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?

- 5 comments by 4 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. John,
    The answers to your final two points are quite straight forward. The way to do the “one click to fairly recently used programs” a la pinned to the start menu is to create a folder in your home folder. Call this something like Aliases. Apps that you want to use “semi frequently” lets say just create an alias in that folder by Holding down Command (Apple) and Option (Next to Apple on the left) while dragging the application to the alias folder. When you release the mouse click an alias link like a Windows shortcut is created. Lastly drag that folder called Aliases to your Dock. You now have a Pseudo windows start menu pinned. In reality I find it quicker to just go to the Apps folder and leave most of my common use programs in the dock.

    You can change the view of a folder to show thumbnails by doing Apple+J and then selecting the viewing options for that folder (or for all folders). To change to a more windows like view at the top you have three buttons – see here and note the three by the forward/back arrows. The view you are looking for is the middle one which gives you a three level heirarchy to look at.

    Hope that helps.

    28 Jul 2007, 11:52

  2. Mike Willis

    The registration screen can be skipped by pressing command-q. I forget how I found that out, but I always use it now.

    You can store folders in the right hand side of the Dock, the side the Trash is on and where window are minimised to. Find the Applications folder (not the shortcut to it that’s in the left panel of the Finder window along with Documents Pictures etc) then drag it to the right hand side of the Dock. It’ll stay there. Now click and hold on it for a second and you see the contents. I find this a much easier way to get to Applications than opening a Finder window. This screengrab may make it clearer what I’m describing
    http://www.warwick.ac.uk/~cusey/bits/applications_folder_in_dock.png

    When navigating folder hierarchies in the Finder I find the column view the best. You can set that to the default in Finder’s Preferences. Seeing thumbnails of all images in folder is something I’ve wondered about too, but not enough to find a solution.

    30 Jul 2007, 13:56

  3. John Dale

    Thanks for the suggestions, both of you. Chris, I know about the Command+J key to change folder views, but I don’t believe there’s anything in that dialog box which allows you to see thumbnails of images in the Finder.

    And I had worked out that putting a folder in the Dock would allow access to less frequently used applications, and I might try that (or indeed go for one of the many applications which exist precisely to do this sort of thing such as Overflow or TigerLaunch or some such). My point really was that I was surprised not to find something like this built right into the OS; I’m not sure that I’d really class having to figure out that you can use folders, aliases and the Dock to achieve this effect as intuitive. It’s okay for you guys, for me and for our colleagues, no doubt. But there are plenty of people who understand the Start menu in Windows but would never figure this out because it’s not visible enough.

    Finally, none of the three views offered in the Finder really give me what I want; I want a treeview of folders in one pane and a list of folders/files in the currently selected directory in another pane. I’m pretty sure that you flat-out can’t do this in the Finder. And another thing: OS X doesn’t sort folders ahead of files in directory listings; it freely intermingles them. I suspect that pretty soon this may drive me more nuts than everything else put together!

    30 Jul 2007, 22:52

  4. John Rawnsley

    Ignoring third party software, for many people the Finder IS the Mac OS and the Explorer IS Windows. You seem to be saying you need Windows for the way you work, so why handicap yourself with the Finder? There are third party clones of the Explorer for Mac OS (e.g. Mac Explorer X or Path Finder) but I don’t think they are sufficiently integrated to be really successful.

    System 9 had a Tiles view which did what you want for images but it did not resurface in Mac OSX. However, if you set a Finder window to view as Icons, set the View options for that window to Show Icon Preview and icon size to 128 it gets close.

    It was a while before I figured out in Windows that a large part of the Start menu was just folders full of links to applications. I customise my Start menu in Windows by manipulating the folders directly, just like a folder in the Dock on my Mac.

    31 Jul 2007, 09:12

  5. John Dale

    You seem to be saying you need Windows for the way you work, so why handicap yourself with the Finder?

    Well, it’s all part of the experiment. I’m interested to find out whether switching from Windows to OS X (and therefore from Windows Explorer to OS X Finder) is easy or difficult, painless or painful. My observation here is just that the transition from Explorer to Finder is more painful than I had anticipated that it would be. Whether it’ll turn out to be a sufficiently big deal for me to conclude that, for me at least, the overall transition is too painful to make, I don’t yet know; it’ll depend on how all the other pros and cons stack up, I suppose.

    31 Jul 2007, 12:09


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