Mac Day 1

I decided to dip my toe in the Mac world and buy a Mac mini. If I decide to make the switch, I will probably end up getting a fully tricked out MacBook Pro, but I'm not ready for that yet and I want to wait for the expected MacBook Pro refresh.

I've been using it for 24 hours.


  • The hardware is beautiful. The attention to detail is fantastic. Somebody has taken the time to think about even something as mundane as the power cord (it's less stiff than normal power cords and curls nicely). The whole package exudes quality.
  • It's reassuring to have something Unix-like underneath.
  • Mostly things "just work".
  • The dock is quite pretty and intuitive.
  • Set up was smooth and simple.


  • The menu bar is an abomination. When you have a large screen, it makes no sense to have the menus always at the top left of the screen, which may well be far from the application window.
  • On screen font rendering seems less good than Windows. I notice this particularly in Safari. It's tolerable, but the Mac is definitely a step down in quality here.
  • I was surprised how primitive the application install, update and removal experience was. I miss apt-get. Many updates seem to require a restart.
  • I don't like the wired Apple mouse. Although it looks nice, clicking is not as easy as with a cheap, conventional mouse, plus the lead is way too short.

Minor nits

  • How is a new user supposed to find the web browser? The icon is a compass (like the iPhone icon that gives a real compass) and the tooltip says "Safari".
  • A Safari window with tabs looks ugly to me: there's this big band of gray and black at the top of the window.
  • Not convinced DisplayPort has sufficient benefits over HDMI to justify a separate standard.
  • I couldn't find a way of playing a VCD using the standard applications. I ended up downloading VLC, which worked fine.
  • The Magnification preference on the Dock was not on by default, even though it was enabled in the introductory Apple video.

So far I've installed:

  • NeoOffice
  • Adium (didn't work well with MSN, which is the dominant chat system in Thailand, so I will probably remove it)
  • Microsoft Messenger
  • Emacs
  • Blogo, which I am using to write this. Is there a better free equivalent to Windows Live Writer?
  • VLC
  • Skype

I plan to install

  • XCode
  • iWork

Any other software I should install? Should I be using something other than Safari as my Web browser?


Anonymous said...

You must install Mac ports from http://www.macports.org and Quicksilver from http://www.blacktree.com
Mac ports is similar to apt but compiles everything. Quicksilver is hard to explain what it does but has the quality without a name.

Jan Algermissen said...


this is software I use:

All the best with the Mac. I switched from linux to an iBook G4 in 2003 and just loved everything from the first second on.

I thought about switching from MacBookPro to iMac but I guess I would be missing the Touch Pad - can;t really imagine using a mouse anymore.

Dave O. said...

Definitely get Quicksilver. Also check out Textexpander, Jumpcut, Scrivener (for writing), Omnifocus (for task management).

Other blogging tools are Ecto or Marsedit. Also can get Firefox browser and use the Skyfire plug-in (something like that) blog writer.

Evernote, Dropbox, Notational Velocity, 1Password and Tweetie.

Here's a list of Open Source mac apps: http://www.opensourcemac.org/

Unknown said...

Hi, James.

I would call the menu bar a wash. The common location reduces screen real estate usage. Since it is at the edge ("infinitely tall"), it is easy to hit with a flick of the wrist (and well-configured mouse acceleration). When you get back on Linux or Windows, notice how difficult it becomes to hit your menu target when it's floating in space. Still, I find myself most productive in a highly-configured Compiz setup.

As you know, I know apt-get well. However I've decided Linux has the poorest software distribution system of the three major OSes. Networks should have dumb centers and smart edges; software distribution from producers to consumers is no different. Why are we so dependent on centralized software packagers? Without a distributed model (where developers are responsible for their software running on distro X), we will never exploit Metcalfe's law. Apt is better for the base system; but I wish we had a hybrid model where developers distribute their own applications.

Anthony B. Coates said...

I use Opera for Web browsing on my Mac, version 10 is better looking than previous versions of Opera, and looks nicer than Safari to my eye.

I used to mention Opera a lot on Twitter, which causes my Twitter feed to rank 2% gayer than Stephen Fry's!

Kenny said...

I prefer Google Desktop search to Quicksilver which sound like Launchy (Windows), but didn't work for me.

I need to use Windows and VM Fusion works really well. I had some problems with the free but pretty good Virtual Box on OSX.

You have to get Growl, some google icon-bar (?) tools. I"m also using Chrome (w/o extensions) and I used Firefox which is pretty good.

For IM, iChat works just fine for me. I actually like Spaces too, which is included. Especially nice to put Windows on it's on full screen.

I'm looking to replace iTunes and iPhoto....any suggestions?

Isriya said...

Welcome to Mac World! I still remember the day I used iBook and you used Debian. Then you went to Vista and I used Ubuntu. Now i'm commenting your Mac experience on Windows 7. Lol.

Mac has a reasonable set of Unix tools but don't expect it's good as Linux. There are several 'ports' systems, which is quite good but the package quality and update is not good as linux too.

While Safari might be the best browser so far, it has memory problem. Firefox Mac is not good as Windows version and it's not too responsive, though the memory management is better. I've never tried Chrome but it will be good contender soon. Forget Opera since it can't do Thai wordbreak and no sign it will do in near future.

iWork is good for casual work. Keynote is the best in suite. Pages is hybrid of word processor-desktop publishing, it can't do proper paperwork. Google Docs is the best tool on Mac if you need just simple writing & spreadsheet.

You can try TextMate, famous text editor among coders. OmniGraffle is the best diagram drawing tool I've ever used.

One good thing of Mac world is the overall quality of open source software is better than Linux, while the number is far lower.

Anonymous said...

For media playback, I would suggest installing the following (all with no cost options):
1) From Apple (Optional install on DVD) - Quicktime 7
2) From Telestream - Flip4Mac (adds WMV)
3) From Perian - Perian Plug-in (adds lots of codecs)

For RSS reading, I recommend NetNewsWire

Carl Malamud said...

Hi James - I find versiontracker a useful way to keep my apps up-to-date. Their "pro" version has desktop software that can do one-step installs. You can also do softwareupdate from the command line for Apple software.

Chris Ryland said...

Mac Chrome is great and getting better.

Still not clear whether Safari or Chrome will "win" in terms of reliability and performance (they should be nearly equal in rendering ability); they're neck and neck, but Chrome seems to be focussed more on stability.

It's a long-standing argument, but I've always like the truer-to-paper font rendering on the Mac, since we're all using standard fonts (which were designed for paper). If you use some of the more modern designed-for-screen fonts like Georgia and the new fixed-widths, perhaps it doesn't matter as much.

Sebastian Rahtz said...

I've been really impressed by Chrome for Mac; built-in "Inspect" feature is great for comprehensive web page debugging. I hope the Emacs was Aquamacs?

Murray said...

Absolutely second the mention of Google Chrome for a much nicer browsing experience.

MT said...

Though I don't use MacOS myself, I've heard that this is quickly becoming a nice alternative to Macports: http://github.com/mxcl/homebrew

It's been refreshing to read about the experiences of someone new to using Macs. Keep them coming. :)

Anonymous said...

Plug mouse into keyboard. That's why cable is so short.
Magic Mouse is quite good too.

Anonymous said...

While software choices will vary (I would personally never install macports - check out homebrew for an alternative) the big wins will come in other ways IMO.

For one, almost all applications (except odd non-native ones like Firefox) have a unified set of keyboard shortcuts. Things like moving around text (ctrl-a, crtl-e, etc..), tab switching, window selection, application selection (keep in mind that these are different unlike alt-tab in windows-like systems), spotlight, menubar selection (also check out cmd-shift-?), and more. You can even add your own very easily or change the build in ones (a little more involved).

As for other things to check out, include Plainview (fullscreen webpages for things like presentations), Limechat (IRC), Echofon (twitter), Things (task tracking), iWork (very well done, worth the free trial at least), droplr (free drag and drop file share/upload), dropbox (I use this instead of time machine).

Anonymous said...

AppFresh is nice if you want to update software/plugins. It's not package system, just updater.

Top menu is awesome though! I have 30" (over DisplayPort no less!) and I still like it. It's just always in one place where you can quickly grab it. I remember exact fixed position of every item - it never changes.

John Cowan said...

By report, though, the Mac-style menu really sucks when you have two screens, because it sticks firmly to the primary screen even when the app window is on the secondary screen. There is probably a way around this, though.

James Abley said...

I'm a recent Mac convert too, although all of my other system are still Linux. I've had a similar experience to you from the sounds of it. I tried MacPorts - found it annoying so now I'm on Homebrew and it has less friction for me. The lack of a system-wide package manager is frankly stunning coming from Debian-based systems with aptitude. I can see that someone offering a binary package manager on a subscription basis would probably have some customers on a Mac. I've compiled more software in the last 2 months on a Mac than I have in 10 years on Linux systems!

Safari was rapidly dumped in favour of Chrome for its speed, and Firefox since I need a lot of the extensions for some of the work that I do.

Midiar said...

@Brian: I think keyboard use within text editing on the Mac is more of a "find out how this app does it", while on Windows it is a dependable interface.

The Mac really disappointed me there.

Bart Guijt said...

If you plan to run your own processes in the background like a Java servlet container, use 'Lingon' to define these processes.

Also, use 'Handbrake' to rip DVD's;

Get your svn client from OpenCollabnet (http://www.open.collab.net/downloads/community/).

Unknown said...

Did you plug the mouse into the keyboard? If it's too short with it plugged in there then you must have quite expressive mousing behaviour. :)

I'm really liking the development channel for Google Chrome, but that's mainly because it has a really smooth implementation of bookmark syncing.

DisplayPort wins over HDMI because it's royalty-free, unlike HDMI. Apparently this is why very few ThinkPads have HDMI, the extra cost won't be appreciated by the corporate purchasers.

Anonymous said...

Font rendering on Mac isn't inferior, just different. A decent explanation is here: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2007/06/12.html

Unknown said...

Is it better to build VLC on macports or just to download the binary and install? Time is not an issue for me when building ports, just wanted to get feedback from others.