Friday, July 3, 2009

The Strange World of Macs (Part 2)

I promised a second post about macs, and it's time to deliver. The reason I'm updating about it now, is that it turns out that two of the undergrads working with me on the computational pool project are mac people, and use mac laptops. Whenever I explain to them why macs are hard to use and complicated they keep saying I'm doing it wrong, and there's a better way to do it. My main complaint here that this "better way" is never documented and isn't easy to find.

For example, one mac person in our group re-installed a mac machine that was sitting in my office after the HD died (it required a trip to the shop to replace, since mac hardware is hard to maintain, and this is desktop!). After he left, I tried using his machine, the first thing I was greeted with was a screen asking for a password. That's not very user friendly!

So, I googled for password reset information. I found several sites explaining how to reset a password without the CD, but all required you to be already logged in. I realized, it must be possible with the CD. However, there was no apparent way to boot from CD. Heck, there was no apparent way to get the CD out of the drive. Later I found the eject button on the keyboard, but still the computer will always boot from HD. I googled "mac boot from cd" and found you need to hold the option button while booting, not del of F1 like normal computers, and of course no message on boot to tell you that.

I booted the install CD, and it had a password reset option, but it didn't work, since it wasn't the right version. I had to boot an upgrade CD in order to successfully reset the password. After the password was reset I could finally log in.

Next step was to create a user for myself. This was not easy. The "spotlight" search feature I was told so much about did not work since it was "indexing". I finally found the user management from the control panel and created my user.

All this time I was interrupted with an annoying window that wouldn't close saying "Welcome" in different languages. Same annoying pop-up junk as with Windows. After that was done, an "install updates" popup came up and it had to restart and install the updates. By the time I was writing this post, the updates have finally been installed. I will now try to log in.

I am now on the mac itself. I managed to install Adium and Firefox. As it turns out, the popup window that appears is a mounted virtual drive. The two icons represent the application and a shortcut/symlink (I'm not sure) to the "Applications" folder, which is similar to the Start menu in windows. Dragging one to the other launches an install script, though I'm not sure exactly how. After installation is done you must unmount ("Eject") the disk image in order to use the application. The application itself is only available from the applications menu, which can be accessed by searching for "Applications" using the magnifying glass on the top-right of the screen (called "Spotlight"). Spotlight does not search the web, or for uninstalled applications.

You could also  use spotlight to search for a specific application. In a way, it's like a limited graphical command line. The most important application to locate with Spotlight is the real command line (called "Terminal"). This application will later appear on the bottom of the screen, and as I found in the book "Mac OSX or Unix Geeks", you can drag it do a different position on the bottom of the screen to have it stay there. I did not find a similar way to add a non-running application.

Another discovery I've made: The screen has a hidden camera near the top, I guess Apple literally watches you. More to come soon.

Tried to install Hebrew. Worked, but without a keyboard shortcut. Any attempt to enable launched a monster keyboard shortcut menu, where it turns out that Hebrew conflicts with the "spotlight" thing. So, it's either Hebrew or being able to launch applications. Updates to come.


  1. the application thing is quite elegant IMHO. an application is a folder containing a certain set of files. to install the app, you drag it and the folder is copied.

  2. Oh, come-on! Alon.

    Looks like you're looking for things to complain about.

    I have used many Linux desktops, All forms of Windows and MacOS and Mac OS is by-far not only the most intuitive and fast but also the most stable OS.

    Three years ago I was one of those guys who'd call Mac people "those stupid people who don't understand that you MUST HAVE MORE THAN ONE mouse button". and "Who would want a computer that is virtually un-customizable?"...

    Since then, I've fallen in love with my Mac, it runs amazingly well - and the hardware is magnificent, since everything above the level that I would get if I had a choice, and I don't have to worry about drivers, it just works - and works well.

    I'm sure that if you give it a chance, really give it a chance - out of wanting to learn (and not wanting to find things to complain about) you'll see that there's no going back.

    I'm sure that one day Linux will catch up, and I'm going to do my best to help with that, but in the meanwhile - Macs are my choice of platform.

  3. Your problem was that you were trying to install Hebrew support. In Mac OSX, it's native (look under language toolbar in System Preferences) where you can set your keyboard shortcuts, language preference order, and a whole bunch of other things. It even gives you a choice between a standard Hebrew keyboard and one that's been phonetically mapped onto the QWERTY keyboard.

  4. Emma, that's exactly what I'm referring to. The keyboard shortcut to switch languages is disabled by default and could not be enabled from the language preference screen. You need to go to a special "shortcuts" menu linked there and cancel the spotlight shortcuts in order to have it work.

  5. If I can do it, you definitely shouldn't be having problems. Computers hate me.

  6. I did do it, but I had to disable spotlight since they use the same shortcut.

  7. For some reason, Google Reader refuses to see this entry...

  8. Macs scare me. Google reading entry now!

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