Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It's a Mac trap, and we've been caught

There are occasional advantages to IT Support's geological speed of response. It's been a full four months since I was forced to submit a request for a Mac. Now it's arrived, it took me a full four minutes to decide we weren't going to get on. My gay trill of laughter when it looked like my email files (a) hadn't transferred to the new system and (b) wouldn't be compatible if they did made the windows rattle. (My recent discovery that, even though I can still use Firefox to compose this, the keystroke on my PC that made the cursor jump between words here just closes the tab has had a similar result.)

Fortunately that little giggle seems to have been resolved. After a morning's acquaintance I have decided we can have a relationship, as long as I can go home at the end of each day and tell my PC at home all about it.

The "genie" effect, whereby a minimised application seems to be sucked into the dock, made me queasy and I've replaced it with the good old shrink effect that Windows uses (which, I know, it got off Apple). The fact that there's only one toolbar regardless of the application is an annoyance but I'll get over it. What fool thought it would be neat to swap the " and @ keys around, and why, I will never guess.

Sadly, my biggest and loudest complaint about the Mac isn't actually Apple's fault. This one is all Microsoft's. In using Word 2008 for Mac I've regressed over a decade. Ever since I switched to PCs from my old Amstrad, ever since, I've recorded a macro to swap two misplaced letters around. The commonest spelling mistake, as you may recall me saying before. On early PCs I used the Windows macro recorder. Then Word grew up enough to record its own macros and so I used that instead. Every time I have moved to a new computer or got a new verison of Word, that is the first change I've made.

No more. Word 2008 for Mac doesn't let you record macros. I am flabbergasted. What do they think they're doing?

(Answer, courtesy of my manager: they know exactly what they're doing. They grudgingly admit that there are Microsoft users who use Apples, and they cater for the market, but they don't make it easy in the hope that said users will see the light and switch to PCs. Easy)

You can still assign keystrokes to existing menu commands. All is not lost. And in some ways, the return to the classic Word interface after months of struggling with Office 2007 [spit] is a relief. Maybe we'll call this a draw.

I'll try to be positive. The overall look of the Mac is nice. I will gladly bow to Apple's ability to make technology attractive; to slip into your life and be part of it, rather than a beast growling in the corner. The downside is of course that you do it Apple's way or not at all. To make my point I've changed the wallpaper to <geek>a screen shot of the TARDIS console room</geek> (<ubergeek>specifically the secondary console room as used in series 14</ubergeek>), that being the ultimate machine where the user's requirements are paramount.

Most satisfying of all is that once you've got your head back on you notice a certain strange sense of familiarity. The CMD+Tab combination to cycle through applications, which is almost like ALT+Tab ... oh, and the keyboard. The keyboards of early Macs were truly alien beasts. This has a forward-delete key; the funny Apple key is labelled ALT; there's a CTRL key too. The overall effect is ... Windows-like. Okay, so it's about as convincing as Del-Boy's attempts to appear classy by speaking French, but you recognise that it's trying.

Note this well. The two systems did not meet halfway. They came to us.



  1. I've had a Macbook for about ten months now and there are still some things I've never worked out how to make it do. I've got used to the " and @ swap, and to the even more annoying lack of a Delete key (you might have one on a full size keyboard, but on the Macbook you have to do Fn + Backspace). But I can't for the life of me work out a keyboard shortcut for tabbing between two open Firefox windows.

    I don't use Office on it, as it's for play not work, but my main software gripe is that there's no Paint Shop Pro for Mac and I haven't yet found anything comparable.

    On the plus side though, it starts up and shuts down like a dream, and software opens and closes properly and doesn't ever seem to crash. Especially iTunes, which I never got working properly on a PC. I also fell in love with the dock, genie effect and all, once I'd made it a bit smaller, and the Dashboard, and the Sticky Notes, and I worked out that you can specify your own global keyboard shortcuts, which is pretty neat.

    But there's no doubt it's different. A colleague said to me it was healthy to use both, as it makes you think openly about operating systems and generally keeps you on your toes. I think there's something in that...

  2. But I can't for the life of me work out a keyboard shortcut for tabbing between two open Firefox windows.

    [Command][~] will move you through the windows of any properly written application.

  3. Bill Burkholder5:20 pm

    Through the years, Paint Shop Pro has usually been an abominable program! It can trash the metadata in photo files. Most of us in photo labs hate it for that reason.

    If you need a real Mac photo pixel editor, use Adobe Photoshop Elements. If you just need a photo editor, choose Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture. But If you need a real painting program, try Corel Painter X.

    If you want a shareware graphic program that has all kinds of useful functionality and the ability to convert dozens of graphic file formats to and from each other, try Thorsten Lemke's Graphic Converter. It's been in development since the early 1990's and is extremely robust and handy.

    I've used both Macs and PCs since the mid-1980s, and I have to say I use the Mac because I want to, and I use the PC because I have to. Microslop just doesn't "get" the user experience. Apple usually does...

  4. Paul... [Command][~] -- fantastic, thank you! I am tabbing away between the comment window and Ben's post just for the sheer pleasure of it.

    Bill... I started using PSP back when I worked with Ben because it was good at taking screenshots and creating mock-ups of web pages for web designers to code, and I've just never stopped, then started using it for photos as well. But will investigate alternatives, thanks... I've also heard good things about Pixelmator.

  5. Anonymous7:55 pm

    the " and @ key issue is NOT a mac issue . . . it simply represents the American keyboard layout. ALL US keyboards are like this. Get a British USB keyboard and choose a British key layout or remap the keys . . . done.

  6. I switched to using OS X as my personal OS back in June and haven't looked back since. Quick look, multitouch trackpad (I have an optical mouse and leave it to gather dust rather than give up two-finger-scroll), Expose...

    OK. Now, Office for Mac 2008 uses AppleScript instead of VisualBasic. This makes it hilariously simple to integrate Apple applications and OS commands within your Word macros, but is also a completely different type of programming code. http://www.microsoft.com/mac/developers/default.mspx may be helpful.

    Most keyboard shortcuts - at least, most common ones like ctrl-x, ctrl-c, ctrl-v for cut, copy, paste; ctrl-b, ctrl-i, ctrl u for bold, italic, underline; and ctrl-t for new tab in Firefox are just the same using Cmd instead of ctrl. The ctrl-w shortcut for closing tabs is, in Macs, close window as well, and cmd-q for quit application is great. Jump to word-ends is on alt-left arrow and alt-right arrow.

    The "/@ issue, however, is their dependence on using American keyboards. For this, there will be no forgiveness.

  7. Wow, I'm delighted to have become the nucleus for an ad hoc Mac discussion and support group of such helpfulness. But I won't tell the Mac in case it goes to its sleekly integrated ergonomically perfect head.

    Thinking of it, the US keyboard is more logical in having ' and " on the same key. I think my old typewriter did the same. But when selling to a British market ...

  8. They do say there are three things you can blog about that will guarantee you comments: abortion, the Middle East, and PCs vs Macs...

  9. Anonymous10:12 pm

    I hope you never buy a new car. Your head may explode, since most cars use their own proprietary design to place buttons and switches where they please. I would gather you struggle with such complex changes.

    Welcome to the real world.

  10. give this a try for your screenshots.. it has potential.. and Pixelmator too


  11. I bet Anonymous is a *rubbish* driver.

  12. On the @ " change, I guess I'm puzzled. Looking at my keyboard from my desktop Vista machine and comparing it to my Macbook they have those in the same place? Am I missing something?


  13. For ad hoc screen shots you can hold down the "Apple" key (aka the "command" key) whilst also holding down the Shift key and the 4 key. That will put crosshairs on the screen which you can use to drag a box for your screen shot. If you want to get a snap of an open window, press the space bar and the icon will change from crosshairs to a camera. Click the camera in the window you want.

    To get screen shots of events (i.e., while a menu is down, etc.) you can use the included "Grab" utility (location is in the Utilities folder, which in turn is inside the Applications folder). This can also be used for timed shots, for instance to get a shot ten seconds from now.

    There are several more helpful tips like this if you're interested. I'm just replying because of what I hope is the Boomtown Rats reference in the title of the article. (grin)

  14. Snap Z Pro X is handy for taking screenshots and movies of your screen.

  15. > I bet Anonymous is a *rubbish* driver.

    He's certainly yet to get the hang of Google accounts. You know this is the closest this blog has ever come to a flame war?

    > I'm just replying because of what I hope is the Boomtown Rats reference in the title of the article. (grin)

    Absolutely, and delighted it's been noted!

    Re. misc graphics packages: I've been pointed at GIMP, which is an open source Photoshop equivalent and looks very promising.


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