< Piro >
Sunday - June 8, 2003
Ok, now for part two of my report on life after Windows. I wrote part one of my review of my new Mac G4 system while we were still in the honeymoon stage of our relationship - barely a month after getting it. Now it's a few month later and a good time to give my impressions about how living and working with my new system has been... the good, the bad and the ugly. :)
I think I can sum up the experience here at the beginning by saying that I don't regret the 'switch'. I've been enjoying my setup, though I am sure that a good part of that enjoyment comes from the fact that this system is a lot more powerful and nicer than my last system. It's good to keep in mind that it was a major upgrade as well as a switch, but I think that overall I'm a fairly satisfied new mac user. That doesn't mean that I haven't had moments where I've wanted to grab the thing by the handles and hurl it out the window... it IS a computer, after all.
Let's recap what my setup is. It's a Apple Power Mac G4 with dual 1.25 Ghz processors, 1 Gig of PC2700 DDR SDRAM, a 120 gig hard drive, the SuperDrive DVD/DVDR/CDR, the base ATI Radeon 9000 Pro w/ 64MB DDR ram, all coupled to a lovely 23" Apple Cinema Display. A pretty nice setup, really. I'm a horrible technofettishist, I think.
In regards to OS X (the X is for 10, pretty much a rebuild of the entire mac operating system around a unix core), I think that overall I really do like it better than windows. It didn't take too long to get up to speed with how it works, and tweaking it isn't too hard either. I haven't lifted the hood and delved into core bit tinkering, because I'd just break things, but for the most part things have been fairly trouble free. I've only had one kernel panic (that was fun). Is it crash proof? hell no. Does it crash less than windows did? yeah.
The biggest difference for the end user, really, between windows and the mac is how the child windows of programs are not constrained to a program window but are right on the desktop. When you switch to a different program, windows specific to the control of that program disappear, reducing screen clutter. It's a lot easier to work in one program while referencing material in another - a lot easier than in windows. Also, it means that you see your backgrounds a lot more often :P I particularly like the 'hide' command - I tend to have a lot of programs running at once, and it's nice to be able to just hide programs so they are out of the way. I know, how is that different than 'minimizing' the program? Not sure, I just like it better. Also, the 'dock', which really looks at first like an afterthought stuck at the bottom of the screen, is actually kinda nice. it gets cluttered easy, but that just means you need to be more efficient as you work.
There are times when programs do misbehave. I'm aware of the fact that usually if a program crashes, it doesn't affect the system. This isn't *always* the case, of course. The way OS X will go to sleep at the touch of a button and come up flawlessly is great. I also understand that with Windows XP the recovery from sleep is much better, but more often than not my Win2000 laptop doesn't wake up and I am used to losing data often.
I have noticed that after a while it is a good idea to reboot the system, which sort of surprised me. There are times when things just seem to start acting... odd, and the best way to fix them is to reboot. I thought only windows was like that, but I guess I was wrong :P I reboot about once or twice a week, which isn't really too bad. I usually have to reboot once a week anyway because Comcast dinks with the cable modem and the only way to get net access back is to reboot the entire network. yay.
One of the best things about using the Mac is how much I like Microsoft Office X for Mac. For cryin out loud, it amazes me that Entourage can be so nice to use when Outlook is such a pain. I have a much better handle on my email now than I ever did. If you still feel that you've emailed me and I haven't responded - gomen, I can't answer everyone's email - I've received over 6800 emails since I got the new mac, and none of that is spam (a very special thanks to Cortana for doing a great job of spam filtering on the server side of things). Entourage also handles Japanese text far better than my windows versions ever did.
Actually, there are a few quirky things about using Japanese on the mac. The system itself is great, but there are two areas where it falls flat. First off, Japanese tends to get eaten in IRC and over AIM, and file names from a windows system that are in Japanese come into the mac all screwed up. I haven't had time to really delve into why this happens, but I've been getting by just using email to deal with Japanese encoded words and stuff. Japanese entry in Illustrator, Photoshop, Word, etc is flawless. In fact, OS X handles my Japanese True Type fonts without any difficulties.
Now. Mac Office isn't without problems. I notice that often word does weird things with character spacing (there doesn't appear to be spaces between words, and other times there appears to be 3 or four spaces, but it is just one) - this leads to funky problems with layout on screen. It's not a serious problem, but it can be annoying.
Without question, I have found using Photoshop and Illustrator to be far better on the Mac than it was on my PC. Of course, having the 23" screen, a new tablet, and tons of power and memory helps. :P The biggest problem I had from a graphics point of view was that my new scanner wouldn't work with the mac - but that's because it was developed for USB2, and there was no way to deal with that interface. I've been using my older CanoScan N670U without any problems, so it's really a non issue. The newer scanner is hooked up to my other computer for when I want to scan slides.
Oddly enough, there is one very odd thing that happens sometimes with Photoshop - every once and a rare while it quits unexpectedly. I mean, it just closes. It doesn't give any warnings, it just disappears and shuts down, and you loose everything you were working on. Thankfully it hasn't happened in a while, but it is NOT cool when It does. Most programs say 'this program unexpectedly quit' or something - I don't know why Photoshop doesn't do that. As for Illustrator, there is a weird problem where it will check for updates on start up, then crash. The only way to get past this is to reboot. Weird, but livable, and rare enough to not bother me. I used to have far more problems than this in Windows with these two programs, so I can deal with it.
One program I really miss is ACDsee, which gives me the ability to quickly browse images in folders. ACDsee for mac doesn't work worth a crap, and I can't find a program that does the job. The File Browser in Photoshop works pretty well, but its not quite what I need. I've been using iView MediaPro, but you have to make albums - it doesn't just read the directories automatically for browsing, which sorta sucks.
Now printing from this thing has been a nightmare. HP says they make drivers for my DeskJet 1220C, but they are USB *only*. I originally had a LinkSys wireless print server that I needed to connect to to print. Considering that the LinkSys didn't support macs (which is dumb as hell, when you consider that the packaging showed the smiling couple *USING A MAC* -_-... Part of the problem was solved when one of my friends traded the LinkSys for a HP JetDirect that could handle internet printing without the clumsy interface the Linksys used. That fixed that problem, but it still didn't fix the problem that HP didn't make a driver that supported IP printing. I tried plugging the printer into the mac using the USB cable, and letting the other two computers print via the printserver... oh ya, that like didn't work worth squat.
After a couple of weeks of messing with GimpPrint, Hpijs, and some other open source solutions to the printing problem, I and some friends finally managed to get something to work. I can print without too much difficulty from all of my programs except illustrator, which for some reason prints text really thick and blotchy - but at least bitmaps and most other kinds of printing work ok. I tried so many things I can't even remember what worked, and I know it's all been upgraded, so I have to go back in and load new drivers to see if it fixes that problem. Overall, a real mess. I have to print a lot of things from the PC because the open source drivers have a smaller print areas too.
The other thing that was an issue when I started using the mac was the browser. I'm sorry, but Internet Explorer for the Mac kinda sucks. Ok, it really sucks. I disliked it pretty much immediately. There are a lot of browsers available for the mac, and I tried them all. I didn't like Safari, even after it implemented Tabbed browsing (it doesn't work quite right, you should be able to drag and drop links on tabs), Mozilla is ok, but not great. Netscape is just Mozilla with all the netscrape stuff on it. I haven't tried OmniWeb yet, but it doesn't have tabbed browsing so its not worth trying for me. My hands down favorite browser is Camino. It's a sweet, nice to use browser that has tabs and bookmarks and a layout that works just right for me, and its nice and minimal and slick too. Too bad it's still in development, and has glitches that irritate me from time to time. I just keep installing nightly builds, and things slowly seem to keep getting better. Hurry up and finish the thing, guys. Please. I'm beggin ya. :)
I rely on AIM and IRC for pretty much all of my online communications. I really preferred ICQ over AIM, but everyone had moved to AIM a few years ago so I sorta had no choice. AIM's client for OS X is horrible, but there are a few good open source solutions. iChat, which comes with OS X is really cute and works well, but... its too cutesy, it gave me a headache :P I liked and used Fire for a while, which also let me use ICQ, but the one I like best and am using now is Adium. I tend to get 10 to 15 msg windows or more during a day, and it's nice to have them all tabbed in a single window instead of all scattered about. As for IRC, I miss mIRC. I've been using IRCle, which is pretty good, but having a single input window for all the windows in the damn program just sucks. Also, I had to load a script to pop up new windows when people msg'd me. It works, but I miss mIRC. :) Yes, I know about X-chat, but I'm daunted about getting the damn thing to work in OS x ^^;;.
Another thing about the mac that sort of surprised me was the difficulties I've had with video files. Ya, sure, I toss out fansub tapes and encourage people to make sure they don't opt for the free downloads over DVDs, but watching Divx files of raw and/or subtitled anime is still a staple part of anime culture. The most surprising thing to me about the mac, considering it is supposed to be the ideal platform for digital video and audio... I just how difficult it is to get video files to work if they aren't native Quicktime files. There are a slew of codec solutions, and most seem to work ok, but AVI files have to be converted to mac format before you can watch them, and this doesn't always result in playable files. I'm surprised by how buggy the whole thing can be. I guess I just wish I knew more about how these codecs worked, so I knew more about how to fix them - I guess it's just a learning curve. The other annoying thing I've noticed is that when I play DVDs there are really annoying horizontal scan lines that I just can't seem to make adjustments for. I'm not sure if this is a function of the DVD program, or the screen, or the DVDs themselves. Some DVDs actually crash the DVD player -_-;; Weird problems to have from a system where this stuff is supposed to be it's strong point.
(ok, ok, I know about Video Lan Client (VLC) and Mplayer OSX2! Thank you! Geeze ^^;;; I had already tried VLC, which didn't work TOO well for me, but Mplayer OSX2 is one I hadn't tried yet - so far, that seems to be a good solution. I'm getting 10 emails ever 15 minutes giving me the same advice, so... er, thank you very much, I got it :P Also, there were several emails that had a lot of 'this is how these files work' kind of info, and I wanted to thank you for that information as well - It never fails, I say in a rant that I have no clue how something works, and it isn't long before several kind fans have gone to great lengths to enlighten me. Thank you :P - piro)
Music on the mac is pretty nice, actually. At first, because iTunes worked so much differently than I was used to with winamp that I looked for more winampy solutions. I used Audion for a while, and it's a great little mp3 player with a lot of features Itunes doesn't have (I use Panic Software's Transmit FTP program too, which is really nice). Yet, for some reason, after a while, I found myself going back to iTunes, and now that I've organized things a little better, I really like it. I never really felt the need to rip Cds to mp3s before - hell, own the CD, just put it in, but I've been organizing things in such a way that now its easier to get at my music. I've gathered a lot of files together that I normally don't hear because they aren't on a CD or in the directory in question. I've found myself listening to things that normally would have taken far more effort to dig out and put in the tray. Also, the way Itunes handles Japanese track info is nice. Gotta hand it to apple, I like the dratty little thing now, plain and unskinned as it is.
There are a few mac only programs that I really like and have found very useful. Omni Outliner, which comes bundled with Mac OS X, is a really nice outlining program, and I've found it to be very effective for laying out my thoughts and ideas. Right now, I'm using it to outline and plan Megatokyo strips. Another neat little program that I've started to use more is Hog Bay Notebook - a little catch-all kind of program where I can just dump little snippets of things, ideas, song track names, urls, and other junk to find later. For text and HTML editing, I've been using Bbedit, and it's nice, but I sort of miss UltraEdit 32. Loading and unloading programs in OS X is pretty easy, and fairly painless. I've tried a lot of things, and there are a lot of neat programs made for mac that it's been fun to experiment with.
Games? I haven't really even looking into games on the mac yet, not really. The few I've played recently have all been on the PC or on the PS1 I borrowed from a friend. Pathetic, I know. ^^;;
In part one of this review I mentioned the fact that this particular G4 had noise problems. For most general use, the fan noise is pretty insignificant, and certainly not a problem. This changes, however, if the system gets hot. The damn thing can sound, at times, like an airplane taking off. :P The max fan speed I've ever heard only happens at start up, but it's something else. On warm days (none of which we've seemed to have yet here in Michigan) the fan speed does seem to increase a little - its very controlled. I'm thinking that by the time summer gets rolling along its gonna sound like an airport in here if im not running the AC. I did get the Power Supply replacement kit which gives you a new power supply and fans to replace the noisy ones with, but... its still in its box in the closet. I haven't had time to install it yet. ^^;;
the only other thing I've done to this thing was add a blank hard drive... which was more difficult than I thought it would be. The manual says to use Cable Select, and I tried to put the drive on the same cable as the main drive - no dice, wouldn't find it. I ended up putting it on the second ATA cable, which eventually worked, but only after a few tries. Not sure why this was so difficult, but the drive is stable and fine, and I only use it for media storage anyway.
This is getting rather long, but I guess that's because the computers we use are such a big part of our lives, that it's only natural that the interface we have with them is complex and many leveled. There are some things I want to experiment in the future with - things like video and even trying to animate some things, but for now, life with my G4 is pretty decent. I still use my PCs, the temptation to load Ragnarok Online is always there, and I have data and files all over the place, so I have to keep everything on. ^^;; my network setup is a mess, some weekend I need to sit down with some friends and set things up better, but for now, it all works pretty ok. I don't think I'd be a good candidate for a 'switch' add, but that doesn't mean I'm not happy to have the thing sitting here on my desk. :P