From PC to Mac, continued

posted in: Publishing, Weblogs | 16

It's been quiet around here, except for occasional exclamations of wonder and some muttering. If this post is semi-coherent, forgive me and chalk it up to too much time in training mode.

Getting a Mac through its initial paces turns out to be exceptionally easy. Attempting to leap across the chasm to full professional functionality resembles landing in a foreign country with a language related to, but completely different from, one's native tongue.

The overall take is good.

Long-term plans

My goals are shifting as I explore the possibilities. I decided to obtain the machine to hopefully sidestep the massive problems I've been having with the layout software. Adobe tech support has not been able to solve them. I suspect at this point that they are resulting from resource allocation conflicts occurring because I've been running under Windows. They have not been solved by multiple, repeated drastic measures, like installing and uninstalling software so many times I lost count months ago, wiping the hard drive and starting over (several times), or purchasing a new PC and going through all of that again.

I acquired a minimal Mac (though not a miniMac) as a desperation move to get my small publishing company out of a total and dangerous stall. The plan has been to put some sort of layout software on the new platform and keep moving, seeing whether I can get past the logjams and back into business.

Adobe appears to have revised its previous policy of not permitting cross-platform upgrades. The information that this can now be accomplished is hidden several layers deep in the company's site, but it exists. At least for the moment. Ah, yes, the service note that can be found by digging into and reading many pages almost randomly is dated 11/17/2008. Sometimes I feel like I'm wasting my time going and looking at these companies' sites in such detail, but sometimes it pays off.

I'd been thinking I would go back to QuarkXPress, which this year has more liberal upgrade and cross-platform use policies than Adobe does (and than Quark has had in the past). And built-in support for Asian languages, which could be handy at any moment. I may still get Quark in the foreseeable future. However, my brain already feels like it's being put through a food processor because of the change in operating systems and it's going to be challenging enough to cope with an upgrade to a familiar program. Yes, I used to be moderately fluent in Quark, but it's been five years. . . .

Right now I'm thinking I'll stick with the Adobe software for which I already have reflexes in place, and figure out a way to make the layout tasks easier by hooking up the Mac laptop to the larger monitor (which is Mac-compatible) and the Wacom tablet (essential) and maybe the keyboard I'm familiar with.

But that's all future work.

Back to some surprises that have arisen during the PC-to-Mac change:

Easter eggs

In computer lingo, an "Easter egg" is an "intentional hidden message or feature" in software or a book or the like (mostly but not all electronic objects). Having gotten a Mac in order to run publishing software, I feel like I'm already discovering Easter eggs galore in the universe of this machine: capacities that would have been worth the shift all on their own, if I'd known.

Friends have been suggesting software that runs only on Mac and looks nearly magical, if it does what it says it will.

Scrivener has been built to handle long, complex documents. Almost every writing project I engage in is long and complex. This software looks like it will become my new favorite. The only thing it won't be good for is projects that I'm editing for outside clients where I need to keep track electronically of the changes I'm making. Over the years, I have learned how to keep a massive project in my head while moving parts of it around and rewriting as I go—simultaneous awareness of both macro and micro levels (as I think of this, I'm usually carrying around a dozen or so such projects at a time). It's a good set of skills to have, but one that sometimes requires Excedrin. Scrivener looks like it will do a bunch of the heavy lifting at the macro level, leaving large portions of my brain under less stress. It can keep track of drafts, notes, completed chapters, research, images. . . . I have several big projects to load into it already. They're large enough that I may get them all there by some time next spring. One at a time. Thanks, Jenny G. in Ireland, for the tip.

Journler looks like it's fantastic for recording random thoughts that I won't want to lose, and helping coalesce ideas, and assembling smaller projects. I have a lot of random thoughts. It would be good to be able to find them again more easily.

And Quicksilver is a utility that will save a lot of keystrokes. For example, it can be used to launch programs . . . or to group-resize photographs for the blog. And lots more. I won't learn how much more very fast, but it will be put to use soon and I'll learn its capacities gradually.

Thanks to Corey in Seattle for both of those leads.

Now, I haven't actually used any of this software yet, although I have downloaded and (more or less) installed the programs, and have provisionally opened them, and have gone through the tutorial for Scrivener, eyes wider with amazement at each screen.

Within the operating system itself (Mac OS X v. 10.5, known as Leopard) there is a feature called Spaces, that's like the separate desktops I had in the Linux build on my other laptop. Very nice for preventing operator overload on a system that's used for several different purposes. Open the space for writing Book A and all you see there are the tools you need to write that book. Shift to the space for mail and browsing and general computing work, and Book A is neatly out of sight, yet still easy to access, in its own space. And so on.

Another feature of OS X is called Exposé, a sort of simple little program that helps the operator deal with a gazillion open windows and find exactly the one that's needed.

There's a whole lot here. I've removed a bunch of things from the dock (combination start menu and task bar) to remind myself I don't have to master it all at once. Just enough to get the work done. Which means quite a lot of it.

The foundations

I'm still learning the Mac's basic operating processes. I've learned a bit about installing programs from the three above. It's easier on a Mac than on a PC, although it's apparently so easy that many resources don't describe how to do it. And so easy that someone coming from the world of Windows and Linux needs a little help to figure it out.

The Mac comes with an impressive array of software already installed for the fun stuff a person can do with computers: music, photos, movies, address book, browser, and the like.

iWork, which is Apple's own suite of office applications, has to be bought separately, but is a cinch to install. Now I have a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation program. I'm told they open and save to MS Office formats. I'm not sure they'll handle my Open Office documents directly, but I can save those as other formats before I bring them in. It'll just take some conversion time. (I remember when word processors could not read each other's formats at all.)

Programs discovered on the web apparently get downloaded as what are called DMG files, which are disk images, a concept I'm familiar with from Linux, but there the similarity ends. The DMG file gets "mounted" on the computer, as if it were a separate drive, and then you do something involving dragging it to the Applications folder, which should (and sometimes is) all you have to do . . . except sometimes it's a little more involved than that . . . and then you "eject" the disk image, and then, if you want to, also delete it from the computer, a point that's not remotely obvious unless you know it's obvious.  I'm not very good at this yet, which is why it probably sounds confusing. Yes, it's easier than PC installation and apparently doesn't usually require a reboot, or disabling and re-enabling the antivirus software. But it is NOT totally evident.

And I haven't figured out why there is now an alias (shortcut, to us PC types) of my entire Applications folder now located in a subfolder related to one of the new programs and I can't figure out how to get rid of it ("error 61" the last time I tried). Nor can a friend with many years of Mac experience.

I'll be visiting the Mac shop on Monday. It is sensibly closed for the holiday weekend.

Meanwhile, I have lots of other things to learn about this system.

Like, for example, user names and passwords. I've been having to carry my handwritten notebook full of this information around with me, which is hardly convenient. The Mac system is well thought out, and there's undoubtedly a miraculously easy solution to this problem. I've gotten as far as a niggling idea that it's called "keychain," but I haven't figured out how to implement it yet.

Then there is the built-in browser, Safari, which is in many ways like Firefox, the program I'm accustomed to and can install here if I like, although I'll give Safari a shot first. I can't figure out yet how to have Safari okay pop-ups for SOME web sites while leaving the pop-up blocker generally on, and I haven't located a TinyURL plug-in for it yet, although I have many of my frequently use sites bookmarked and I have my "sub with Bloglines" thingie installed. ("Thingie" is a technical term for "item that does what I want it to.")

Composing on the new Mac

I've just written this post entirely on the new MacBook. There aren't any pictures because I wanted to get a post up before I go digging into the next part of a help system or manual (leaning heavily on David Pogue's Switching to the Mac, Leopard Edition, and Mac OS X Leopard, both The Missing Manual series, and Robin Williams' Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard). I have great faith that the Mac will handle photos beautifully.

Wait, here's a photo. I just took it with the computer's built-in camera (which also does video). It took me about two minutes to figure out how to operate the program and the camera and to snap the picture.

It will take me quite a bit longer to figure out why it's a mirror image.

Photo 1

Emblematic of this whole process.

Acccomplishment: I've ALMOST quit hitting control-C and control-V for copy and paste. I've ALMOST got the hang of doing command-C and command-V instead.

Special thanks to Donna, Kris, Susan, and Kristi, as well as Jenny G. and Corey, for moral support and practical advice.

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16 Responses

  1. alice

    Long-time Mac user here…about the shortcut to the Applications folder inside a program folder, that one’s easy to explain. An application programmer, probably from Adobe (cuz they’re an easy target!), programmed something clever without looking at how users do things instinctively. A lot of disk images come with two things in them, the application package (a special kind of folder you’re no doubt familiar with from the Linux world) and a shortcut to the Applications folder. So, the way that they expect you to actually install the program is to drag the application package into that shortcut. However, what users have gotten conditioned to do is to drag the entire contents of the disk image that they downloaded into the Applications folder, which they may have in the sidebar or in a separate window.

    As a general rule of thumb, you can trash any shortcut (alias) that you don’t want. Just make sure that it is, in fact, an alias (highlight it, do Get Info, and make sure it’s a small file described as an alias!).

  2. Deborah Robson

    Oh, MANY thanks, Alice. This isn’t Adobe, but I have learned (from my books) that Adobe is apparently notorious for not designing its install procedures to Mac specs.

    Will play around with Get Info.

    Thanks, too, to Doug and Judy for private-comment encouragement.

    On I go. Oh, guess I’d better do yoga, eat breakfast, and walk the dogs first. I’ve been up for hours and what have I accomplished? Installed a widget on the dashboard that I now want to get rid of and can’t figure out how to. . . .

    BREAKFAST!

  3. Susanne

    That post, although it almost made my brain hurt to decipher it, sounds more optimistic than your posts have sounded in a while! I am hoping that this is the fix you require (and deserve) to keep your wonderful business going strong! Fingers crossed that it continues to provide you with the sanity that should be available to any normal person in their job!!!

  4. gayle

    You do sound happier. I hope it all continues to go as hoped, and in as smooth a fashion as possible.
    What a lot to assimilate!

  5. Nancy

    When I worked at a newspaper in Arizona, we used Macs…which were designed for journalism/publishing/etc. Adobe Illustrator did work. Quark was particularly excellent, though does require a learning curve. I really think you will Love your Mac. I wish I could afford a Mac (laptop) type…right now I’ll continue working with my PC as long as it works. My main problem with getting a Mac is that I want to see it in person rather than ordering online and the nearest Mac store is not easuly accessible.

  6. Deborah Robson

    Nancy, what you mention is exactly why I ended up at a local dealer in person, kicking tires, and then took one home. A friend had also brought her Mac into town and left it with me one evening while she was at a meeting. That was helpful as well.

  7. Lola LB

    I love Love LOVE Quickslivr! The dock has always driven me batty, and I hate having to go to Applications and looking through the hundreds of files in there to open the one app I need. I’ve barely explored 96% of th Quicksilvr features. I just discovered a manual at the suport group site (http://groups.google.com/group/blacktree-quicksilver/files) and there’s also a cheat sheet you can download.

    By the way, there’s a whole bunch of cheat cheets for whatever you need – this site (http://www.virtualhosting.com/blog/2008/the-cheat-sheet-cheat-sheet-top-100-lists-of-web-development-cheat-sheets/) is a great resource.

  8. Lola LB

    Oh, one other thing to watch out for – logic board issues with MacBooks. While MacBooks are certainly usable, some of the parts used in MacBooks are cheaper (hence, the lower prices) and sometimes problems do arise. I’m a programmer, so I go for the more expensive models for the speed and larger memory.

  9. Donna Druchunas

    I’ve had my MacBook for a while now and have not had any problems with it, although I did have some problems with my previous iBook.

    Anyway, I downloaded Scrivener and I love it. I’ve also been using WriteRoom, which is much simpler but provides a fullscreen window for writing. When I’m just writing from scratch, creating a first draft, it is absolutely wonderful. I love the Scrivener features for managing a big project. I’m importing the memoir that I’m working on and will be using it for all future books. The organizational features are fabulous.

  10. LynnH

    You go, grrl. Looks like it’s already clear you did the right thing.

    Crossing fingers that it keeps getting better. It’s your turn.

  11. janel

    hmmm… you make the world of macs sound so enticing. I haven’t had any problems with my Adobe software on my PC system and have watched your woes with a little trepidation. I am about to leave the academic world and have the opportunity to purchase last minute items at the academic price. You’ve now got me wondering if it would be worth it to jump to the world of mac. I probably won’t do it, since my system isn’t broken, but I am intrigued….

  12. Kristi aka FIberFool

    It’s fun to watch you progress. It renews my excitement for own computer (which I hid from for days this past weekend, not because the computer was giving me fits though). Drew uses Jounaler. You’ve got me intriqued about Spaces. I really got to make the time to get installed on my larger hard drive so I’m running 10.5 🙂

  13. Susan J Tweit

    Welcome to the Mac world! I’ve had a Mac since they first appeared back in the mid-80s because they work the way my mind works: meshing the two side of my brain, which truly are worth more when they work together! Because I have a Mac, I know how to record my own podcasts and radio commentaries; because I have a Mac, I can design and maintain my own web site (yup, working on a re-design now); because I have a Mac, I’m doing a new mini-brochure as a calling card to show all of my books; because I have a Mac, I think in type design instead of just in words. I know your brain is on overload right now, but I think you’ve made the right move. Keep exploring. . . .

  14. Kris

    Dearest Deb,
    The image is reversed because looking into the camera lens is like looking into a mirror! Now then, if you were to take a picture of one of your most excellent pups, it would come out right.

    You’re doing extremely well, and learning, as usual, at an exponential rate!

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