Trying Windows Vista

Over the weekend I decided to test Windows Vista on my old PC. The install and hardware support were better than I expected considering the several articles I’ve seen and the coworker who assured me that my nVidia nForce2 motherboard (Abit NF7S) chipset was totally unsupported under Vista.

The install was fairly straightforward. Since I have an MSDN subscription and this is my .NET development machine, I could legally download the Vista ISO from the MSDN download site. The install was straightforward, and while nVidia does not offer drivers that can be downloaded, the NIC was supported in the original install and most of the other hardware worked after a trip to Windows update. The raid controller and one other device were still listed as unknown in device manager, and the audio was labeled as unsupported but moved to the audio section. I don’t have any speakers connected, so I can’t say if it worked or not, but a PCI sound card could always be added if needed. At least the hard drives were running in UDMA mode. Overall the system ran pretty well, and I was able to use the Aero interface.

I installed a few apps. My antivirus program failed to install. Visual Studio 2003 is officially unsupported and this Microsoft KB article didn’t provide a lot of confidence. Office seemed ok. Synergy sort of works but was too annoying to actually use.

A while back I posted about my use of Synergy to share my keyboard and mouse between my iMac and PC. I’ve been very happy with the solution for the last few months with XP on the PC. You can configure Synergy to start at system startup or when you log in, and I use the system startup option so that I can use my Mac keyboard to log into the system. With Vista, Synergy is not able to configure itself to run at system startup. At first I thought this would be my worst annoyance, until I got my first of the famous “cancel or accept” prompts that the Apple commercial spoofs so well. Every time I got the prompt, synergy would quit working and I’d have to use the PC mouse to click accept. Then, after I got rid of the prompt, Synergy wait about five minutes before it would resume working.

After a days worth of exploring Vista, I reinstalled XP.

New Mac in the house

Yesterday we stopped at CompUSA to look for a new MP3 player for my wife. We are going on a trip in a few weeks and she wanted something cheap to listen to on the flight, and we were thinking of a 2GB Sandisk or something comparable for around $100 or so. The idea of cheap didn’t work out so well, we ended up with a 80GB video iPod and a Macbook Pro. Nice impulse buy, huh? We had been planning on her buying a new laptop soon anyways, and she’d been leaning towards switching to a Mac since I’ve had the iMac for a few months. They currently have 5% off of all Apple products, and I was able to get some extra off of an open box laptop, so we ended up a little cheaper then if we had used the corporate purchase plan at the Apple store.

Mac switcher tip – Two for one special

Apple should produce a nice ergonomic keyboard. Since they don’t, I’ve resorted to using a Microsoft wireless natural keyboard and mouse. Microsoft has Mac drivers that add a new control panel to the system preferences, and other than my needing to remember that the Alt key is really my Command key everything is good. Except for the first couple times the Mac went to sleep. With the original Apple keyboard I would press a key or move the mouse to wake from sleep, but this won’t work with the Microsoft keyboard. I needed a workaround.

The first tip is that you can wake a sleeping IR enabled Mac with your Apple Remote Control. If your Mac is sleeping and unresponsive to keyboard and mouse input, this is the thing to try before you resort to power cycling it.

The second tip is to configure your Mac so it gets as close to sleep mode as possible without really sleeping. I have mine set to shut down the monitor after an hour and to idle the hard drives whenever possible, but to never sleep. This is configured in the System Preferences->Energy Saver panel. Since hard drive life is my real concern with the Mac always being on, this configuration lets me get the most important benefits of sleep mode while still responding to the keyboard.

Mac switcher tip – SynergyKM

Synergy - mac/pc

Today I have another tip for people switching to a new Mac. Synergy is an open-source application that will let you share your keyboard and mouse across multiple systems. I’ve had pretty good luck with it in the past, so I thought I’d give it a try on the Mac. After a little Google searching, I found an OS X front-end for Synergy called SynergyKM that adds an option in the system preferences to manage it.

As you can see in the picture above, I have the iMac with a second monitor, and a third monitor for my old Windows PC. When I move the mouse across the screens it automatically switches to whichever computer controls that screen.

Mac Home and End key behavior

During the first few days of using a Mac at home I had a few frustrating periods of confusion when discovering things work differently than what I expected.

For example, on a Mac the home key takes you to the beginning on the document you have open and the end key takes you to the end of the document. The Mac zealots who stuck with Apple through the bad years and never spent much time using Windows, KDE, Gnome, CDE, or any other windowing system might think this is normal, but to anyone who has used anything other than a Mac (that I know of, at least) for the last 15 years or so will find this behavior to be unexpected. It’s not so much that the way it works is unintuitive; it does make as much sense as the other interpretation of what home and end mean. It’s just not what people expect after getting used to other systems. What is not intuitive is the keystroke needed to perform the action these keys would perform on other systems. To go to the beginning or end of the current line you need to use the Command key with the left or right arrow. Apple may promote that their stuff “just works” but without my friend Google to help me figure this out I’d still think Apple had not implemented an easy way to do it.

This kind of thing does work the other way as well. Now when I am using my PC at work I frequently try to double click on the title bar of documents to minimize them to the taskbar, only to see the window maximize to full screen instead.

Finally bought a Mac

I finally made the plunge. About 10 months ago I posted about why I had not purchased a Mac. Well, now I finally bought one. It’s a 20” iMac with the Core 2 Duo processor. I actually got a fairly good deal using the corporate employee purchase program (EPP) at the local Apple store, and got a free all-in-one HP printer/scanner/fax machine after a rebate.

With about 3 weeks of using the Mac , so far I’m happy with my purchase. I have had a few problems, mostly resulted from my lack of knowledge of how to do various tasks in OS X that I can do without much thought in Windows. For example, in Windows I commonly create new text files to work with by navigating to where I want them stored, right clicking, and choosing new -> text file. I have not found a similar feature on the Mac and am now creating new files from within textedit. I’m sure there are other ways to do it, but I have not found them yet. Other problems I doubt are my fault. Mail.app crashed a couple times while retrieving email on its initial launch but restarted correctly on its second try. This problem occurred frequently during the first few days and somehow automagically fixed itself.

It is taking me a little time to figure out good freeware apps for things like editing html and php files. I’m using Taco HTML Edit for now, unless something better comes along. I might switch to Eclipse with the HTML and PHP plugins. I know its kind of overkill to use Eclipse as a fancy text editor, especially since I will want to use Xcode for any Java software development, but I love Eclipse. The biggest frustration so far has been dealing with the fact that I know the set of utilities I install on Windows boxes to help with my daily tasks, but need to find equivalent apps for the Mac.

I’ve figured out how to enable Apache and install PHP, x11, OpenOffice, Xcode, Stuffit Expander, and a few other things. I’ve also successfully moved my purchased iTunes music and Audible.com audio books over. Everything was been nice and easy once I figured out the basics.

I initially thought I had a single button mouse, but I’ve now figured out how to configure the mouse it let me right-click. There are context menus for everything, why is the mouse not configured to use them by default? Even with the mouse configured correctly I had problems with it mis-interpreting right-clicks as left-clicks when I was working quickly with it, and I really missed my ergonomic keyboard, so I replaced the keyboard and mouse with a Microsoft wireless ergonomic set. Microsoft even provided drivers so the fancy multimedia keys on the keyboard even control iTunes. The Apple keyboard is definitely more stylish looking, but I chose function over appearance on this one.

One application that has been very helpful so far is CrossOver Mac, which allows many Windows applications to run in OS X. I’m using the beta copy now but expect to purchase it when it’s finally released. CrossOver is a nice commercial version of the Wine project. I’ve used Wine on Linux in the past, but Crossover is very easy to use. Obviously it will be nice to eventually switch to all native Mac applications, but for now running the Windows versions of Office 2003 and Photoshop are saving me the cost of buying new versions. I have a few shareware and freeware applications I use frequently as well, and most work fine with CrossOver.

One thing I’m extremely impressed with is the lack of crap. If you buy a consumer machine from HP, Dell, or any of the other big Wintel companies you get all kinds of preinstalled crap pointing you to subscription services. Sure the Mac tries to push you to .Mac and iTunes, and has a trial version of Microsoft’s Office for Mac but it’s nothing like dealing with a new machine with Windows preinstalled.

My first projects that will test my ability function on the Mac are redesigning internetfun.com and creating a few practice Cocoa apps to learn my way around Xcode and Objective-C.

Schools out for good!

Last weekend was my graduation ceremony. I now have a Bachelors of Science degree in Computer Science. I think it’s pretty cool, but now I have some serious thinking to do about my career.

I should have worked to complete my degree immediately after high school, but I wasn’t really interested in it at the time. I attended community college for a couple years, but never finished. The funny part of my not completing my time at community college is that I was originally majoring in whatever their computer programming degree was at the time. I took a class on systems analysis where the professor told us all that with our education we would all end out with IT jobs working for one of the major insurance companies or banks that have big offices here in Columbus, Ohio. Knowing that there was absolutely no way I wanted to spend my life working at that type of company, I changed my major and within a short period of time had given up on finishing even an associate’s degree. So today, 15 or so years, I find myself completing graduating as an adult, with a degree in Computer Science, and having worked for about eight years in IT for one of the banks I wanted to avoid so much, and now hoping a computer related degree will get me out of the same job I once feared it would lead me to.

Last week I had an initial interview with a really small company that seems to have a good idea for a suite of products that should fill a need in a fairly large niche market. This week I have a second interview, this time with the president of the company. This seems to be the kind of opportunity I have been hoping for; a company small enough that I can feel like my contribution is significant to their success, and with a business plan that seems to be well thought out and likely to succeed. There are a lot of details that attract me to this company, and if I was younger I would definitely be ready to jump at the chance to be an early part of a growing technology company like this. But when I was younger I also didn’t have a wife and son who relied on me. I’m leaning towards accepting if they make a good offer, but I have a lot more to consider now than I did a few years ago.