Monday, October 17, 2005

Mac and Me

No, I'm not talking about the 80's movie. I'm talking about my foray into the world of macintosh computers. With the new photography business we had to buy new desktop machines and we decided to go with Macs since we'd have to do video and other more multimedia oriented tasks.

It's been about 4 months since I started using the Mac so I guess I should give an opinion on it...

I should start out by saying that I'm a fan of Apple, but I'm not a fanatic. I don't own an iPod and I don't plan on getting one any time soon (although my wife loves her pink iPod Mini).

I've always heard about the advantages of OS X and the iLife apps, but wasn't sure if I'd actually use any of them without the excuse of the business.

So first things first...Apple is very concerned about the experience of owning a Mac right from when you bring the box home. Upon opening the huge box which our PowerMacs came in I found one sheet of paper with 5 steps on it to get started, two cables, a keyboard, and mouse. For some reason, this seemed really easy to me. Especially after I opened up the HP printer box and there was a ridiculous instruction sheet just to set up the printer.

Second, the look of the OS X desktop is mesmerizing. Maybe it's the calming blue of the default desktop or maybe just the idea of owning a "cool" computer. Either way, the screen still sort of hypnotizes me and helps me shut out other distractions and get down to work.

My first dislike about the Mac came pretty quickly and that's with the mouse. I don't so much mind the single-button, but for some reason, the mouse just doesn't seem sensitive enough. I mis-click and over shoot my target often enough that it's annoying. And this isn't just about getting used to a new mouse, I've since switched to a multi-button microsoft mouse similar to what I have at work and I still have problems. What's the deal with that? At this point, it's not just annoying, it's really frustrating especially when using Photoshop (which I use a lot) since the palettes line up right next to the dock (which I have along the right side). I feel like trying out a few different mice just to see if there's any way around this issue. Maybe I'll try fiddling with the mouse sensitivity settings again...

My first love about the Mac came with iDVD. It's funny because I don't use iDVD as much as iMovie or iTunes (I never use Garageband). I'm used to iTunes from Windows and I think it's really powerful and the fact that every competitor is copying the organization method is a sign of how well designed iTunes is. iMovie is great, but I'm used to Windows Movie Maker (which is truly a rip-off of iMovie). So using iMovie is really satisfying but I didn't drop my jaw. I did, however, drop my jaw an inch when I first used iDVD. First of all, it's well integrated with iMovie so you can create a DVD menu and burn it very simply after you're done in iMovie. This can't be said about Windows Movie Maker since there is no MS app which will create DVD menus and render discs for you. 3rd party DVD software on Windows has always underwhelmed me so just the fact that I can click a single button in iMovie and have iDVD open with a ready-made menu with all of my movie chapters ready to roll is reason enough to smile. But let's talk about the menu templates which iDVD comes with. Actually, I'm a bit speechless. To say the least, they're very slick. Very slick. I feel bad taking credit for a nice DVD experience (which our clients always compliment us on) since it's really iDVD which makes the experience so nice from the moment you pop in the DVD. Apple done good with iLife, integration across apps (iTunes and iPhoto are well integrated with iMovie too), and iDVD especially.

Speaking of iPhoto, I'm greatly disappointed by it. Picasa is much better for general photo management. iPhoto does have the ability create photo books and the integration with iMovie is useful, but Picasa has so many more useful features that the two can't compare. When a pro photographer recommends Picasa to anyone who'll listen (which I any time I'm asked for a rec), take that as a good sign. For the average person, Picasa can replace Photoshop without problems. iPhoto is just a hindrance for us in many ways. If I could, I'd switch it out with Picasa on moment's notive (Google are you listening?!)

Dashboard is one of the new elements of OS X Tiger and it's pretty useful. I like the implementation better than Konfabulator (Apple should really acknowledge that they ripped off Konfabulator like a mutha) since I don't like how Konfabulator defaults to showing widgets on top of everything. That's just a personal choice though since I can see how having certain widgets on top of all windows would be useful. The fact that Dashboard widgets are only visible when you bring up the whole Dashboard is kind of lame and Apple should add the ability to see widgets without having to bring up the whole dashboard. In any case, I don't use Dashboard too much, but when I need it, it's nice to have for a quick calculation, map look-up, or date check, etc. If you don't have a Mac, I highly recommend checking out Konfabulator. Since Yahoo! bought them, it's a free download now and definitely worth trying out.

The bigger functionality improvement in OS X Tiger is probably Spotlight, which lets you search for anything and find results quickly. I find Spotlight very useful. Rather than create shortcuts for everything, I can just type in something quickly and get simple, organized results quickly. I tend to use spotlight more often than dashboard.

One quirk about OS X I still can't get my arms around: when you click the red X button in the top left of application windows, some apps actually quit while others just close the window even tho the app is still running in the background. I actually like the latter since it's nice to have certain apps running all the time but not have them waste space. But the problem is that some apps don't follow this rule. I thought Apple were sticklers for how applications should interact with the user and certain actions should always have the same effect? So what's up with this?

Same goes for switching between windows within the same application. In OS X you can click "Apple-`" to cycle between windows within the same application, like multiple browser windows, etc (just like "Apple-tab" switched between apps). This is quite useful, but the problem is that it doesn't work in all apps. ESPECIALLY Photoshop! Photoshop is where I need this functionality the most! Alas, I must click through the various windows to get to the photo I need.

There are quite a few other interesting things in OS X, but I'll leave it be. This post is getting rather long.

Oh, one last item...the keyboard commands for home, end, jump one word at a time, and jumping to the beginning/end of a line are all different in OS X. Since I'm used to Windows for such keyboard navigation, I find this really frustrating. I've tried to remember to use the appropriate Mac keystrokes, but the Windows versions are totally motor memory for me, so it's been tough. Oh well.

And can I say that the Mac keyboard looks cool, but it gets dirty as hell? White may look nice, but it doesnt stay clean at all!

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