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.