Apple and Mac OS X

Nifty Mac trick: log in as root through the GUI

My wife just called from work. She was having trouble installing a program. Usually, you just double-click the .dmg file and drag the mounted image to the Applications folder or click through the installer wizard.

For some reason, this program (some kind of add-on to Adobe Flash) didn’t allow her to install the program, claiming she didn’t have permission. That was a bit odd. So I had her go to the terminal and type groups to see what groups she was in. She was in the all the proper admin groups to allow her to sudo. Then I asked her to go to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility and do Repair Disk Permissions to see if that’d help. It didn’t.

So I found out, through a bit of Google searching, that you can actually enable the root user and do a full GUI root login. Of course, that meant (since she doesn’t have fast user switching at work) she had to log out of her normal user completely, log in as root user, install the software, and then log out of root user, and log back in as regular user, but at least it worked.

She was a bit confused as to why the regular administrator couldn’t install the program. The only explanation I could give was that the Flash add-on installer may have been written badly so as not to take proper advantage of the sudo‘s ability to temporary escalate admin user privilege.

Apple and Mac OS X

Macs are computers, not magic (part 2)

Last night my wife had a meeting with a bunch of other designers for a small volunteer publication. All had Macs, of course.

Two had Macbook Pros (my wife is still on a G4 Powerbook) and were commiserating about the overheating and noise issues (some weird whirring every now and then). They weren’t unhappy. They loved their Macbook Pros, actually.

Well, then, our router started acting up. Recently, it had been dropping our connection off and on, but last night the drops were particularly bad—our connection was going every five to ten minutes, and even the wired connection to my desktop was going. So, I did some online research (while the connection was working) and found out that sometimes a firmware upgrade helps to give more stability. Sure enough, a firmware upgrade helped (the currently installed firmware was from 2004; the latest upgrade available was from 2006). Even though the router was stable, only Ubuntu seemed to play nice with the connection. The wired Ubuntu desktop connection worked, of course. And the wireless Ubuntu connection on my Dell laptop also worked fine. But my wife’s Powerbook kept saying it was unable to join our wireless network. I kept trying and trying. I turned the Airport off and on again. I tried changing the network settings. I tried rebooting. All to no avail. The only thing that ended up working was changing the encryption from WPA2 to WPA.

So much for “just working.”

Just as in my last Macs aren’t magic post, I’m not trying to bash Macs. I’m not trying to say Ubuntu is better or always functions better. In fact, there are many ways in which Ubuntu lacks the functionality or compatibility Mac OS X has (multiple monitor configuration or commercial application support, for example). I just get tired of people saying that Macs “just work.” Last night’s experience just cements further for me the idea that no computers or operating systems “just work.” They are human-made machines that sometimes give us problems. Ubuntu, Windows, Mac—it doesn’t matter. There is no computing panacea.

Apple and Mac OS X

The price of apples

Recently, both my brother and I had occasion to visit our parents’ home briefly for a family event. He decided he needed to have some apples while there, so he bought a box of fifteen fuji apples from Costco because “it was the best value.” Well, it may have been the best value per apple, but it wasn’t the best value overall because he spent more money than he would have had he bought from a regular grocery store only the one or two apples he wanted to eat, and he wouldn’t have had to force himself to eat more apples, take some apples home with him on the plane, ask my cousin to take some apples home with her, and then still end up throwing away some remaining apples (my parents wouldn’t be eating them).

This situation reminded me of a lot of the “Macs are expensive” debates in computing. Typically, some people will say “Macs are more expensive than Windows PCs,” which is then countered by others who say, “No, Macs are actually the same as or cheaper than similarly spec’ed Windows PCs,” which is usually countered with “No, they’re not.” Both sides give examples, and it ends up being a draw, since “similarly spec’ed” is almost never exactly the same specifications, and even if the specifications are exactly the same hardware-wise, Mac proponents will argue that the software that comes with the Mac (OS X and iLife) is superior to that which comes with the Windows PC.

Here are a couple of examples of such arguments:
Debunking the price myth: Apple vs. Dell
The truth about the costs of Macs vs. costs of PCs.

I’m not going to argue that Macs are more or less expensive than similarly spec’ed Windows PCs, because I think that argument is purely intellectual and not practical at all, just as my brother’s choice to buy fifteen fuji apples was looking at how good a theoretical deal he could get per apple instead of looking at how practical it is to eat fifteen apples in a two-day period.

The truth is that people don’t just buy a Windows PC or just buy a Mac. Most people tend to already be using a Windows PC, in which case they’re very likely to buy another Windows PC or they’ve already decided to switch to using a Mac—it’s not a toss-up between the two (Mexican food or Chinese tonight, dear?); it’s a serious choice between sticking with what you’re used to and have software for, and switching to something completely different. Same for Mac users. If you’re already using Macs, you’re very likely to buy another Mac. You’re not just going to buy a Windows computer because it’s cheaper. Nor is the reason you’ll stick with Mac because of its having a better value for similar specifications.

A lot of users don’t care about comparing similar specs. All they want is cheap, especially if a low-end computer for email, web browsing, and light word processing suits their needs. For these folk, a $499 Dell laptop will be a much better deal than a $1,099 Apple laptop, even if the Apple laptop is a “better value.”

For most computer users, the real considerations are these:

  • Can I do with a really cheap computer? Does it do everything I need it to do? Great. I’ll save money, then.
  • If I’m using Windows, do I want to keep using Windows? Or am I willing to switch to Mac?

Sometimes flexibility and familiarity matter more than “value.”

And, of course, if money’s a real issue, desktop Linux is worth at least a little exploration. With Linux-compatible hardware, your computer won’t be obsolete for years after it would be using Mac or Windows. As a regular Ubuntu user, I had to throw that last bit in…

Apple and Mac OS X

Migration woes from Windows to Mac

Ah, the irony. Mac, supposedly easy to switch to (unlike desktop Linux–supposedly not easy to switch to), can’t run Internet Explorer, as far as I can tell. My mother-in-law has a website she has to use (it’s work-related) that works in only IE, and even User Agent Switcher can’t get around it.

Yes, yes, yes, I know that IEs4Linux is supposed to work for the new Intel Macs, but have you actually tried installing it on a Mac recently? Have you? Every guide I’ve come across links to some dead links somewhere along the way. I can’t find wine in the available Fink packages to install, and all the links to Darwine are dead links. Geez. That’s annoying. In Ubuntu, I can get IEs4Linux up and running in minutes. Argh!

Well, I’m off to do more research…

Apple and Mac OS X

Macs are just computers, not magic

Hey, I love a good Mac just as much as the next person. Unlike some Linux users out there, I actually appreciate and love the look of Aqua (hell, even Brushed Metal). The animation in OS X is slick. Dashboard is cooler than Superkaramba or gDesklets. And there’s even a *nix-like terminal available and something like apt-get. Even though my wife’s Powerbook experience has been relatively painless (with a few bumps here and there—like “dist-upgrading” to Tiger screwing up permissions so she couldn’t print), we recently migrated my parents-in-law from Windows to Mac, and the migration has been painful and feels like those “I just switched to Ubuntu / Linux is free if time has no value” experiences… except that Mac isn’t free at all.

The problem is that every time my wife and I visit our parents, their computer is bogged down with spyware and viruses. We tell them not to use Internet Explorer. We tell them not to run as administrator. It’s no use. They do it anyway. I’d suggest Ubuntu, of course, except that they actually make a lot of use of the iTunes Music Store and the auto-fill iPod Shuffle feature—neither of which is supported in Ubuntu, and my folks-in-law aren’t exactly eMusic/Jamendo/Magnatune lovers.

So my wife and I, as a gift to ourselves and to them, decided to get them a Mac Mini. But a lot of the migration woes have been the same as what a lot of new Ubuntu migrants encounter:

  • Canon printer: no go. No Mac driver. We had to dig up an old HP printer that wasn’t being used. The parents-in-law weren’t happy about that, but we told them the Canon “just wasn’t compatible with Mac.”
  • Mac Mini takes USB keyboards and mice but not PS/2. So we had to get a converter.
  • What should we do with MS Office, since we don’t want to purchase a copy of MS Office for Mac? Well, use NeoOffice (the Mac equivalent of OpenOffice). Well, they don’t exactly use Macros in Word or complicated formatting, right?
  • Uh-oh. We boot up the Mac and the monitor is out of range. Well, how do we fix that? We didn’t know. We kept booting and booting, and we didn’t know how to change the Mac Mini’s initial resolution. Luckily, I had another computer (my trusty Dell Inspiron 500m… with Ubuntu on it) on hand to research. Apparently, you have to boot into “Safe Mode” by holding down the Shift key immediately after you hear the bootup noise. It took my wife several attempts to get this “Safe Mode” working.
  • Then we experienced some random hangs with the rainbow circle of death and Cmd-Option-Esc couldn’t get us out of them, so we had to force a shut down a few times.
  • Airport Extreme wasn’t recognized as even existing. I double-checked on the box—it’s supposed to be included. After a few reboots, it was finally recognized.
  • We had to copy over all the pertinent files and settings from Windows.
  • We had to constantly assure my parents-in-law this is for the best.

Now that it’s all set up, though, I think they should be okay. Even as administrator, my mother-in-law will still have to sudo to make system-wide changes. But, in addition to the few troubles my wife has had with her powerbook over the past few years, this just reinforces my belief that computers are computers. Sometimes Mac zealots try to make it sound as if Macs are magic. They will solve all your problems. They require no work. It’s not true. Macs are computers. Macs have problems. Windows PCs have problems. Ubuntu PCs have problems. Computers are man- and woman-made constructions that are extremely sophisticated, work most of the time, and sometimes have flaws. While I think there shouldn’t be any major problems from here on in, there’s no way in hell we could have just handed the Mac Mini box to my parents-in-law and said, “Here. Plug this in. Everything will ‘just work.'” Nothing “just works.” “Just works” is a clever advertising slogan that both Ubuntu and Apple have made good use of, but there will always be glitches.

Apple and Mac OS X Linux Windows

Mac Zealots, Linux Zealots, and Windows Zealots

Mac Zealots
For a while, I read with interest a site called X vs. XP. After a while, though, I got sick of all the zealotry, particularly on the part of Mac users. Now I understand that people like their OSes—that’s generally why they use them. What bothers me most is that some Mac fanatics will not concede that there is anything wrong with Mac OS X. Even if you give three criticisms of Windows for every one criticism of OS X, Mac Zealots will fight that one criticism with all their might. They also have the cheap defense of “Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s worse” or “What’s intuitive for Windows users isn’t necessarily what’s intuitive in general.” Of course, Mac crazies think it’s more intuitive to delete a file by pressing Cmd-delete than it is to delete the file by pressing only delete. I just stopped participating in the site’s forum, since in one particular thread, I attempted to bring some peace, saying that one OS is not necessarily better than the other but that each one suits the needs of its users—I included specific examples of some things I thought were worse in XP and some things I thought were worse in X. The site’s owner (who claims to want to minimize bias as much as possible) insisted that OS X was clearly superior as an OS and would not concede that there was anything wrong with X. One Mac zealot even got quite upset by one of my criticisms of X (despite the fact I had many criticisms of XP as well), explaining that I had come on to his “territory” and he had a right to defend it.

Whoa! Operating systems may be used by your family, but they are not your family, or shouldn’t be, anyway.

Mac zealots think that OS X is always superior to XP, that whatever Jobs decides is the best and most intuitive way to do anything, and that anyone who uses Windows must be a fool. Mac zealots used to never shut up about how superior PowerPC architecture was to Intel architecture. Now that Steve Jobs has announced Macs will be moving to Intel architecture, they don’t know what to do. Mac zealots used to laugh at flash-based MP3 players until Jobs announced the iPod Shuffle. It’s just speculation on my part, but my guess is that if the iPod was the only flash player that had a screen, Mac users would say, “Apple’s iPod is clearly superior, as it has a screen”; since iPod Shuffles are the only flash players without a screen, naturally Mac zealots exclaim that screens are stupid and that you should always know your own music anyway. This is the dumbest argument I’ve ever heard. Speaking as someone who has a flash player with a screen, I can tell you there are many reasons I use the screen. The screen not only tells me what’s playing at any given moment, which is helpful particularly for songs that start off quietly or new songs that I’m not yet familiar with, but it also gives me various displays and menu options (options iPod users should be more than familiar with from the regular iPods)—equalizer settings, volume levels, battery life, etc.

What bothers me most about Mac zealotry is its counterproductivity. No one will listen to someone who is unreasonably in favor of only one position, who does not admit that there is any fault with that product. Several months ago, I advised a friend of mine to buy an iBook, explaining all the pros and cons of getting an iBook versus a Dell. He was impressed and said it was the first time anyone had actually convinced him a Mac was worth getting. According to him, anyone in the past who’d recommended an Apple computer never admitted there was any alternative. Too many Mac users think Mac is the only way—that’s what turns most Windows users off from “switching.” Remember that operating systems aren’t a way of life; they’re simply computer programs that help us do what we want to do. Don’t make an operating system into a religion.

Linux Zealots
Recently, I’ve become a big fan of Linux. I have to say, though, some of the Linux zealots are nutcases. They insist, similarly to Mac crazies, that Linux is the only way… well, a couple of Linux zealots concede that Mac OS X might be okay to use. What matters most to Linux zealots is not that people use Linux (again, OS X is okay) but that people not use Microsoft products. There’s a definite anti-Microsoft passion in the Linux community. People will often refer to Windows as Windblows, Windoze, or Window$. What’s most ridiculous about some Linux nutcases is their insistence that there’s no reason to use Windows and that only brainwashed automatons would ever use Windows.

As a matter of fact, there are a lot of good reasons to use Windows. First of all, I recently tried to switch a Windows user over to Linux, and she had to switch back because Hotmail and Thunderbird were not working well together (even with the webmail extension in Thunderbird that enables Hotmail checking). People get attached to their email accounts (because it’s a pain to change emails and then notify all your family and friends of your new address and still check your old address in case there are lingering emails that still arrive there—and a lot of commerce websites have your login be your email address… Netflix, for example), and Hotmail and Yahoo just don’t work that well in Linux. Even if you check your email with a browser instead of an email client, Yahoo! mail has limited functionality in Firefox or any non-Internet Explorer browser.

There are a lot of Windows applications that just do not have sufficient Linux equivalents. I’ve never used it myself, but I’ve heard Quickbooks does not have a good Linux alternative. I’ve also heard that while GIMP is a very good graphics program, it lacks some of the features Adobe Photoshop has. Linux has a wealth of free applications—far more than Windows has, and without all the spyware—but for commercial applications and compatibility, Windows just can’t be beat. If you play a lot of computer games, Windows also cannot be beat for selection. My wife loves the Sims games and is bummed that it takes so long for them to be ported to Mac OS X. As far as I know, Sims does not get ported to Linux at all.

My point isn’t that Linux is a bad OS. In fact, I love it a lot. If it weren’t for iTunes (and, believe me, I’ve tried Muine, AmaroK, Rhythmbox, Juk, XMMS, and all the rest), I wouldn’t even be dual-booting—I’d go straight to a Linux-only desktop. You just can’t blame people for using Windows. Sure, a lot of people who just check non-Hotmail, non-Yahoo email, who surf the internet, and who write the occasional Word document, Linux is probably a more appropriate OS than Windows, but there are good reasons for a lot of people to use Windows.

Windows Zealots
Rare though they are (or at least rarely audible), I have to say Windows zealots are the worst of the bunch. I prefer Linux zealots to Mac zealots, but I prefer even Mac zealots to Windows zealots. I mean, Microsoft already dominates desktops around the world. Isn’t it something like 90% of desktops that are on Windows? Why rub it in? Being a Windows zealot is like being a white supremacist in America. You already rule—what else do you want? Despite spyware and virus problems, despite endless bugs, Windows zealots still think Windows is the best, bar none. Of course, rarely has the Windows zealot even bothered to give Linux or Mac OS X an honest try.

What They All Have in Common
No one can truly be objective about OSes, but, as someone who dual-boots a desktop with Windows XP and Linux and also uses a Mac OS X G4 Powerbook, I have to say that each operating system has its merits, faults, and ideal users. I laugh when Mac users complain about Windows’ “blue screen of death” because I’ve never seen a BSOD on Windows XP or Windows 2000. Control-alt-delete handles all instability or program crashes. Likewise, most criticisms of Mac OS X by Windows users are unfounded either because Windows users have not really explored OS X
or because they’re actually thinking of Mac Classic or OS 9. Linux users usually do have some exposure to other OSes but may have become so geeked out that they don’t realize how difficult it is for people who’ve grown up their whole lives with Windows to learn how to use Linux.

You should not force someone to use an OS. It’s like forcing someone to learn a new language. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to learn a new language, and being bilingual or trilingual can actually be useful and also be an enriching experience, but when it’s forced, it’s unpleasant and often builds resentment. I’ve also found that learning new languages is useless unless you have a way to practice that language. What’s the point of forcing someone to learn OS X if she doesn’t want to shell out the money to buy a Mac computer (even a Mac Mini with a decent amount of memory—512 MB of RAM—is $550. You can get an eMachine for the same price with twice the processing speed, four times the hard drive space, and three times as many USB slots… oh and a keyboard and mouse)?

So, which OS is best for you? I wish it were as easy as just “picking an OS.” Unfortunately, Mac OS X is tied to hardware—you can’t just install it on any computer you want. And it’s not easy to find a computer with Linux preloaded on it. If you get Linux, you probably will put it on a native Mac or Windows computer. Well, I’ll give you the basic run-down, anyway:

OS X: If you like a name-brand computer with slick-looking graphics, and you don’t want to worry about spyware and viruses, and you have enough money to shell out, and you don’t play a lot of video games, Mac OS X may be your OS of choice. It’s also handy for people who work heavily with graphics (graphic designers, for example). The ideal audience, though, is the clueless computer user—someone who knows almost nothing about computers and just wants to check email and surf the web. Even though that’s the ideal audience, Macs also appeal to total geeks who like tinkering under the unix-like hood of OS X and who like to memorize keyboard shortcuts that can sometimes involve as many as four keys pressed at once.

Linux: If you don’t mind doing a little bit of set up and learning of a new language, Linux may be for you. Unfortunately, if you’re tied to certain programs or proprietary software, you may have difficulty using Linux (see above part about Hotmail). The best part about Linux is that it’s almost always free (cost-wise), including the thousands of programs you can download. It’s also endlessly customizable. What pushed me to Linux this last time (the first time was spyware on Windows) was that customizing themes and styles in Windows required either money to Microsoft for some Plus thing or money to a third-party vendor for a special widgets-modifying program. Like Mac, Linux will appeal to both super-geeks and super-novices alike. The only difference is that Apple will preconfigure Mac OS X for you before you buy it. If you’re a novice Linux user, you’d better have an expert Linux user set up Linux for you.

Windows: If you game heavily, Windows is for you. If you use Hotmail and Outlook, Windows is for you. If you like “maintaining” your computer, Windows is for you (I’m talking about updating virus definitions in anti-virus software, defragmenting, scandisking, cleaning the registry, etc.). If you like cheap computers and don’t want to learn Linux, Windows is for you.

Find what’s best for you… but chill. It’s just an OS. Don’t be a zealot. Be a user. Be human.

Apple and Mac OS X Windows

Mac v. Windows: The Sequel

This is an excerpt from an email I wrote recently to a friend who is considering buying a computer but isn’t sure 1. whether to get a desktop or a laptop and 2. whether to get a Mac or a PC.

Believe it or not, _______—if you get a laptop, Apple may be your best bet. An iBook is about $1149.00. A Dell Inspiron 600m is $1497.00. This is with these specifications:

iBook Inspiron
Memory 256MB 512MB (includes Dell promotion)
Processor 1.2GHz PowerPC G4 1.6GHz Pentium
Hard Drive 80GB 80GB
Wireless Card Yes Yes
Video Card 32MB 32MB
Display 12″ 14.1″
Weight 4.9 lbs. 4.98 lbs.

The Apple iBook has the added advantage of already including firewire and Bluetooth. I’m not sure how important those things are to you. You could argue, of course, that with the $300 more you’d be spending on the Dell, you’re also getting twice as much memory, two inches more screen space, and a slightly faster processor. iBooks do come with Garageband, though.

Also, if you don’t want 80GB of hard drive space, both laptops would be about $100 or so cheaper. Considering you’ll be getting an iPod and may be playing around Garageband, you’ll probably need all the space you can get!

Of course, you could always get an eMachine at Best Buy for $599.00 with these specifications:

Memory 512MB (expandable up to 4.0GB)
Processor 3.06GHz Pentium
Hard Drive 160GB
Wireless No
Video Card 224MB

160GB of hard drive goes a long way.

No Apple computer with 160GB would ever be under $600 [after-thought, since the new Mac Mini has arrived on the scene: its $600 model has less than half the processing speed of the aforementioned eMachine, half the hard drive space, half the memory, and a third the number of USB output slots—clearly the greatest appeal of the Mac Mini is its small size]. Now that I have constant access to both Mac OS X and Windows XP, I’m extremely fascinated by the whole Mac/PC debate (of course, a lot people caught up in semantics insist that Macs are PCs, but most people just use “PC” as an abbreviation for “Windows PC”). People get very emotional about this topic. I certainly have more of a leaning toward PCs, but I can appreciate a lot about Mac, and I’m obsessed with the idea of eventually getting one of those cute 12″ iBooks. There are many things Windows can do that Mac can’t, and vice versa. I’m learning to be bilingual, and I’m also appreciating that, as some in the minority of this debate contend, it’s not so much that one operating system is “better” than the other. It’s all about personal preference. Why should one be able to recommend a type of operating system for all users, unless one of the operating systems is so deficient as to be unusable?

In my experience, Windows appeals most to those who are intermediate computer users who also like to customize their computer experience as much as possible—people like me. I want all my folders to open in list view by default. I want to be able to control whether the control-alt-delete security log-on appears at the boot screen or not. I want to have easy access to the registry and all files on the system. I want to be able to turn on the start-up noise, turn it off, or change it to something else. I have to confess, even though Windows allows me to do all these things, its default settings are terrible. Whenever you do a clean install of Windows XP or add a new user, the desktop is totally empty except for a trash can (er, recycling bin—sorry!). There is no documents or systems folder to click on. You have to enable through start menu preferences the quick launch bar. I’d say it takes me a good hour and a half to fully customize XP to my liking, including the installation of Firefox, Thunderbird, iTunes, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Audacity, etc. (and their respective shortcuts and quick launches).

Macs seem to appeal most to both absolute beginners and extremely advanced users. Beginners like Mac because it doesn’t have a blank desktop straight out of the box. It has a dock ready to go. All the majors programs are installed, and all the major buttons are in place. Most beginners don’t care about changing the start sound or picking a folder view other than icon view. They just want to be able to launch programs and use them—Word, Excel, Safari, and some email program. Extremely advanced users appreciate that Mac OS X is unix-based. They like to tinker “under the hood” of the operating system. And everyone (even Windows die-hards) knows Mac just plain looks better.

As you can see from the above email, it’s a tough call. Mac is lowering its prices in one sense. It really depends on what you want, though. Dell can customize every little thing, whereas Apple will let you change only a few specifications before your purchase.

When it comes to value, though, don’t go to Dell. Definitely buy an eMachine. My wife and I have had only positive experiences with our two eMachines, and they’re by far the cheapest, most reliable computers around.

Bottom line: My best advice for computer purchasing is to keep an open mind. Don’t listen to the Mac-onlys or the PC-onlys. Find what’s best for you, what suits your needs, your lifestyle, your work, and your personality. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to do so, get one of each. Being proficient in two operating system “languages” can only benefit you in the long run, and Mac OS X and Windows XP communicate well with each other (as far as file and printer sharing go).

P.S. I’ve also found that there are few comparisons like the one above. Everyone will say, “This is cheaper,” “No, this is cheaper,” but very few people will make an actual dollar-to-dollar comparison.

P.P.S. Do some real investigating. Most of things PC-people say Mac “can’t” do can be done; they just don’t know how to do them. Same goes for what Mac-people say Windows PCs “can’t” do.

P.P.P.S. I’ve changed my mind. I was just in a store looking at the current G4 iBooks, and they look like the cheapest pieces of plastic I’ve ever seen. The Powerbooks look much better (but are more expensive), and Dell has since dropped the price of their Inspiron 700m model considerably. (20/03/05)

Apple and Mac OS X

Mac OS X v. Windows XP

This is in response to Dan Pouliot’s webpage on Mac OS X versus Windows XP.

“Minimize Bias” My Ass
The funny thing is that Pouliot spends a considerable amount of time explaining what bias is and how he tries to limit his bias and avoid biased techniques (such as overemphasizing the faults of one system while overlooking the faults of the other one). In the beginning of his analysis, he seems fairly even-handed. He speaks both positively and negatively about both systems and recognizes their quirks and unique strengths. In fact, for a while, I wondered whether he actually was successful in eliminating bias.

Once he began talking about window sizes on desktops, though, it was immediately clear to me that he was a Mac user who had only dabbled in Windows XP. The bias was coming through because he clearly knew all the shortcuts and possible customizations of OS X but took XP’s default settings at face value.

Fake Problems with Windows
Here’s where the bias really comes into play: he says XP’s windows are annoying because sometimes you don’t realize they’re maximized and you want to resize them and can’t. Uh… if it fills up the whole screen, it’s maximized. And, actually, even if you extend the window manually to fill up the whole screen (unmaximized), it appears differently (borders and edges visible) from a maximized window (borders and edges invisible). All this fuss about maximized windows (which are wonderful things, by the way, especially when viewing webpages), and he overlooks as a minor inconvenience the fact that some OS X windows have to be moved in order to be resized (because the stupid dock at the bottom of the screen gets in the way of the window’s right-hand corner—which is the only place that can resize an OS X window).

His other stupid points are that XP bunches up windows of a similar application on the taskbar. Well, so does OS X! If I have three Word documents open in OS X, I can’t easily click on one item on the dock in order to locate a particular document. Also, since Pouliot is not an experienced windows user, he doesn’t realize that the beauty of Windows over Mac is its ease of customization (sure, you can customize Mac, too… if you’re a programmer). A simple right-click, which does all of nothing on the OS X dock, leads you to properties, where you can uncheck “Group similar taskbar buttons.” That way, every single window you have open will be not only an application, but a document within an application.

Real Problems with OS X
Another problem with the OS X dock is that clicking on the application icon does not launch a new instance of the application if the application is open already. It merely sets as the current view the application that is already running. There should be (as there is in XP) a clear distinction between a launcher and a window indicator. I can click on my window indicator with a document, folder, or application name to pick the window I want to see. I can click on the launcher to launch a new instance of that application. Let’s look at this practically. If I want to open my web browser with three separate windows I can:

In XP, click the web browser “quick launcher” three times, and the browser will open almost instantaneously with three separate windows.

Or, in OS X, click the web browser dock launcher once, and, once the browser is open, use the shortcut key or drop-down menu to select “new window” twice.

More Fake Problems
Some of Dan Pouliot’s gripes about XP are unfounded or simply not factual. For example, he says that if you search for photoshop, the actual application itself will not show up in the search because it isn’t photoshop; it’s photoshop.exe. Actually it does show up in the search, and even shows up in his search box. If you search for a filename, XP will find that file name with any extension, unless you’re looking specifically for photoshop.exe or *.exe. By the way, for all you Mac users out there, is there an easy way to do the Mac-equivalent of *.doc or *.*? Just curious. There probably is, but I don’t know it.

More Real Problems
Contrary to Pouliot’s assertions, in Mac it is often quite difficult to find things. First of all that little search box in the upper-right corner of Mac applications did not, at first, even appear to me to be a search box. It was so slick-looking, it looked just like decoration, and what I assume now to be a magnifying glass looked more like a fancy letter Q. I thought it stood for Quicktime. The other day, at work, I was looking for the print center on a Mac OS X computer, and it was nowhere to be found. I looked in the Apple menu under recent applications, system preferences, etc. I even tried browsing through the hard drive itself. There was nothing resembling the comprehensiveness of Windows’ Control Panel. I tried searching for printer in the hopes that the printer preferences area would pop up—to no avail. Eventually, I had to search for the word print to find the Print Center. XP has a handy menu in the Start button called All Programs. It also has a handy link/menu in the Start button called Control Panel. OS X’s recent items or recent applications (both of which Windows also has) just doesn’t cut it.

Pouliot also neglects to mention that Mac does not have an intuitive or easy way to get back to the desktop. “Finder” basically does nothing. If I have four OS X applications open and I choose “Finder” in the program list, it will select a folder if I have a folder open. Otherwise, it will dim the applications I already have open. Big help. If I have four Windows XP applications open, and I hit the show desktop button on my taskbar, all open windows and applications will minimize so I can get a clear view of what’s on my desktop (desktop shortcuts, documents, etc.). [Note: I am aware that there is a way, apart from “Hide other applications,” to get the desktop to appear, but it is not immediately obvious to even intermediate users of OS X; I eventually found it by searching for “keyboard shortcuts” on the internet—and, as far as I know, there is no one button you can press to show the desktop on OS X. P.S. I did eventually find, throught trial and error, one button that will show the desktop—it’s one of the F-keys, F9 or F10. 12/07/05]

The other problem with Mac is that right-clicks are not standard. Sure, there are some Macs that come with mice equipped with a right-click, but those are few and far between. It’s quite annoying to have to click and hold in order to get a menu to show up, especially when sometimes the click-and-hold method doesn’t even work. That’s the problem with OS X, actually. There aren’t enough easily available options. Sometimes you can right-click (or click-and-hold), and sometimes you can’t. In Windows XP, anything, anywhere on the screen can be right-clicked. On the screen I have open right now, I have the option of right-clicking the top of my open window (to resize or minimize it), the inside of my open document (to copy, paste, or format it), the taskbar itself (to adjust its settings), the Start menu (to adjust its settings), the quick launchers (to delete or rename them), the windows indicators (to resize or minimize them). [Note: This is another thing I found a way to get around in Mac, again by searching the internet—which one shouldn’t have to do in order to get basic functionality in an OS—but hitting control and mouse click is not nearly as convenient as right-clicking, as you have utilize both the keyboard and the mouse]

Yet another major OS X problem is the lack of functional screen space. I always have felt that on Macs the screen is so cluttered (especially since I can’t maximize any windows). Even whe
n the screen is a high resolution one, Mac uses the resolution to make the images super-crisp and defined rather than providing more desktop space. There are some Mac monitors that are extra large (and extra expensive) that provide a lot of desktop space, but the standard is one window, all the space. Just about any computer I’ve seen running XP has had plenty of desktop space to view at least three open applications comfortably.

My last big gripe about OS X is what the techie guys at my old job called “the rainbow circle of death.” Sure, Windows used to have the blue screen of death (particularly in Windows ME, which has to be the worst operating system in existence), but XP is by far the most stable Windows release I’ve ever seen. I have never encountered a problem that Control-Alt-Delete couldn’t fix. On OS X, though, many times, I’ve had to do a forced shutdown that did not necessarily resolve the problem.

Devil’s Advocate
In all fairness, though, Dan Pouliot does bring up some good points about strengths Mac OS X has over Windows XP:

  • The dialogues are, in fact, more to-the-point. Save, Don’t Save, Cancel makes more sense than Yes, No, Cancel
  • Windows operating systems are more virus-prone if you’re not careful
  • OS X does look “cooler” than Windows XP. Macs have always looked cooler.

Whereas it seems that Pouliot may have dabbled a bit in Windows, he clearly did not take advantage of Windows’ biggest asset: its ease of customization. Most of the things he complains about are, in fact, faults of Microsoft in design, but not design for the applications themselves and their functionality; they’re faults of design as far as default settings are concerned. The search menu, with its stupid animated dog, is hard to use. Well, with a few mouse-clicks, you can, for the life of your system, change the settings to look for hidden files or to allow you the option of picking your own file types by file extension.

Sure, I accuse Pouliot of merely dabbling in Windows when I myself have had at least ten times more Windows than Mac experience. Nevertheless, I have had to work with Macs considerably in the last two jobs. In fact, at my last job, I had to use a Mac exclusively for two years straight. I also taught in a school where all the students used Macs (to write in-class essays, for example), and I had to help troubleshoot their problems quite often (including the dreaded rainbow circle of death). What does it say about the two systems that at my last two jobs (both in education), the students all used Macintosh, but the tech support people all used PCs (some with Windows, some with Linux)?

There are all sorts of little quirks about Windows that can make you feel like a developer, even when you’re far from being one. I love defragmenting the hard drive and watching all the little bits and bytes follow each other. I like the different ways you can view folders (a feature Pouliot makes light of but that is really handy)—list, details, thumbnails, icons, etc. I like to be able to see 100 files at a time sometimes. Sorry, OS X.

“What’s the bottom line, No Name?”
Yes, ultimately, it comes down to user preference. I think computer illiterates, for example, actually would have a better time with OS X, as it has icon animation in the dock, and it looks cool and slick. Mac has better support for point-and-click and drag-and-drop (as Pouliot documents well). It also does not bother you with the details like keeping library .dll files when you’re uninstalling applications or like modifying system files.

And, of course, there are things that annoy the hell out of me about XP. The default settings, as I mentioned before, are terrible (for me… I’m sure for some users out there, they’re perfect). I just did a fresh Windows XP reinstall after playing around with Linux, and it took me forever, not to install the applications and programs but to adjust all the settings to my liking (getting rid of annoying animated characters, changing the desktop picture, selecting my own quick launchers, etc.). It’s also annoying that you can’t get rid of Internet Explorer, even when you’ve replaced it with a far superior browser. I don’t like that you have to lower the security settings in Internet Explorer in order to download Windows updates.

Final score: Unthinking computer illiterate wowed by slick-looking displays, OS X; wannabe programmer looking for basic functionality, Windows XP. I say wannabe because I think real programmers actually prefer Linux, Unix, or Solaris as an operating system and actually hate anything Windows-related. Semi-illiterates like me can pretend we know how to do stuff, just because we can defragment hard drives…

P.S. My wife just had to get a new Mac Powerbook for school, so we’ve had to get to know OS X a little better. My verdict still holds true. Even though, after you get to know OS X, you can do most of the same things as XP, none of it was obvious. For example, there was no immediately simple way to get thumbnails of files to appear in folders (I actually had to go to Pouliot’s site to figure out how to do this). Still, several things irk me about OS X.

One annoyance is the fact that the closing of the last window of an application does not close the application. I constantly have to remind my wife (as I did my students) to open-Apple-Q instead of closing the window. It makes sense that after the last window of an application is closed, the application itself would close. Not so with Mac. Pouliot would probably chalk it up to user-preference instead of deficiency of design, but some defaults do, in fact, make more empirical sense than others.

Another problem is that when we downloaded and tried to install it, it would not install, really, but merely reside on the desktop as if it were a network connection, CD-ROM, or temporary storage device. Eventually, we figured out that the application had to be dragged into the “applications” folder to function properly.

Also, in order to get into the actual files of an application, one has to right-click what appears to be the application itself in order to find the underlying files. This is another thing I had to look up on the internet. Microsoft’s “Help” options are often weak, too, but most of the time, customization is intuitive and easily accessible—not requiring an internet lookup for extra help. 12/04/04

P.P.S Have spent hours fiddling around with the Mac Powerbook and also doing online research to try to solve this problem. Still have not found the answer. In Windows it’s so simple, and Icons view is just plain stupid and should not be a default. Who wants to go in and manually change every window to List view?

Another problem is we had to download a special extension in order to turn the start-up noise off (you can’t even change what the start-up noise is, but with the extension you can change how loud it is). How lame is that? You can customize a Mac if you’re a programmer; otherwise, live with what they give you. 12/19/04

A few other things have come up to bother me with OS X as I use it more and more:

  1. There’s no keyboard way to bring apps into focus once they’ve been minimized or hidden. If I cmd-tab to an app that’s hidden, the window stays hiddden. I tried looking for keyboard shortcuts on Apple’s site. I even went to Pouliot’s site to ask the Mac zealots how to do it, and they couldn’t tell me. Why does cmd-H hide windows when there’s no keyboard shortcut to unhide them?
  2. One of the best things about XP’s search functionality (and maybe this is addressed in Tiger—I don’t know) is that o
    nce you’ve done your search, you can view the search results as icons, details, list, etc. OS X gives you only one option.

  3. Another seemingly simple thing you can’t do in OS X without either editing a .plist (and if you’re wondering what a .plist is, then you’re not alone!) or downloading third-party software is show hidden files. You can search for invisible and visible items in search, but you can’t just browse and see hidden files without hacking the preferences by hand or getting so tool from the internet. OS X… OS X…