18 January 2008

Reflections on a month of MacBook experience

I received my first Mac ever on 17th December.

This past month does not represent the first time I’ve used a Mac regularly; when I was in school and working on academic Web projects, I relied for the most part on Macs (generally Quadras running 6 & 7, if anyone’s curious). Since then, I’ve used Macs from time to time onsite, and on a few occasions borrowed at length from friends. To make a long story short, I’m no stranger to the Mac platform, and I’ve always been fond of it.

(Mostly pleasant) surprises

  • I don’t typically use my mouse, even at home.

    This is due in large part to the fact that I haven’t yet gotten Photoshop installed on the MacBook, but even so you would think that with all the tabbed browsing I do, I would be lost without a mouse. This is oddly not so.

  • I *heart* Exposé.

    Simon Willison took the time to show it off for my benefit back in 2004, and I thought of it at the time as a neat toy. However, the past month has taught me its usefulness, especially because there's no easier way to jump between running windows within a single application (while Windows puts all taskbar items into the Alt-Tab pane).

  • There’s not nearly as much benefit in collapsing windows in OSX as in the Classic GUI; in fact, doing so actually creates hassles.

    This has been the hardest adjustment for me to make in the process of unhinging myself from the One Microsoft Way.

  • The magnetic AC adapter plug is an instance of sheer genius.

    Every laptop should have this feature; the need to re-solder AC adapter connectors would become an historical artifact.

  • …So that’s what it’s like to have a real notebook battery.

    My Windows notebook only weighs four pounds, and the battery could only manage about two hours brand new. The ability to play DVD’s for three hours or more is refreshing, to say the least.

  • Perhaps only because I’m a cheap bastard who hasn’t owned a decent hi-fi rig since he was twenty-one years old, I find myself impressed by the sound card.

    I’m no fan of iTunes, but I find myself neglecting the speakers connected to the Windows desktop, in preference to listening to my music over headphones connected to the MacBook.


  • The finish on everything has an unbelievable affinity for crud.

    Apparently, the sole prerequisite for display smudges is that I merely need to think about touching the damn thing. I have a bad and entrenched habit of doing more than just thinking about it. The keycaps, bezel, and case finish (both inside and out) suffer similarly; household dust adheres to the outside case in much the same way as gauge blocks.

  • Two. Mouse. Buttons. Please.

    …Especially now that Boot Camp is part of the factory install.

  • The “lock” in System Preferences is a pain in the ass.

    The Cat Frob won’t change the settings on accident, so what’s the deal here?

  • iTunes doesn’t offer alternate key bindings, unless you want to set them up one-by-one in System Prefences.

    For those of us who’ve been faithful Winamp users for eight years (like meee), the adjustment is brutal. [I’ve already sent a lengthy feedback message to the appropriate authorities on this very subject.]

…I could go on a bit, but hence we get into some heavy duty minutiae. I’ll skip that.

The enigma that is Safari

I find that I don’t object to using Safari as my primary browser on the Mac, relegating Firefox to development and testing. The reason I did this originally was that the rig was purchased for testing purposes, which means that I have multiple Firefox installs, thus multiple profiles, thus an extra step when I start up Firefox. However… I discovered that Safari is hypersonic next to its brethren, and apart from intermittent hangs on server replies, I have every reason to suspect that Safari’s network interface can’t be beat. It doesn’t drive like a yacht with respect to RAM, either.

My *ahem* most-favoritest feature of Safari is that Flash objects in unfocussed tabs do not start loading or playing until the tab is brought into focus; I cannot understate how intently I wish that feature was present in Firefox.

I also bear witness to a number of boogers:

  • no direct keyboard shortcut for Search
  • Contrarian tab layout (argh!)
  • no visual cues indicating the load status of off-window tabs
  • Alt-click saves a link, notwithstanding the fact that Cmd-click opens it in a new tab (WTF?!)
  • there's a full-screen mode in every other Mac app and every other browsing title, but nooo, not Safari
  • target="_new" opens by default in a new window, not a new tab, and this behavior can’t be altered near as I can tell
  • no version-and-title-specific CSS filters (more of a Work Gripe than anything to do with being a user, but still)

…And that, for now, is that.


Kristin said...

My replies to the Safari enigma, which are pretty much based on casual use of Macs:

Searching - Isn't that command-F? Unless I'm totally misunderstanding what Search is.

No visual cues - Isn't that the swirly spinny thing in the tab? You know... swirly spinny... thing? Descriptive enough?

"Alt" click? WTF are you talking about? But yeah, I hate that. I've downloaded way too many web pages. And you can set command-click to open links in a new window, not a new tab. But you probably know that. I'm not sure I understand that complaint, anyhoo. I just surf for porn, as everyone knows. ;)

Sarah said...

Regarding the speed of Safari - I think 99% of it is actually more related to the scripting engine than anything else. Keep in mind that the UI on Firefox is written with XUL & JavaScript, and similar is true of other Gecko based browsers.

I actually use Safari as my primary development environment at work - Firefox, which used to be the primary browser for the Firebug extension, has been relegated to minimal usage, mostly when trying to debug JavaScript ("Syntax Error" isn't a good message; "Missing closing parenthesis" is much better); but even then, most of the bugs end up being syntax errors anyway and I'm better off invoking the commandline JS interpreter.

But yeah... Safari, 2 or 3, absolutely screams when placed next to Firefox - this includes the Firefox 3 betas.

@kristin: Regarding searching, I think he means the search box that goes to Google, not "find in page"; AFAIK, there isn't a shortcut for it, but I never bothered learning the shortcut for that in Firefox or IE (Cmd-L, Tab or Ctrl-L, Tab gets me to that search box in every browser with one... *shrug*).

Besides, these days I don't find myself hitting the alt key - I find myself, when stuck on WIndows, trying to do things like cut & pastw by hitting Win+C and Win+V, which... well, don't do what I was intending. :)

ben said...

...Web Search, not inline search. Yes, cmd-f works just fine. But Firefox for Windows focusses the Web Search field with ctrl-k. Safari has no corresponding shortcut - the closest you can get is cmd-l > tab.

The visual cue to which you refer is spiffy, but only until you have more tabs than fit in the window. Any tabs that load beyond that count offer no status cue at all - the only thing you get is an arrow-ish icon saying that you've got more tabs than can be displayed on the tab bar at once.

...Alt option, whatever. I am still getting the hang of the lingo.

sarah - shame you're so... hidden. Say hello sometime.

On one hand, the current production build of Safari was the first to pass Acid2. But there are still rendering engine differences, most of them discretionary, that discourage me from using Safari as a development platform.

There is no easy way to handle the impedance mismatches between OSX and Windows - practice is it. The rule of thumb, though, is to use the ctrl key in all cases where you would use the cmd key on a Mac.

Meanwhile, Start key shortcuts do some pretty interesting things. I really miss Start-D, which simultaneously minimizes all applications to the taskbar. But instead I got Exposé so it's far from being a loss.

Anonymous said...

You want command-option-F for search. It's the same in many other Mac apps (eg. Mail).

David Alison said...

Great post Ben. I know, a little old now but a good write up.