iMac

We are now Macintosh owners. I will admit that during my first four days with an iMac I have not been overwhelmed by simplicity and ease of use.

Background

I am a happy Windows user, having started with the IBM personal computer running dual floppies, Microsoft DOS, and an 8086 processor (i.e. pre-x86 processor) in high school. I have always had an IBM Thinkpad except for a few years in the early 1990’s when the company I worked for used Macs. At work, we often build software applications, and while I am no developer, I can play around with some lower level features. I love my current ThinkPad.

The winds of change began with song. We have been very happy with our iPods and have the majority of our music collection on our respective Microsoft Windows laptops. Last year I purchased an Apple AirPort device that allows me to wirelessly stream music from our laptops to our stereo, which has proven enormously convenient and virtually eliminated our use of physical compact discs.

Faced with the temporary loss of my laptop, we decided it was time to get our own home computer. As technology has developed, much of our interaction with a computer is via a web-browser which is operating system agnostic – designed to be used on a variety of different computers and operating systems (Windows, Apple OS X, Linux, etc). Combined with our music collection and the admittedly stylish designs from Apple, we got an iMac.

Expectations and Experience

It does look cool.

Plug it in and it works, right? I booted the machine up and the initial set-up process was fairly flawless. When the iMac could not connect to my wireless network because I had not granted it rights to do so, it gave me an intelligent message, though it was telling me what I already knew. Surprisingly, there are 4 other wireless networks in the vicinity. The television commercials suggest that Windows machines are overwhelmed with patches and updates. The first 20 minutes with my iMac included a 20+ megabyte download to update the operating system, a reboot that included ‘hold down the power button until xyz firmware upgrade starts’. The differences are not immediately obvious.

The file transfer process was efficient, aided by an external hard drive to which I had backed up all my personal files and our iTunes music library.

Since Microsoft does not have a current version of their Outlook email client for the Mac, I wasn’t sure how to capture the loads of personal email messages I wanted to retain. $10 bought me a wonderful little program called Outlook 2 Mac which could not have been easier or more accurate – load it up and it asks you what email folders, address books, and calendar items you want to move, and then precedes to convert them and stick them in a clearly marked folder with intelligent labels. Chalk one up for the Microsoft world.

About this point, the difficulty started. I am an avid user of Quicken, a personal financial management solution. A bit of research suggested that Quicken was also the a leading solution for the Mac. There are differences between the Mac and Windows versions of the software. Instructions for Conversion include limiting certain account names to fewer than 15 characters and converting a whole host of investment account and transaction types that are supported on Windows but not on the Mac. I find it surprising that no Apple users need to track their 401(k) and apparently don’t have any stock options, but clearly the ability to easily take a picture of yourself dreaming of retirement trumps features that actually allow you to understand how your investments are performing.

The instructions on the Quicken web-site don’t include the most recent versions of the software (converting from or converting to) so I took my chances with the most recent instructions I could find. First, I purchased the Quicken for Mac software directly from Intuit’s website for immediate download. After a few frustrating minutes of paying for the software but being unable to download it, I called Intuit’s call center in India. There, a nice woman informed me that my iMac’s web-browser (Safari) was incompatible with the download process. I was instructed to download an alternate browser and try again, which worked fine.

I then spent about an hour converting account names and transaction codes, exported the data file as instructed, and began the import process on the iMac. As the import proceeded to identify about 150 to 200 import errors, I became frustrated that I had already spent so much time on something clearly destined for failure. A couple more hours of methodical reconciliation (and a few hundred thousand dollars in ‘Move to Mac’ adjustments dated December 1, 2006 for posterity), I got close enough to stop and get a beer.

HP LaserJet

My bank accounts established, I moved on to the more straightforward task of attaching my printer, which is also connected wirelessly. It took me about 15 minutes (following the Apple instructions) to actually get the iMac to find the printer. The process actually required me to move my LaserJet from across the room so I could physically connect it to the iMac. Once found, I quickly printed 27 pages of jibberish. Having duplicated the test print of jibberish about 5-7 times, I began searching HP’s support site, which suggested in numerous posts that my particular LaserJet (3200) was not supported by Apple’s latest operating system (OS X 10.4). This seemed very un-Mac – I have seen the television commercials and it is the Mac that speaks French to the hot little digital camera, not the Windows machine (both of which, one IBM and one Dell, get along well with our LaserJet – have for years).

Alas, Apple’s support site came to the rescue, where a number of members of the Mac brotherhood had faced my same roadblock. The expedient solution for about half of them was to just go out and buy a new printer. This also seemed quite un-Mac, though I could see how it could probably fix the problem. Since my printer works fine, I continued diligently to search for a solution. Deep in the bowels of the support boards, a clever man had a suggestion. Apparently, I was experiencing a communication problem – someone wanted to speak PCL and another Post-Script. Very un-Mac, the plug and play universal translator?

The clever fellow’s solution was to lie to the iMac. Instead of identifying my LaserJet correctly as a 3200, I was to tell the iMac I had a Series 6 gimp-print something – beta 2. Yes – that makes sense when you think about it. With the lie established on the iMac hard drive, my test printed ok – though the graphics and clarity were not quite right. I modified the deceitful Series 6 gimp-print something – beta 2 to an equally deceitful but older Series 4 gimp-print something – beta 2, which resulted in satisfactory results from my one test case. The Mac lesson learned? Lying is good.

My beer finished, I decided to pour a bourbon.

Odds and Ends

I miss the two buttons on the Microsoft mouse. The Mac has one button (basically). Windows allows a ‘right-click’ to expose properties of different objects – for example, if I misspell a word, I can right-click the misspelling and correct variations are provided as options (click to replace). I am too dumb to figure out an easy way to do this on the Mac – basically I have to go to the menu bar and select Edit / Spelling / Whatever. Similarly, I wanted to download a graphic of my iMac model to add to this post, but the Mac equivalent of ‘right-click, save image as…’ alludes me. Also, hands down, IBM’s ThinkPads have the best keyboards in the market. The Mac keyboard looks cool, but doesn’t feel quite right.

I am playing with the Apple productivity software though I think this will be short-lived. I have used Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) for years. I know how it works and I don’t really feel like the hassle of learning something new. This week I’ll probably plop down the $400 for the suite – I figure I saved that by not buying a new printer.

This post presents my last remaining (known) problem – finding an html text editor. On my Windows machine, I used NoteTab. There is not a Mac version that I could find. The leading text editor for the Mac costs $100 versus the $15 I paid for NoteTab (competition is good). In the interim, I am writing html tags by hand again, prior to posting on the blog. This will take some research and I’ll update you on my progress. NoteTab is a good program.

My initial verdict? In retrospect, I might have bought an IBM or a Dell, even though it wouldn’t look as cool on our desk.