Monday, October 5, 2009

iPhoto vs Picasa

The short answer is: Picasa.  Here's why:
  1. Face Recognition.  iPhoto pretty much only recognizes that there is a face in the photo.  Picasa does an impressive job of figuring out who's face is in the photo.  This makes categorizing photos much faster.
  2. Files.  iPhoto requires you to store all your photos in an iphoto folder where it hides all the file names for no reason that I can figure out.  Apparently, if you can get used to it, it's not so bad. 
  3. File locations.  iPhoto offers no simple way for a user to indicate where the big blop of photos that iPhoto will make is located.  I like to have all my media on an external drive.  That's not an option with iPhoto.  Note: there is a way to configure it from the command line, but why bother given items 1 and 2 in this list.
Overall, iPhoto is kinda lame when compared to Picasa.

Dear Steve Ballmer

Hey Steve, quick question for you.  ARE YOU FREAKIN' KIDDING ME?  I've been out here with the Win 7 beta code for almost a year now.  I've been busting my ass telling people how it's very cool, how it's got features that Mac doesn't and how it really easy fast and light.  And you promote the thing by encouraging people to throw Windows 7 House Parties?! 

Look, I know "cool" is not something you do.  But seriously, can't you just find one or two reasonably cool employees and get them to stop you from doing things that are this uncool?  Really, I am starting to think that the majority of your problems are marketing-related.  The new ads with the kids are pretty funny, and the people shopping for a cheap laptop made some sense.  But these things are not connecting in a way that gives MS a cohesive brand impression.  And you keep gumming up the works with things that don't make sense.  Bob, for example.  That stupid paperclip guy, for another.  And now after you guys bet the farm on Vista, you are going low key on win 7 when clearly, the reverse should have happened.  But windows 7 tupperware parties.  That's just pathetic judgement on your part, Steve. 

Friday, September 25, 2009

iPhone Broken? Get in line.

Normally, if my GSM phone goes on the fritz, I reach into a desk drawer and dust off an old one.  A minute later, I've moved the SIM card, reacquainted myself with the antique's eccentricities and I'm good to go.  If the broken phone is under warranty, I take it back to the neighbourhood Telco outlet and fight with them about repairs or replacement.  This process worked well for many years.  However, the iPhone breaks this process on several fronts.  Instead of being minutes without a working phone, it will now take 8 days or maybe more.  Thanks, Apple!

Of course, I knew that no mortal hands could touch the SIM card in an iPhone, and I weighed the downside before buying.  What I didn't really count on was the change in the service experience.  With every other phone I've owned, when it breaks, I talk to the phone company.  Why not?  That's where I bought the thing.  And they seem to be rivaling Starbucks in their efforts to secure every possible retail space.  So the nearest outlet is always nearby. 

With iPhone, it's not just the SIM card that you lose, it's the telco support too.  I never thought I'd be suggesting that telco support is preferable to anything - except maybe root canals.  But at least the telco had skin in the game.  With Apple, I'm just an expense.

So here I am, in an upscale shopping district that I usually avoid like the plague.  As usual, the Apple Store is filled to the brim with the worst kinds of computer users: complete newbies, fan boys and zellots.  The woman ahead of me books a Genius appointment for something completely trivial.  Surely they triage these things.  Nope.  It's a purely first come first serve system.

"But my phone doesn't work." I say.
"Right. How about next Wednesday?" the overly happy Apple Store Concierge suggests.
"But my phone doesn't work right now!"
"One pm, or should we make it 1:20?"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mr. Turing, I Give Up.

If a captcha is supposed to prove that I'm a human, I am apparently becoming less so with each new captcha I encounter.  It used to be that you could easily decern the letters in a captcha, and feel proud at your ability to do something computers can't do.  Those days seem to be numbered.  Here's a captcha that Google served me up today:

Is that "REAUTTERA" or "REOUTTERA"? Apparently, it's neither, which means I needed to  get very imaginative before finding the right answer. Actually I never did find the right answer. I failed two Google captchas in a row today. The first one was so twisted that I was basically taking a shotgun approach and trying any combination that seemed remotely similar.

I also tried the audio hint. That was even more distorted. I put headphones on and played the hint 10 times over, and I could not make out a single sylable. It was just like some sorta David Lynch sound track - creepy and probably meaningless.

We've known for years that computers were getting smarter.  Now, it seems their primary interest is in making me look dumb.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

GarageBand Wish List

I've been playing with GarageBand lately.  From a Windows user's perspective, GarageBand is basically like CakeWalk, only with the advanced features trimmed out, the icons made really big, and the package shipped free with the OS.  Of course, that's pretty much the template for a lot of mac software, and who can argue with success.

So without wanting to turn GarageBand back into Cakewalk again, here's a few things I think Apple could afford to add back into GarageBand without greatly alienating those who are attracted to big, shiny software:
  1.  Rehearsal Marks.  Maybe there's a better name for them, but basically a few points on the timeline that you'd like to shuttle back to frequently.  A keyboard shortcut for this would be required.
  2.  Loop by Numbers.  I'm glad there's a looping feature, but since I'm working with a printed score, I'd really prefer to just adjust the loop by inputting the start and end bar numbers.
  3. Fix the interface for editing DSLMusic.  I can never remember that I've got to click what appears to be a rather large and purely decorative icon in order to select the soundfont.  It is completely unintuitive and feels like an afterthought.
  4. Most importantly, the ability to input MIDI files.  I don't know what the thinking was behind leaving midi out of the product, but it left me on the cusp of sending GarageBand into the trash can.  For me, without MIDI, the disk space is more valuable than the software.  Fortunately, I discovered Dent du MIDI, which completely saved the day.  This little utility converts midi files into the "loop" files that can be dragged directly into a GarageBand composition.  Nicely done, sir!  It does so extremely quickly and easily, which makes me think it shouldn't be hard to include it as a feature out of the box. 

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Itunes Equally Cludgy On Mac

Over the past few months, I've been moving over from Windows to Mac.  Aside from the hardware that turns out to be wholly unsupported on Mac, the one thing I've been holding back on is my iPhone.  Since it has pretty much replaced my use of desktop computers for just about everything, I've been avoiding the move.  But I've been looking forward to it, because I've always found that iTunes on windows to be a bit wonky.  When you plug in your ipod, you are never quite sure if it's going to be properly recognized by iTunes.  You wait a few minutes and nothing seem to be happening, so you try unplugging it and plugging it in, and maybe something flashes on the screen for a second, or maybe not.  You never quite get the real-time feedback you'd expect, and operations that can take minutes leave you guessing as to whether the machines have really connected with each other properly. 

I expected that Apple was making it deliberately wonky, so that I would eventually switch to a Mac.  I was wrong.  I'm happy and saddened to report that the Mac version of iTunes works equally poorly.  I plugged my iphone in about three minutes before beginning this post.  Now it's about 8 minutes later, and I'm still looking at the colour wheel "wait" icon whenever I hover on the iTunes window.  I don't wait... here comes something...okay, gotta go, before it disappears just as mysteriously...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thanks for the Misinformation, Canon.

Canon makes Mac drivers for my Lido80 scanner. Yeah! Unfortunately, they don't make them for snow leopard. In fact, they don't make them for leopard. Boo!

That's very disappointing. But what's really annoying is that there is no mention of this when selecting the driver, and there's no compatibility check when installing the driver. The only subcategories shown in the driver download website are OS 9 and OSX. On the page that shows the drivers, there's no mention of the fact that they don't work with the previous two versions of the OS. And then when you install the drivers and software, they just blithely install without any check for compatibility with your OS.

It's only when you dig deep into Canon's support files that you discover that, although they apparently have Mac drivers, in reality, they don't. What could be a worse customer experience. Not only am I not worth supporting. In Canon's worldview, they have no problem with completely misleading me into installing worthless software onto my computer.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Duh! It's About the Document

The thing about computers is that, at the end of the day, they are really all about the documents. Clearly, I'm a bit obsessed with operating systems and software. But really, none of it would matter if it wasn't for the workbooks, the essays, the musical scores, the web pages and videos that computers enable us to view, edit, etc. Hopefully, I'm stating the obvious, here.

So, why is it then, that on a Mac, when you use Command + Tab to toggle to an application, it doesn't automatically restore minimized document windows? Instead, it toggles to the application in the application's previous state. So, if I've minimized the applications so that I can see something on my desktop, and then I want to flip back to Firefox, after toggling, I also need to separately restore the document window. This strikes me as odd, and it's definitely an issue that I never had with Windows.

In Windows, when you toggle to a previously minimized application, it automatically restores the application to the screen space that it was occupying before being minimized. Since life is all about the documents, this makes infinitely more sense to me. What are the odds that my desire is to switch to the application's top menu and not the document that I was formerly viewing/editing?

Similarly, Windows 7 has a portion of the taskbar reserved for quickly miminizing/restoring all windows. You just roll over to the bottom right corner and your desktop appears instantly. Clicking in the space minimizes all your apps so you can work in the desktop. Clicking there again restores all the documents.

If there's an equivalent Mac short cut or Dock function, I haven't found it yet.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Speed Test

I just received a new mini mac, and before I put the old one up for sale, I thought I'd do a bit of speed testing. It would have been interesting to have done a trial with the old mini before upgrading it to Snow Leopard, but unfortunately, the idea didn't occur to me until after I'd upgraded.

Like all speed tests, I suppose this has all sorts of caveats that could and perhaps should be attached to it. But whatever. I use Excel quite a bit and I don't just make pretty tables. I do some heavy problem solving in Excel. The kind where the lights go dim as it crunches its way through millions of trials. Excel in Mac-land is a bit of a non-starter for me, because it doesn't have Solver or many other important toolsets that I use. But Excel is one of the few programs that I have on both windows and mac machines, so I thought it was worth an experiment. The speed test is simply this: fill 1,000,000 cells with a random value. Here's the results:

Mac 1.66Mhz Intel Core Duo, 1 Gig ram
Excel 2008 - 34 seconds
Open Office 3.1 - 104 seconds

Windows 7, 2.0Mhz Intel 2 Core Duo, 3 Gig ram
Excel 2008 - 3 seconds
Open office 3.1 - 38 seconds

Mac 2.00Mhz Intel Core 2 Duo, 2 Gig ram
Excel 2008: 18.5 seconds
Open Office 3.1 - 38 seconds

Clearly, if you've got some serious number crunching to do in Excel, you're better off with the Windows version than the Mac version. Unless of course, you could use the time to stretch and get another coffee. It's interesting to notice that the Open Office test had similar results for both the windows and mac 2.00Mhz machines.

Spotlight Still Blows, but less so

A few months ago, I mentioned that by comparison to Windows 7, Spotlight blows. I complained that Spotlight didn't index the meta tags in files. The example I gave concerned a favourite local band, The Kramdens. I wanted to be able to type "The Kramdens" into Spotlight and see a complete list of their songs within my library in Spotlight's search results. Well, under Snow Leopard, I'm half way there.

Now, in Spotlight, I do see a list of the Kramden's songs - but only the ones I've played since upgrading. Well, since I like the Kramden's, that's not a big stretch. But, according to iTunes, it will take me over 16 days of continuous of continuous playback to play through the whole library. That seems like a rather slow way to build an index.

And isn't the whole point of search to help you find things that you may have forgotten about? What's the point of only indexing things I've already decided to play. It's the things I haven't thought about playing that search is supposed to help me with.

In Windows search, you have the power to control exactly what gets indexed, when it gets indexed and where it puts the index. By default, Window's Search indexes all the important meta tags in all my files without prompting. And it does so with no perceptible performance cost. So why doesn't Spotlight?

Snow Leopard - Nothing But Regrets

The actual process of completing the upgrade went smoothly. Other than that, I have nothing good to say about Snow Leopard, so far. Today, I went to open Sibelius for the first time since upgrading, and it crashed on opening. Repeatedly. The good people at Avid are inundated with complaints from panicked users. Apparently, Apple "fixed" something at the last moment that broke this $500 piece of professional software. There are going to be many professional composers freaking out over the next week or so.

The suggested workaround is to not open the mixer window. That's a bit like telling a writer, "For now, just don't use punctuation." But it gets worse...

After reading the posting from tech folks at Avid, asking for log files, I thought I'd offer my own up. However, Mail also crashed on me. Repeatedly. Whenever I tried to add an attachment, the program would crash when any folder under the User folder was double-clicked.

Okay, sure, there's some glitches, but what about the upside? Sorry, I'm not detecting any. Perhaps the computer is faster according to some sort of scientific instrument. But from out here in the real world, I can detect no difference. Except of course, that I can't things done now.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Apple Store, Please Stop Using UPS

UPS is probably a great service for b2b deliveries. But UPS blows when it comes to servicing consumer deliveries. I'm disappointed that doesn't use Puraltor or Canada Post for all it's home deliveries. Here's why:

I receive many parcels by post. But I'm not home during the day. That's usually okay. I get home, find the notice and head off to the local post office or the local Puralator pick up. I don't have any complaints about making these jaunts to pick up parcels. It's part of the process. However, often uses UPS, and, UPS doesn't have a pick up location in my city. So now, I'm left to choose one of several bad options:
1) take a day off work for each delivery, so I can be there to sign for them.
2) waive signing, so they can leave my new compy on the porch, unattended.
3) drive approximately 65km through cross-town traffic for each delivery.

The moral of the story is this: DON'T BUY HARDWARE FROM APPLE.COM if you're not going to be home to meet the delivery guy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Snow Leopard Wish List

One thing I like about being a Mac user is the surprises you get. With Windows, anything that will be forthcoming in a future release is known well in advance and generally available in beta. But with Mac, the future is always a black box. Oh sure, there's been some talk about what's to come in Snow Leopard - better performance & smaller footprint - but I think there's more in this black box than we've been told. To compete with Win 7, I'm predicting that Snow Leopard will address a few of the current OSX shortcomings. Here's what I'm hoping to find in the Snow Leopard release:
  1. Better font rendering. I want my Mac fonts to be just as readible as my windows fonts, so I think there has to be some improvements to the fonts themselves, or maybe to the antialiasing engine.
  2. Better Chrome. I'm getting really sick of the gray brushed aluminum that surrounds every application window. (If you can suggest a 3rd party app for this, please do.)
  3. Improved Spotlight. Please, please, please add meta tags to the search. I've had this in windows for about two years.
  4. Ditch dock. I really find Dock to be a stupid application. It's obnoxious looking and really doesn't seem very purposeful. Let's chase this circus outta town. Have a look at the Win 7 taskbar and build something similar.

Okay, I'm a Mac convert, but...

Alright, after several months of having both a win 7 and a mac machine side by side, I'm a Mac convert. My windows machine is the blazingly fast X61 tablet with 3 gig of ram, whereas my Mac machine is a lowly little mini mac with only 1 gig of ram. Yet, for some reason, the Mac machine seems to start faster, wake up faster, install apps faster, runs quieter and deals with plugging and unplugging of USB peripherals more elegantly than the PC does.

There are still many things I don't like about the Mac. For long bouts with spreadsheets or word documents, I find the PC better because it displays fonts more crisply than the mac does (on the same monitor and same resolution.) Of course, whenever a tablet would help, I reach for the x61. (Considering how few tablets there are in the world, Win 7 has ridiculously rich support for pens.) But most of the time, I'm heading to the machine for a short duration, or I am doing something that involves jacking in a USB something or another, and in those instances, the Mac is best.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Great article in ITWorld comparing the Mac and Win 7 UIs.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

And another thing...

One more area where win > mac: Google maps. On Windows Firefox, you can right click on the map to create new destinations or change a route's start point. I dunno how that's done in macland, but after 10 minutes of looking for it, I just switched to my x61 and was done.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Speaking of Apple's Secrecy...

Is it really just a coincidence that the world's most secretive consumer electronics company is also the company that just drove an employee to suicide over a lost prototype? Oh sure, the young man didn't work directly for Apple, only indirectly. Oh sure, it happened in China where employee protection isn't a priority. But I'm guessing that Apple will be changing their vendor relations policies as a result of this incident.

Friday, July 17, 2009


My dream of a Google operating system has been announced. I thought it was too much to hope for. I thought Google grew up too late to bother with an OS at this point. With everything moving into the clouds, who would start a new OS today?

When Andriod came along, I thought, well, there's one avenue to compete with MS and Apple that could expand into a desktop OS. Then, when the Chrome browser came out, I thought it might be the Google alternative to developing an OS. So, I was quite surprised to learn that Chrome is the stepping stone towards a complete desktop OS.

I love the idea of a Google OS for several reasons:
  1. COMPUTING POWER: Let's face it, unless you are working at CERN or Pixar, the vast majority of computational power that you are consuming today is happening on Google processors. It doesn't matter whether you are accessing your university's library or kicking back and watching Jacko's head on fire, the vast majority of the high-value math that is going on to bring you what you want is coming from Google. So, it might make sense that the people doing most of the process have a greater say in how the process components are fitting together.
  2. GREAT APPS: While not every Google Labs graduate knocks it out of the park, the batting average at Google is extremely high. Google Earth, Google Maps, Picasa, Google Desktop Search - these are all category killers. Remember MapQuest? Remember Adobe Photo Album? These applications were quite dominant and Google shoveled dirt on them. And it wasn't power that brought them to the fore, it was simply that they were better applications. Google Earth is practically miraculous considering the volume of data and processing that it must require, yet it runs more smoothly than iTunes.
  3. OPEN AND INNOVATIVE. Apple is the undisputed king of innovation when it comes to user experience, but its legendary secrecy kinda creeps me out. I have a hard time believing that it can be sustainable once Jobs leaves. Linux is the undisputed king of open, but I've never seen a single innovation come from Open Source. It's great at replicating, terrible at innovating. And MS spent the last 20 years trying to hold and fortify whatever area of computing it considered a chokepoint. It's worked well for investors, but it's a very unpleasant starting point. Google is the only one that seems to optimize for all. It's very open, very innovative and it always seems to find business models that optimize value for all.

I'm looking forward to the Chrome OS.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Humble End Button

I've been trying to do all my regular stuff with this mac computer and get used to it. Of course there's a number of little "gotchas" to get over. Most are slight variations that don't make any more sense on one system than another. One that keeps tripping me up is the end button, or rather the lack of one. I mean, it's there on the mac's keyboard, pretty much right where I'm used to finding it. But I guess I've grown used to the button, you know, doing stuff.

Until this mac came along, I don't think I ever met a text editor in the past 20 years that didn't have the profoundly useful option of moving the cursor to the end of a line with one click on the humble end button. It's not some fancy shortcut that only ultimate geeks know, it's a basic function of text editing. So I'm a little surprised that mac folks have, for years I guess, just left that little end key sitting there without much to do. And that's the other thing that is surprising about it. I mean, it's called an end key. What else would it do?

Do mac folks have some sort of fear of the end key? I suppose it does sound kind of ominous. But by leaving it unassigned (as it is in XCode and Pages) really just makes it more ominous. I continue to press it out of habit, but I'm growing more nervous with each press. The computer does absolutely nothing when I press the end button - or at least nothing I can detect. But that just leaves me to worry that in fact it is counting down to some cataclysmic event with each press of the end key.

Macs are scary.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Spotlight Blows

Wow, considering all the hoopla I heard over Spotlight, I was really expecting something better than this. When it didn't seem to be indexing things on my NTSF formatted portable drive, I went to the trouble of finding space for its contents, reformatting and restoring all the music, pictures and documents it contained. That turned out to be a waste of time, because i still can't get it to do the tricks that Windows' similar finder/launcher tool can do.

Say for example that I wanted to play a song by that great band from Guelph, Ontario, The Kramdens. With spotlight, unless I can actually name the song, I'm SOL. Typing "kramdens" into spotlight reveals only files and directories with that name.
But with Windows 7 (Vista and XP as well, actually) my search tool has indexed not just the file name, but also all the mp3 tags. So I not only see the folder named Kramdens, but also all the songs on my computer that are written and/or performed by The Kramdens. I also see the names of folders that contain albums of their work.
I tried the same experiment with the Dock/Spotlight tool that Mac-heads seem to be raving about called QuickSilver. The results were even worse. It doesn't seem to be indexing my portable drive at all and finds only the images I saved in preparing for this post.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I Miss FrontPage

Generally speaking, I don't get nostalgic. I'm not searching craigslist for a rotary dial phone or trying to figure out if there's a way to make the serial port dock on my Palm III work with Windows 7. But I am a practical person, and when something works well, I like to hang onto it.

In 1998, I had designers using the DOS program Autodesk Animator Pro on occasion. I had snatched the software on a 5.25" floppy disk from an employer back in 1989. While it was dated in many ways, every once in a while, it was the best tool for the job - unmatched by Photoshop and other media tools of the day. FrontPage seems to becoming another tool that might be worth keeping around for years to come.

While there are many WYSIWG HMTL editors, few managed site context as simply or elegantly as FrontPage does. And site management is really what I'm looking for. Site navigation is like the header in a text document. I don't want to manually edit it across every page. I don't want to have to think about whether this is page 6 of a 9 page document. Similarly, I don't want to manually rewrite the navigation links at the top of every page, every time I add a page to the site. And this site-centric functionality is lacking from in Coffee Cup, Coda, Espresso and many other alternatives to whatever it is that Adobe is charging a fortune for these days.

I'm not looking for the imaging power of a Photoshop nor the functional capabilities of whatever Flash is called these days. I'm just looking for a WYSIWYG editor that manages a bit of navigation, and I think it's worth about $30. But I must be alone in the market, because the options seem to be live without it or spend a fortune on functionality that I'll need only a few times per year.

I tried Microsoft Expressions - the FrontPage replacement. But it's basically a page editor designed for coders, not a site editor designed for me, and it is selling at a price that makes me question whether they are actually interested in selling single copy. Essentially, the working assumption at Microsoft these days is that if you use MS-Office, you don't need any site management tools, if you are a C# programmer, you need free ones in the form of SharePoint Designer, and if you are designer without coding skills, well, here's a pretty version of the one we give to developers at a cost so high, we can be sure you won't actually close the deal.

Someone ought to be able to make a few bucks selling a site management editor. In the meantime, I've gotta dig through a pile of CDs that I should have thrown out years ago. Cross your fingers that I run across a version of FrontPage.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Things I like about Macs

I don't want to give the impression that there is nothing that I like or enjoy about Macs. Now that I've been using one for a few weeks, here's a short list of things I like:

  1. Stability. I freely admit that this O/S appears to be rock solid.
  2. Speed. Mac definitely has the edge on Win 7 in waking up from sleep and in booting up from a full shut down.
  3. Simplicity. I love the fact that there is no registry, and that applications are generally a single file that can placed anywhere and launched without regard any other considerations. I imagine that this feature uses up some extra disk space, as library files that each new app utilizes don't become available for sharing with other apps. But I think it's well worth the sacrafice. In fact, I think these sorts of trade-offs of simplicity over sophistication are the key to Mac's success and Windows' flaws.

However, these difference are about as meaningful as the difference between number one and number two positions in an Olympic 100 yard dash: One gets all the glory, but they both get the job done. So far, I don't feel compelled to trash my printer, scanner and webcam for Mac's benefits. If I was starting with no systems, I would probably head towards the Mac for these benefits, but now that I'm highly invested in Mac-incompatible hardware, I'm thinking I may just sell this iMac.

It's worth pointing out that if it were not for Windows 7, I would feel very differently. Then it would more like pitting an Olympic sprinter against a home-town, second-place finisher, and I would be selling my printer, scanner and webcam.

So, for me, I think Windows 7 is the game-changer in the Mac vs. Windows shoot out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Plot Thickens

I've spent a bit more time looking for a solution to my printer problem. As it turns out, even if there was a printer driver specific to the endangered species that is my simple HP laserjet printer, I may still be encountering problems. According to a 2007 post, Macs are not very good at port redirects. This weakness means that many printer drivers only work when the printer is local. So in spite of the fact that OSX had no troubles joining my windows-based home network, there's a good chance that I still wouldn't be able to get the printer working without relocating it entirely.

Another hardware issue I have concerns a Canon Canoscan printer. I was able to install the drivers and the Canoscan software, but for some reason, the software doesn't see the driver and so the scanner is still more of a paper weight than a scanner. I thought Macs were supposed to not suck so much.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Mac Hardware Woes

Okay, further to my rant about Macs, I'm also troubled by Mac's lack of support for hardware. Let's start with my printer. I deliberately own one of the most popular and generic laser printers so that I can switch operating systems without worrying about printer drivers. It's a frickin' HP Laserjet printer. It's the most vanilla printer imaginable. And I've successfully used it on four versions of windows (including a 64 bit beta release) and three versions of Ubuntu with great success. So, I'm quite surprised to find that there is no Mac printer driver for this printer. I've tried a few work-arounds for it, but they tend to just lock up the printer on the windows machine that hosts the printer.

Similarly, there is no Mac drivers for my chat camera or my scanner. Okay, the camera is from Microsoft, so I should have guessed that one. And the scanner has been problematic for various other operating systems. But still, it's disappointing to realize that major hardware vendors like Canon, HP and Microsoft feel no need to develop Mac drivers. And even more surprising when they are offering Linux drivers, but not Mac ones. I thought this was a pretty well-established cult that I was joining. How much trouble am I going to have everytime I need a new bit of hardware?

My First Mac

Okay, after years and years of being a PC user and an occasional Linux user, I finally purchased my first Mac.

It's a used, dual core mini mac that works great, and I totally regret buying it. Why? Well, oddly enough, for the reason one would normally prefer a Mac: design. I just feel like it isn't really very visually appealing. Here's some specifics:
  1. Dock Disgust: WTF is with that stupid "dock" thing at the bottom of the screen? I feel like there's a little miniature circus going on at the bottom of my screen. It's ugly. It's busy -rediculously busy. It looks like something a designed by someone who just got a brand new box of Crayolas. Things are constantly bouncing and springing from it. It's just unbelievably unappealing. By comparison, the Windows 7 quick start menu is unubtrusive, easy on the eye and equally functional.

  2. Window Yawns: The aluminum themed windows that the Mac uses suffer from the opposite problem - the fields of gray are drab and boring. I feel like it's a rainy day where my documents live. I suppose there is some sort of tool I can download to fix the issue, but I haven't discovered it yet. Windows and pretty much every Linux installation come standard with tools to select the colours for window frames.

  3. Fuzzy Fonts: With Mac, and with the last few versions of Ubuntu as well, I've found that that system fonts are just not as easy on the eye as Window's fonts. I have both a Mac and PC sharing a monitor at the same screen resolution. When displaying the same file list or text document in both, it's clear to see that Windows delivers crisper fonts that are easier to read.

    Here's the windows view of this blog:

    And here's the blotchy Mac version:

    Hmmm. The difference is more striking when they are shown at actual size. But whatever.

    In addition, a file listing in Windows 7 has more white space while displaying the same amount of information in the same amount of screen space. Similarly, websites don't look as nice in Firefox on the mac (or Ubuntu) as they do in Windows 7.
Overall, my first impressions of a Mac are that it's a step down from the visual experience of windows 7.