On Macs

mac-miniI had to use a Mac today at a client office. As far as I could tell, it was a 2009 Mac mini running Snow Leopard on a widescreen. It had a standard Apple mouse and keyboard. Disclosure: I’m not anti-Apple. I am pro-good-computing, so any sensible, usable system is fine by me. I frequently toy with the idea of buying a Mac mini, and I’m aware that a lot of devs use them.

My task was to log onto an FTP server, download some files, and modify and reupload an .htaccess file.

  • First, I downloaded Transmit using Safari. This is easy enough, except that Safari doesn’t maximize? You press the green button on the window, and it just centers itself and gets a little bit bigger. How do you maximize?
  • Additionally, when typing in addresses (or editing text anywhere) there are no Home or End keys. That’s fine, for simplicities sake, but anyone who writes prose or code on a PC uses those a lot. I try Ctrl+Arrows, Alt, Cmd… nothing does what I need. In fact, Cmd+Right inserts a capital ‘C’. Obviously. Now, if the Mac intelligentsia would like to argue that I’m just Doing It Wrong™, I’d like to point out that if it’s inconsistently applied, it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter. This stuff is OS level in Windows, Linux… even QNX on my Playbook!

Anyway, I opened Transmit. I realize this is the application’s problem, but the visual cues for how to do stuff are not clear. There are random plusses and stars where you don’t want them, to favourite and save things. At some point, I think I pressed Cmd+T on the offchance it would open Terminal, and it re-based me and pretended that a subdirectory was my root directory, and cleared the navigation breadcrumb so I couldn’t get back to website root. Whatever, I just restarted it.

So I’ve downloaded the stuff. I open Finder and navigate to the file… Oop! I instantly recognise that the file is hidden because it has a leading dot (and that’s how hidden files work on UNIX) so I pop into the easily-found ‘folder view options’ dialogue. Weird, there’s no tickbox for displaying hidden files, and I can’t see any other relevant settings pages.

That’s ok, I’ll do it in Bash (this should be a clue that something is wrong with the GUI). I figure out from something I heard once, and the visual cue, that the magnifier in the top right is Spotlight. Why does the Mac mouse move so sluggishly at low velocities? It’s difficult to target small buttons compared to IBM equipment and Windows/Linux. At this point, I wish I knew the keyboard shortcut for Spotlight.

I type ‘Term’ and hit enter – this works as I intuit, and the Terminal opens

$cd Documents/ftp
$ls -a -l

Oh good, I can see the file now. To try and discover the default plaintext editor, I put a few combinations in spotlight: ‘note’, ‘text’, ‘edit’, ‘pad’. I find ‘textedit’, so, in the console:

$textedit .htaccess
"No such thing as 'textedit', or words to that effect"

Ok whatever, I guess it doesn’t execute from /usr/bin or something. Fingers crossed OSX ships with vi

$vi .htaccess

Yay! The file opens in the primitive editor. Well done Apple for sticking with the old stalwarts of software (it was released in 1976). Using my novice vi proficiency from a half-term spent writing C on Linux, I edit the file, save and exit (that’s ZZ with no colon)

I re-upload the IP whitelist and all is well. Great, good. That whole experience was a huge pain in the rear, to be honest.

Back at the office, I realised how blindingly fast I can use Windows. Most of that is familiarity, knowing shortcuts, and customization. I open Notepad++ by hitting [Win+R np Enter]. I open Explorer with [Win+E]. Still, I feel like using a Mac is so slow. It’s partly the mouse driver’s fault, and mine for not knowing the shortcuts for Spotlight, opening Finder… I remember now I could have Cmd+Tabbed between windows, as picking them off that dock thing takes forever.

Also, I really enjoy the multitouch hierarchy on Lion (and Mavericks, I guess). 4 fingers for OS level, 3 fingers for application level, 2 for meta-document, and 1 finger for document. That’s brilliant; it’s just a different way of thinking. But I’m pretty sure I’d have the same sucky gripes if there was no touchpad. This OS is made for multitouch and it doesn’t work without it.

I eagerly await your commentary.