Back Story · I am a certifiable Olde Unixe Hacke - I did real work on a PDP-11/44 running V6 back in 1979 or so, was a full-time sysadmin in the days of 4.1bsd (and the earth-shaking arrival of 4.2) on 11/780s, reported emacs V12 bugs to RMS in 1985 or so, wrote code for a genuine commercial shipping Motif application (lots of it XLib), wrote a filesystem benchmark named Bonnie in 1990, an improved version of which appears in a couple of Linux distros, and most recently ground out a fairly big & hairy C-language Apache module.
But I've been carrying around a Windows laptop for the last decade or so. Some of the reasons are:
Finally, I am devoted to emacs for all serious text-editing tasks, and emacs works better on Windows than on Unix or linux. Do I hear gasps from the crowd? Well, the fact of the matter is that on Windows there is no confusion as to which key is backspace and which is delete and what the function keys and Home and End keys are called... and no escape sequences! I've used the same .emacs file with only a couple of minor changes for the decade I've been on Windows, and it seems that I have to fiddle with it every time I go near another flavor of linux or Unix or X or terminal emulator.
OS Xual Attraction · Well, my excellent little Toshiba laptop had been suffering under the weight of 2 years of heavy traveling. Win98 was getting slow and flaky, then on a 4-day road trip its modem croaked and I was without email. I was looking at the prospect of either upgrading to Win2K and getting the thing overhauled, or getting another box - and I must say the latest ultralight Toshiba is pure industrial-design poetry.
But recently I've noticed that a lot of my grizzled contemporaries, and quite a few younger open-source luminaries, are starting to carry Macintoshes. The reasons seem to be:
So I went and bought myself a Powerbook; fast processor, a half-gig of memory, all the I/O gear anyone could want (gigabit ethernet fergosshakes). When I got it home and turned it on, I was initially ravished by the general beauty of the screen and interface. This quickly morphed into heavy frustration, as I couldn't get anything to work. Some time later, I have the machine more or less doing what your typical Windows-hardened Unix hack would like, but it took too long.
Fixing the Mouse · Some people don't like touchpads, but I do, and the Mac's is excellent. However, it comes with the defaults set up basically all wrong... you have to click the stupid button with your thumb instead of just tapping the pad. Find the "System Preferences" entry under the Apple menu and select all the options under "Use Trackpad For". Then with a bit of practice you can do it all - select, activate, drag - with just one finger and you won't miss your mouse-wheel at all. Or if you do, plug any reasonably modern mouse into a USB port and you've got a full-function mouse-wheel, and you get context menus on a right click, just like in Windows!
The System Preferences Menu · You need to use this to fix up your mouse, but for lots of other stuff too, so it's nice that it's always there under the Apple menu. You owe it to yourself to visit each and every sub-menu and investigate what it does. I changed something in just about every one.
There are a few little lightweight apps you can download for free or as under-$10 shareware that really help System preferences. TinkerTool is pretty essential, and then there's a couple of things worth picking up at Unsanity that are worthwhile, especially "Fruitmenu".
Finally, if you have occasion to plug in multiple screens (and you should if you can, OS X handles it really well, take the "Displays" option to "Show Displays in menu bar", as this puts everything you need two clicks away.
The Screen, the Interface, and All That · The world of long-time Macintosh loyalists resounds with gnashing of teeth because some old Mac software hasn't made the leap to OS X, and there are just enough changes in the interface to get in the way of their long-accustomed work patterns. For people coming out of the Unix/Windows world, since it's all new, it all just seems to work, pretty much.
The "Dock" thingie seems like a reasonable way to park things and one-click launch them, once you get the idea how it works. It seems kind of dumb that programs go on this side, while minimized-apps and file/directory shortcuts on that side, but still. It also seems weird to show little pictures of windows that are minimized but not those that are active. You may want to turn off the dock's silly "magnification" or shrink it down a lot smaller than Apple ships it, or even hide it and get it to auto-show.
Another thing you'll probably want to do is pop up the Finder preferences
and unclick the thing where it shows your hard disks on the desktop.
The reason is that if you let Finder do this, it puts the disks where
IMAP, SSH, and Port Forwarding Hell · Obviously any computer is an expensive brick until you can do email with it. I currently have two email lives, my private-life POP3 address, and my at-work IMAP setup.
IMAP can be a problem if you want to get at it from at work, home, and on the road, particularly if you're reasonably security-sensitive. At work, I just point an IMAP client at the server named "mail". Anywhere else, I have to ssh to a gateway machine at work and do some port forwarding. To keep things simple, I have two ssh setups, internal and external; each maps the localhost's IMAP port (143) to the appropriate machine; then my mail client is set up to point at "localhost" and works the same wherever I am.
Port forwarding on OS X is a bitch. You have to be root to forward "privileged" (I assume this means less than 1024) ports, and OS X really doesn't want you to be root - it ships with root's password disabled. Here's how I did it; there may be a better way:
su'd to root with my password (and gave root another
visudo to enable my account to run the
ssh command as root without giving any password.
This required inserting two lines (my account is "tim", the machine
is called "vikram"):
tim vikram = NOPASSWD: /usr/bin/ssh
$HOME/bin directory and put a little file in
roaming, like so:
sudo ssh email@example.com -L 143:10.1.1.1:143
office; the contents are left as
an exercise for the student.
You may want to add another
-L option to remap SMTP, depending
on your setup.
Now I start up a terminal (any Unix hack will want to put a terminal in the Dock for one-click access) and type either "roaming" or "office", give it my password at work, and I'm off to the races. It dawns on me that with a little hacking I could figure out whether I'm in the office or not by poking at network settings, and reduce these two files to one.
At the moment, I'm IMAPping with Mozilla, which is pretty comfy since I'd already been using it on my Windows box and it works about the same.
Eudora Hell ·
I've been doing my POP mail with Eudora almost since I've been using
Windows, and Eudora started life on the Mac, so I thought I was home free.
Unfortunately I have a legacy problem - tens of thousands of emails in dozens
of mailboxes in a handful of directories.
Eudora.com helpfully includes
migrating from Windows to the Mac, but they require processing each mailbox
with FTP, or using a utility from a site that's no longer there, both to fix
the well-known CRNL problem (Windows separates lines with CR-NL, Mac with just
Neither of these seemed like a good alternative, so I cooked up a perl script
to fix the CRNL problem, not exactly rocket science, and when I'd
munged my mailboxes and fired up Eudora,
it popped up a little window saying
'In' doesn't look like a
I tried all sorts of tricks and Eudora is doing some sort of hidden magic and
hiding things where I don't see them.
I interacted with Eudora tech support (I'm a paying customer) and... I'll stop there because anything I say will be a flame. Long waits, no help at all.
I gave up (bye-bye forever, Eudora) and went to Plan B:
tar to pack it up and copy it over to the Mac.
along with its
.msf metadata file.
pop.old, and unpack the Moz directory under a
pop.old... obviously there are more things going on in this Mac
than meet the eye.
Tell it to use the
pop.tims-isp.com directory again.
summary and decides that all the thousands of messages are new and
unread. Sigh... time will solve this problem.
So I have my POP email and I have the last decade of my life back. But it shouldn't be this hard.
Web Browsing · The box came with Microsoft IE 5, which seems to be the latest version. It's pretty darn standards-compliant and most pages look noticeably better to my eye than in Win/IE6 - but that may just be the fabulous LCD screen on this puppy.
I wanted to try Mozilla, but there was some weird problem with IE (maybe my
firewall?) that kept
ftp: URLs from working, some port number
thing, so I couldn't use IE to get Mozilla.
The same problem kept me from using IE
to get the developer download from Apple - see below -
and while I live behind a diligently-administered Linux-based firewall, I
that if I have this problem, others will too.
I could however use IE to get Netscape 6.2 though, which unfortunately is always a few releases behind Moz, and also seems awfully slow. And with Netscape, I could get Mozilla just fine.
Mozilla rendering looked a little dingy until I switched the default serif
font from Times to Times New Roman.
Given that, if there's a difference in the user experience between IE5.1 and
Mozilla it sure
doesn't jump out at you - the button layouts are probably the big things, and
they're pretty configurable.
IE is a bit faster than Moz, but Moz is fast enough not to be irritating.
And it's a
I suspect Moz will get faster, because there's another version of it at Mozdev.org called "Chimera" that uses native
OS X events and is
No Compiler?!?!?!? ·
While caught in the bowels of Eudora Hell, I wanted to write a teeny C
program to make sure that
\n meant what I thought it did (and
there's another whole essay in that).
But there didn't seem to be a C compiler.
Huh? Isn't this Unix?
What was really weird is that on Google, no permuatation of "gcc",
"Darwin", "OS X", and "compiler" got me anything useful.
The answer is this: you go to the Apple Developer web site, sign up and get an ID (it's free), and download the Mac OS X Developer Kit. That's a 215M download, but they'll cut you a CD for $20 if need be. Installing it costs the best part of a gig of disk space.
This gets all sorts of wondrous goodies, but all I cared about was being
able to say
cc -o testnl testnl.c, which I could.
It turns out that
cc is Darwin
cc which is
gcc, so that's good.
Of course, the machine comes with Perl and lots of other stuff pre-installed.
SMB (Windows Disks) ·
If you want to get at Windows disks from ... well, anything ... you have to
use a protocol called SMB - on linux there's the excellent open-source "Samba"
OS X has SMB support built in, kind of.
You can attach to those Windows disks but you can't always find them even with
the Jaguar release, you have to
know the server and "share" name, and type all this in with the username and
Fortunately, you only have to do this once, since once you've found a server
you can put it in a favorites list and go back easily.
The syntax for addressing one of these things makes sense, but only if you've
seen it once:
What's Good ·
lh and a version of which
should be in everyone's
bin directory; it reminds you what
you've been doing lately:
ls -lt $@ | head -10
What's Bad · So, are there any reasons not to run out and get a Mac? Here are a few:
The Take-Away · I take lots of pictures, and have got pretty addicted to Paint Shop Pro as a pretty cheap, pretty easy, reasonably powerful picture editor. On the Mac, "iPhoto" is a joke, I guess it's a good way to organize pictures into directories if you're not smart enough to do that, and of course the serious photohound will get Photoshop, which costs big bucks and you have to get a Ph.D. to use effectively.
Sitting in the sweet spot in between is Graphic Converter, which comes with the machine; it doesn't seem to do quite as much as Paintshop, but the interface is really sweet - the things you do all the time (scale/crop/color-correct) fall right under your fingers.
I just recently plowed through about 50 pictures I took of my little boy playing on the beach, and after I got into the rhythm, I was croppin' and fixin' and savin' at lightning speed just like you see those Mac heavies do in the booths at trade shows; I felt like I was going to have to start wearing black clothes and an anguished expression, have homoerotic fantasies about Steve Jobs, and give up my Life for Art...
Most this was worked out over the course of a single weekend when I was
supposed to be at home entertaining houseguests (sorry Lauren, sorry Mom,
Apple has some not-bad Mac OS X resource sites, and there are a couple of
indie sites too, but mostly I just plowed back and forth through Google, typing
in things like
os x smb client.
Thanks to the good folks at Google and the resource sites.