Simon Willison’s Weblog



10th January 2004

Sorry for the radio silence; I’ve been playing with my new Mac. It’s been an almost entirely positive experience—it’s certainly the most enjoyable computer I’ve ever owned. I’ve also only crashed an application once so far—bizarrely it was the Terminal while accidentally pasting in a whole bunch of junk. Other than that the system stability and performance is excellent—and it’s only running on 256 MB of RAM while I try and find one of those tiny screwdrivers to install the upgrade.

The biggest irritation at the moment is the ’delete’ key. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be in-place delete or backspace, and it seems to do either one depending on the application I’m running. This sucks, and any tips on making it more predictable would be more than welcome (my biggest problems with it have been in vi). Also, does the Mac have an equivalent to the thing on Windows where holding ctrl+shift+arrow key selects the previous or next word?

The other thing that sucks is only having one mouse/trackpad button. It’s not like the context menu doesn’t exist—you’re expected to hit ctrl+mouse button to access it. My Mac experience became instantly more pleasant when I plugged in a traditional mouse with two buttons and a scroll wheel. I wish Apple would admit that the days of single button mice are long gone and give me two buttons on my trackpad.

Oh, and it almost goes without saying but DVD region encoding is the single most irritating and fundamentally stupid thing the entertainment industry has ever pulled. It’s like they want me to abandon legal purchases and get all my movies via BitTorrent. See also “protected” CDs. As Cory points out, there’s never been any market demand for any form of DRM. Bypassing the region check on my PowerBook using a firmware upgrade would void the warranty, so since I shelled out for AppleCare it isn’t an option. I guess the DVDs I brought with from England (some of which are unavailable in the US anyway) will have to stay in my suit case.

Irritations out of the way, here’s a list of things that have made me go “ooh”:

  • The whole thing is just ridiculously good looking, from the PowerBook itself to the operating system. I have not had an ugly moment since I first booted it up.
  • The default screensaver is also gorgeous.
  • I plugged an external monitor in to it and it instantly shared my desktop across the laptop and monitor screen flawlessly. In fact, everything I’ve plugged in to it so far (digital camera, iSight, USB mouse) has Just Worked.
  • I wanted to copy files across from my work Windows machine, but I only had one network cable. I plugged one end in to the Mac and the other in to the PC and the Mac worked out what I was trying to do and pretended the cable was a crossover cable. Then I turned on Windows Sharing (aka Samba) and copied the files across in a couple of minutes.
  • Like everything else, networking Just Works—plug a cable in or turn on the AirPort and surf away.
  • The Unix side of things is just excellent. Thanks to Fink and this tutorial it took all of five minutes to get a PostgreSQL server up and running.
  • Exposé is pure unadulterated magic. It makes up for the Dock being B.A.D. It’s also really, really pretty to watch. I’m such a whore for cheap visual effects.
  • My Mac can talk to me! And I can talk back to it! Admittedly my English accent means it only responds to “Computer—start screensaver” and there doesn’t appear to be a training option anywhere but it was still pretty cool that it had voice + speak recognition abilities built in.
  • Software installation on Macs is a breeze. Most software comes as a downloadable drive image—you click it in Safari, it downloads and auto-mounts and lets you drag the application to where-ever you want it to live (normally the Applications directory). I just love the way all of the supporting files for an app are hidden away in its package so you can drag the whole lot around without worrying about where the extra bits and pieces are.

I’ll try not to turn this in to another obsessive Mac fan blog, but let’s just say that I’m beginning to realise what I’ve been missing. I’m not going back.

This is Mac-tastic by Simon Willison, posted on 10th January 2004.

Next: Backseat driving

Previous: A hacker's introduction to OS X

Previously hosted at