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All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others
George Orwell (Animal Farm)

The above quote is from Napoleon the pig, in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, as he is trying to explain how all animals are the same; but some might be slightly better than others. Much like in the fictional world of Animal Farm, this holds true in the very real world of software available to Apple and Windows users. Microsoft’s Office for Mac may look and feel like the one designed for Windows; but it seems to lack some of the bells and whistles that make Office a great product, at least in my opinion.

I have said it over and over, I love my Apple products, even if I’m not a fan of everything Apple. For now, my biggest complaint with using my MacBook, is the difference in applications that exist for Windows and Apples users. I know most of the big applications people use are available; but they seem to be the lite version.

With the NHL lockout over, my friends and I can now get back to the business of watching hockey (Go Habs Go) and getting ready for my hockey pool in a couple of weeks. I keep all my stats and draft preparations in Excel. I have used the same format for years and never had a problem creating web queries when I used the Windows version of Excel. However, I’m not using Windows anymore and now have Excel 2011 for Mac. Creating web queries with Excel for Windows is easy and there are plenty of things you can configure to make sure your data is properly formatted. The Excel version for Mac, is not so easy to create proper web queries, limited in formatting option, and is a 13 step process:

  1. Go to a Web page that has the Web tables that you want to put in Excel.
  2. Highlight the Web address in the address field and choose Edit→Copy.
  3. Switch to Microsoft Word and open a new document.
  4. Launch Word if it’s not open already.
  5. Paste URL into Word
  6. In Word, choose File→Save As.
  7. Click Format and choose Plain Text (.txt) from the pop-up menu that appears.
  8. Type a filename, replacing .txt with .iqy as the file extension.
  9. If you encounter the File Conversion dialog, select the MS_DOS radio button, and then click OK.
  10. Click the Save button.
  11. Open Excel.
  12. Choose Data→Get External Data→Run Saved Query.
  13. Open the .iqy file you saved in Word.

Oh… My… God!!! That is absolutely exhausting and time-consuming. There are 30 teams in the NHL and I had to do that 30 times. Well, I would have had to do it 30 times if I had done it on my MBP. My fiancée wasn’t at home, so I used Excel on her Windows computer to set up the queries. It still took almost an hour to do everything I wanted to do; but I can’t even imagine how long it would have taken me if I had done it on my MBP.

I am somewhat at a loss why there is such a difference in the versions. I have found similar problems when I use Word for Mac. It looks the same, it feels the same; but with a few subtle differences. It is entirely possible, the functionality I want is available in the Mac version; but it is different and I am unable to find it. I have tried doing searches on the web for my various problems and the only solutions I find are for Windows’ Excel. I really can not believe I am unable to do web queries any simpler than how I described it above. The only thing better in Excel for Mac, is the copy/paste feature. In Excel for Windows, if you copy something and then type something in a cell or hit ESC, you lose what was in the clipboard. In Excel for Mac, I can copy a cell, type something else and then paste what I copied. I have never understood why Excel forgot what was copied the moment you typed something else.

Then there is Outlook for Mac. Although I don’t use it very much, I still have an email account that needs to use it. I have two problems with the version of Outlook for Mac. The Outlook for Mac version, does not let me delay the sending and receiving of emails. As soon as I open Outlook, it receives and as soon as I hit send on my email, it is sent.  This is no good to me for two reasons. I like to keep some emails on my provider’s servers, so I can access them via webmail wherever I am. The auto-receiving, is not my biggest pet-peeve with Outlook; but rather the auto-sending. I do not like to have my emails sent as soon as I hit the send button. There are times where I have written an email and after a few minutes, decided what I had written was not what I wanted and made some changes. In Outlook for Mac, the only way to make sure mail is not sent automatically is by taking Outlook offline. I wouldn’t mind so much taking Outlook offline, if I didn’t have to do it every time I opened Outlook.

I have used Outlook for at least 10 years. It was a way to get my email from my original account. Over the years, I have accumulated a lot of emails in my pst file. I have been able to import the pst files from one version of Outlook to another. The last version of Outlook for Windows I used, was Outlook 2010, as part of the Microsoft Office Suite. With Outlook 2011 for Mac, I am unable to import this pst file because the version is too old or at least that is the message Outlook tells me. However, I went to a friend’s house to see if he could import it on his Windows’ Outlook 2011. It was, wham bam thank-you ma’am, the file imported without a problem.

It’s not just the main stream applications that I have a problem with; but I miss some of the smaller applications I had, that made my life easier. If anyone reading this is a Windows user, I would recommend these programs: POP Peeper (email checker), SuperCopier (used to efficiently make copy/move files), or even MS Paint which comes pre-installed with Windows.

In the end, I will use what is available to me and make the best of it. I just feel that some of the cross-platform applications for Mac, is like buying a knock off name brand piece of clothing. You think you are buying a Dolce & Gabbana; but in fact you are really getting Dulce & Cabana. It looks the same, it sounds the same; but there is something a bit off about the product. I have a theory why some applications available to both Windows and Apple users are the same, yet different. When I encounter problems like those in Excel and Outlook, I think it’s Microsoft’s way of having fun with Apple users. It’s their way of saying, you should have bought a PC. Of course this may just be my conspiratorial side coming out. Until someone can prove to me otherwise, I’m going with that theory.

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The Mac, is the Mac Daddy

TheMacDaddy

I have had my MacBook Pro or as I like to call it, AL, for almost a month now. In the beginning, there were times I questioned my sanity in deciding to change to a MacBook after years of being a Windows user. I couldn’t get it to do what I want, I couldn’t figure how to close applications properly, I kept confusing minimizing and hiding applications. Like any new relationship, there was a feeling out period and there were times that I thought to myself, this….. is….. not…. worth….. it….. I WANT A DIVORCE!!! In the end, all the early frustrations and sanity questioning has been worth it.

I love my Apple products and haven’t the faintest idea how I could have held on to my Apple hate for all these years. I don’t think I’ve become an Apple snob and praise all that is Apple.  Rather, I’ve seen what can happen when an operating system is designed with the user in mind, rather than being designed with the computer in mind.

The MBP is so much more than I could have hoped for.  The computer is lightning fast, quiet as a mouse, the battery life is amazing, and I am learning to love using a trackpad again. The Apple trackpad, might be one of the things I appreciate the most on the MBP. On my previous laptops, I hated the trackpad; but on the MBP I can two finger swipe to the left, four finger swipe up or down, two finger tap, three finger tap, two finger scroll left, right, up, down, clean my apartment. Ok, maybe not clean my apartment with a swipe of the trackpad; but you get the picture. The trackpad that was once the bane of my life on laptops, is now my new best friend.

I never knew that boot up times shouldn’t go on and on and on and on, even after logging in. More often than not, I would log in to my laptop and go do what I had to do and hope by the time I came back, the system was ready to start accepting some kind of input. Even those times I just put the laptop to sleep, it would be slow to wake-up. It was almost as slow as me, before my first three cups of coffee in the morning. Don’t even get me started on the ease of installing and uninstalling applications. Drag, drop, done.

Aside from my day to day use of the MBP, the one exterior component I find an absolute god send, is the MagSafe power connector. I have a tendency to trip over my laptop’s power cable when I’m at home or move my laptop without realizing the cord is wrapped around something. On my old laptops there was the danger of either bending the power nib or worse yet, snag the cord of the the laptop while walking by and watch helplessly as it crashed to the floor. Now I can skip, jump, drag my feet, or sashay around the laptop because the MagSafe pops off the MBP as easily as a magnet being pulled off a fridge.

As of late, something odd and refreshing is happening when I work on a Windows machine. When I sit in front of a Windows computer to help someone, I find myself looking for my Apple keys and having to take a moment to remember what key combination to use or worst of all, I try swiping on the track and nothing happens. It is then, that I remember what system I am sitting in front of and bemoan how limiting Windows is at times. I know there still is a lot Windows can do, that OS X can’t; but the way Apple has made their system user-friendly is ridiculous. In this sense, ridiculous is awesome.

Is the MacBook a perfect computer? For me it is; but for others it may not. It all depends on what you want. My overall experience so far, has been great, save for the annoyances with a couple of built-in applications; hello Mail and Reminders. The problems I’m experiencing with these two applications, I’ll save for a future venting of frustrations blog. Regardless of these two annoyances, the ease and simplicity of what Apple has created is amazing. I could not have asked for a better start to my new Apple way of life. I am looking forward to many more years of enjoyment and more than likely, adding a few more Apples to my basket of gadgets.

Ménage à Trois

Apple Love

Wikipedia defines a Ménage à trois, as the following:

… a French term which originally described a domestic arrangement in which three people having sexual relations occupy the same household – the phrase literally translates as “household of three”. In contemporary usage, the meaning of the term has been extended to mean any living relationship between three people, whether or not sex is involved.

Well, I am not having any sexual relation with my tech products; but I am having a love affair with my three tech devices. George the iPad, Al The MacBook Pro, and Yves The iPhone Five. These three techs keep me connected 24/7, whether I’m at home or on the road. I no longer have to worry if something I entered on my computer has synchronized to my cell and my tablet or any other combination thereof. The ease of synchronization between devices is what I have longed for, these past years.

The word ménage, is also French for cleaning. I feel as if I have cleaned house with my three main tech gadgets. I have swept aside my Windows and Android devices to come under the unified banner of Apple. Do I think Apple is the greatest and best thing ever invented? No. I do think it is the best means for me to get all that I want out of the technology I use.

As in any new relationship, the early stages are beautiful and whatever faults are found, can easily be overlooked. Over time these minor problems can become annoyances until one of two things happen. Either you decide to live with the annoyance or it bothers you so much that you decide to change. I have chosen to live with these annoyances, each day I am adapting and learning. Most of my annoyances, are in fact my fault as I am still new to the Apple world and still have a Windows mentality of doing things.

A few of these annoyances are when I try to close an application, when in fact all I’m doing is closing a window within the application. Minimizing when I know I should hide the application/window. If anyone reading this blog can explain to me the point of minimizing, I would love to hear it because to me, minimize in OSX is one step above useless. However, my biggest annoyance and this is one that I will never get to used to, is the on the fly system changes. I understand why I have to enter a password before I want to make changes to the system; but I can not for the life of me understand why changes to the system are committed without any confirmation. I find this practice dangerous, as the user can click on something without even realizing it and have the change applied.

When I look back at how I managed my technological lifestyle, I ask myself what I was thinking.  Prior to unifying under the Apple banner, my laptop was Windows-based, my cellphone was Android, and my on the go machine was an iPad. Ensuring that all the information I needed, updated everywhere was somewhat of a bitch. Although I did use Google Calender to keep track of meetings, I always had to log into it, to see what was happening when I was on my laptop. Now that I have iCal, at the click of a button I can see what I have coming up for the coming week. I have my personal and professional Gmail calendars, and my Facebook calendars all in one place.

Regardless of the above mentioned annoyances, I am absolutely loving my Apple experience. If I had only known before what life could be like if all my tech gadgets were under the same banner, I would have made the move years ago. It’s no longer me working to get my technology to get along with each other; but my technology seamlessly getting along without any input from me. I’m no longer embarrassed to go sit in a café and do some blogging, surfing or whatever on the net. I wasn’t embarrassed by the kind of laptop I was using (HP with Windows 7); but rather the mere fact it sounded like a vacuum cleaner.

I’m hoping this love-in with my tech will go on and on. I am now looking at new products I can get from Apple that will enhance my user experience, like an Apple TV or Time Capsule. Although everything Apple TV can offer me I can do through my XBox 360, the last vestige of Microsoft technology in my home. I’m not sure I can justify buying a Time Capsule, when I can buy a WiFi drive for half the price and do my backups that way. The only thing I have done, is add 4 more gig of RAM. I probably should have gotten 8Gb of RAM when I bought the computer; but for some reason chose not to. I don’t need the extra RAM at the moment; but rather I’m planning for the future. It was spend 100$ now to upgrade from 4 to 8 or spend 200$ or more in a few years time.

Regardless of what more I may want, buying something new is not something I foresee in the near future. I am just going to sit back for the moment and enjoy what I have and continue each day to learn more and more how good life is when one is unified under one tech banner.

The Good, The Bad, and The Getting There

Well, it’s been a little over a week I have been a proud Mac user. Well, I don’t know about proud, because of some of the things I have to search for answers to, are things I can do blindfolded, with one hand tied behind my back, dangling 50 feet in the air if I was on a Windows machine. I feel as if I’m learning to use a computer all over again.

I have finally begun to master the gigantic Macbook Pro trackpad and no longer move the cursor by mistake while I’m typing. I’ve learned that instead of holding my hands straight in front of the keyboard, I have to type on the computer at an angle. The right hand is at about 5 o’clock and the left is at about 7 o’clock. I wish there was a quick way of turning off the trackpad for those times I don’t need it, when it becomes more of a hindrance than anything else.

Although I find the trackpad to be on the large side, I do see the benefits of such a large pad. It allows for many more movements to be configured on to it, for performing routine tasks. I have configured the trackpad for pretty much all my swiping needs. Well, I’ve configured it as much as I’m allowed to by Apple. I must tip my hat to Apple for the little videos that go with each type of trackpad configuration. I thought it was ingenious to show people exactly how to move, rather than describing how to move.

I’m still moving between desktops when all I want to do is move one word to the right or left. This might be my biggest frustration to date. Sometimes I even look down at the keyboard before doing the move one word left or right and there is a part of me saying don’t touch the “control” key; but there is 20 odd years of experience over-riding that urge and when I tap the “CTRL” key, I curse myself for having not listened to my little voice.

I still miss some of the applications I used under Windows. I’m still surprised, there are so many applications not available to Mac users. Even though I have been able to find some, for the most part the ones I really want are not available. I don’t think it is a problem with the App Store, as the small programs I have downloaded did not come from the App Store. I find Microsoft Office for Mac  similar to the Windows version; but with some of the best parts taken out of it. I sometimes think I’m using MS Office lite. I tried to use Open Office; but I can sum it up in three words, I hated it.

I absolutely love the batter life on a MacBook Pro. Over the course of the Xmas holidays I spent more time with it unplugged than plugged in. I could not believe how long I could go between charges. I also like that I can lie in bed and have the backlit keyboard. My fiancée can sleep and I can see what I am typing and don’t have to peck and poke at keys in the dark, hoping I hit the right one. I don’t understand why more laptop makers did not do this. It seems like such a brilliant idea. However, I’m not a fan of the keyboard itself. I do a lot of touch typing and I am very particular about my keyboards. Whenever I would go laptop shopping, the first thing I would test, was the feel of the keyboard. The problem with Macs, is that all the keyboards are the same. I could go with a wireless Bluetooth keyboard because I do like the feel of that keyboard; but that seems kind of silly.

I’m still amazed how easy it is to install applications downloaded outside the App Store. There’s no next, click here, click there, click on that, no click for me puppet, click for me. Just drag and drop into Applications. Could anything be simpler? Never mind I had to confirm with two people how to delete an application on a Mac. I thought the first guy was pulling my leg, until I asked my brother how to uninstall something and he told me just drag it to the trash. Wow, wow, wow. WOW!!!

There are a couple of features I’m still not sure exactly what they are for. For example, what is the point of Launchpad? Any application you may want to run can easily be launched using Spotlight. I know what Dashboard is for; but it seems like a waste being its own page. It would be better if the widgets could go directly on the desktop.

If I had to rate my experience after one week, I think I would give it an 8 out of 10. The two lost points are because sometimes I feel Apple wants me to do things their way. Apple limits customization to changing the desktop background only. Points are also lost because of frustration learning to things the Apple way. I know these frustrations in time will give diminish; but for now they are present and accounted for on an almost daily basis.

The Frustrations of Learning

As simple and quick the initial out of box experience was with my MacBook. This statement can not be said for what has followed.

Searching

The first thing I do when I buy a new computer is transfer the files from the old machine to the new one. I do a search on the old hard drive for specific file extensions and copy all that correspond. My old hard drive is formatted in NTFS. What this means, is while OS X is able to read the drive, it can’t search it because it is not writable. So what was normally  15 minutes of copying from one drive to another when I used Windows, is now turning into long and arduous task.

I have discovered after doing some research that I have a couple of options available to me. I can spend 15$ on a piece of software that will mount the drive in such a way that it becomes writable, thus allowing OS X to search the drive or I can modify some configuration files. I have no intention of spending 15$ nor am I going to start modifying configuration files on an OS that I know very a little about it. It took me a couple of years to feel confident enough to go into the registry on my Windows machine, so modifying configuration files on a brand new machine is not going to happen in the near future.

By being able to buy an application or modifying configuration files, to mount the drive properly is something in my opinion Apple should allow natively. Is there some reason they don’t think people should be able to write to a drive in NTFS? If so, I’d be curious as to what it is.

Shortcuts

Before I vent on keyboard shortcuts in OS X, I will say, ⌘+Spacebar to open Spotlight for searching, opening an application in a couple of key strokes is absolutely amazing. It might just become my new BFF or would that be BKF. That being said, there are some shortcuts from Windows that I miss or others that are similar between the systems; but act in very different ways.

Keyboard minus cryptic symbols

Keyboard minus cryptic symbols

The first frustration I had with trying to learn keyboard shortcuts, is they would show me cryptic symbols that were not to be found on the keyboard, except for the ⌘ symbol. As for , , , and ^, I had no idea that they meant. I don’t know about anyone else’s Apple keyboard; but mine is pictured on the right. I don’t see any of those cryptic symbols on the keys they are supposed to represent. If someone wants to know, the symbols represent Option (), Caps Lock (), Shift (), and Control (^). What I find even more mind-boggling, was why on earth Apple chose the ^ symbol for control, when the very same symbol is  on top of the number 6 key?

Instead of showing me something like ⌘T, just write ALT-CMD-T or if that is too much work, put the symbols on top of the keys they are supposed to represent. A pull down menu in application made for Apple looks like Egyptian hieroglyphics.

I also have a problem with ALT-Tab or as Apple writes it, +Tab. In Windows, this key combination scrolls you through your open applications and whichever one you stop on, that is what come to the front. On an Apple machine, I do not understand the point of using ⌘+Tab, it seems to work similarly; but does it the Apple way. If I have minimized the application, rather than hid it (⌘+H), I just get the top menu off the application and the only way to get to the application is to go down to the dock and click on it. Really? Minimize might be the most useless thing I’ve seen in quite some time if it hinders you in that way.

The “CTRL+Key” was my go to key in Windows. However, in OS X this key combination doesn’t always act the way I want it to. My brain hasn’t learned yet, that it can’t do everything that it did before, even if it can still do some of the things it did in Windows. In the meantime, when I want to jump a word left or right, I end up jumping a desktop in the direction I push or I’m constantly asked if I want to leave a page I’m working on. Which while writing this blog, has happened more times than I care to remember. The problem I’m having is that sometimes I need to use  “⌘+Key” to do something, other times it is “alt/option+key” to do something, and sometimes it is “control+key” to do something. While in Windows it was always CTRL+Key. Isn’t just having one key like CTRL+Key, do all the work a simpler way of doing things?

If anyone reading this, needs to learn about OS X shortcuts, you should have a look at http://www.danrodney.com/mac/.

Applications

There are quite a few applications that I used while in my Windows world, that are not available under OS X. If they don’t exist, I have to find their equivalent; but some of them don’t always seem to work quite as well as what I had in Windows. For example, I was quite surprised that Google does not have a native chat program for Apple users. Other applications that I used to simplify my daily tasks, like mail checking without having Outlook or webmail page open, don’t exist.

Mail
The native mail program that comes with OS X, has its good points and its bad points. I do like the fact that I can just enter in my email address and it can configure the rest for me. This one single point, is amazing, as you don’t have to search for what your POP and SMTP server names are. I can’t believe that didn’t exist under Windows. For all that I like about it, I do not like that for certain accounts it constantly asks for my password. It asked it so often, that I had to modify the Keychain Access for those accounts; in my opinion that is a security flaw as to stop this, I had to grant all applications unlimited access to these accounts.

Firewall
The Firewall that comes with OS X works and doesn’t work at the same time. All non-Apple applications that I am allowing to accept incoming connections from the internet do not cause a problem when I open them. Ironically, every time I open iTunes, the firewall asks me if I want to allow iTunes.app to accept incoming connections. Each time I accept it and have verified that it is in the allow list.  You might wonder why I would want to turn on my firewall, when my router should protect me from the outside world. Well, I move around a lot with my laptop and access networks that I have little or no confidence in. If I can add one more bit of protection, I’ll take it.

Anti-Virus
One thing I’m at a crossroads with, is anti-virus. Using Windows, I wouldn’t dream of not having an anti-virus; but after speaking with my brother, he said he doesn’t have one and never has had one. I’m not sure if I’m ready to surf the net without one. In the end I wasn’t able to throw caution to the wind and have decided to install one. Better safe than sorry.

Saving
My biggest beef by far is the way files are saved. It took me a while to figure out that I was not obliged to save in one of the root folders. I have worked on various operating systems and this is the first time I was not given a tree structure view or at least a clear way of choosing what folder I wanted to save to. However, now that I have it figured out, it is more a former annoyance; but every time I save something, I think about the initial frustration I had.

Other Frustrations

I already mentioned I try to do as much with a keyboard as possible; but as part of the change from Windows to OS X, I am trying to use the track pad more, as it seems to be what Apple wants me to do. I have no problem with Apple trying to steer me in that direction; but I do not like the way the pad is configured. I had to re-train my brain to learn that on a web page, down was up and up was down. On webpages, scrolling right is to go back a page and scrolling left is to go forward. It feels unnatural, until I realized that was how the iPad was set up. However, on a computer it just seems weird. Why can’t Apple let me choose what direction I want to swipe or scroll in for things to happen? Is it because Apple does not think a person is capable of making this choice for their-self or is it because they  want everyone to be the same and conform to the Apple way?

I’m not a big fan the way applications are installed. Every time I install something I have to enter my password. This reminds of Vista; but unlike Vista I was able to turn this annoying confirmation dialogue off, unfortunately due to the nature of OS X or an unwillingness on the part of Apple to let people do what they want, I can’t turn this off. However, each “padlock” I open, I do not close it when I’m done. At least I can save myself the time of having to type my password each time I want to modify a setting. If I’m considered the administrator of my machine and I need a password to log on, I should not have to be entering a password each and every time that I want to install or modify something on they system.

Overall

As easy as the first few minutes with the MacBook was and how easy it was to have up and running, the following days learning the system, have been somewhat frustrating. I know many of these frustrations are linked to my learning a new OS and not being able to have things like I did under Windows. I expected this; but I did not think it would be so radical. However, not one of the frustrations I’ve experienced is a deal breaker and I plan on plodding along. Even though I do have complaints about the system, I am enjoying it. We’ll see what happens now that everything is installed and setup.