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Notes on coverting to Mac

Posted at 09:40 on Sat, 1st May 2010 in apple.

Why I switched to a Mac and some of the things I learnt along the way.

Like most people my age, I've been using Windows, in various flavours at home for over a decade now. Throughout this period, and prior to this, about the only exposure I had to apple desktop products was back in my primary schools days, when my Mum brought home an Apple Macintosh to do her Thesis on (early 90's) - in summary not a lot!

In the last year or two, Ubuntu was my primary desktop OS, but every now and then when I wanted to use Photoshop, I had to boot into Windows. I also had various performance & compat issues in Ubuntu, like Flash, ZDE, PS3 Media Server, etc.

So I was considering a Mac. Why a Mac? Well most applications support Mac, but it also implements a hierarchical file system, bash shell, and all the neat cmd line app's you would expect in a Unix based OS. The downsides (I thought), were that they were significantly more expensive than a PC. But after doing a little comparison with pricing on Dell against a similarly spec'ed Mac-Mini, they came off roughly the same.

Sidenote: The Mac Mini is designed for PC users considering the switch to Mac. All it comes with is the machine, power adapter and Mini DVI to DVI converter. So basically, you can utilize all your existing PC peripherals (monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers) to keep the conversion cost down.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, after 'umming and arring',  I took the jump, and picked up a Mac Mini on sale at JB Hifi.

Below are a few lessons I learnt (hopefully they'll save someone else some time):

  • The basics:
    • The Finder application is like your windows explorer for mac.
    • Your control panel is top right apple icon->System Preferences.
    • The menu at the bottom (dock) has some neat options for auto hide, auto magnify, so take a look at the settings via System preferences. If you want app's to stay in the dock: when they're running. right click the icon and select 'keep in dock'.
    • There's heaps of other different UI stuff compared with Windows, but you'll probably just pick it up without much fuss - its all designed to be intuitive.
  • When you download applications, they normally extract with a single .app file. An .app file is actually a special directory that contains binaries and other files that relate to the application. It's a pretty neat way of keeping your file system neat and tidy though. However, you should be aware that sometimes the apps need to write files to your filesystem, in which case you will want to move them to your Applications folder, otherwise if you leave them on your desktop, or other places, they may not work properly.
  • If you use a Microsoft keyboard,
    • during the keyboard setup step of your install, it may ask you about which key to use as the Command Key '' - simply use your Start Menu key.
    • after installation, if you use your home and end keys a lot, they don't seem to work very well in some applications, this application can help with that.
  • If you love open source, and want a repository of applications you can call on to be easily installed, try darwinports. Personally, I had issues getting it running as it needed XPort from apple.com, which wasn't easy to find, so I just gave up and learnt the apple replacement apps, i.e. instead of "wget", use "curl -O"
  • (Australian specific) If you use iiNet as your ISP, the usage meter program from martybugs is for windows only - but a very good mac version exists here.
  • If you use a program to periodically rotate your wallpaper images - don't worry, because the Mac OSX software comes with this feature built into the OS.
  • The built in mail application that comes with Mac OSX is really smart - you give it your email address (i.e. joeblogs@gmail.com) and it works out for you all the incoming and outgoing mail server details! All you end up setting is the password!
  • I've only ever seen my firefox crash once, but when it did, you can't kill it with an CTRL-ALT-DEL, but there are alternatives.
  • Lots of games you may have played in the past actually run pretty well on the Mac Mini. I installed World of Warcraft for a test run, and with the auto detect settings, it run a solid +30FPS throughout.
  • A good integrated development environment for PHP (and other languages too!) is: Eclipse
  • To mount web folders via SSH, use Mac Fusion (which requires Mac Fuse too). To get it working in Snow Leopard, use this.
  • A great light-weight editor to use (if you aren't a vi/vim nutter) is Textmate. However it litters your folders with various meta files - to fix, follow these instructions.

That's it for now - I'm sure there will be more soon!