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Windows to Mac keystroke mapping - a quick guide

In the nearly three months I've been blogging about switching to Mac I've had countless times that readers have made comments about my posts, recommending specific techniques, tricks or applications that have helped me improve my Mac experience. Yesterday it was n45800's turn as he pointed me in the direction of a list of the default key bindings for OS X. This little gem was exactly what I needed to get past some of the keyboard issues I've been trying to adjust to.

As a touch typist I've really struggled at times to use the Mac keyboard; not necessarily the keyboard itself but the navigation shortcuts while editing text in a text editing surface. Here is a list of the most commonly used keystrokes on Windows XP for text editing and navigation and their Mac OS X equivalents:

PurposeWindowsMac OS X
Clipboard Commands
CopyCtrl+CCommand+C
CutCtrl+XCommand+X
PasteCtrl+VCommand+V
Selection Commands
Select AllCtrl+ACommand+A
UndoCtrl+ZCommand+Z
RedoCtrl+YCommand+Y
Text Navigation Commands
Beginning of current lineHomeCommand+Left Arrow
End of current lineEndCommand+Right Arrow
Top of editing areaCtrl+HomeCommand+Up Arrow
End of editing areaCtrl+EndCommand+Down Arrow
Next word rightCtrl+Right ArrowOption+Right Arrow
Previous word leftCtrl+Left ArrowOption+Left Arrow
Beginning of next paragraphCtrl+Down ArrowOption+Down Arrow
Beginning of previous paragraphCtrl+Up ArrowOption+Up Arrow

This isn't an exhaustive list by any means but if you are new to Macs and coming from Windows you should consider bookmarking this post or printing it out as a reference because it will save you lots of time. These key stroke combinations should work for most Cocoa based applications that include a text area to type in, including Safari, Mail, TextEdit, etc.

Notice that the Ctrl key is the only modifier used by Windows while OS X uses Command, Control and Option modifiers. Now I know why I've been struggling so much.

Want more keys?
Here are a couple of links to pages I've found that have more complete lists:
If you are making your way to Mac from Windows it's a really good idea to immerse yourself into the keyboard shortcuts because they really will save you some time and improve your experience. Make an effort to use them and commit them to your "muscle memory"- it will really help you be more productive.

Switching to Mac takes the right mindset

Contrary to what some of my friends now think, I don't actually recommend that everyone run out and get a Mac. Even though I've personally been delighted by my Mac experience I know there are others that simply cannot move to a Mac from Windows. If people aren't willing to make changes to the way they do things chances are their switch will fail and you will likely hear no end of grief from the person that's getting the machine based on your recommendation.

Changing an operating system is a fairly jarring event for most people because the tools they are used to working with are often in different places. Nothing seems "natural".

I equate it to driving one of the cars that my brother's company imports from Japan. They are right hand drive high performance cars, yet I am able to operate them fairly well by simply jumping in and driving off. Acceleration, braking and steering work the same as any other car I've driven so that's not a problem. Operating the gear shift on a manual right hand drive car is a little odd because I have to think about it - usually my right hand operates the gear shifter, not the left. Then there are the little details that always throw me off, like trying to make a lane change and turning on the windshield wipers since those controls are on opposite sides of the steering wheel from their American counterparts. My muscle memory is not trained well for it.

In much the same way, OS X and Windows are similar at fundamental levels but different on the surface. Here are a couple of the key differences that I've found between Macs and Windows that trip users up and frustrate them:

Keyboard Shortcuts in Text
Command vs Control is the biggest; Control-C is copy in Windows, Command-C is copy in OS X. It takes a little getting used to. More difficult to adjust to is Option-Right arrow in OS X to move a word to the right; it's Control-Right in Windows. Since the Option/Alt key is sandwiched between the Control and Command keys I have a difficult time getting to it even now, three months in. 

I think this is in part because the key in that location on a Windows keyboard is the Start key, the worst key in Windows. Why is it the worst? Try playing a full screen, high speed combat game in Windows and then accidentally hit the Start key. The application minimizes (which is usually a disaster), the game is running in the background and you're watching your display adaptor try to figure out what to do as it switches graphics modes. 

So here I am in BF2, piloting a Blackhawk full of my buddies - we're ripping through a town at building level when I accidentally hit the dreaded key, the screen flickers and I'm staring at my Start menu. I can hear my buddies online in the background yelling out "WTF?!?" and "DUDE! WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!?" When I am finally able to get back into the game we are inevitably flying into the side of a building or mountain. Everyone dies. Yay Start Key.

Needless to say, experiences like that have made my finger's muscle memory avoid the Start key region like an iPhone wants to avoid a Blendtec blender. I don't want to go anywhere near it. I think that's part of the reason I can't seem to hit that key on my Mac's keyboard.

There are two other keys that I've found difficult in the transition: Home and End. In Windows Home takes you to the beginning of the current line; in OS X that key scrolls the current window to the top. To get to the beginning of the current line in OS X I hit Command-Left Arrow. I'm still tripping up on that.

A Different Approach to Menus
Another area that Windows users will struggle with is the way the Macintosh handles menus. In Windows each application gets it's own menu and it is physically attached to the window itself. On OS X there is only one menu and it is parked at the top of the screen; it changes as you change the focus of applications. 

While this may seem like a trivial difference it starts to show up as an issue for me because I have dual monitors. If I have an application window parked in the right monitor I need to move the mouse cursor all the way over to the left monitor in order to access any menu options for it. Not everyone will be impacted by this because I think having multiple monitors is a bit rare, especially for recent switchers.

That's All?
These are just two quick areas; in the past I've touched on others as well. There are also differences in window resizing, drag and drop support, quitting applications, file management (don't assume that dragging folders in OS X has the same effect it has in Windows - it does not), installing and uninstalling applications, etc., etc. On top of this are different applications, peripheral support, etc. Thanks to Eric's comment yesterday I stumbled across this site: Mac vs Windows. Lots of information in there on the differences and it appears pretty objective.

These changes all translate into challenges for new users. I believe that my switch to Mac has been successful in no small part to the attitude I had when approaching it. I was excited about trying out something new because as I mentioned in yesterday's post, I was pretty bored with Windows. I was ready for something new and fresh and the Macintosh provided that for me.

For this reason I've decided to stop pushing a Mac on my wife. It's going to be a lot easier for her to make the transition if she really wants one. Something tells me that the next time her machine slows to a crawl or gets infected by a virus she will have a boost in her motivation. 

In the meantime I'm going to enjoy using my Macs.

Why I bailed out on Windows and switched to Macintosh


It's kind of funny how things work out. When I originally bought my MacBook three months ago I viewed it as a complimentary machine. Something that would be added to my menagerie of computers. I had been using Windows for so long and it's use was so deeply embedded into my workflow that I couldn't imagine another OS displacing it as my primary operating system. I just wanted something new and different.

So what was wrong with Windows?
I guess after 17 years of Windows I became more than just a little tired of it. I watched new versions comes out with only incremental improvements in usability and more often than not, changes to things that just took some getting used to. Windows became larger and larger, more memory dependent and requiring more processor just to be functional. I accept that great new features and functionality will come with a larger footprint but it didn't feel like I was getting that much great stuff out of it.

I was really hoping that Vista would reenergize my Windows experience but it did not. It was... meh. It felt like Microsoft was simply wrapping more and more layers of security on top of Windows, not really improving the Windows user experience. I loaded Vista on to my HP nw8440 laptop, a decent, high end machine that had 2GB of memory and a good graphics card. Vista ran fine from a performance standpoint but had some serious stability problems. Windows XP ran like a champ on the machine but Vista would lock up on me at odd times and if the machine ran for more than a day it could not be shut down - I would have to hold down the power button for an extended period of time to get it to turn off. 

In October of 2007 I went out and bought a little HP Slimline PC. I wanted a nice little low power usage machine that could run Ubuntu for me. As power machines go this was not one of them: A little AMD 64 X2 dual core processor and 1GB of memory. It was all of $550 at the time - clearly a bargain class machine - and I had so many BestBuy credits from other purchases that my cash outlay was only a couple hundred dollars. It came with Vista capable logos all over it and had Windows Vista Home Edition installed on it. I knew I was going to wipe out the OS and install Ubuntu over it but I decided to play with it as a Vista machine for a bit. What a mistake.

Vista was dog slow on that machine, nearly unusable. It may have been because HP had so much extra crap on the machine to subsidize the cost but damn - it seemed like a waste of money. I considered just taking it back to BestBuy and getting a refund. Instead I went ahead and installed Ubuntu on it and lo and behold the machine's performance was excellent. It is a great, complimentary machine for my purposes. The latest version of Ubuntu (8.04, Hardy Heron) is fantastic on the little HP. It looks even better and performs as well as the previous version I had.

The Last Straw
The last straw for me was the issue of viruses. I had run for years without virus protection on my PCs because I knew how to take care of my machine. Sure, I put things like Norton Anti-virus and PC Tools on my kid's and wife's machines but that was because they didn't know how to stay out of trouble. I did so I knew I was safe.

I only installed software from well defined resources. I never even looked at attachments from people. I felt streetwise and here it was, 17 years into Windows and I had not gotten a single virus on my own machine.

Then, early this year I was doing some research on a programming issue I was having. I Googled up some web sites that appeared to have an answer and clicked on one that looked reputable. Even though I had popup blockers installed the site managed to open a popup on me. I closed the popup and left the site but before I knew it popups were happening to me randomly, even when the browser was not loaded. Clearly my machine had been infected by something.

I installed PC Tools and it found and eradicated the problem, some class of Spyware / Ad Malware crap. Rather than take the chance of that happening again I left PC Tools on and running. This unfortunately was a problem because now when I ran Visual Studio and went into a debugging session my machine slowed to a crawl. So I had to disable PC Tools in order to do my actual work. This was tremendously frustrating and happened to coincide with me looking at a MacBook.

The door was open and the Mac stepped in
Now that I've converted to using Macs for everything I am really enjoying it. You can read through my blog and see how this has developed over time - lots of ups and a couple of downs.

Funny thing is, I run into people all the time that are Mac users and they have similar stories. They were frustrated PC users that tried out and fell in love with Macs. When you ask people why they like their Macs more than Windows (if they have switched) many will recite the Apple line "it just works". Either Apple has figured out a way to get people to recite their marketing messages to others or they managed to tap into why people really like the machines.

Yesterday my youngest daughter had a friend over to work on a school project together. She brought her Dell laptop and was trying to access our wireless network. After setting everything up properly she just couldn't seem to connect - she got a good signal but could never seem to get an IP address from our wireless router. I ended up disabling the wireless networking tool that Dell provides and used the native Windows version - this worked after a couple of minutes. When I attached my MacBook to this network it worked flawlessly the first time - as did my oldest daughter's Mac when she connected it.

Just this morning I had my MacBook sitting on my lap and typing up this blog entry while waiting for my wife at the doctors office. A gentleman came over and asked some questions about the machine; he was considering getting a Mac for himself after his daughter was accepted to a graduate school and she decided that she was going to get a Mac. It was an interesting conversation because I immediately started to show off some of the Mac's features, firing up VMware Fusion and loading up Windows XP to show how quickly it runs.

In three short months I've gone from curious about Macs to a newbie user to a switcher that promotes Macs to strangers. I guess my conversion to the dark side is now complete.

The challenges of running Visual Studio on a Mac

In the week since I got my Mac Pro I have made a conscious effort to transfer everything that I knew I would need over from my Windows XP machine. I've even powered off the Windows XP machine - something I rarely do with a computer - because I wanted to make sure I didn't try to use it as a crutch. My goal was to see if I could really switch to Mac completely and one week in that has been the case, though there has been some compromise.

I use VMware Fusion to run Windows XP in a virtual machine. It works really well for the most part and when it is running in full screen mode I really feel I'm running a Windows machine, with a couple of major exceptions:

Keyboard Shortcuts: Visual Studio makes heavy use of function keys, especially for debugging. By default the critical ones I use most are F10 (Step Over) and F11 (Step Into) and F9 (Toggle Breakpoint). On my Mac's keyboard the F9 key advances the song/track in the player, F10 mutes the speaker and F11 lowers the volume - these are special feature keys for OS X and work in any application you happen to be in.
You can flip a toggle in the System Preferences to allow the Functions to operate as standard keys, in which case they will not work as special feature keys unless I hold down the fn key on my keyboard. Likewise if I have the option in System Preferences unchecked I need to hit fn in order to access the keys as standard F keys.

There was also one other layer of complexity added to all of this: by default OS X ships with some keyboard shortcuts of it's own that also conflict with things. This threw me for a little while because by default some of those F keys are mapped to Spaces and Expose.

What I ended up doing was eliminating the Spaces, Expose and Dashboard use of the F9 through F12 keys; I use the mouse for that stuff anyway. I also keep the option to use the special key feature enabled, meaning that if I want F10 to be passed down to my application I need to hold the fn key too. It's a pain in the ass but I really like having the special keys enabled. Too many functions for too few keys.

I really do wish the fn key was a toggle, not a modifier key though. That would make it so much easier. I spent a couple of hours researching how to make it work that way but had no luck.

Using the Keyboard to Navigate Text
I've mentioned before that the text navigation keys between Windows and Mac are different. On Windows you use Ctrl-Right, Ctrl-Left to move the cursor one word at a time to the right or left. On Mac it's Option-Right, Option-Left. Well, this creates a little conflict when using VMware Fusion and Visual Studio.

By default OS X uses Ctrl-Right to move to the Spaces window to the right, Ctrl-Left to the Spaces window to the left. As a big time Spaces user I've found this excellent, unfortunately I've had to disable the feature since I really need the ability to Ctrl-Right and Left arrow through words in Visual Studio. This is not something I'm terribly happy about but I'm trying to get used to it.

Other than these two issues, so far it's been excellent. My development performance has actually increased a bit because all of the applications I've come to count on are now on the Mac Pro.

Playing with the Dashboard

Up to this point in time I've kind of avoided the Dashboard on my Mac. Having had bad memories of the Active Desktop in previous versions of Windows I've just avoided the genre. I played around with Mac's Dashboard a little last night and found it to be pretty cool though, making me rethink whether or not this is something I want to make part of my daily routine.

The number of widgets available from Apple for the Mac Dashboard is simply staggering. Since the widgets can be built really easily using Dashcode, Apple's development tool for these widgets, it's just painfully simple to create a Dashboard widget. The cool part is that you don't even need to use Dashcode to create a nice little Dashboard widget - you can just grab what you want directly from Safari.

Up in the Safari toolbar is the little scissors icon that allows you to select a chunk of your current web page and simply make a Dashboard control out of it. I've only just started playing with it but any site you visit frequently that has an RSS feed would be a good candidate for a Dashboard widget. It's so simple it's ridiculous.

So this morning as I was writing up this entry and I fired up Dashcode (needs to be installed from your original Mac OS X CDs or downloaded from Apple). I started playing around and before I knew it I had created a Dashboard Widget for my blog. You can check it out here: David Alison's Blog Widget. It's not much but also took me all of about 20 minutes to produce, and that was from fumbling around trying to figure out the UI for Dashcode.

Here's what the actual widget looks like:

It really is that easy. If you find yourself looking to express yourself on the Dashboard try out Dashcode - I have a feeling it's going to contribute to how I deliver my next product.

So here's a question for all of you: Do you use the Dashboard? If so, is there a "gotta have" widget you really use all the time?

Have you used Quicklook?

A person that goes by the handle RG-6 mentioned in the comments of yesterday's post that Quicklook was an amazing feature that a lot of Mac users either don't know about or even use. I had heard about it but I never bothered to try it out. Instead I did what I used to do in Windows if I wanted to see what was in a file - I'd open it in the program that normally works with a file of that type.

This is such a slow process. It's just a PDF file, do I really need to load Acrobat Reader? Do I have to get Excel fired up just to take a quick look at some of the values in a spreadsheet? Quicklook saves all that and is about as easy to use as it get.

All you need to do is open the Finder and select a file, then hit the Space bar. Quicklook loads a preview nearly instantly that shows you the contents of most files. Since I've been moving a lot of files between machines lately this is a great way to look at a file really quickly.

You can even select a group of files (Command-Click) and then hit Space and you will have the option of viewing an index sheet of your files so you can scan through them quickly. It really is a fantastic little feature.

If you haven't used Quicklook yet you should take a quick look at it.

Sorry about that last one, I had to.

When Spotlight stops spotting files

I have become a Spotlight addict ever since my friend Dylan recommended that I use it. So it was with some dismay that I fired it up on my MacBook and suddenly it could not find some of my key applications.
I tried searching the interwebs and all I could come up with was several recommendations that I try removing and re-adding folders from Spotlight. None of that seemed to work for me.

In the end I decided to do a full reindex of Spotlight, which can take quite a while. In the case of my MacBook with a 320G drive (197G in use) it takes nearly an hour. The machine is perfectly useable during that time, except that you can't use Spotlight until it's complete. 

If you need to do the reindex simple open a terminal window and plug in the following command:

sudo mdutil -E /

Once that kicks off (you'll need the administrator's password) you can close the terminal window and continue working, though the CPU on my MacBook was pretty busy for a while.

When it finally did come back Spotlight could again find everything. If you get the situation where Spotlight can't find some files try these suggestions first. If that fails then ensuring you have all of your Spotlight folders properly selected (Preferences / Spotlight) and then performing the reindex above will likely fix the problem.

You can also see the progress of the indexing by placing your mouse over the Spotlight icon to get a reading of the percent complete on the indexing. Thanks to MacWorld for highlighting that little gem.

Optimizing the dual monitor environment for the Mac Pro

Now that I've had the Mac Pro for a little over two full days I'm finding it a joy to work with. It's very fast and quiet and amplifies the Mac experience that started for me on the little MacBook. I have VMware Fusion up and running on it and most of my development environment in there and spent a big part of yesterday in Visual Studio writing code. Here's is what appears to work best for me:


Even with the dual monitors and an effective 3200x1200 resolution I still love using Spaces. Activating that through either the mouse or keyboard and swiftly navigating between spaces is now second nature to me. In Windows I always used Alt-Tab to switch between applications; while I occasionally use Command-Tab to do that on my Mac it's usually only to toggle back and forth between two applications quickly.

If you look at the image above you'll see that I've got 6 spaces to work with. I'm still tweaking that but I had a tendency on the MacBook to keep specific apps in certain Spaces and I'm continuing to do that with the Mac Pro.

Setting up VMware Fusion and Windows XP
At the bottom left is the Space I have dedicated to VMware Fusion and Windows XP. Fusion allows you to operate in one of three modes: Full Screen, Unity and in a window. The window view places your XP instance into a resizable window that lets XP think it's in a monitor of that size, which means if you resize the window to 640x480 then XP thinks it's operating on a 640x480 sized display. 

Unity mode, which is really interesting, places the applications from your Windows XP instance directly into your Mac environment. I tried playing with it and didn't care for it as much as I thought I would. There are a couple of little UI artifacts on the applications I tried running and it just seems odd having older Windows XP style windows sitting in OS X. It feels like being in a brand new car but looking down at the stereo controls and finding something that came out of a 6 year old car. Well, maybe not quite like that but it does feel odd.

I decided that Full Screen worked best for me. The only problem with it is that when you switch to that mode your Mac menu quickly auto-hides up to the top of the window. I like having my Mac's menu visible because that's where my iStat monitors are and I like to occasionally scan the CPU to see what's up. Since Full Screen mode for VMware Fusion only takes up one screen I decided to try placing VMWare Fusion in the second monitor. Here's what it looks like:


Now I still have access to my Mac's menu bar even though I'm in Windows XP in full screen mode, making iStat visible at all times. I'm still spending time tweaking this but it's starting to settle into this configuration.

One Quick Question for Everyone
My friend Bradley is a heavy duty Quicken user and has been really disappointed with the Quicken version for Mac.  He is down to only a couple of applications that he continues to depend on Windows for and Quicken is one of them. Can anyone recommend a decent replacement for it that is native to Mac? I'd personally like to find something as well, ideally one that interfaces well with my bank and credit card providers. I've spent zero time looking but have gotten such great tips from people here I'm hoping someone has a good recommendation.

A Mac Pro is a Force to be reckoned with

For those that follow this blog regularly you know that yesterday I went out and bought a Mac Pro to compliment the MacBook that started my adventures into the Mac world after spending the last 24 years in the DOS/Windows camp.

I won't go into too much detail here because my first day post with the MacBook and subsequent posts leading up to this one make it pretty clear that I have been impressed enough to actually switch to Mac. But didn't I switch to Mac back when I bought my MacBook? No, not really. I was still actively using my Windows machine on a daily basis because it's where my development work gets done. I just constantly found myself wanting to spend time on my MacBook. It was new and interesting and even though I've had a couple of stumbling blocks early on I was just drawn to the machine. OS X is a deceptively powerful OS, one that combines a nice simple interface for novice users with incredible flexibility for people that want to dig in just a little. It seemed like every day I found some cool new feature within OS X which is why writing this blog has actually been pretty darn easy.

There were just a couple of things that frustrated me with my MacBook - and they were simply because I was trying to make a small, highly portable machine perform heavy duty desktop tasks. Working with the screen on the MacBook just didn't provide the kind of real estate I needed; even with a 320GB hard drive added in I was limited in disk space and I really need more than just 2 USB ports if this is going to be my primary machine. I love it as a travel system though - I was just ready to replace my Windows desktop with a Mac and really make the switch.

My earlier experiments with VMware Fusion had gone really well and I was confident that I could actually switch completely to Mac now and simply run Windows inside a VM for my development work. I considered the iMac but ultimately decided on a Mac Pro. I already had some beautiful monitors in the dual Samsung SyncMaster 204Bs and I love the idea of running Fusion on an 8 core system. The price of the Mac Pro seemed a bit steep but in reality I ended up paying less than I did for my state of the art XP rig just over a year ago.

Buying Refurbished
I had mentioned on this blog several times that I was ready to go "all in" and get a Mac Pro and several folks recommended that I should consider buying refurbished directly from Apple instead of buying new. The comments I received were that the refurbished machines were just like buying new except that they 1) cannot be customized from Apple and 2) come in rather plain looking cardboard boxes.

Here's what mine looked like when it arrived yesterday:


Sure, it wasn't the pristine packaging you get with a new Apple system. Ok, that was a non-issue for me. According to Apple they take in machines that are returned for a variety of different reasons and then go through an exhaustive set of tests to recondition the product for resale. What I found inside the box was what appeared to be a brand new machine. The only flaw I could find was a tiny little nick at the top edge of the keyboard. That was it. Going this route saved me $400.

The Mac Pro Main System
When you buy a Mac Pro you are buying a nearly complete system; the only thing you really need to purchase is a monitor, though external speakers are also recommended. When I pulled out the Mac Pro I promptly placed it on a towel on my hardwood floor and opened the case. The fit and finish of the aluminum case is fantastic. No tweaking or pushing to align pins so the case cover fits.

Inside is the cleanest looking interior I have ever seen on a desktop PC. My Windows XP machine is a jumble of interior cables and wires. Even using tie straps (which I do) you can only do so much cable management inside a custom built PC. The Mac Pro interior is stunningly clean. Installing the drives and memory took me minutes. Adding the new drive in went so fast that I pulled it back out, set up my little Canon SD1100 in video record mode and shot a video of it. I was that impressed.


Adding to the memory was also very simple. There are two risers in the lower portion of the system that slide out by tugging on the two large holes at the end of the card. The DIMMs are inserted into the cards and they are placed back in - pretty basic. The memory itself must be matched up to like memory - RTFM on this one. I had 2 1GB sticks that came with the machine, 2 1GB sticks that my friend Dr. Michael Roach at Digital Apple Juice sent me since they were extras after he bought his Mac Pro and then I ordered 4 2GB sticks from OWC. This gave me a total of 12GB of memory - plenty to do everything I need for the foreseeable future.

Initial System Performance
Once I had fished all of the external cables and had the Mac Pro sitting in the primary location I went through the startup process. The Mac Pro came to life quickly and before too long I was in OS X and ready to go. It recognized that I had two new drives in the system and prompted me to run Disk Utility on them. I simply created two full size partitions using Mac OS Extended (Journaled) on each drive. It took all of a couple of minutes before both drives were ready. So much better than the hours it would have taken than the default Windows option to partition and format those drives for NTFS on a Windows machine.

The system itself is extremely fast, as I expected it to be. The first thing I did was install VMware Fusion and move my Windows XP image from the MacBook over. It took a little configuring and reactivating Windows XP but very quickly my VM was up an running. Once is was up it ran Windows and my entire development environment perfectly. I could run it in full screen mode if I felt nostalgic, keep it in a window or even run it in Unity mode, which VMware supports. My development environment just appears as a "Windows" looking window on OS X.

On of the first applications I installed was iStat menus so that I could keep an eye on the system as I was installing and working with applications for the first time. Displaying the logical CPUs in the menu is almost comical since I now have 8 little graphs showing CPU. The only task that seemed to make the machine work hard was when I imported 20K + pictures into iPhoto.

I'm still going through and trying to figure out which of the many applications I've been playing with on the MacBook will make it over to the new machine. My photo and video collection are already on it, my complete iTunes library is now there and I have just a few more key pieces that were on the Windows machine that will now be on the Mac Pro.

Peripheral Hardware - the Mighty Mouse and Keyboard
My Mac Pro came with a full size thin aluminum keyboard. While it has the same key spacing and feel that my beloved MacBook does, it is not as comfortable to type on as I hoped it would be. I have to arch my wrists a bit more than I am used to and lose my place on the "home" keys pretty easily.

This is in part because I am coming from using the split keyboards from Microsoft for so many years. I am going to keep trying to get used to the Mac's native keyboard for a little longer but may end up either moving the Microsoft keyboard over to the Mac Pro or try to find a split key model that is specific to Mac.


Unlike the keyboard, which I may be able to tolerate, I could not get used to the Might Mouse. While I love the little track ball that serves as the scroll wheel, the buttons on it just feel odd. When I use my mouse I have a tendency to rest my palm on it and I felt as though I was activating the mouse all the time. I also really struggled to get the right clicking to work.

Fortunately I have a Logitech mx510 gaming mouse that has drivers for OS X. This mouse works fantastic and with the additional buttons I am able to activate Spaces, use the forward and back buttons, etc. quite easily.

A Name for the Mac Pro
After much debate - basically me talking to myself yet again - I decided to name the new Mac Pro "Force" as in the Force from Star Wars. Thanks to Roger for being the first to suggest that one when I asked for a little help. 

The Force is strong within this one.

First impression of the new Mac Pro

I just finished setting up the machine and will post a little more shortly but I was really impressed with how easy it is to set up and configure the Mac Pro. I needed to add two additional drives and 10GB of extra memory (now totaling 12GB). Having come from the Windows world where I manually built my previous machines the construction and design for the Mac Pro is just excellent. I'll put it into perspective:

Time to install an additional hard drive: less than one minute
Time to install 10 GB of memory (6 DIMMs): less than two minutes
Time to partition and format 2TB of disk space: less than one minute (total)

I grabbed my little Canon SD1100 and shot a really quick video on how to install an additional hard drive in a Mac Pro so you get an idea of how incredibly simple this is:

The machine that I pulled out of the carton looked brand new. I could not detect anything wrong with it at all. The only slight thing I found was a tiny little nick on the edge of the keyboard; and that was because I was looking really closely for any kind of damage at all.

The Mac Pro is extremely quiet - I really can't hear it at all below the desk.

I've already decided that the Mighty Mouse has to go - the Logitech Mx510, one of which I also use on my MacBook, is already attached. I'm going to give the keyboard a little time, though coming from a large Microsoft ergonomic keyboard this may take some getting used to. I may be shopping around for a decent ergonomic keyboard replacement soon.

The other item on my shopping list will be a decent web cam so that I can do video chats and ideally use the microphone for dubbing over videos. I'll throw in another post as soon as I have my key software loaded on the machine but so far so good!

I'll also have some pictures for the next post.

Already time for a new Mac

I've had the MacBook for just over two and a half months now. I've grown to really enjoy working on the little machine; so much so that I will use any excuse to spend time on it. All my web browsing, RSS feeds, e-mail, word processing, blogging, instant messaging, etc. happens on the MacBook now. If I have a meeting outside the office I snap the machine shut, place it in it's form fitting black neoprene Incase sleeve and take it with me wherever I go. It has become my trusty sidekick.

There is one thing though that always makes me grudgingly turn to my Windows XP machine: that's where I really do all of my development work. I am still committed to Visual Studio and C#. Sure, I have VMWare Fusion installed on my MacBook and it is capable of running my development environment but the screen real estate is too small for the code / test / debug cycle. For that I need lots and lots of pixels and simply adding an external monitor is not enough. 

My Windows XP machine has two beautiful Samsung SyncMaster 204B LCDs running 1600x1200 side by side (effectively 3200x1200). I thought to myself that those two monitors would look pretty cool running OS X, wouldn't they?

Well, last weekend I went out and ordered a Mac Pro to compliment the MacBook. Based on all of the feedback I've received I decided to go with a refurbished current generation model: 8 core / dual 2.8GHz processors. This particular machine comes with a 320GB drive and 2GB of RAM. I also ordered additional memory and a couple of 1TB hard drives for all of my photos, video and backups from some different vendors. When all is installed it will have 12GB of memory and 2.3TB of disk space.  I'll be writing about all of this after I put it all together and see how it performs.

So far everything is here except one key piece: the Mac Pro itself. According to FedEx it should be here today. Somehow I think this is going to be a painfully slow Friday until it arrives.

As usually happens when I obtain new technology, my older equipment cycles downstream. The Windows XP machine will remain on my desk, though mainly as a resource for the Mac Pro as I bring it up to speed. The HP Laptop running Vista is the odd man out now, having been pushed over to a different desk here in the office. I have an intern starting in June and he will have the pleasure of using Vista on that machine. Sorry Daniel!

One Key Decision Remains
I need to name this machine. I like naming computers short, single word, easily remembered names; it makes it easier when trying to grab data or connect to them internally. All of my current machines have Star Wars themed names; Luke, Vader, Wookie and Solo. The exception is the MacBook, which is named Drifter.

So what should I name it? Got any suggestions? 

1Password makes it easy to remember

Just the other day I wrote about the importance of using different passwords with different systems to protect yourself against someone effectively stealing your identity. Several folks recommended that I take a look at 1Password, a utility for managing passwords to different web sites.

I've never been a big fan of password utilities. The main reason behind this is that I have a pretty large number of machines I use on a frequent basis and knowing my passwords is just something I want to keep stored in my aging grey matter. The problem with "just knowing" your passwords is that it's quite easy to become lazy and not change your passwords very often because they can be a pain in the ass if you forget them.

Writing them down is always a big no-no too so you need some place to record them. What that justification out of the way I figured I'd try out 1Password. Nice, simple install. You access 1Password from your browser menu - it places a little button labeled 1p directly to the left of the address box in your browsers.  I have both Safari and Firefox installed and it installed into them without any problems.

I won't go too much into the basics of 1Password because they have an excellent video that walks you through the basic usage. Here it is if you are interested:


1Password does a lot more than just save passwords. In playing around with it I noticed that I could store identities in it. I plugged in my name, mailing address, birthdate, etc.  When I come across a form on the web that I want to fill out I simply click the 1P button and select Fill in with Identity and then select my name. Most, though not all, of the fields will quickly populate. Some, like the pull downs for dates, don't work - but I understand why that would be tough from a programatic standpoint.

You can also store other data inside the secure wallet that is 1Password. It has places for things like your credit cards, which I find useful because I hate going on a 1am buying spree and having to run upstairs to grab my wallet to get my credit card number. Now it's right here in 1Password.

Reportedly 1Password will also allow you to synchronize your information on several machines using a .Mac account. I'm about to become a multi-Mac owner so I purchased the 3 seat license for 1Password; I don't have a .Mac account and don't plan on getting one so it will be interesting to see how I will be synchronizing the data between two different machines. If someone has a tip on that please let me know!

Overall it seems like a really great little application and one that I'm glad people recommended it to me. Paul - thanks for recommending it several times :-)

Startup 101: The importance of knowing your sales process

I had an interesting day a little while ago. I spoke with three different friends and all of the conversations ended up going into the sales process that they use for their individual companies. I found this interesting in that each had fundamentally different businesses: a high tech SaaS based product, a service provided to attorneys and a personalized consumer product business. Yet in each case none of them really had a sale process defined and that ended up becoming the topic of discussion. Two of the businesses were just getting started and one was already pretty mature but didn't really have a formal sales process in place.

Regardless of the type of business you have I think it's really important to understand in a reproducible way how to sell your product or service. This becomes critical if you have any desire to grow your company by adding sales staff, large numbers of customers or different channels. Because I'm really an engineer more than anything else I look at the sales process as an old fashioned flow chart: at one end is a raw lead and at the other is either a paying customer or someone that you may get to become a customer in the future. In between are the various decision points and attributes that must be collected in order to move that lead into the next stage.

By breaking down the sales process into stages you can begin to understand what it will take to move prospects through those stages. What is preventing them from moving forward? How many prospects can you expect to see go from one stage to the next? This is where the ability to capture the data in a consistent way becomes critical. If you are regularly capturing what happens to your leads at each stage of sales process you can begin to see trends and start really forecasting your sales efforts. You can see which of your sales activities is paying off and which doesn't have the impact you think it should.

If you own a small business that depends on more than a handful of customers coming in the door every month you owe it to yourself to set up a well documented and managed sales process. There are lots of books and articles on how to do this but my view is very basic and can be distilled down to four pointers:
  • Keep it simple! You know your business - break down why you are successful selling your product or service today, create some metrics so you can measure it and then experiment. Each of your steps in the sales process should have a measurable outcome that can be recorded.

  • Document it! You need to put pen to paper (or bits to disk) and keep track of your sales process. It's a living document that should always be current and becomes the fundamental guide for your sales people as your company grows.

  • Track your metrics! It's hard to know what to do next if you don't have a stable base to draw from. Compile data regularly and consistently on your sales. Over time you will begin to see trends that may have not been obvious. At a minimum the data will present you with confirmation about your gut feel on why you are successful or not selling.

  • Be patient! If you want to improve you need to see the impact your changes are causing. Don't jump to conclusions because a change you made isn't having the immediate impact you think it should be having. Continue to monitor your metrics and adjust things at a reasonable pace. This may feel like it runs counter to popular thinking that decisions should be made based on gut instinct and in the blink of an eye.
I'm not a sales expert - I'm an entrepreneur. I have always tried to keep everything as simple as possible and the advice I'm providing is about as simple as it gets. If you're not using a well defined sales process now, at a minimum following the steps I have outlined above will give you a great start in getting it under control.

Mac: Keeping a white MacBook clean with Mr. Clean

I had a number of people tell me in the comments of this blog that I should check out Mr. Clean Magic Eraser when I complained about the palm rests of my MacBook becoming dirty.

I mentioned this to my youngest daughter and over the weekend she went shopping with her mom and brought home a box of the Mr. Clean Magic Erasers for me. I didn't even ask her! (Have I told you I have wonderful kids?)

There's nothing really magical about a sponge with a little soap inside of it, right? It's just a sponge! Well, it has a slightly abrasive surface on the white side of the sponge and a softer one on the green side. It does indeed get the palm rests on a MacBook looking like the machine is brand new. Here's the evidence:

Before:

After:
The only thing that was dirty afterwards was the Mr. Clean sponge. If you do this here are some tips:
  • Turn the MacBook off and disconnect it from power.
  • Use warm water to soak the sponge, squeeze it a few times to get the suds to come out then wring out most of the water - this is a computer after all and you don't want liquid to get into the keys. I applied it and very little moisture actually came off.
  • Use a clean, dry cotton towel to wipe down the MacBook afterwards - get rid of all the moisture.
  • Be careful when wiping it over the keys. This is where the Magic of the sponge actually happens because you need very little pressure to get the keys clean. Treat it like an eraser.
  • Ron mentioned in the comments that you should not use the sponge on the outer shell of the MacBook and I agree. It's slightly abrasive and will likely scratch the surface.
Thanks for the great tip folks! My MacBook now looks like new again!

Do you use the same password everywhere?

My assumption is that if you are reading this blog it says you are someone that spends a fair amount of time on the web. Yeah, I know, brilliant observation Dave. If my assumption is correct then you have probably visited sites that require you to sign in so that you can contribute posts, download applications or in some cases even read their content. When you do that, do you use the same password on every site you sign up for?

I really love simple things and I'll try to distill my password strategy into a single line:

Don't use the same password everywhere

There, simple right? I could stop here but you may be wondering why it's important.

Because not every site you signup for is really going to safeguard your data, that's why. Some little forum that requires you to signup, or some freeware application that requires you to create an account may not protect your data like they should. No one has the time to read through every single web site's privacy policies or read through each line of the agreements that everyone makes you acknowledge. Even if the site you signup for has everything set up properly it doesn't mean that an employee of that site might not decide to harvest some user information. 

But how useful is it if someone knows your password? Really?

Well, if you happen to use the same password everywhere, including your e-mail account, you are in a serious case of the hurts. Many security systems use e-mail to verify a person's identity. So say some malicious nut ball that works on some forum that you've signed up for decides to take you for a spin. You have used the same password everywhere and used your e-mail address to sign up.

If the e-mail happens to be from Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. then the person has everything they need to log in as you and gain access to your identity. If your e-mail is hosted through a domain and e-mail service from a public facing ISP then it only takes an extra step to log in as you. This isn't something that requires a black-hat hacker or even script-kiddie level skills to perform. Anyone can do this.

Once that happens they can search through your old e-mails, see where you've signed up and learn many things about you. They can visit sites that you have accounts on where your credit card has been stored and make purchases, then clear the tracking information out of your e-mail account before you even see it.

Okay, so what's the simple strategy to prevent this?

First off, if you have used the same password in your e-mail account for anything else - and I mean anything else - go change it now. Use a secure password that combines letters, numbers and additional characters (-, |, $, etc.) You can create passwords that are memorable by putting two words together that have letters replaced by symbols, such as S = $, A = @, E = 3, etc. This will help you if someone tries to learn your password through a brute force attack. Don't use a single, english language word. Ever.

You want the password to be memorable because the last thing you want to do is to have to write the thing down. Nothing is more amusing than walking over to someone's computer and seeing their passwords on Post-it notes on their monitor. I am tempted to write "Hack me" on a piece of paper and tape it to their backs. There are lots of applications out there that will securely store your passwords. If you decide to go the old fashioned route and write them down, keep them in a secure place inside your home or office.

You don't need a different password for every single site, just the really important ones. You can create a "throw away" password that is used on those places that you are not sure about. If someone impersonates you on some little backwater forum you don't really have to worry too much.

Finally, change your passwords every once in a while, especially if you suspect that you may have exposed your password to someone else.

But is this really a problem? Nobody uses a single password for everything!

Do a little search in Google on this topic and you will find many surveys that say people use a single password for all of their online activities. I've seen reports that indicates the number is as low as 16% to as high as 61%.  Even if it was only half that low number, that means that at least 16M people in the US alone use a single password for everything.

Yeah, it's a problem. If you already use a password strategy then you are in good shape but how about your spouse? Or your kids? Or your parents? Take a minute to ask the folks in your circle if they use a single password everywhere. If they do, enlighten them. 

It really only takes a couple of minutes.

Mac: iStat pro Dashboard Widget

One of the first applications I downloaded and installed on my Mac was iStat menus, a wonderful little add in to the menu bar. iSlayer also produces a little dashboard widget called iStat pro.

If you like to use your dashboard and want a quick summary of the health of your Mac you should check it out. Takes seconds to download and install. It has the one thing I wish iStat menu would have: a battery health monitor.

You can download it from the Apple Downloads area.

Got a Mac? Let Alex proof your writing before you post it

I just wrote about using the text to speech capabilities with Alex yesterday and already I have found a use for "him" that is very cool and I want to share with you.

Have you ever had to write a significant e-mail that you read through several times before sending out? How about a blog post, or even a comment that will be published on the web for all to see? You know the kind: you want to make sure you are sending the right message and that it reads well. What I started doing yesterday has become something that I think I'll be doing all the time moving forward.

Highlight the text right before you hit Send or Publish and let Alex read it back to you. Does it read Okay? Is your sentence structure clear? As the author of the text you write you will probably have the tendency to gloss right over a phrase that is difficult to read because you don't see it the same way.

I've found that if I let Alex read over it I get a chance to hear what my words will really sound like before I even show them to others. For this purpose I have assigned the Command-Option-S key combination to my friend Alex.

He reads it back to me before I send it off and I get a sense for what my words actually sound like. Thanks Alex!

Mac: Have you met Alex?

For all the advances in personal computing technology there is one area that seems to have advanced very little: Text to Speech. Since I have not had a personal need for accessibility features I have only watched this as a typical consumer. The first time I saw a Text to Speech feature was back in the 1980s and what's odd is that up until very recently the voices produced sounded pretty much the same.

With the release of Leopard Apple also introduced us to Alex, a new "voice" for text to speech that is extremely life like. When Alex speaks the voice introduces breaths in between sentences and has incredible inflection. Though it still sounds like a computer it is a dramatic improvement over the older voices that have been out there.

You can use the Keyboard Shortcuts feature to have your Mac simply read any text you highlight, which for users that don't have an accessibility need can use for entertainment. My favorite use is to read acerbic comments from people in blogs. There's something very funny about hearing a computer voice go through a rant on why they love or hate Macs or Windows.

Also, Growl can create events that use the text to speech feature, as can products like Adium (which also can use Growl).

If you haven't heard Alex speak yet go into your Preferences / Speech window, change the System Voice to Alex and hit play. It's pretty cool.

Mac: Fixing the Command-Control-D Dictionary Lookup

As I posted earlier, I figured I'd try calling on Apple Support to see if I could get a resolution to my shortcut key problem for the Dictionary Lookup. I had tried numerous things to resolve the problem, finally culminating in calling Apple's support team, to no avail. 

Yesterday afternoon (2 days after I initially contacted Apple) I got a call from John at Apple's Austin Texas support group. Super nice guy, saw my support case and he wanted to see if he could solve it. He mentioned to me that he had tried it on 20+ machines in their labs and found it to be a problem on 5 of them, though there was no consistency that indicated it was a specific build of hardware.

His suspicion was that my OS X installation had been corrupted in some way. The first question he asked was whether I used Time Machine or not. When I answered yes he said "Great!" then he asked me to run an Archive and Install using my original OS X 10.5 disks.

I ran through the process which I'll admit I was a little concerned with because he said that some of my applications may need to be reinstalled in order to work properly - mainly those that place files in the system folders. Since I had a long stream of backups in Time Machine though I had the confidence to try this technique. I told you Time Machine was cool!

It took me just under 1.5 hours to run the entire process, which includes cycling through both of the install disks that came with my MacBook. The progress screen gives a very pessimistic assessment of how long it will take - mine indicated 2.5 hours.

Once the process completed I was the proud owner of a Mac downgraded to 10.5 (from 10.5.2) and the Dictionary Look Up Shortcut now worked! It is a cool feature.

I immediately went about running the Software Update, which I had to run twice because there were further updates that depended on what I was doing; that added another 30 or so minutes.

After all of this I had to re-add my printers and reload my Logitech mouse software, then reconfigure my mouse. I haven't been through all of my applications yet but the few that I tested seemed fine.

So how did Apple's Support do?
I'm really pleased with the level of support I received from Apple. This was a particularly thorny problem, one that I could not find an answer to by Googling it up. It was pretty darn minor since it was only one keyboard combination that was not working - everything else worked fine, yet John seem to take this on as a personal challenge. It was really refreshing to get that level of support.

I give them a 9 out of 10 on this one. It would have been 10 out of 10 had the first person I spoke to (Kim) not dropped off the call and had someone else take over.

Do you have this problem on your Mac?
For those of you that have also had this particular problem you want to make sure you try all the usual trouble shooting (check preferences to ensure the feature is on and mapped to the right keys, make sure the Dictionary application is in the Application folder, not a sub folder, etc) before you try an Archive and Install. Make sure you have a good backup of your entire system before you try this too.

Once it's done you will have a new folder on the root of your boot drive called Previous Systems and under that a folder with the date you ran the update. Mine contains 2.06GB of my older system files, which I'm going to leave until Time Machine does a full pass again.

If you run Time Machine it will be very busy after an Archive and Install; mine ended up backing up about 21GBs.

Oh yeah, and that feature? Hitting Command-Control-D and just moving the mouse over words and getting a pop-up dictionary immediately? Very, very cool!

Mac: Dealing with Apple Support

In my last post I shared tips I had learned from others and I got a new comment from Devburke telling me about the Dictionary Lookup Shortcut - Control-Command-D. Sounded terrific! Unfortunately it didn't work on my MacBook. I tried a couple of different things, including changing the shortcut key but had no luck.

I did what any techie does when confronted with a problem - Google it up. I found a couple of articles, at Apple and MacKB where people experienced the same thing. It appears to be a function of newer MacBooks. Since no one on the Interwebs seemed to have an answer I figured I'd try calling Apple Support. If nothing else I wanted to see if the support experience was the same as the computing experience I've had so far.

All times are EDT:

9:04am: Called and listened to an automated attendant, the kind you speak commands to. Those always worry me.

9:07am: I navigate the menus and speak with Kim. She's very nice, asks me the usual questions and we walk through the process of trying to replicate it.

9:10am: Kim puts me on hold, telling me she's going to try a different machine.

9:20am: New voice picks up, asking me what my issue is. Um, I already explained that to Kim. Oh, well, let's start over. Kyle is now handling my call. He's more thorough and tries a bunch of different steps.

9:28am: Kyle asks me to hold as he can't reproduce it.

9:33am: Kyle's back. Friendly guy, always updating me on what he's doing. Told me it appears to be a bug. We try a couple more things.

9:38am: He puts me on hold, telling me that a product specialist will need to get involved. He warns me that this could take a while.

9:57am: Kyle - he checks in occasionally to assure me someone is coming - finally transfers me to Dell. I love the irony that I am calling Apple support and speaking to someone named Dell about a Mac. Dell starts in on more detailed troubleshooting.

10:14am: Dell and I have done everything that can be done and it does not resolve the problem. He tell me that he will be in touch within a week to see how the next level of product folks plan to resolve the issue. He explains that they need to identify which Macs have the issue and how they will resolve it, if at all.

So there you have it - 69 minutes after the call the issue is reported to Apple and hopefully on it's way to being resolved. I am a very patient person and was nice to the support people I spoke to. They were in turn very nice back, though the fumble by Kim wasn't too cool.

Overall though I was pleased with the response. Having run a technology business before I know how hard it is to provide friendly technical support, especially when you are dealing with a problem that is not easily reproduced. 

I am looking forward to having Dell call me about my Mac. I still find that funny for some reason.

Mac: Learning from others

Lately the traffic on this blog has been picking up and with it the comments on some posts. In the last couple of days alone I've gotten some really cool little esoteric tips. Here are some that I just had to mention:

Zoomerific
Simon Elliot told me that Ctrl-Scroll Wheel (or Ctrl-Two Finger Track Pad) Zooms the entire screen. Once it's zoomed you can move the mouse around and it scrolls the now larger image. If I ever sit at my computer and forget my glasses I can zoom this thing so large that Mr. Magoo could easily read it.

Instant Sleep
An anonymous poster mentioned that I could instantly put my Mac to sleep by pressing Command-Option-Eject. Sure enough, instant black screen. If you have ever wanted your Mac to act like it has narcolepsy, press that key combination. 

Turning a Positive into a Negative
Karl C. brought up this gem: Press Command-Option-Control-8.  It immediately turns your screen into a negative image. It reverses all of the pixel colors so that black becomes white and white becomes black. It can also be done through System Preferences. Karl said it's designed to help save power but I say it's designed to do to someone's machine that they leave unattended.

Slow Motion Exposé and Spaces
Karl also told me that holding down the Shift key while activating Spaces or Exposé would make the animation work in s-l-o-w  m-o-t-i-o-n. Cool to know but not something I see using much.

Sleep Faster
The MacBook I have creates a disk image when you put it to sleep, slowing down the time it takes to fully go to sleep. Hendrik pointed out this post from MacWorld that will modify that feature using Terminal. Not to be outdone, an Anonymous poster mentioned that SmartSleep can be added to your Preferences pane to make the change without involving Terminal.

Mr. Clean to the Rescue
A couple of people mentioned that Mr. Clean works wonders on the white surface of the MacBook. Mr. Clean Magic Eraser was also recommended. Reportedly my MacBook will be "looking like new in minutes".

There you have it - some interesting little tricks. Got a really cool one you don't think anyone knows?

Mac: After two months of Mac, here's why I switched

When I started this blog two months ago I began recording my initial thoughts on obtaining a Mac. While I am not a card carrying Mac fanboy (it does have issues like any piece of technology), I wanted to try and summarize why I like the Mac so much now that I've been using it heavily for the last two months.

I have been a Windows user and software developer since 1992, and a DOS user and developer since 1984. I used to hate Macs and as recently as 9 months ago my avatar on one of my forums was John Hodgman (the PC guy from the Mac ads).

Now I really enjoy using my Mac and am drifting away from Windows as a platform. Here's why:

User Interface
The biggest draw for me is the way the Mac UI works.  For me the user interface is about usability, integration and aesthetics.  From a usability standpoint the Mac interface does not force you to see all of the options directly from the surface level. Most of the applications have very light menus and options. Initially I thought this meant that OS X was a light weight - what I learned was that I just had to spend a little time digging and suddenly a much larger number of options were available. UI folks refer to this as progressive disclosure. I refer to it as clean and uncluttered.

In OS X I can pull down a menu and while it is displayed press the Option key and suddenly my menu choices change to reflect more advanced options. The Command key modifier opens up a huge array of options, especially in text editing surfaces. If I want to enter characters outside of what's on my keyboard I have memorable key shortcuts to get to them, like Option-E, E or A to create é or á. Want the Registered Trademark ® symbol? Option-R. In Windows I needed to hit Alt-0174 or use the Character Map application.

This use of the Option/Alt key as a base modifier is a key difference with Windows. The Alt key in Windows is used primarily in short-cuts for menu mnemonics. This is also one of the areas I dislike on OS X: in most editing surfaces I can use the keyboard almost exclusively but as soon as I need to access a dialog window (preferences, etc.) I have to use the mouse. In Windows I have mnemonics to jump between settings or I can tab between controls, moving the focus from one item to the next.

Well it turns out that I should not have been so frustrated by this. Windows users that miss the ability to tab through their dialogs on Mac will find that there is a simple setting that gets almost the same behavior in OS X. I found a great little article by Alex on the Lowe Tech Labs site. If you go into System Preferences / Keyboard / Keyboard Shortcuts you can set the keyboard to work with All Controls. Alex created a nice video that walks you through it. I still don't have the mnemonics I'd like for quick jumps but at least now I can tab through web forms.

Before I got my Mac I was concerned about Right-Click mouse support. I remembered when all Mac mice were of the single button variety and it was something that seemed crazy to me, given the value of having at least 2 mouse buttons. Well, right clicking is very much available and useful on a Mac and in fact I use a 5 button Logitech mouse every day.

On the aesthetics front OS X Leopard is just a really nicely designed OS. Though some don't like it, I love the Dock's 3D look and the "fit and finish" of the surfaces are really clean. There seems to be a very high level of attention to detail in the OS, though I feel someone missed the UI boat on Disk Utility. Even though I think Windows Vista has made huge improvements in the aesthetic quality of the user interface it doesn't have the crisp look that OS X does.

From an integration standpoint Macs have amazing drag and drop support. A good example of this is how I put images in this blog. Very often I will grab an image for a product I am writing about. I simply click on the image in a web page and drag it to my Desktop. Since I use Blogger I click the Insert Image button and in the resulting dialog I drag the image from my desktop to the Choose File button. No navigating through a directory tree to find my file, no specifying the directory I want to save it in.

Performance
OS X runs really quickly on my Mac, a 2.2GHz MacBook. For a 5 pound machine, it rips through most tasks incredibly fast. This speed is apparent in most, though not all, of the applications I run. The well written apps, and that includes all of the ones Apple provided with my machine, are very snappy. I have found a couple of dog-slow applications so it is possible to write inefficient code of course, though they have been very rare for me.

When I started using my Mac I opted to give Safari a try. Safari has been the bane of my existence as a web developer so I was quite skeptical of whether I would be able to use it full time. Though I have Firefox and Opera on my machine too, Safari is extremely fast and it is now my default web browser. Pages literally snap open and large, complex tables render very quickly. The fact that I am using Safari as my default web browser is probably the biggest shock to my system.

The only place where I have seen a dip in performance is when playing videos. The MacBook does not use a dedicated graphics card like the MacBook Pro so when I use Flash based applications or play video the CPU tends to spike a bit. This is only an issue when I am running a lot of applications at the same time though. At any given time I am running a Safari instance with at least half a dozen tabs open, Mail, TextMate, Adium and NetNewsWire. Very often I'll throw VMWare Fusion and a Windows XP VM in there too and it all runs great on this little machine.

The performance issue for me goes beyond just the speed applications run. 

My MacBook boots up pretty quickly, though I rarely restart the machine. I don't restart it because the sleep function is perfect. I've had many laptops running Windows over the years and had difficulty getting machines to actually sleep correctly. Sometimes I'd close the lid thinking the machine was asleep and try to open it later only to find either the battery was drained because it didn't really sleep or that the machine had rebooted when entering sleep mode, requiring a restart when it was opened.

After two months with my MacBook I have not had a single problem with this aspect of the machine. I close the lid and it goes to sleep and uses so little power that after letting it sit unplugged from power for an entire evening I see hardly any drain on the battery. I open it up and within 2 seconds my display is active and about 5 seconds after that it has reestablished network connectivity.

Compatibility
Since I have not been able to move completely to Mac for everything - specifically my development environment - I still need to run Windows occasionally. By loading up VMWare Fusion I can run Windows XP in a window and can load Microsoft Visual Studio and get excellent performance. I can use Unity mode and have Windows applications share the desktop with my Mac applications.

Portability
This MacBook provides the perfect balance for me. Large, bright screen, excellent keyboard for touch typing on, a built in DVD burner and a nice low price. My battery life has been outstanding and with the Sleep capabilities I mentioned earlier I don't hesitate to just snag the machine off my desk and take it with me.

Even the little things that Apple promotes pretty heavily, like the magnetically attached power cord come in handy. When I was out visiting my parents recently my Dad rounded the table and tripped over the cord and it just popped out. No thunderous crash, no bent adaptor.

While my Mac's white surface has been well maintained the palm rests are already starting to show signs of wear. Not excessive, but it is noticeable.

Software Availability
Over the last 2 months I have downloaded nearly 50 different applications and utilities, though that's not even scratching the surface of what's available. The range of applications is staggering and covers just about any category I could think of.

As I set up my Mac I searched around for applications to take the place of my old Windows standard apps and found things like iStat Menus, CSSEdit, Pixelmator, VLC and many more.

When you look at what is included with OS X, especially iLife 08, out of the box the machine is ready to roll. Though it took me a little time I've nearly weaned myself off of Picasa for iPhoto and I'm still playing with iMovie, though I'm more comfortable with Windows Movie Maker at this point.

One of my favorite applications comes with OS X though and that's Time Machine. Seamless hourly backups of my machine that took minutes to set up and just happens without me doing anything. I love it when computers do the work for you.

The Compromise
The closed nature of the Mac means that my choices are somewhat limited, unlike the PC where I can tweak the hardware all I want. Unless I want to violate the terms of the EULA for Mac OS X, I'm only going to be running it on Apple provided systems. I can purchase aftermarket hard drives and RAM to save some money but newer motherboards, processors and graphics cards are off limits. This hasn't been a deal killer for me because the hardware that is provided works really nicely and I never have to worry about driver compatibility issues.

So there you have it. After two months I still find the machine fascinating. I don't hate my Windows XP machine, nor the Vista laptop or Ubuntu workstation I also have at my desk. I just don't use them all that much anymore. 

I'm having too much fun exploring my Mac and scheming to get a Mac Pro.