Takin’ A Bite Out of the Apple: The Little Things

As much as an earlier blog of mine, bestowed praise upon the MacBook Pro, I will admit to a few annoyances with the laptop. Annoyances I do not think I will be able to get over, no matter how long I keep the MBP.

For years, when I would buy a new laptop, I would get one with a 17 inch screen, as I found this an ideal size for a laptop. My first foray into an Apple laptop is a 13 inch MacBook Pro. The difference 4 inches can make on a viewing area is incredible. I find myself having to increase the viewing size of some web pages, emails, or even when using Excel. I am ever so grateful I didn’t go with my first instinct to get an 11 inch MBP. I think if I had gotten one that small, I would have tossed it out the window, within hours of bringing it home.

The problem with the screen size, is not so much with web sites; but rather when working in Word or Excel. I have to increase my viewing size in Word to 125%, just so I can read what I’m typing. When I had a larger screen in Excel, I would often lower the viewing percentage, normally to 85%, so having to dramatically increase it, is a new phenomenon for me. Almost every email I receive, I am increasing the viewing size. Excel, I have found that viewing at 150% gives me the right viewing size. However, this is not something I can blame on Apple or anyone else for that matter. The screen size was my choosing and I will live it, because the only alternative would be to replace it with a MBP with a larger screen and I’m not ready to do that after 6 weeks. I could buy a monitor; but I don’t think I could justify the cost for the amount of time I would use it.

My biggest displeasure with the MBP, is the keyboard. It might be the worst keyboard I have ever had the misfortune to use. I find it stiff and not very conducive to touch typing. When I say touch-typing, I mean I type about 90 words a minute with an error rate of 6 words. The touch-typing numbers are from when I was using a Windows-based laptop. I am still doing around 90 words a minute; but I my error rate has almost doubled, if not tripled. The problem I am having, is that I find I have to really push down on the keys to get them to register. The longer, I have to spend holding a key down, the slower I type. I often find plenty of red squiggly lines in my paragraphs, because letters didn’t get touched long enough. Before moving to Apple, most of my errors were spelling mistakes, reversed letters, misspelled words; but now on top of those errors, I am getting the missing letter typo as well. In fact, while typing this paragraph, I have had to re-type certain words because for it wasn’t picked up when I was typing. What I should have done is just left the paragraph as it was with the missing letter errors for everyone to see and just corrected my spelling errors.

I really ca not hide my utter disappointment in the keyboard. In the past, when I was looking for a new laptop, the first thing I did was test the keyboard and often would pass on a laptop, simply because I did not like the feel of the keyboard. The problem with an Apple laptop, is I can configure or at least select my screen size, amount of RAM, HD size,  and a few other bells and whistles, there is no choice in keyboards. I found all the keyboards as being the same, across the different models. I could use a Bluetooth keyboard and I think it is a great keyboard, that I use it from time to time with my iPad; but I don’t want to have to lug around a laptop and a keyboard with me.

I would have preferred if Mountain Lion would allow me to show known file extensions by default, and not hiding them when I save a file. I like to see my “pdf”, “doc”, “xls”, “txt” at the end of files. I should not have to uncheck the “Hide file extension” box each time I save a file. I have selected the option in settings to show file extensions; but then it shows me alllllll the file extensions and for lack of a better word, uglies up Launchpad. I don’t need to see after every application “.app” in Launchpad.

I have tried over the past few weeks to give the Mail application a chance; but I think it might be the biggest piece of doggie excrement ever pre-installed on a system. If I could go more than one day without it asking me for a password to either send or receive an email, I would take back all I just said about it. I just tried to send an email via Gmail and received a pop-up asking me to enter my password. Really? All of a sudden after all these weeks of using it to send email, I have to enter my Gmail password again? So, I did a little test. I closed the application, re-launched it, hit send on my email again, and without even blinking an eye my mail was sent. Uhhhhhh, WTF????!!! I’m sorry; but I really don’t know how else to express my dismay over this application. I would use Thunderbird, if I could get it to show up in the Notification Center; but as I can’t, I suck it up with Mail.

Some of my complaints are minor faults; but are faults none the less. The file extension request is an esthetic thing  and more a user preference than anything else, so I can ignore that annoyance. The size of the monitor, could be solved by buying a bigger laptop, so that one is on me; but the other two problems I have, come directly from Apple and its design team. I’m not sure if others have had the same complaints as I do with regards to the keyboard; but the typing experience on an MBP keyboard is horrid. As for Mail asking for your account password almost daily I know is a common problem, as I have read in plenty of forums people complaining about this problem and have done so for a few years already.

For a company that wants to make sure the user has the best experience possible, I would think someone would have found a way to fix the Mail problem years ago and would have done something about the keyboard issue. However, one thing I have learned from reading in the forums is that Apple will fix your minor problems; but when it comes to OS issues, they are very slow to react, if they react at all.

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.

Windows Users vs Mac Users

Windows vs Apple

The first thing I have noticed early in my life as an Apple user, is that it is much more difficult to customize the visual aspects of the OS. In Windows there are hundreds and hundreds of sites, that allow me to download different themes for desktops, icons, points, etc. It is one of the things I always did with my new machines and even did from time to time. What I’m seeing with Apple, is theme modifications is much more difficult as it appears OS X is getting closer and closer to what can be called iOS. From what I have been able to gather, even as recently as Lion, there were many different ways to personalize your machine. However, in the latest version of OS X, Mountain Lion, although some of these personalization can still be applied, most of what could be modified, no longer can.

Another difference I find between the users of the two OS’ is the forum experience. Although I haven’t mentioned it before in my postings, my distaste for Apple products was not solely based on my previous experience with a Macintosh Classic. It also stemmed from the people who used Apple’s products. I found and still do find, Apple users have a sort of  arrogance and superiority when you talk to them or ask them questions. I’ve noticed this whether I was reading some tech website or when I’m in a forum looking for the answer to a question I have. I’m not saying all Apple users are like that; but I find the expression “The Cult of the Mac” very fitting for Apple users and not a term I would ever dream of hearing about a Windows user. In my opinion, the major difference in the two types of users is Apple users love their gadgets, while Windows users, use their gadgets.

As a new user of Apple’s OS X, I find myself often searching the web to find out how to do certain things. My low point, at least from a personal point of view, was when I searched how to easily rename a file. In Windows, tap the F2 key and type the name you want. I would have never guessed in a million years that in OS X, tapping the Enter key on a file, would allow me to change a name. Hitting Enter is so engrained in my psyche that it opens a file/folder, that I would never think to use that to rename a file. However, that is neither here nor there.

While there are many people in the various Apple forums who are helpful and answer questions with precision and sometimes patience, I find there are just as many if not more, who seem to have an arrogance in their answer. The single most popular answer I have seen to the more technical questions, is “Why do you want to do that”? Does it really matter why the person wants to do it? Even after the person answers why they want to do what they want to do, they are more often than not faced with multiple people explaining why they should not. If people are warned about the consequences of doing something and they still want to do it, that should not be yours, mine, or anyone else’s problem. The adage of buyer beware should apply here.

In one of the forums, a question was asked about needing the default root password to modify a configuration file. The first answer the person received was, the aforementioned “Why”. The person explained what he wanted to do and once again asked if anyone knew the default root password. Rather than explain to the person why you should not log in as root and explain to him the dangers of modifying configuration files. The person received yet again another response of “You shouldn’t use it”. The original poster explained that he was a UNIX and Linux Administrator, he has been working on these OS’s for years and was quite familiar with the dangers of using root for anything. One would think at this point, someone would have either private messaged him the password to avoid less knowledgeable people from getting it or just given him the response. Instead he was told again what the dangers of using root and that he should use other methods to modify the file. He then explained that he had tried different methods; but none let him save the file after modification because of a problem with rights. The discussion on the inherent evils of having the root password went on for another two pages, by which, I no longer saw the OP posting in the forum.

Even sometimes the simplest questions get the most asinine of answers. I was searching what the different symbols meant for doing keyboard shortcuts. The first answer I came across, was in response to a similar question. The reply was simply RTFM. The OP didn’t even bother to respond and probably did what I did, look somewhere else. The problem with this kind of answer, is that there is no manual that comes with your new laptop. You get a few brief instructions how to start-up the machine and configure for internet access; but after that you are on your own to find the answers.

If I compare all the above to the experience of asking and having questions answered in forums dedicated to Windows users, I can sum it up as such. Your question is asked and an answer is given. No one asks why you would want to do what you want to do or questions your motives. If clarification was needed, a more detailed answer was given. Easy Peasy.

I think the forum experience, can go a long way to improving someone’s perception of a product and its ease of use. It is in these forums where people like myself go for answers and not disapproving remarks or comments asking why someone would want to do something. Although the experience in the Apple forums, is drastically different from that of  Windows, does not take away from the Apple experience. The internet can sometimes be seen as the bullies domain. You can sit behind your screen, say whatever you want and know there will be little to no consequences to what was written. It’s just a shame that sometimes I have to go to a few sites or pages to the find the answer I’m looking for. It’s more frustrating than anything else; but not something I blame on Apple, just a few bad seeds.