Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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2/7/2007
04:34 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Windows To Mac: A Frustrating Transition So Far

My first couple of days as a Mac user, after a quarter-century using Windows and DOS, have been pretty frustrating. But it's not the Mac's fault. When you're used to working on one platform, you get used to doing things a certain way, and it's maddening to go to another platform that has different ways of doing the same things.

My first couple of days as a Mac user, after a quarter-century using Windows and DOS, have been pretty frustrating. But it's not the Mac's fault. When you're used to working on one platform, you get used to doing things a certain way, and it's maddening to go to another platform that has different ways of doing the same things.

Keyboard hotkeys are killing me here. I had no idea how often I use keyboard hotkeys, and how much I came to rely on them for cutting and pasting text, for selecting blocks of text, and for navigating around in text documents.

To get things done on the PC, you mostly use combinations of the control key with some other key. On the Mac, you use something called the "Apple," or "Command" key, instead of the control key. Except for when you don't -- there's just enough exceptions to the rule to keep things lively.

Adding to the confusion, there's also a control key on the Mac keyboard, which is in the same place as the control key on the Windows keyboard.

And here's something making me even more confused: I still need to use the PC for many things. My company is standardized on Lotus Notes, and my Notes installation is on my company-issued IBM Thinkpad. I'm also keeping my calendar and address book on the Thinkpad, because I do travel occasionally and I will need to have those things with me when I travel. (Can't travel with the Mac -- it's an iMac with a 24" screen -- kind of hard to get in carry-on luggage.)

In order to have access to both the Mac and PC, I use a program called Remote Desktop Connection, a free download for the Mac from Microsoft. Remote Desktop Connection gives me a window on my Mac that shows the PC desktop; I can use my Mac keyboard, monitor and mouse to operate the PC just as if they were one computer. The connection craps out once or twice a day, but it's easy to re-start and that hasn't been a problem.

Using Windows software and Mac software on the same computer adds a new level of frustration, because that means I'm switching between Windows and Mac hotkeys on the fly. It gets confusing, especially when cutting and pasting text from a Windows app into a Mac app. I use Ctrl-C to copy text from the Windows application, then I need to instantaneously switch my brain into Mac mode and use Cmd-Tab to switch to the Mac application, then Cmd-V to paste into the Mac application, then instantaneously switch back into Windows mode to continue working on Windows.

My biggest frustration was compiling the InformationWeek Newsletter late yesterday afternoon. Usually, the hardest part of that is writing the editor's note -- the rest is just cutting and pasting headlines, links and blurbs. On the PC, once I've written the editor's note, the rest of the newsletter takes me a half-hour to put together. It took about two hours on the Mac, not through any fault of the Mac, but because my brain hadn't mapped out all the correct keystroke combinations for all that cutting and pasting.

On the PC, I rely on a program called ActiveWords, which allows you to map keywords and text strings to automate repetitive typing. ActiveWords also uses keywords and text strings to open programs and documents, navigate to URLs, open e-mail messages, and more.

The Mac equivalent to ActiveWords is Quicksilver. Quicksilver has passionate enthusiasts -- they will be offended by my comparing Quicksilver to Activewords; it's like saying a Stradivarius is good for playin' fiddle music.

As far as I can see, Quicksilver does both more and less than ActiveWords.

Here's one way that Quicksilver is much better than ActiveWords, or anything else I've seen on the PC: It's a great way to open programs and files. Just start typing the name and Quicksilver will find the program or file you want. If there's multiple files with similar names, with one you use frequently, Quicksilver will quickly learn to suggest that file first.

It incorporates a powerful, visual tool to quickly build "triggers," which are sort of like macros and scripts.

What I haven't been able to do, with QuickSilver or any other Mac application so far, is find a way of using a few keystrokes to automate typing blocks of text. I want a way to type something as simple as "mw" and sign my name to messages, or "iwksig" which, on the PC with ActiveWords, automatically expands to the signature I use for business e-mail. I haven't been able to find that tool -- Quicksilver will do something like it, but it seems to require the mouse, and dragging and dropping. I expect what I'm looking for does exist, but I'll have to keep searching for it.

You know one thing I love about the Mac already? The keyboard. It's quiet, and yet it gives me good tactile feedback and makes a pleasant clatter as I type. The keyboard I used on my PC was great for feedback, but it was a noisy beast. Didn't bother me but it was sometimes distracting when I was doing a phone interview. Also, during long, boring phone calls, the keyboard was a dead giveaway if I got distracted and went off to clean out my spam folder or something.

I've been going around the Internet collecting links on resources for people switching from the PC to the Mac. You'll find my links on my del.icio.us account, with the tag "mac".

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