Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
2/16/2007
04:27 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
Commentary
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A Frustrating Couple Of Days For A New Mac User

Lately, I've been gnashing my teeth and swearing at my new best friend, the Mac. It's been behaving in a decidedly un-Mac-like manner. I've been having trouble getting it to do what I want it to do.

Lately, I've been gnashing my teeth and swearing at my new best friend, the Mac. It's been behaving in a decidedly un-Mac-like manner. I've been having trouble getting it to do what I want it to do.

I've been struggling unsuccessfully to get my Treo synched to the Mac calendar and address book. I also had problems getting a new printer installed and configured, although I was able to get that done eventually.

Adding to my suffering: I had to send a fax. That has nothing to do with the Mac, but it's part of the hassles of the last couple of days. I send, and receive, about one fax every year. It's always a huge hassle.

I'm starting to wonder why I'm in the technology business at all. Maybe I should just throw it all in. Maybe I should become Amish. I look good in black, and I like hats.

I'm using my Mac for everything but my corporate e-mail, and my calendar, to-dos, and contacts.

The e-mail situation isn't going to change anytime for the foreseeable future -- InformationWeek and its parent company are standardized on Lotus Notes and the company won't issue a Notes client for employees' personal machines.

However, I thought I could get my calendar/to-do/contacts off the PC and onto the Mac.

That's where I ran into trouble.

I use the Palm Desktop software as calendar/to-do/contact manager on my PC. Just about everybody I know who's tried the Palm Desktop on the Mac has been disappointed with it. Moreover, I've only heard good things about the Mac's native calendar, iCal, and address book. So I wanted to synch my Treo up with that software.

There's a third-party tool that handles that kind of synchronization, called The Missing Sync, from Mark/Space. I headed over to their Web site to check it out.

Right away, I ran into my first problem: It's not try-before-you-buy software. You need to buy it, for $39.95, to check it out.

Normally, I only use try-before-you-buy commercial software, but I was feeling reckless so I ponied up the forty bucks and installed the software.

It smoothly synched my Treo datebook to iCal, and the contacts list to the Mac address book. The category mapping was a little wonky, but I've come to expect that -- if you're synching your Treo to anything but the Palm desktop, you're not going to find an exact, one-to-one correspondence. I can live with wonky categories.

The problem I encountered was with the tasks list. Only some of my tasks were showing up in the list. If I searched for an individual task, it showed up in the search box, but I couldn't get a complete list of tasks in the task list.

Google wasn't much help finding an answer. It took me quite some time until I found this thread on Mark/Space's forums. The thread describes the cause of the problem: iCal doesn't support repeating events on the desktop.

More than that, if you have any repeating events in the Treo, it hoses iCal on the Mac.

I kind of wish that the vendor's read-me-first document had spelled that out in big letters. The Missing Sync read-me-first documentation is too long and confusing, it needs to be cut down and simplified.

The thread on the vendor's support forum outlines a complicated procedure for erasing your databases on the Mac, resolving the problem on the Treo, and synching again. I'm not quite sure how it works. I've read it over two or three times, and I'm going to have to read it over again before I jump in and do it. It's very confusing.

Rather than deal with the problem head-on, I decided to try the Palm Desktop and see if it worked any better.

The next things I did were stupid.

I installed the Palm Desktop software without first un-installing the Missing Synch software. I got a couple of error messages about shared-file conflicts. It didn't sync at all. So I decided to uninstall the Palm software.

Now, here's where I got really stupid: I uninstalled the Palm Desktop while the app was still running. I got confused and forgot to check. Like I said, that was really stupid of me, so I shouldn't blame Mac -- but, on the other hand, Windows warns you when you're trying to do something stupid like that.

And now the Missing Sync won't sync at all.

I sent a bug report in to Mark/Space. They got back to me yesterday, less than 24 hours later. Nice turnaround, but the message was overly long, detailed, and confusing. I'll put it aside for later.

Fortunately, I have backups, so it's not a huge deal. Before I got started on the Mac, I made a final synch to the Palm Desktop on my PC, so my calendar, address book, and to-do list are safe. And I've continued syncing to Windows while I try to get the Mac-Treo situation sorted out.

Next up: The printer. I use a five-year-old HP PSC 750 printer-scanner-copier. I first tried to leave the printer connected to the PC and use it over the network, but that didn't work, so I connected it to the Mac. The Mac didn't have the right drivers installed, so I had to find them on the HP site, download them, and install them. The drivers were compressed as HQX files, and I didn't have StuffIt loaded on the Mac, so I had to find and install that. Finally, I got everything working and the printout came out. Hooray!

The printer experience actually wasn't a big deal by the standards of Windows PCs, but the Mac (notwithstanding my experience with the Missing Synch) has spoiled me. I've come to expect better.

Also, the printer software insists on running in background every time I start the PC. There doesn't seem to be any way to stop that behavior by using the configuration menus of the printer software. Windows does that kind of thing all the time, but it's annoying, and Mac software mostly doesn't do it.

And the fax machine? Like I said, that had nothing to do with the Mac, it was just another technology annoyance. I work from a home office, and my wife has the fax machine; I don't need it. Her fax machine is only slightly less complicated than the controls of the transporter on the starship Enterprise. My wife showed me how to work the machine yesterday morning, then went out to run an errand. I spent a couple of hours trying to send a fax. That wasn't all I was doing -- I was running back and forth between my desk and the fax machine, but, still, I spent a lot of time at it. Then my wife came home and pointed out that the fax machine wasn't plugged into the phone line.

I swear, about 50% of computer, electronics, and Internet problems come down to that: The thing wasn't plugged into the other thing.

Also, at 10:30 pm yesterday, I was online and I accidentally knocked the trackball off my desk and the ball fell out and rolled under a bookshelf. I had to get down on my belly and squeeze myself between the bookshelf and some stacked-up boxes to retrieve it.

I'm ready to go Amish. I think I'll watch Witness this weekend, to get ready. That's assuming the DVD player doesn't explode simply because I went near it.

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