Monday, December 21, 2009

More thoughts on Apple

We've now had the Mac Mini for over a month. It's mostly my wife using it, and finding it very easy to use. But here are some random observations:

  • Did I hate proprietary software? I thought I did, but I suppose I only hated the Windows world. There is no open-source program that compares to iPhoto, for example. (And do we really care if such programs are not open-source? I increasingly realise that I'm for open standards and interoperability, not necessarily open source as such.)

  • Is Mac OS X stable and reliable? Yes. No crashes yet. Perhaps recent versions of Windows are equally good, I don't know.

  • Is the command line still useful? Yes. Example: my wife had over a hundred files in the "Downloads" directory and wanted to move only the JPG photos to the "Photos" directory on the desktop. Pointing and clicking to select them in the graphical file manager was a tedious process. I simply opened a terminal and typed "mv Downloads/*.jpg Desktop/Photos".

  • But is the graphical interface that hides all the Unix complexity good at what it does? Mostly, yes, but there are slip-ups. Example: the default shortcuts for switching "spaces" ("virtual desktops" on Linux, no equivalent on Windows) were shown as "^ left" and "^ right", and despite some Linux experience, my wife didn't immediately realise that "^" was shorthand for the "Ctrl" key. (I suppose only power users want virtual desktops anyway, but she knew them from Linux and found them convenient.)

  • Is open source software still useful on the Mac? Yes. Case in point: VLC, the media player. Unlike Windows (last I checked), the Mac plays DVDs out-of-the-box -- but enforces a region code, which may be changed only five times before it is permanently locked. This is strictly a software restriction, at the behest of the movie industry. VLC disregards the region code so we can happily play DVDs from multiple regions. We have also installed The Gimp and Inkscape: the alternatives were Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, but those are expensive and the free programs are good enough.

  • Anything we found we can't do, or not easily? Yes: save a flash video from YouTube into a separate file. (I suppose there would be plugins for Firefox to do it, but first we'd have to install Firefox.) On linux, look in the /tmp directory for a file whose name begins with "Flash", and copy it. Supposedly it used to be a similar mechanism (different location) in earlier versions of OS X, but on Snow Leopard we couldn't find it.

  • Do I plan to trade in my Linux laptop for a Mac? No.


Sunil D'Monte said...

Were you able to upgrade to the new release of Ubuntu? I foolishly tried it without taking backups first -- doesn't even boot up now.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Yes, I upgraded a couple of weeks or so after the release. No problem. Your booting problem is probably related to the bootloader (they moved to version 2 of GRUB) -- does a new LiveCD boot? Otherwise, try booting with an old liveCD and re-install GRUB...

Sachin Shanbhag said...

I use mostly linux, but have a mac laptop that i use occasionally.

from a work standpoint, i find myself efficient under linux. while macs are good, their price and some presumptuous design decisions (the no button mouse in the latest notebooks) are major irritants.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Sachin - in fact all our hardware is non-Apple, other than the small Mac Mini box itself. What's interesting to me is that the right mouse button does bring up intelligent context-sensitive menus -- so why doesn't Apple sell two-button or even three-button mice?

The thing I perhaps like most about Unix/Linux -- probably the biggest timesaver in the long run -- is middle-button paste. No ctrl-C ctrl-V nonsense: just mark with left button, paste with middle button. And if you don't have a middle button you can "emulate" it with simultaneous left-right click. Why hasn't anyone else thought of that?

km said...

Perhaps recent versions of Windows are equally good, I don't know.

Haven't seen a BSOD in at least 3 years. (Kinda miss it now....)

Rahul Basu said...

I agree the missing middle button is an irritant. But the default 'mighty mouse' that comes with apple desktops
is indeed a two button mouse! It's just that there are no buttons - it's purely tactile. You can configure it under system preferences to work like a two button mouse and and use it like one by pressing on the left or right side of the tiny scroll ball.

Of course the laptops just come with one and you need to use the Ctrl key for a right click or multi touch.

Anonymous said...

"save a flash video from YouTube into a separate file"

Dont need a separate plugin. Open Safari and play the video in Youtube. Click under Window>>Activity and double click the largest file entry - the video gets saved in FLV format.

- Mac Whiz