All entries for Friday 27 July 2007

July 27, 2007

Day 4: Switching on

So having unpacked the boxes, struggled to find spare power and network sockets (especially Jeff, whose struggles looked at one point to be on the edge of solving major string theory problems) we got around to switching the Macs on. I’ll have lots more to say about the various apps and tools which come with or have been downloaded to the machines later, but for now, a few impressions from first use:-

  • Lose some bonus points for playing an unskippable movie with sound on first boot-up. First boot-up is exactly the time when you’re unlikely to know where the “mute” key is (it’s F3, it turns out) and in an open plan office, welcoming fanfares are not the best way to win new friends.
  • The rest of the startup sequence was pretty painless, although I was slightly surprised at how determined the Mac was to capture my registration details. It wouldn’t let me move past the registration screen until I’d told it all my details down to and including my postcode. Somehow, I have it in my mind that this is more of a Windows thing to do.
  • The screen on the MacBook Pro is gorgeous; an ambient light sensor ensures that it’s always at a comfortable brightness level and it’s a joy to read. I chose glossy screens for our MBPs, which I was a bit worried about, but they’re great. The same ambient light sensor backlights the keyboard in a dark room which again is just lovely; it makes using the machine at home in the evening, or during a lecture or presentation, easy.
  • One minor quirk is that the screen hinge doesn’t let me fold the screen back as far as I would like; when I have the machine on my lap, I’d prefer the screen about ten degrees further “unfolded” than it will actually go.
  • The MacBook Pro keyboard is very nice indeed to type on, with well spaced keys and a nice, quiet action. One minor oddity, though; the MBP I’m using right now has a tiny but noticeable squeak when I press the spacebar. It’s not annoying, exactly, (or at least, not yet) but I’m surprised to hear it. I haven’t yet tried the slightly more idiosyncratic design of the MacBook keyboard, so I can’t comment on that.
  • I love the trackpad controls for right clicking and scrolling – tap or drag with two fingers rather than one. It’s almost completely foolproof – you never right click or scroll when you don’t mean to, but you can always invoke it when you want it.
  • First impressions of finding my way around the operating system are mostly good. The dock is simple and easy to understand (but why, on a widescreen device, is the dock placed at the bottom by default? Vertical pixels are exactly what’s in short supply, whereas you have a surfeit of horizontal ones. The dock should be on the left when you first turn the machine on). But there’s no equivalent, as far as I can see, of the Windows Start menu. The Start menu isn’t what I’d call a great piece of design, but it does allow for three levels of access to programs: most frequently used programs go in the quick launch part of your taskbar, so they’re always visible; your next most frequently used programs can be pinned to the Start menu so that they’re always one click away, and your infrequently used programs go in the “All programs” hierarchy. Unless I’m missing something, OS X only gives you a dock for your most frequently used programs, but you couldn’t, I don’t think, reasonably expect to get all your programs in there. But the only other way I can see to access programs which aren’t in your Dock is to open a Finder window, browse to “Applications” and then scroll through a list of all your programs. No doubt there are third party apps to address this, but it seems like an odd omission.
  • On the subject of the Finder (the OS X version of Windows Explorer, I suppose), this is the part of the system I’m finding hardest to get used to. The treeview on the left, current folder on the right model is so ingrained into me that I’m struggling to get used to this new model. How do I see thumbnails of all the files in a folder? How do I move a folder from point A in my hierarchy to point B? When I preview an image, how do I move on to the next image in the folder? When I select a file and press enter, is renaming the file really the most likely thing I’ll want to do, as opposed to opening it or previewing it?

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