Apple / Enterprise / Innovation / Technology

Adventures of a Mac newbie

Having been a lifelong subscriber to the PC club, I recently switched to using a Mac. The following thoughts may be of use to others considering making the change…


Chapter 1: Scene setting
Three months ago I had never used a Mac except in PC World, and that was just for the novelty. I was a firm cynic, holding fast to the commonly-heard line that I was used to Windows and just wouldn’t be able to work as effectively with anything else. Don’t get me wrong- I’m certainly not a Microsoft evangelist and I’ve even dabbled with Linux in my time, but I was so used to PCs I just didn’t envisage the switch being simple.


Chapter 2: A change
Two and a half months ago, however, with a change in job, a bit of press-ganging from colleagues, and the necessity of carrying something lighter than a brick, I decided to go for it and switched to a 13″ MacBook Air for work.

BoxChapter 3: The first experience
“Oooooh the box” (someone at Apple puts a serious amount of thought into packaging) and “Ooooooh it’s so thin” (it is really thin) were my very first reactions. When I actually got down to using it, however, I’ll admit there was some confusion. This can probably be summarised as the ‘top 4 things most Mac newbies ask’:

Q1. How do I install things when there’s no CD drive?

A: Most things I needed were already installed, and there hasn’t yet been a single occasion when I’ve needed a CD drive. And if I really needed one I could buy an external drive.
Q2. Eugh, the connections are all wrong… how do I connect to an overhead projector or ethernet cable?
A: There were convertors hidden under a secret panel (ok not that secret, I just didn’t look properly) in the laptop box. It is a bit of a pain having to use convertors, but it’s certainly not been a deal breaker.
Q3. Where’s my right click gone?
A: A Mac-savvy colleague showed me how to configure the laptop to turn right click on.
Q4: How do I cope without Outlook?
A: At the moment Outlook calendar doesn’t sync with Google calendar. Microsoft say this issue will be resolved by June 2011, but in the mean time there are workarounds. A popular choice is PostBox with BusyCal for your calendar, though I’ve decided to stick with Gmail and use Nested Labels (enabled through Gmail Labs) for folders.
Q5. How do I connect to the wifi? (A 5th question just for me as I was being a bit special.)
A: It’s simple. The problem was that my internet wasn’t working.


Chapter 4: Time passes…
I’ll admit that it has taken me some time to get used to a few of the Mac quirks (such as the occasionally vibrating laptop case (according to the Apple Geniuses this is quite normal), the missing keyboard keys (what was the logic behind removing “#”? Probably the same logic that blocks Flash on iPhones…), Microsoft software’s lack of acceptable integration with Mac (I would avoid the software if I could, but there are certain products I need to work effectively with my colleagues), and the lack of a task bar (I’m still finding the Apple system slower to navigate than a PC)).

These things aside, however, I have found the Mac quite beautifully simple to pick up. No User Manual needed (which is good, because there’s isn’t really one)- just switch on and go (literally. It takes about 20 seconds for the Mac to start up). Neat features like Exposé and Spaces are great to show off (Linux offers similar features but for some reason Microsoft hasn’t yet deemed them necessary), and the little things like sound effects and bouncing dock icons amuse me (though I’m sure the novelty will wear off).

SsshhChapter 5: Secrets (or, A few gems I’ve found along the way)
There are a few nifty workarounds and pieces of free software that I’ve discovered or been recommended in the last few months that I’ve found really useful and which have made the transition to Mac that bit smoother:

Hidden goodies included in the Mac
Grab– located in Applications/ Utilities. Amongst other things, this allows you to do a timed print screen shot- i.e. screen image is taken 10 seconds after you say go.
DigitalColor Meter– located in Applications/ Utilities. This pinpoints what RGB colour something on your screen is. Very useful for photo editing or design work.
Auto-arrange doc and folder icons. It annoyed me that document icons weren’t lining up automatically.
Stickies– nothing new with these- they’re post-it notes that show up on your dashboard. I missed them when I thought they weren’t included though.

Useful add-ons
Chrome, and Awesome Screenshot for Chrome. Really handy screenshot programme.
Skype (for telephone calls), Spotify (for music), and VLC (for watching films).
DropBox. I keep all my files in DropBox so I can access them from anywhere, including on my phone.
WINE + PlayOnMac. Useful if  you need to test websites in IE6 and don’t have an additional Windows machine or want to install Windows on your Mac.
TextWrangler– a simple programme for looking at code.
TeamViewer. A great little programme that enables our company’s remote support to access and control my computer and tell me what I’m doing wrong!

BookChapter 6: A conclusion
I certainly wasn’t a convert to Mac straight away, and did find it very useful to be able to ask questions to Mac gurus during the first few weeks. The “aaah” moment for me came after about a month, when a plane I was due to travel on was delayed and I was able to whip out my super-light laptop and be working on it within 5 seconds; since then I think it’s fair to say that I have (much to my own surprise) joined the gang who “go Mac and never go back.” Without wishing to turn this in to too much of an Apple Fan-girl blog post (well, more than it already is), I do understand why I’ve never met a dissatisfied Mac user (or one who “did go back”). I can certainly say this- if I need to use a PC in a future job I will be grumbling about it!


If anyone else has made the transition and has other tips and tricks that would be useful to newbies please share them in the comments. Likewise, if you’re thinking about making the switch and have any questions get in touch- I will give a balanced view (honest!).


4 thoughts on “Adventures of a Mac newbie

  1. Having a “cheat sheet” on your desk, listing keyboard shortcuts to various applications and actions, will speed up your experience (ensuring you find everything faster on Mac over PC). You can also make your own keyboard shortcuts to actions you make regularly.

    An interesting point you make is admitting your “fear of change”* to move from Windows. Your fear has been carefully designed. It is the reason that Microsoft give Schools and Universities such cheap licenses (so that students will go on to use/buy Windows), the reason Outlook “fails” to sync with Google Calender, something that would be so incredibly easy to implement (Google have designed it to be effortless to sync with third party applications), and the reason Office “fails” to play nice with open document formats (e.g. spreadsheets copied all formulas into numbers before conversion… you couldn’t make it up!).
    The reason behind these is vendor lock-in, either with Windows or with Office, and fear of change is a powerful tool to achieve it… unfortunately it means they don’t need to compete on speed or functionality (Mac do!). Microsoft aren’t alone in cynically locking-in vendors, it ensures high profits (look at Microsoft!) but at a large “cost” (in quality) to customers in the long-term.

    Is vendor lock-in the largest blocker of innovation in the software industry? (Fear of change is a large part of vendor lock-in.)

    *I expect you spend a lot of time overcoming customers’ “fear of change” in your day job…

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