and my daughter at Virginia Tech has been way cool. At some point I want to look at Adium - I constantly hear good things about it - but right now iChat is working fine.

iPhoto
I've invested some time in iPhoto, importing my 19K + photo collection into it. So far it's serviceable - but I think I'm going to need something more. On the Windows side I'm still a huge fan of Picasa. If only Google made a Mac version of that...

Pages
I'm still working on the trial of iWork - but I really like Pages, the word processor. My trial of Microsoft Office has been... unimpressive. It runs really, really slow. Pages on the other hand is very fast and can open the new DOCX files I've been getting from some people.

NetNewsWire
This is my news reader of choice. NetNewsWire is simple and works nicely. I was originally playing with Google Reader - a pure online reader - but NNW makes queuing up articles that I want to read very easy.

Mail
As I mentioned before, I'm using it to pull down my Gmail accounts, though I tend to switch right into the Gmail web interface almost immediately. I'm really just keeping it going because it gives me notifications that new Gmail has arrived, it allows me to click Send To links on a web page and if I'm off-line and feel the urge to create a message and sent it later, I can do that.

TextMate
Since I'm a software developer my most fundamental tool of the trade is a text editor. I've got a trial of TextMate right now, mainly because I needed it when I was evaluating doing my development work in Ruby on Rails. While ROR is out for now, I think I'll be buying that TextMate license - it's a great text editor.

So there you have it - my short list of every day applications. There are lots of others I use casually; I played with iMovie (cool but a bit underpowered - I want better timeline control). Carbon Copy Cloner is a must have tool and I'm looking forward to doing my HTML editing on my Mac using CSSEdit, though it's not an every day tool for me just yet. I also tried out VMWare Fusion and installed Windows XP on my Mac. Worked like a charm but I haven't tried putting Visual Studio inside that environment yet so I'm not really using it.

I'm a heavy iPod / iTunes user and while I have my music collection on my Mac as well, my Windows machine has the 5.1 surround sound, great speakers and ample local storage to hold my 200+ GB music collection so that's staying put for now.

So here is a list of the things I still need: a kick-ass photo management solution that's better than iPhoto, a great image editing solution (I'll likely have to just buckle down and pay for Adobe Photoshop CS3), a good general purpose HTML editing platform to complement CSSEdit and finally a nice replacement for Microsoft Visio, another critical application I use on my Windows machine.

A lightweight image editor for doing quick and dirty crops and scaling would also be nice! Photoshop will handle that once I get it but it's a bit heavy for the quick stuff.

Time to back up Drifter


First off, I finally named my machine. I always name machines from some genre of science fiction, usually Star Wars because the names are short and easy to spell, but in the case of my Mac I figured I would break with tradition and name him Drifter. I have no idea why, it just came to me and stuck. Since this is a MacBook that I constantly grab off the desk and take with me places I figured it was appropriate.

The reason I mention that my MacBook has a name is because it makes telling you about my backup adventures a little more entertaining. I knew I needed to backup Drifter - all of my other machines have backup strategies but they involve moving specific files around to other machines on my network. I don't do full backups of my Windows systems because I've found that with Windows it's a good idea to reinstall the OS on a fresh machine every once in a while and it's better to just reinstall the apps, then restore my data. I only backup my data.

With Drifter I decided to go in a different direction. Instead of just copying files around I figured I would get an external hard drive for it and use Time Machine - the backup utility on Leopard - to save everything. I won't go into too much detail on Time Machine; there's lots of information on it on Apple's site. So far I really like the model that Time Machine has.

I happened to be at Costco yesterday and saw that they had the Western Digital 1TB My Book on sale for $250. I agonized for a few minutes but in the end decided this would be a good deal. I've always liked Western Digital drives and had heard good things on this one.

I brought it home, wrestled it out of the giant "enviro-friendly" blister pack and placed it on the desk. I plugged it into the power outlet but didn't turn it on, then used the FireWire connector to plug it into Drifter.

Pffft.  Huh? Drifter, which had a couple of apps up and running just went dark. Dead, stone dark. I moved the mouse - nope, it wasn't kicking in the screen saver.  In nearly three weeks I hadn't had a single issue with Drifter until now. Really odd.  I powered him back up and he appears to come up fine. I noticed that the power indicator looked a little odd. Oh well - I'll get to that later.

So the drive comes up, appears on the desktop and Time Machine asks me if I would like to use it as a backup drive. Sure! But before I did that I pulled up Disk Utility and reformatted the drive which came with a single FAT32 partition, to a Mac OS Extended partition. That only took a few minutes. I gave it two partitions; a 350GB one for my backups and a 580GB one for bulk data storage.

Everything appeared to be working fine, though the backup was painfully slow. The FireWire connection in the My Book is only the standard 400Mbps - not the newer 800Mbps. I've already got 192GB on Drifter so the backup itself took several hours. It did seem to work though so that makes me happy.

Oh No, Do I Need the Back Up Already?
Now back to my battery indicator. The pull down menu now indicated that I didn't have a battery connected. That's odd - I didn't take it out. I figured I'd pull the power and see what happens.  Pffft.  Drifter went straight down. No kernel panic, no warnings, just dead.

I kept him off the power and tried starting Drifter up. Booted fine and everything looked great. I ran him on batteries for about an hour, getting his level down to about 75%. Then, when I plugged him back in to power the icon changed to indicate that I was plugged in but the battery was not recharging! This was getting kind of scary.

I quickly searched the web and found numerous references from 2006 about MacBooks having problems with the battery suddenly failing. The solution many of them mentioned was to reset the machine's System Management Controller.

I followed those instructions and sure enough, all was well. Drifter figured out that he actually had a battery and that he could indeed charge it. The only thing I could think of was that in the process of plugging in the FireWire connector in the MacBook that there was a small static discharge and it caused the problem. As of right now everything seems to be working smoothly. 

I do think I'm going to get an Airport Extreme though so that I can just hang the My Book off that - one less wire on Drifter.

Running applications automatically at startup

One of the features I used in Windows was the Start / Startup folder. Any shortcut I threw in there would automatically run when I started up Windows. For me that was the Task Manager, my OneNote screen Clipper and Windows Desktop Search. So how to do this with my Mac?
If an application is in your Dock you can Right-Click on it and select "Open at Login". It's a checkbox so you can turn it on and off. That's the quick and easy way.

You can also do it in Leopard by going into System Preferences and clicking on Accounts.  Select your account on the left and then switch to the Login Items tab. From there you can add any application without having to put it in your Dock bar - and you can mark that it will be hidden as soon as it loads!

Bumping the memory in the MacBook


I decided that I wanted to max out the memory in my MacBook since I'm running more and more on the little machine. Though 2GB is normally plenty I figured 4GB couldn't hurt. When I looked on NewEgg and started scoping out RAM prices I was shocked to see how far they had fallen.

I could pick up a matched set of Corsair memory for just $95! Sure, I'd have a couple of extra sticks of memory sitting around when I took the old ones out but 4GB would be exactly what I needed as I started playing with VMWare Fusion.

Yesterday the distinctive squeal of the UPS truck stopping in front of my house indicating that my memory had arrived. I turned off the MacBook, pulled out the battery and unscrewed the three small screws that held the memory cover in place. 30 seconds later the new RAM was installed and a minute after that the machine was flipped back over, plugged in and booting up. This install took me all of five minutes from start to finish and that was with me taking my time!

The machine booted right up and now iStat show just a small sliver of memory utilization after booting up. I haven't done too much to stress the machine yet but everything seems to be working fine.

Now's a great time to think about bumping the memory on your machine - the prices are really low. Just check NewEgg.

CSSEdit - what a great find!

In my quest to move more of my software development over to Mac I started looking around for a decent solution for HTML/XHTML and CSS development. On Windows my CSS Editor of choice was TopStyle, a really great application, but there isn't a Mac version. I ran through quite a few products over the extended weekend but found one that impressed me so much I bought it within 20 minutes of trying it out.

CSSEdit makes the process of testing out CSS design painfully simple and at $29 it's hard to pass up. It's got all of the helpers to guide you through CSS settings - pretty much expected for a decent CSS editor. You can use a dialog based approach or edit the CSS source directly in a full text editing surface that has lots of helpers. 

The part that made me whip out the credit card though was the Live Preview browser. Point it at your HTML and start making changes in your CSS - they are reflected immediately in the preview browser. In addition it has an X-Ray feature that allows you to select any element on your finished HTML page and see the CSS classes that lead into it.

Great stuff - until you realize that you can point the preview browser at ANY page on the web. It sucks it in and allows you to modify the CSS on it. Sure, it's only a local render but it's a great way to check out how a nice looking site leverages CSS.

If you do any CSS work at all you should check out CSSEdit.

Getting away from the "Start" mindset


I've never been a big fan of lots of icons sitting on my Windows desktop; I have a few key ones, then use a highly organized Start menu to gain access to my applications. So when I started working with my Mac I adopted the same mindset: Push some key applications that I access frequently into the Dock, then hit the Finder and switch to Applications for everything else.

I mentioned this to my friend Dylan and he said "Why are you doing that? Just use the Spotlight to open your applications". Spotlight? If you're a Mac user you're probably aware of the feature - hitting Command-Space gives immediate access.  Once pointed out to me I find myself using it for more and more.

Dylan's rather astute observation was "Why would you need to organize everything? It's a computer - shouldn't it do that work for you?".  Yeah, I guess it should!

So now when I need to grab an application that isn't sitting in my Dock I just hit Command-Space and type in what I need.

I also found some really cool little tips of things that you can do with Spotlight - it's actually a pretty decent calculator and will quickly load words into the dictionary. You can find out more from this page on the Apple web site.

My new Mac - and the slow move away from Windows

It's now two weeks since I took possession of my Mac and I'm finding myself using it more and more. Sure, my Windows XP machine still demands a significant amount of my attention; Microsoft Visual Studio and .NET/C# is still my primary development platform.

My Windows machine is a pretty tricked out rig that I built myself from Newegg (the BEST place on the web to buy hardware). QX6700 processor, GTX8800 video, dual 20" Samsung monitors, etc. I've got my Microsoft ergonomic keyboard and can touch type on it like the wind. I'm still running XP SP2 on it - mainly because my experiments with Vista on my HP laptop have been very disappointing.

Both of these machines sit right next to each other. As you can see by the pic above I've really oriented my entire workspace around my Windows XP machine. Yet I find myself constantly moving my hands to the Mac keyboard.

At first I thought it was the typical obsession with a new piece of technology. After spending the last 17 years using Windows I'm now just enamored with something new, right? That is indeed part of it. But there's something else about this.

OS X is a really slick operating system. There are little features that make it a pleasure to work on - you can just tell that a significant amount of human factors work went into the system. Sure, there are little areas where you can see that someone missed but the vast majority of the system is really clean.

Two small utilities that come bundled with OS X are examples of this: Spaces and Exposé. As you can see from the pic of my Windows workstation, I'm a screen real estate whore. Yet now I'm spending a lot of time confined to a 1280x800 world. I tend to multi-task like mad, often having quite a few applications running at the same time. Exposé is great because at the touch of F3 it shrinks all of the windows on the current screen down and let's me click on the one I need.

Spaces is great because I can have four different primary screens and alternate between them by hitting Control-X (1-4). The switching is handled nicely with animation and it's very quick. I can also simply Command-Tab between application, much like I can on Windows with Alt-Tab.

After investing a little time training my fingers to use the shortcuts I can rip between my applications so quickly I feel like I'm on a much larger screen. It's a really nicely done piece of software and not the gratuitous "because we can" app-switching that is included with Vista.

What I'm doing now is finding all of the things I keep turning back to my Windows machine for. Foremost is my development environment. I'm considering getting VMWare and running Windows XP and my development tools inside of that. I've got additional memory coming in next week for my Mac (bumping it to 4GB) so that I have plenty of headroom to run everything I need.

I don't know that I'll be able to fully switch to Mac because many of the tools I've become accustomed to are Windows based, especially on the development side. I'd love to find a really great web development platform that's native to my Mac but I haven't had much luck yet.

But I will say this - I really love this Mac.

I almost forgot about Google Calendar!


So with Outlook out of the picture I also lost my primary vehicle for making appointments. Outlook was always on my laptop when I needed it but had one major shortcoming: not everyone that needed to see my calendar could.

Sure, I could (and did) have Outlook hooked up to an Exchange server and people could see when I had free time at work, however when it came to personal things, like my wife trying to tell me about a parent-teacher night or that we were getting together with a group of friends on Saturday, we were always missing out.

I have a couple of friends that switched to Google Calendar, the free calendaring tool solution that Google provides. They raved about it and so I thought I'd give it a try. As has been the case with lots of Google products I've been using lately, I was immediately impressed.

It's very easy to use. The interface is very responsive and works great on IE on my Windows machines and Safari on my Mac. I even got my technology terrified wife, who is now a big GMail fan, to use it. Suddenly we can see each other's calendars. Sure, it sounds stupid that a techie would be excited about calendar sharing but I had been in an Outlook rut for so long that I didn't think I needed what Google Calendar was offering.

There are a couple of other things that Google Calendar does that make it really valuable to me:
  • SMS: I can send reminders to my phone via SMS. Since I started carrying a small Moto Krazer I needed something that helped remind me of things. This is wonderful.
  • Map Integration: It's uncanny how well Google integrates their applications with one another. I add an appointment that reads "Meet with Joe at Starbucks in the Reston Town Center". Simple. Then if I open the actual item there's a Map link next to it. Click on it and Google maps loads and I've got the location right there! Really cool.
  • Access from my phone: As I mentioned before, with the Krazer and it's tiny screen I can't see a lot of data. Google recognizes when I try to access it with my phone and optimizes the page to fit the format. Not a dynamic interface at that size but highly useable.
So moving to Google Calendar was the last piece of the puzzle for me in leaving Outlook.

E-mail - a grudging goodbye to Outlook

So for the last 12 or so years I have been a hard core Microsoft Outlook fan. Sure, Outlook has some issues and is a bit of a memory pig but it works really well for me. I've always been a highly structured person and used folders in Outlook rigorously in order to organize everything I do - I even use the feature that keep sent items in the folder they were sent from, effectively giving me a way to browse things in a threaded nature.

When I left Vovici it was the perfect time to rethink lots of technology - e-mail being first. Since I had walked away from my vovici.com e-mail address I decided to use Gmail as my primary address.


 Initially my Gmail account was a throw-away, something I used as a vehicle for web site signups where I didn't care if they spammed me.  Then I started to realize that my Gmail account got a surprisingly small amount of SPAM, and it nearly always plopped it into my SPAM folder. I got nearly zero false positives too.

All in all, I love the switch to Gmail. I even put in my other e-mail addresses and use the Gmail Mail Fetcher feature to just bundle them in with my other Gmail. I didn't have to check a bunch of other locations in order to retrieve my e-mail!

Now that I am spending more and more time on my MacBook, especially since it's my portable machine, I decided to take a look at other e-mail clients. Since Mail is bundled right in with the OS it was the first I tried.

Mail is a nice, simple e-mail client. The reason I like it right now is that it provides full IMAP support, which means that I simply point it at my Gmail account and I have access to all of my Gmail messages. I haven't played with the rules on it, preferring to keep those up on the Gmail service and running 24 hours a day, not just when I'm running my Mail application.

So now I have the best of both worlds: if I want immediate access to all of my e-mail, wherever I happen to be, I simply go to Gmail. Everything is there and easily searchable. Those Google guys have searching down pretty well for some reason.  Then when I'm using my MacBook (which I'm finding happening more and more) I use Mail to access the exact same account.

Sorry Outlook - it was a great ride.

Time for a mouse


My MacBook didn't come with a mouse - it simply has a built in trackpad with a single button. I remember one of my early criticisms of the Mac was that it only has a one button mouse - but you got so much power out of right clicking capabilities! Well, Mac does indeed support right clicking - and it's great for accessing sub menus much like I'm used to in Windows.

Unfortunately the trackpad doesn't have two buttons - only a single large button. But how would I be able to scroll through a web page easily? Or right click when I only had 1 mouse button??? Fortunately the trackpad supports a couple of gestures that make it really easy (and surprisingly natural) to do both. I can scroll a web page by simply placing two fingers on the trackpad and moving them up or down.  If I want to right-click an item I move the mouse pointer to the item I want to right-click, place a second finger on the trackpad and then click. It only took a few minutes to get used to it - makes me wish my HP laptop did this.

Even with the trackpad working pretty well I decided to get a new mouse. I've always been a huge Logitech fan and they had a wired laser mouse that looked pretty impressive: The MX400. Great mouse and it listed itself as Mac compatible. I simply took it out of the box, plugged it in and it worked like a charm.

The only thing it did not do was make the little Forward and Backward buttons work in Safari or Firefox. Turns out I needed to go up to the Logitech web site and download and install the Logitech Control Center. Simple install and now I could completely customize the buttons on the mouse.

While I'm very comfortable using the trackpad on my MacBook, the external mouse from Logitech is a very welcome addition.

Just a book about sun-dried tongues


OK, off the Mac adventures for a minute. A friend of mine named Bob Ragsdale is undertaking a new venture, promoting his book titled "Sun-Dried Aardvark-Tongue Swizzle-Sticks" exclusively through his web site. Bob has what could be described as a "dry" sense of humor.

If you wonder what J. Peterman from Seinfeld would do if confronted with how to manage endangered species, you should check it out.

Mac vs. Windows

So I'm doing my thing tonight, ripping through my RSS feeds when I come across a Digg reference to a blog post a guy wrote about visiting an Apple store. I thought the article was pretty funny - I really liked the guys writing style and shared many of his experiences when visiting an Apple store. What I found amusing was actually the number of comments placed on the blog itself! The guy was inundated with "Macs suck!!!" and "Oh yeah? PCs suck!!!".  Hundreds of detailed comments by people.

It's nice to see that the battle lines are still drawn!

I'll be the first to admit that I was a staunch "Macs are crap, Windows is the way to go" kind of guy, but I had an agenda: I built Windows based applications that only ran on Windows machines. Macs were useless. Once I made the switch to developing web based solutions the issue of platform mattered less and less to me.

I still long for writing Windows applications - I love the flexibility of the system to work with other applications, the ability to leverage common and well defined user interface elements, the speed of the development tools for building those applications, etc. Unfortunately people don't like the idea of downloading software for their PCs like they did in the past. They're worried about viruses and spyware or if they're in a company IT has locked down their machine and they can't even install software on it. Web applications don't have that stigma, so they have become the preferred way to introduce new software into the business world.

With that change the platform you use has become far less important. I can build a simple application that will run on every Windows machine in my house as well as my Mac and my Ubuntu machine by simply hosting it on my web site. I can even get access to it on my phone's web browser if I create a small factor web page for it! That makes it pretty powerful.

Each of the machines I have has a place in my home: My Windows machines continue to be my primary development platform and gaming system. My Mac has quickly become my instant messaging client and personal communications device (e-mail, blogging, etc) - since it's now my primary laptop I take it with me wherever I go. My Ubuntu machine is really more of a curiosity than anything else - if my other machines are busy I'll grab it and surf to a web site. If I come across some interesting Linux based application I'll give it a spin, but that's really it.

Mac vs. Windows doesn't really matter - you should choose the machine that does what you need it to do. There are strengths and weaknesses in every platform.

At the end of the day, I like all of my computers. OK, everything except the laptop I have running Vista. For some reason it acts up more than all of my other machines combined. Still, I don't hate the thing.

Yet.

Mac OS X 10.5.2 is released

So I read here that 10.5.2 has been released. Cool! Click the little Apple icon and select Software Updates. 350M+ download - just a few minutes of work on FIOS. Seemed to install smoothly, though it did require two reboots. The only immediate difference is that I have a Time Machine icon in my menu bar that I didn't before.

Another item I found interesting in my blog surfings was an update to Safari that is due soon. Crazy fast? Cool.

Upgrading the hard drive on my MacBook

Yeah, I know, I haven't even had the machine for a week yet and I'm already looking to upgrade the hard drive. Well, I wanted more than the 120GB that came with the machine but Apple charges so much more for drives that I couldn't justify it; not when I could simply buy a 2.5" hard drive off NewEgg and plop it into my machine.

So I set off to find a decent sized replacement drive. I take a lot of high end digital photos and my current library of photos runs over 44GB. In addition I shoot some video that I want to edit on my Mac, so 120GB gets shallow awfully quick.

I popped onto NewEgg and found the Western Digital Scorpio 320GB drive. Looked like a winner; nearly triple my existing space and only $179. I also picked up a small USB 2.0 enclosure from Bytecc so that I could set up my new drive properly and have a place for the 120GB drive once I removed it from the MacBook.

The first thing I did was plop the new WD drive into the Bytecc so that I could configure it. That took all of about 30 seconds. I plugged it into the USB port on my MacBook and it saw it, loaded up Disk Utility and I was prompted to set up the drive. I created a new, single partition on the drive and let her rip. It didn't take long at all - I went upstairs to do a couple of things and when I came back down it was ready to go!

Next I loaded up Carbon Copy Cloner. Great little application for cloning your hard drive. That took all of about 12 minutes since I didn't have too much on the machine yet.  Once that was done I had my two drives ready to go so it was time to do a little surgery.

I followed the directions that Apple provides for replacing your hard drive - it really is a simple DIY job. All that's required is a coin to pop out the battery, a very small phillips head screw driver and (no one told me this one) and extremely small Torx drive. The only thing missing from the directions that Apple provides is that there are 4 small Torx screws that secure the small drive housing to the hard drive. Fortunately I happened to have one but if you're considering doing this make sure you have a small Torx drive bit available.

It only took about 5 minutes to swap the drives and that was with me in full "meticulous" mode. Once the drive was in I fired up the Mac and everything worked! There was a very long delay at first, likely the BIOS detecting that a different drive was in there and having to reconfigure itself but after that it allowed me to log in normally.  I used the Spotlight to try and pull up Disk Utility and the machine had to think about that for a while. It needed to reindex everything, which took about 20 minutes with the CPU running at about 50%.

After the reindexing was complete the machine ran perfectly. The drive is just as whisper quiet as the last one and I am not experiencing any problems at all. As I type this I'm copying my digital photo library over from one of my internal servers - looking forward to seeing what I can do with iPhoto!

Adventures in copying a CD

Well, I figured coping a CD would be a simple affair. I was wrong.

I had a Data CD that I needed to make a copy of. How hard can that be, right? Well, a buddy online said "just use Disk Utility". 

Cool - so I fired it up.

Now up to this point in time I've been really impressed with the UI on the Mac. Things just kind of worked. Yeah, they took a little getting used to but overall the usability on the machine is well thought out. Apparently an engineer more versed in 0s and 1s designed the UI for this.

You would think a simple button labeled - I don't know - perhaps "Copy" would be intuitive. 

Instead, in order to copy a disk you go into the "Restore" tab. From there you select the Source by dragging it into the Source area. Then you select the destination by dragging it into the Destination area. Only since the Source is also the destination (my MacBook only came with a single drive) it won't let me do that.

So I sat there for a while trying to figure out how the hell I was supposed to do it. Finally, in utter frustration I decided I'd Google teh Interwebs and see if I could find anything. My first hit gave me some decent instructions on how to accomplish the task; a blog entry from SmallDogs.com. Following that worked like a charm.

The next time the Mac dev team needs to think of an application to redo the interface on I highly recommend they take a hard look at Disk Utility. If there's a better way of doing this PLEASE make it more obvious.

iStat is a great way to know what's up

Two friends recommended that I take a look at a utility called iStat Menus from iSlayer. It's a nice little widget that allows you to see that status of your machine.

While it can monitor a lot of different functions, the two that I cared most about were Memory and CPU Usage, so that's what's plugging away up in my menu bar.

This actually helped me solve a little problem I was having. Normally my MacBook is whisper quiet. All of a sudden one day my fan started really working overtime. I wasn't sure what that was all about until I noticed that my iStat menu indicated that my dual core CPU was running at a sustained 50% utilization. That's not good - I wasn't really running anything important at the time. I slowly closed each of my applications, watching iStat to see if the CPU usage dropped and, sure enough, it was iChat.

Not exactly sure why iChat was causing the memory usage but at least I knew what was up. I'm sure a Mac expert will tell you that there are system level ways in which to identify where memory is being sucked up without having to get a utility like iStat but this is a really nice little utility and all they ask for in return is a donation of your choosing.

iChat is pretty cool

I've always been a hardcore Trillian user on Windows, so I was a little skeptical about using anything else to get to my buddies on AIM. iChat, which comes with the OS, is pretty decent though. The chatting appears as little bubbles next to the icon of the person typing in the text. It supports hyperlinks and all the basics, including the ability to set people's name so I don't have to wonder who MYFO278BGF is.

Since I have a MacBook with the built in camera though I got something else out of the equation: video chats. A couple of buddies that have Macs have the ability too - so we got "together" through iChat and I was really impressed - this is cool!

Some of the cool things you can do is have iChat change your background out to look like you are in the mountains or any other image you have on your machine. It's not perfect but it does work fairly well. In addition you can put filters on your image that stretch it, pinch it or apply a sepia filter so you can chat from the 1800s. All in all it's a lot of fun.

Not that I haven't done video conferencing before - we had a nice video conference link at my last company - it's just that this is so convenient.  At least it was for my two buddies, one on a DSL link and the other on a FIOS connection like mine.

When I tried hooking up with a buddy that's on Comcast cable, we couldn't establish a connection. He had been able to chat with others, just not me. I'm pretty sure this was simply an issue of a firewall dropping something, or some packet level synchronization not being set up properly. We both tried a number of different resources to find a solution but in the end just gave up.

The only other challenge I had with the people I could communicate with was a constantly increasing squealing noise in the background. If I muted my mic it would stop, then after I un-muted it was slowly start up again. I think it had something to do with all the damn machines I have here in my office. Under the System Preferences - Sound setting there is an option on input volume to "use ambient noise reduction" - that did nothing. However by simply lowering the volume on my mic input it eliminated the sound.

Note: Looks like Cerulean Studios (makers of Trillian) will soon support an OS X version! Should be interesting.

Installing new applications

I have yet to have mastered how to install applications into my Mac.

The first one I decided to try was Firefox. I went to the mozilla.com web site and it recognized that I was running a Mac. I clicked on the download link and everything proceeded pretty smoothly. I ran the install program that was downloaded and after the usual warnings about installing a different application I thought I had the application installed.

There was an odd little window up that had a Firefox logo so I clicked that and up came Firefox. Cool - worked great. Sitting on my desktop though was a little icon below my Macintosh HD icon for Firefox. Wasn't sure what that was about but I just went on my way.

I ended up shutting down my Mac not long after the install. When I fired it back up Firefox was no where to be found! It wasn't in my Dock bar on the bottom and when I went into the Finder I couldn't find it in my applications! WTF?

Turns out after I ran the installer the big Firefox logo that came up was actually prompting me to drag that into my Applications folder within the Finder! Oooooh... Nope, didn't get that one. In Windows the installers generally add it to your Start menu; not sure if that's typical of Mac software or just a decision made by the folks that made the Firefox installer.

Guess I'll figure that out on the next application I install.

A hardcore Windows guy gets a Mac

I have been a Windows developer for many, many years. Before I was a Windows developer I was a DOS developer. I've always been a Microsoft fan, heavily invested in doing Windows development. Really, since 1984 - my first job doing professional software development - I have been true blue Microsoft. When I would watch the Mac ads with the nerdy PC guy and the cool Mac dude I always secretly rooted for the PC guy.

Last year something interesting started to happen. Many of the people in my network of friends and family started buying Macs. They were sick of the hassles of Windows, with the viruses and spyware and ever slowing performance. They seemed to be drawn in to the Apple advertising - it spoke to them. And they seemed very happy.

I wrote that off as non-techies just looking for something new and easy. The Macs did look better with Mac OS X - it seemed like a really smooth operating system. But as far as I was concerned it was just a fad.

Then my daughter was accepted to go to Virginia Tech. She wanted to be a Marketing Communications major so we started looking into everything she would have to buy, including a mandatory PC. I was excited to go out and get her a new laptop with XP or Vista on it until I read that her department required Macintosh. What?!? They said they were "easier" and had fewer problems. Of all the departments for her to want to be in this was the only one that required Macintosh. I was really pissed and so was my daughter. Having been brought up on PCs she wasn't ready to deal with a whole new OS. We decided to simply cave and get her a Mac - a little white MacBook.

At first she struggled with it, trying to figure out how to do the things she was so comfortable with before. When she came home for her first visit however her attitude had changed. She really liked her Mac. Hell, loved the little thing.

"Don't get near my Mac!!!"

She had her music on it, happily surfed the web and used it for e-mail. She got MS Office from the school really cheap and was extremely happy now. This was not what I had expected.

The final straw for me in reevaluating the Macintosh was when two friends of mine that were long time PC guys, heavy techies that were also developers, went out and got Macs. They raved about the machines, talking about how nicely put together everything was and how stuff just worked really well. The funny thing was neither of my friends cited real, hard specific things. It was more a feeling. "I love my Mac". It just seemed so personal.

All of these events led me to think maybe I should get one of these. I could easily justify it because while I have an XP development machine, a Vista laptop, and an Ubuntu workstation, I didn't have a Mac to be able to test the web sites I build. The Safari browser had always been touchy so having a machine that would let me test stuff right away made sense. Yeah, that's it - this is for testing my web based applications!

With the justification out of the way I talked to people about which one I should get, agonized about what would work best and meet my limited needs. I chose a MacBook; essentially the same machine my daughter has. 2.2GHz processor, 2GB RAM, 120G hard drive. Pretty basic.

So what I want to do on this blog is give you a play by play of a hard core Windows guy experiencing a Macintosh for the first time. I'll try to make this as light as I can, focusing on what I find cool and what is a challenge.If you're a Windows person thinking of moving to Macintosh I hope this is of help.

Initial impressions:
Really nice piece of hardware. Screen is really beautiful and somehow feels much bigger than 1280x800. It doesn't have the little fragile things my HP has, with eject buttons protruding and threatening to break off. If nothing else the MacBook design and engineering team knows how to build something that looks really, really nice.

One thing I was surprised by was the keyboard. It looks like a little chicklet keyboard off the PC JR from the early 80s! I thought it would be odd to type on it. I was wrong. The keyboard is a pleasure to type on - very easy to touch type with and the travel on the keys is nice.

It is taking me some time to adjust to the shortcut combinations for navigation and selection though. On Windows I'd hit Ctrl-Right arrow to move the cursor right one word at a time. With Macintosh it's Option (Alt). I'm also used to hitting the End key to pop to the end of the current line of text.  Since this is a laptop keyboard without an End key I now have to hit Command-Right arrow. No big deal, just something to get used to.

Getting started with the Macintosh was pretty easy, with one exception. When it tried to detect my wireless network it prompted me to enter the password for it - it really needed the WEP key. I knew it immediately but I can imagine that someone that was non-technical would need an explanation on that one.

What was completely refreshing though was the complete lack of AOL links, "Free" anti-virus software, Weatherbug, etc., etc. Yeah, it asked me to join the .MAC service (declined) but that was really it. Within a couple of seconds I was able to start surfing the web. The last machine I bought - the one that became my Ubuntu workstation - came with Vista Home Edition. That thing had so much crap on it from HP that the machine was essentially useless out of the box. That's probably more on HP than Vista but with Apple I didn't have to worry about that at all.

Overall, my first impression of the MacBook is very good. My friend Bradley, a heavy techie Windows guy and recent Mac convert, was trying to explain to me why he likes his Mac so much. It's funny but he couldn't really describe it other than to say he really loves his Mac. There's just something about it that makes it feel special.

Always the sceptic I guess I had to try it for myself. I think I'm starting to get why he likes his Mac so much.

Update as of April 7, 2008:
Since I published this initial post I have received over 100K hits on this page. Many folks comments, both here and on Digg, question the depth of this review. It was written on the first day I had my Mac so it's clearly light. If you look through the archive on the left you will see that I've been writing about it steadily for over two months now. My latest post, "After 2 months, why I switched" contains a summary if you are interested.

Thanks for reading!

--David