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January 2014

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So I've taken to using a Mac for my primary system lately. Despite the fact that the scam wasn't resolved at the time, I took a leap of faith and purchased on credit a brand new, 15", 1.5 GHz PowerBook. This post has been delayed a couple of months (perhaps irrationally?), since I didn't want Qamar knowing anything about the replacement. In retrospect that seems silly, but I'm sure it made sense at the time.

I absolutely love the machine. I've heard many complaints about Apple's overpriced systems, but after actually owning a PowerBook I can say with certainty that the device is well worth the money. There's just no x86 laptop that can compare. Slot loading DVD burner, backlit keyboard, integrated Bluetooth, 802.11g, gigabit ethernet, 128 MB Radeon 9700 Mobility, 5400 RPM hard drive, DVI and SVideo out, super-crisp 1280x854 high pixel density display... the thing is a monster with just about every feature you could ask for, in a package that's sleek and sexy as hell weighing in around 5 lbs.

I also generally enjoy working with OS X. The GUI is wonderful, both speedy and beautiful. Expose is great, the lack of malware is a major plus, and the system's FreeBSD underpinnings are just the ticket for a geek like me. Most things just work in intuitive ways, and at times I almost completely forget the Unixy core of the system - in a lot of ways, OS X is the best operating system I've ever used.

The FreeBSD roots of OS X have attracted a lot of open source developers, which is fortunate indeed for users such as myself. OS X ships with a lot of great open source software (ssh, samba, apache?!, etc), but it's supplemented nicely by the fink project, which aims to provide pretty much any useful GPL'd utility to OS X via apt repositories. Thanks, guys! Of course, you can also compile most software designed for Linux or BSD yourself without too much hassle, if it hasn't already been done for you.

Of course, nothing is perfect, and the more I've used the machine the more minor annoyances I've encountered. While this isn't the first OS X-era Mac I've owned, daily use as my primary system has revealed several annoyances that I overlooked on my little iBook.

Let's start with Airport. It'll automatically connect to a network if you leave it on, which is fine, but it won't automatically disconnect when you plug into a 100 megabit connection. Now, that's not normally a big issue, but I've found a surefire way to get the rainbow beachball of doom in the Finder - mount an SMB share on a wireless connection, plug into a wall outlet on the same subnet, and then turn off wireless. BAM! The Finder will suck it down, big time. I strongly believe that there should be an option to disable wireless automatically if a physical connection is enabled, as that would help extend battery life.

1 button mice are annoying, and Apple's mouse control panel applet leaves much to be desired. Why can't I control acceleration independently of speed? Of course there's also the well-known Apple lovefest for one-button mice, which normally just means I ignore Apple mice - but damn, they make the best/most reasonably priced Bluetooth mouse for OS X, and the damn thing has ONLY ONE BUTTON! Come on guys, what's the point of this crap? Do you just make this thing to taunt me?


The one-button touchpad has been enhanced with a little utility called "sidetrack," which allows for taps in corners to map to alternate buttons. Very handy, and very workable - of course, it's a 3rd party utility, so don't expect it to come with your Mac.

The Finder sucks. If you change a view in a Finder window and navigate somewhere, the next time you open a new Finder window you may be stuck in a different view. It seems that the starting view you end up with when you launch the Finder in a directory is based on the view you used when you last CLOSED a Finder window IN that directory (if this sounds confusing, that's because it is). I initially thought this view inconsistency was just random, but understanding now how it works doesn't make me any more forgiving of the behavior.

While we're talking about the Finder, its SMB network browsing interface is crap. There's no way to view computer description fields that I can find. Double clicking on network servers can sometimes cause a beachball of doom, even though you can connect just fine using smbclient or smbmount manually. Aliases to SMB shares don't always work properly, either.

Safari is lacking in various ways, which is only a problem because Firefox is broken in OS X (middle mouse click doesn't open new tabs). Safari has no type-ahead-find, no /text style searching, no adblock extension... all of the little things that make Firefox so great. Safari isn't terrible - it renders pages just fine and pretty quickly - but it lacks some of the power Firefox provides.

The built-in terminal.app is pretty weak, but it's quickly replaced with the open source iTerm. Hint to the guys in Cali - throw a beefed-up version of iTerm in Tiger and make me happier.

Mail.app and Safari both really hate SSL certs that aren't signed by an official CA. I have my own self-generated CA for both work and home, and I've found no way to disable the warning dialogue box in these apps. I actually find Thunderbird superior to Mail.app anyway, but I'm not sure why there's no GUI option to import a 3rd party CA, or to suppress the error message when it encounters certificates signed by one.

It should probably be an indicator as to how pleased I am with the system that these gripes are the worst I can throw at it, but this thing is not only beautiful but also a joy to use. If you've been avoiding Macs due to System 7 "bomb" icons or fruity colored cases, you really need to give them another look now.

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