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top twelve tips...

...for running a beta program from Joel. Good reading. :)

Posted by diego on March 3, 2004 at 9:02 PM

two weeks with a mac

blue-apple-logo.jpgIt's been almost two weeks since I got my new development machine, a Powermac G5, so I thought I'd write down some of my impressions during this time.

The first Mac I used was at my first job, one of the original Powermacs (PowerPC 601) with System 7. The experience was good, but System 7 was very good at developing System 7 apps, and running System 7 apps, but interoperability was hard. I remember I used to spend nearly all my time running X within it, since most of the work I was doing then was in Java, or C++ targeted at various UNIX platforms.

Then I used a Mac on and off over the last year (an old G3 with OS X) that we got on loan to test our software, but with only 128 megs of RAM it wasn't possible to do more than launch a program (wait... and wait... and wait...) and see how it came out. Serious debugging (of problems mostly related to layout problems) was pretty much impossible.

The G5, of course, changed all that.

Btw, you will have to forgive my sometimes starry-eyed commentary in what follows :). Even when I point out some of the problems that I've run against I sort of gloss over them; I'm sure that for others they will be more difficult to accept. So this is not terribly objective, but I think it's a good example of how the experience affected my judgment :).

First, the experience of setting up the machine is quite simply a pleasure from start to finish. The packaging is nice. Oohs and Aahs abound even as you open the box and get everything out. The machine looks nice. The cables have nice terminators that make them appear to "meld" with the machine.

Plus, there are surprises in the most unexpected places. For example, as I was setting up the LCD, I was wondering how to adjust its angle. I placed it on the desk, and looked at it for a couple of minutes. Nothing. Looked behind. Nothing that seemed to indicate how to rotate it (Mac LCDs stand on an inverted V, as opposed to PC LCDs which generally have a single stand with a swivel). I refused to look at any manuals. (Not that the Mac has many of those anyway :)). I lifted it up and tried to move it (gently), to no avail. I set it down. And then it happened: for whatever reason I pushed it slightly from the top border.

It moved.

I pushed it further, the monitor's angle was reduced accordingly. I pushed it from behind, and the angle increased.

The utter shock of that moment can't be easily explained. Here was a mechanism that simple, understated, and that worked properly when it had to. The long hours that must have gone into the excellent design of something as small (that could easily be considered "inconsequential") dropped on me like a bucket of cold water. And we tend to ignore mechanical engineering. Like turning on the machine from the monitor: there are no buttons, you just slide your finger over an area on the bottom-right of it, and on it goes.

Then, later, almost everything was were it should be. Front sockets for USB, headphones, and so on.

At around that time, during the installation, there were two things that bugged me a bit. One was the overly intrusive registration procedure that I had to go through to get the machine up and running, and which I couldn't bypass. The other was the CD tray, which could only be opened by pressing a key on the keyboard (which took me about 2 minutes to figure out). I wondered how this could affect error situations for a bit, but then I let it go.

Once I was in, the machine was more than fast, it was instantaneous. Then again, I would have been dissapointed if that wasn't the case, considering the hardware (G5, 1 GB RAM, Serial-ATA disk...). It was nice nevertheless.

The default security settings of the machine were a joke (no password for logging in, no password for the screensaver, in fact, no screensaver set up) but I quickly changed that. For finding my way around the configuration, Mark's Dive Into OS X was a good guide. Many thanks to Mark for maintaining such an excellent resource.

Safari is fantastic, I downloaded Firebird but after enabling the tabs in Safari I simply had no need for it. Safari was the default browser out of the box and it has stayed that way.

Setting up a printer was so easy it felt like cheating. We have a LaserJet 2300 with JetDirect, and while Windows was confused about it (as usual) requiring CDs, looking through the network and so forth, on the Mac it was a two-click process. Go to add printers. The LaserJet shows up. Select. Done.

After playing with some settings I updated the software (Java, iTunes, etc) and then installed Eclipse and other things I needed for development, including Xcode and the X11 server. I've had little need of anything else since then, with the exception of Office (I tried installed OpenOffice for Mac beta but it was a disaster, and it needs X11 to run... I'll just wait until they put out the native Carbon version), which meant that at some point I'll have to get Microsoft Office for Mac, and VirtualPC (also a Microsoft product). I was going to get a copy of VirtualPC in fact, but I found out that it doesn't run on G5s (!!). I guess I'll have to wait for that one.

Now for the little annoyances: coming from both UNIX/Linux and Windows, Macs are a little too "opaque". It is hard to know what's installed, and where. It's even harder to know with certainty how to uninstall things. I know that in 99% of the cases just dumping a program's folder into the Trash is enough, but what about programs that have registered themselves as MIME handlers for example? Is that taken care of automatically? I often ended up wondering if things were properly uninstalled, and sometimes checked the list of services running to make sure nothing was left as a UNIX-style daemon somewhere.

As far as the Finder is concerned, there are several inconsistencies in the navigation, and default settings are generally hard to find. Mostly it's a matter of knowing how to do something, rather than wondering if it can be done at all (Example: taking screenshots, or creating PDFs among other things).

The Command+Tab functionality that was added in OS X (which has existed in Windows as Alt-Tab for years and years) is nice, and the incredibly useful (and incredibly cool) Exposť feature is a godsend which basically negates the need of using virtual desktops.

All in all, a great experience so far. The little navigational inconsistencies might become more annoying as time goes by, but for the moment, I can live with them.

Good stuff. :)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 3, 2004 at 8:10 PM

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