We're not in Kansas any more, Toto: Changing Perceptions of Macs and OSX

By Graham K. Rogers

Note: a sequel to this article, on finding help sources, was printed the following week.

In an out-of-the-blue e-mail, a local user asked about the iMac G5. When I had answered, and suggested a visit to the retail outlets, he added "a small request, just talking to friends who are all using Windows, and would like to switch to Apple Mac OSX, could you include some comments/advice".

Your wish is my command.

With limited space, I will continue these comments in future weeks. There is other OSX information from columns in the last three years available on my website.

The Apple OSX interface is the first point of contact of any new user.

  • Observation Number One: something that should remain with you while learning OSX (and forever after), is that "It ain't Windows." This is a simple point, but one that does seem lost on many new users. It can lead to weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. The way you did it on Windows may not work on Macs.

    Finder window

  • Observation Number Two, is one that may be lost on many older Mac users: it is not System 7 (or 8 or 9). It may retain that Mac-style interface; we still use the Finder to control the system's operations; but under the hood has changed. In normal work, it is never necessary to get your hands dirty, but an industrial strength BSD Unix is purring away down there.

    Terminal window

  • Observation Number Three is that the mouse only has one button. Some people hate this. Others do not. Coming from Windows, paradoxically, the simplicity of one button is bound to cause some confusion. We use the single button plus the Control key for more commands.

    If you do not like this, plug in another USB mouse. You see? No drivers are needed; and what better than a Microsoft mouse? These are well-designed and certainly work with Macs.

    (Note: The latest Macs (except for laptops, of course) are now available with the Mighty Mouse (see image, below). Older macs still in the "pipeline" or used Macs will still have the single button mouse.)

    Mouses selection

  • Observation Number Four: no software, which is a myth even respected academics still throw around, with nothing to support their abysmal research. I asked VersionTracker and was told there are roughly 30,000 applications available. Kurt Christensen added he had found that for a certain solution there may be seven applications for Windows but only one or two worth while; but on the Mac there may be one or two, but they are well written.

    All new Macs have bundled software. Along with a legitimate operating system, there are enough programs so that you can start work within a few minutes of opening the box. If you want something that is not supplied, there are several other sources for software -- commercial, shareware, freeware and Open Source. OSX software integrates almost seamlessly with the OS and other applications.

    Many applications available on Windows are also available for Macs. A prime example is Microsoft Office: I find this bloated and expensive. There are several other lower cost applications, or Open Source, that will do a similar job.

    If the worst comes to the worst there is always Virtual PC: an emulator (now owned by Microsoft) that allows running of the Windows OS and programs on a Mac. My feeling about this is that it should only be used as a last resort: if you want to use Windows programs, keep to the PC. It will slow OSX down.

  • Observation Number Five: universal is universal. If you have a .doc file on a Windows machine, it can be transferred to a Mac and opened. In most cases there is no loss of formatting; at least no more than might occur when transferring files between Windows computers. My students have never grasped the idea that PowerPoint presentations made at may look different when used on department Windows computers.

    File types such as jpegs, gifs, tiffs, pdfs, and all the rest of the standards, open as they should in either the Apple software or software you designate.

  • Observation Number Six. Passwords are integral to the operation of OSX along with user accounts. Some people do not like the inconvenience of entering a password to access the machine, but this is a large part of the tighter security that OSX provides: better a nano-second or two to enter a password, than loss of data and hours to reinstall an operating system.

    password panel

    The fiasco over Sony's roootkit illustrates this. On Windows machines, agreeing to the licence terms was effected by a mouse click. Software that installed a rootkit -- opening the doors for virus attacks -- was installed. A similar licence agreement was found on Macs when the CDs were used. If a user clicked to agree, a further box (requiring the Administrator password) appeared. Only by accepting that second warning was there any additional installation (two kernel extension files).

    The password may apppear to make the Mac less easy but the acounts structure is a safeguard. With some 4 years under its belt, OSX has zero viruses.

    (See also Help Sources.)

    Made on Mac

    For further information, e-mail to Graham K. Rogers.

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