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The Mac of Today - Is it Time to Switch (Part 2)

Readjusting to the MacOS Interface

Wednesday, April 13, 2005 by Zoomba | Discussion: Personal Computing

Part 2 - Readjusting to the MacOS Interface

Welcome back! This is the second part in a five part series examining the Macintosh to see whether it has come far enough to seriously entice PC users to jump the fence and try living the Steve Jobs way. Part 1 was meant to establish a bit of background so you know where I'm coming from in these articles. Essentially I started on Macs, made the jump to PCs in 1996 and have just recently returned to the Mac fold so-to-speak. This segment will focus on the User Interface of MacOS X.


My Powerbook's Desktop

The Hard Adjustments

It's never easy switching between Operating Systems, they all do things differently. While many features are at least similar in location and behavior between platforms, some changes just toss you for a loop. Several times in OS X, both my knowledge of the old Mac world as well as Windows completely failed me.

1) The New Apple Menu


The new and improved Apple Menu

The new Apple Menu is something that took me a while to get used to. Under the old MacOS, it was a sort of catch-all space for you to place shortcuts, get quick access to system configs etc. Think of it as a disorganized Start Menu. The new Apple Menu is streamlined and you can no longer hide shortcuts within it for quick access.

Now, the menu is meant for quick access to the core system tools. You can get to the System Preferences (Formerly called Control Panels), make changes to the Dock, determine which location you are at so your computer can utilize the proper network settings (I have configs for my apartment here in CT as well as for my parents home in PA whenever I visit), access to recent items, system software updates and the core Shutdown/Restart/Sleep options as well as a logout choice.

So basically, out of the box you have nothing in OS X that comes close to the Start Menu in Windows, or the old Apple Menu from days long gone. This meant I had to relearn where a lot of system tools were hiding. This led me to my second adjustment problem...

2) Where the (&$#@ are the printers?!!?

Ok, if you are familiar with the old MacOS, you know that the printers are handled through the Chooser, which you get to from the Apple Menu. The Chooser was sort of a swiss army knife as it was where they threw in all the system functionality they couldn't fit somewhere else. This was where you handled printers as well as connecting to network drives etc... Well problem number one is the Apple Menu as I knew it was gone, so I had to find out where they went and hid them. First I went running off to see if they were hidden in the System Preferences (Control Panels)... nope. I was left to dig through the directory structure manually to find it. I finally found it as a Printer application within the Utilities directory under Applications. Now in retrospect this is a logical place for a Printer tool to be kept, but it is counterintuitive to what Mac and Windows has done in the past.

Once I got used to where it was, I found the Printer tool to be incredibly useful and very easy to use!

3) Why won't it sort the icons how I want them sorted?

I'm accustomed to the Windows way of sorting items within a folder. Folders first, sorted alphabetically, then files sorted alphabetically. This allowed me to quickly find a folder if I was looking for a folder, or a file if I was quickly looking for a file. Unfortunately, in OS X it seems to want to force me to always list in pure alphabetical form, mixing folders with files. This is such a disconnect to how I'm used to working that I *still* haven't grown accustomed to it in the year I've been back on the Mac. This is one of those cases where I butt up against the Apple mindset that they know best how I should use my machine, and lock away certain customizations. There HAS to be a hidden config somewhere that changes this, so I can get things sorted the way I like, but I've yet to find it.

Old vs New - The Old MacOS to the New OS X

When you look at the older versions of MacOS and then at the new OS X, it looks like you're dealing with a completely different interface that holds little in common with the old version. In some cases, that's certainly true, but in many cases it's the same functionality with a new, pretty set of graphics over it.

 
Pre MacOS X
MacOS X
Desktop
  • Contains Macintosh Hard Drive
  • Displays external media
  • Contains Trash Can (Recycling Bin)
  • Contains Macintosh Hard Drive
  • Displays external media
  • Contains Dock
Folder Navigation
  • Available Display Modes: List, Icon, Column, Tree
  • Sorts all items alphabetically
  • Defaults to open new folders in existing window
  • Available Display Modes: List, Icon, Tree
  • Sorts all items alphabetically
  • Defaults to open new folders in new windows
System Configuration
  • Each system component managed by individual control panels accessable by drop-down from the AppleMenu
  • All system components rolled into a single System Preferences application. Accessable from the AppleMenu or the Dock
Accessing Open Applications
  • Could select Application from the App Menu on the top right corner of the screen. Once in an application you could then flip through windows
  • All open Applications listed on the dock, click-and-hold on an icon to get a pull-out menu listing all open windows.
File Sharing
  • Activated through the File Sharing Control Panel
  • Connect to other shares over AppleTalk through the Chooser
  • Activated from the Sharing panel within System Configuration
  • Connect to other shares on the network (AppleTalk, Windows, Samba, any major standard) through the "Go" menu

There are a multitude of other common activities that map between the two systems, but the above suffice to show the differences and how, while different, remain pretty similar in form. It's not too hard to figure out the new way of doing things if you're used to the old way.

But comparing the how the two are similar and accomplish the same tasks is pretty boring, and since most people reading this are pretty computer saavy this is all painfully obvious stuff. The real fun with OS X is what it brings to the table in terms of NEW stuff...

New Toys!

So what new and flashy things does MacOS X bring to the OS world that have been sorely lacking from other standard Operating Systems? Well, lots of stuff actually. Now, some of these, such as the Dock, have been recreated by other developers for the Windows platform. I'm not looking at these as features that are necesarily EXCLUSIVE to the Mac, just ones that are bundled as standard features. It's all well and good to be able to add functionality through third party software, but it's at times preferable to have some functions built into the system, allowing for greater stability, as well as interesting hooks into other applications. I don't need a flood of comments like "Oh you can get that functionality with Software XYZ!" That's not the point here.

There are four new aspects to the User Interface that I particularly like. These are by no means the ONLY UI improvements you'll find in OS X, as there is a LOT of functionality built right into the Finder (such as CD Burning), these are just my favorite ones.

1) Exposé

Exposé is probably one of the neater features bundled with MacOSX as of 10.3 (Panther) It allows you to quickly gain access to several views of your system with just the press of a key. This is a function I don't think I've seen in any version of Windows, MacOS or Linux, but I bet we'll start seeing it in the next major versions in the coming years.

There are three views you can activate with Exposé, the first being the ability to essentially "Zoom Out" and view every window of every application you have open on your computer by pressing the F9 key. You are presented with a series of thumbnails of your currently open windows, mousing over them gives you a little bit of information on the window such as the application and document title. Clicking on an item will zoom it to the forefront. This is great if you regularly have a dozen windows open and become confused or forget what else you have running, or whether or not you already have a file or web page open in the background.

The second view you can access by hitting F10. This will show you all open windows within the current application. This is nice when you have multiple word documents, or multiple browser windows open. Once again, clicking on a thumbnail will zoom that window to the forefront.

The third and most familiar mode to Windows users would be the Show Desktop mode. By hitting F11, all windows zoom off to the edges of the screen, clearing the way back to your desktop so you can quickly access your hard drive, any disks, or downloaded files you may have sitting on the Desktop. In this mode, along the edges of the screen you'll see a darkened region, sometimes with the edges of windows showing. You can just click on the darkened regions to bring back all the windows that were hidden.

To de-activate any view, you can also hit the corresponding function key again. It will return you to the window you were previously in.


Exposé screenshots and captions taken from Apple.com

2) Dock

This is the one part that most people visiting this article (either through JoeUser or WinCustomize) are the most familiar with. Apple added a "dock" to the system that acts much like the task bar does on the Windows side of life. Active applications reside here, as well as shortcuts to commonly used programs and games (or whatever you want to put on there). This is also where they've decided to place the Trash Can, removing it from the desktop where I'm used to it being. The dock can be customized a number of ways. You can position it on any side of the screen. It defaults to the bottom, but I have it aligned to the right of the screen. You can also scale the Dock to any size you like, turn icon maginification on or off, add or remove shortcut items as you like etc... If you've ever used Stardock's Object Dock (free or Plus) you know how the Dock works, and you know how useful it can be. It fits in with the entire OS X motif in ways that the old AppleMenu or a taskbar from Windows would not.

3) Spring Loaded Folders

This is one of those features that once you use it you think to yourself "This is just so obvious!" I'm sure everyone has had to drag and drop a file from one folder to another, but first had to click through a ton of folders in between to find the destination, then, with both the destination folder and the origin folder open, drag and drop. Seems simple because that's how we're used to things working. Well, OS X does it much better! You have an application on your desktop that you want to move to your Applications directory. Click and hold on the file, drag it over the Macintosh HD icon, it will automatically open the Hard Drive in a window. Continue to hold down the mouse, and now drag the file over your Applications folder icon, it will then open that directory and you can just release the item in the window. Ta-da! It's incredibly easy and intuitive to move files and folders around, reducing the amount of clicking you have to do.

Notes for Windows Users

There are a few points that are going to confuse life-long Windows users about the UI. I'll try and address them now...

 
Windows
MacOS X
Program List
  • Start Menu -> Programs
  • Macintosh HD -> Applications
Active Applications
  • Taskbar & System Tray
  • Dock
System Configuration
  • Control Panels
  • System Preferences
Delete Files
  • Recycling Bin on the Desktop
  • Trash Can on the Dock
Printers
  • Start -> Settings -> Printers & Faxes
  • Macintosh HD -> Applications -> Utilities -> Printer Setup Utility
Mouse Menu
  • Right Click
  • Control-Click
  • Plug in a 2 button mouse and right click
Kill Frozen Application
  • Ctrl-Alt-Del -> Task Manager -> Select Process -> End Task
  • Cmd-Opt-Q -> Select App to Force Quit
Quit Program
  • Alt-F4
  • Cmd-Q

Those are the big-difference items that every user new to Macs coming from the Windows world should know.


Ok, that's it for this fast-and-furious tour of the main UI features to MacOS X. I could have spent days just examining this aspect of the Operating System, but I just wanted to hit on the high points, compare and contrast it to the older systems and to Windows. The UI for OS X is clean, well laid out and good looking. It doesn't allow you the same sort of customization many will be used to from having used WindowBlinds and the rest of the ObjectDesktop suite, but I've found little need to tweak the default appearance of my Mac. In fact I've picked up Steve's MacOS X Tiger theme suite for my PC to make my experience a bit more uniform as I move back and forth from Mac to PC.

Part 3 will focus on Software for OS X, taking a look at the bundled apps you get with the system, what major software packages are available from third party vendors, as well as what sorts of games you can expect to be able to play on the platform. Keep an eye out for that article around the end of the week.

 

Mozilla Foundation ends Suite development

Monday, March 14, 2005 by geekinthecity | Discussion: Personal Computing

Just over a year ago, I defected from Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Outlook Express when I switched to Mozilla Suite a web broswer, e-mail client and web page editor all in one program. When I found that I could surf the web without being deluged with pop-up ads I was hooked. I was slow to embrace tabbed browsing at first but once I found how useful it is I will not surf the web without it. I found the e-mail client built into the Mozilla suite was far more capable that anything that Outlook Express had to offer. The single that stands out is the adaptive spam filter. I just told the spam filter what e-mails were spam and then after that spam e-mails were tossed away automatically.

The Mozilla foundation has released separate web browser (the wildly successful Firefox) and e-mail client (Thunderbird). I have found that I love the tight integration of web browser and the e-mail client. Open just one program for both web surfing and e-mailing. There are features found in both the web browser inside the Mozilla suite and Firefox that are just a lot more well executed in the Suite. One of these is the cookie manager. In Mozilla suite the cookie manager is found right in the tools menu while in Firefox the cookie manager in found in preferences under privacy.

It was with some shock and sadness that I learned that the Mozilla Foundation is ending development of the suite. There won't have any more new versions the program that has made the web and e-mail so much safer and enjoyable. Although news development on Mozilla Suite will be ending soon the Mozilla Foundation says there will be bug fixes and security updates for the forseeable future. Don't get me wrong, Firefox is a great browser however it just needs to mature before I switch. I don't doubt that when all support for Mozilla suite comes to an end and I have to switch I can tell you for sure it I won't be going back to Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Do Something Useful With Your CPU

Join the Stardock/WinCustomize.com Folding@Home team today!

Sunday, December 19, 2004 by GreenReaper | Discussion: Personal Computing

Does your computer sit there doing nothing most of the time? Worried that using a $1000 computer just for web-browsing is a bit wasteful? Are you thinking that SETI@Home or distributed.net may be fruitless endeavours? Well, you just might be interested in Folding@Home! Have your computer spend its time doing some useful calculations for medical research (see the FAQ) rather than letting those cycles go to waste, and download a client now!

I've made a Stardock/WinCustomize.com team - all you have to do is enter team ID number 41029 when asked by the Folding@Home client. And that's it! It will automatically get new blocks of work from the internet every so often and send results back, but you shouldn't have to touch it unless you want to. I chose to have it installed as a service, and the only way I know it's running is that CPU is at 100% or thereabouts all the time. It's all idle use, so it's not stealing the cycles from anything I want to run, and I have the satisfaction of knowing that my computer is working on something useful . . . even when I'm asleep. Give it a go!

Google wins in trademark suit with Geico

Keyword generated ads do not violate trademarks

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Personal Computing

Google scored a big legal win Wednesday when a federal judge ruled that its use of trademarks in keyword advertising is legal.

Judge Leonie Brinkema of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia granted Google's motion to dismiss a trademark-infringement complaint brought by Geico. The insurance company had charged Google with violating its trademarks by using the word "Geico" to trigger rival ads in sponsored search results. Geico claimed the practice diluted its trademarks and caused consumer confusion.

The judge said that "as a matter of law it is not trademark infringement to use trademarks as keywords to trigger advertising," said Michael Page, a partner at Keker & Van Nest, which represented Google.

The ruling is a triumph for Google in that it derives as much as 95 percent of its advertising revenue from keyword-triggered ads, which appear next to Web search results. Trademarks play a central role to the sale of such ads because people often use Web search to find products and services with common, trademarked brand names such as Nike or Geico.

The ruling also could inform similar trademark-infringement cases online, legal experts say. For example, Google is being sued by American Blind and Wallpaper for trademark infringement by its keyword ad program.

Read the whole thing: CNET's News.com

MPAA targets core BitTorrent, eDonkey users

The MPAA strikes again

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Personal Computing

The Motion Picture Association of America launched a new legal campaign Tuesday targeting the BitTorrent and eDonkey file-swapping networks, two technologies widely used to trade movies online.

Ratcheting up its previous online antipiracy efforts, the Hollywood group is working with law enforcement agencies in the United States and Europe to target and arrest individuals who play a critical role in the functioning of each type of network.

Full article: [Here]

 




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