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:

  • I've nev­er had enough pa­tience to put up with X's clunky con­fig­u­ra­tion or pa­thet­ic font-rendering.
  • As a busi­ness­man I just got­ta be able to send Word docs and Ex­cel spread­sheets back and forth with no fuss and both­er.
  • I do a lot of con­fer­ence speak­ing and have be­come pret­ty well ad­dict­ed to Pow­erPoin­t.

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:

  • With the ar­rival of OS X, a Mac is ac­tu­al­ly a full-featured Unix sys­tem.
  • It has a well-thought-through, con­sis­ten­t, and rather beau­ti­ful us­er in­ter­face that re­quires nei­ther send­ing mon­ey to Red­mond nor edit­ing Xt re­source files nor know­ing what a "termcap" is.
  • It has re­al­ly, re­al­ly, REALLY fast sus­pend/re­sume. Open the lap­top up and by the time your fin­gers are on the key­board it's ready for you to start typ­ing. The amount of time the en­tire hu­man pop­u­la­tion spends sit­ting in front of Win­dows box­es wait­ing for them to be ready to work is prob­a­bly in ag­gre­gate worth the GDP of a medium-sized coun­try.

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 it wants on the desk­top, not where you want them (y­ou can move them, but next time you log in they go back where OS X wants). It's smarter to make alias­es (see the on­line help) for any disks you care about and put those where you want them. Of course, when you con­nect to a Win­dows serv­er or put a sil­ver disk in the ma­chine, OS X is go­ing to put those icons where it wants, but these are kind of spe­cial sit­u­a­tions and this doesn't seem to be a big prob­lem.

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:

  1. I went in­to Net­info (a Windows-registry-like con­fig ed­i­tor, find it un­der "Applications/Utilities"), copied the en­crypt­ed form of my pass­word and past­ed that val­ue in for root. Then I su'd to root with my pass­word (and gave root an­oth­er pass­word).
  2. I used 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"):
    De­fault­s:­tim !au­then­ti­cate
    tim vikram = NOPASSWD: /us­r/bin/ssh

  3. I made my­self a $HOME/bin di­rec­to­ry and put a lit­tle file in there called roam­ing, like so:
    su­do ssh tim@­gate­way.­tim­sjob.­com -L 143:

    where is the ad­dress of the IMAP serv­er in the office's in­ter­nal net­work. I al­so have a file there named 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 di­rec­tions for 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 CR). 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 mail­box. Bye. 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:

  1. Use Mozil­la 1.0 on Win­dows to im­port the Eu­do­ra Uni­verse.
  2. Use tar to pack it up and copy it over to the Mac.
  3. Un­tar it on the Mac, and re­name In to In­box along with its .msf meta­da­ta file.
  4. Ob­serve where the Mac was putting the files for my POP ac­coun­t, in a di­rec­to­ry un­der my $HOME/Li­brary named
  5. Re­name that to pop.old, and un­pack the Moz di­rec­to­ry un­der a newly-made
  6. Ob­serve that Moz still sees the old stuff, and poke through the menus to ob­serve that it has some­how auto-magically de­cid­ed that the files are in pop.old... ob­vi­ous­ly there are more things go­ing on in this Mac than meet the eye. Tell it to use the di­rec­to­ry again.
  7. Shut down & restart Mozil­la. They're there! O frab­jous day!
  8. When­ev­er I hit one of my old mail­box­es for the first time, it says build­ing 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 sus­pect 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 long time since I've hit a site that I ac­tu­al­ly want­ed to vis­it and was IE-specific.

I sus­pect Moz will get faster, be­cause there's an­oth­er ver­sion of it at Mozde­ called "Chimera" that us­es na­tive OS X events and is re­al­ly snap­py and by com­bin­ing the Gecko en­gine with anti-aliased ren­der­ing, pro­duces about the most beau­ti­ful ren­di­tions of Web pages that I've ev­er seen.

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 ac­tu­al­ly 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" fa­cil­i­ty. 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 pass­word. 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 ·

This alone jus­ti­fies mak­ing the switch. The OS is ro­bust enough that I very rarely re­boot, so my waiting-for-the-OS time just shrank from sev­er­al min­utes to a few sec­onds per day. That adds up.
The Screen
Mac lap­tops have bet­ter screen­s. My eyes are 4 decades old and re­al­ly ap­pre­ci­ate this.
I can use per­l, vi, sed, emac­s, and all the usu­al Unix sus­pects with­out think­ing, they're wired so deep in­to my hind­brain. There are var­i­ous workarounds on Win­dows that get you al­most there, but hav­ing the re­al thing makes a dif­fer­ence. Here's a lit­tle 1-liner that I call 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

Net Switch­ing
When I first turned the com­put­er on, I went look­ing for the net­work set­tings to tell it to use DHCP, and was get­ting ir­ri­tat­ed be­cause I couldn't find the right place, but then it turned out I was al­ready on the net be­cause it had fig­ured out it should DHCP. Even more im­pres­sive, I have dif­fer­ent net­work ad­dress se­tups at work and home, but DHCP both places, and it seems to be smart enough to recheck the DHCP leas­es when you sus­pend/re­sume, or switch ca­bles, or lean back and yawn - the ef­fect is that wher­ev­er I am, I plug in the net­work card and it's on the net. This kind of mag­ic makes me a bit wor­ried - what hap­pens when it doesn't work, how do I fix it? - but so far it's worked ev­ery time. This is what the In­ter­net is sup­posed to be like.
I pump Word and Ex­cel and Pow­erPoint files back and forth be­tween Win­dows and my new Mac box, and nothing's bro­ken yet. The us­er in­ter­face on Mac Of­fice is dif­fer­ent in quite a few ways from Win­dows, so there are some ad­just­ments there, but it's pret­ty good.
This thing is a won­der­ful movie plat­for­m, as long as you don't try to use the sil­ly on­board speak­er­s. The wide screen for­mat help­s.
The Bat­tery
I've run it for 5-and-a-half hours, and there was still juice left. I've nev­er got a Win­dows box to run for three hours.
Soft­ware In­stal­la­tion
Most soft­ware comes as ei­ther a di­rec­to­ry con­tain­ing an Ap­pli­ca­tion file and some oth­er stuff, or just an Ap­pli­ca­tion file. If it's on your disk it's in­stalled. Put it where you want - there's a help­ful "Applications" fold­er where I put ev­ery­thing, but OS X doesn't seem to care. Win­dows and Lin­ux could both learn some­thing here.

What's Bad · So, are there any rea­sons not to run out and get a Mac? Here are a few:

The Mac is damn ex­pen­sive, a big chunk of change more than an equivalently-configured Win­dows box. Plus if you need to use Of­fice, you can't buy an up­grade based on your old Win­dows in­stal­l, so you're go­ing to pay some se­ri­ous mon­ey. On the oth­er hand, if you work out the mon­ey you save by not wast­ing time for re­boots and restart­s, you may still come out ahead.
Con­sid­er­ing how fast this suck­er is - when you're in a shell run­ning perl and oth­er Unix pro­gram­s, it's a blaz­er - the UI could re­al­ly be a lot faster. Adobe Acro­bat in par­tic­u­lar is a to­tal dog, win­dow re­siz­ing is slug­gish, and a lot of times, when you hit a scroll­bar or oth­er con­trol, it has to think for a mo­ment be­fore things start hap­pen­ing - scrolling through big lists of email mes­sages is ir­ri­tat­ing. Peo­ple tell me that ev­ery up­date of OS X has sped things up, so there are grounds for hope.
The Fin­der
The Fin­der - the equiv­a­lent of Win­dows Ex­plor­er - is a re­al­ly stupid pro­gram. There doesn't seem to be any way to tell it to start up in list mode and stay in list mod­e. If you get a big di­rec­to­ry and scroll down to look at one of the files at the bot­tom, then go in­to an­oth­er di­rec­to­ry, it stays scrolled down and so lots of times it looks like you're in an emp­ty di­rec­to­ry. I thought Ap­ple were sup­posed to be lead­ers in UI de­sign; this is re­al­ly shab­by work.
The Key­board
It feels OK, but seems to be miss­ing quite a few keys: PgUp/Down, Home, End, and Backspace (there's a Delete key which func­tions as Backspace, but there's no re­al Delete key). OS X wants to use the func­tion keys for turn­ing the vol­ume and screen bright­ness up and down. You can use the Func­tion keys as Func­tion keys, and you can turn the ar­rows in­to PgUp/PgDown/Home/End, by hold­ing down the "fn" key. Hr­rumph.
Command-TAB switch­es be­tween ap­pli­ca­tion­s, but if I have 3 brows­er win­dows or two ter­mi­nal win­dows open, there doesn't seem to be an easy way to cy­cle be­tween them.
Key­board Short­cuts in Gen­er­al
Win­dows is just a lot bet­ter at this - once you're used to an ap­pli­ca­tion, you can do al­most all the menu stuff with­out tak­ing your hands off the key­board, and most times with­out even look­ing. The Mac has tons of menu com­mands that you just have to use the mouse for; You can switch fo­cus to the menu and arrow-navigate to any­thing, but that's no faster than mous­ing.

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...

Ac­knowl­edge­ments · 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, sor­ry Sean). 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.

author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
picture of the day
June 21, 2002
· Technology (77 fragments)
· · Mac OS X (113 more)

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