Biting the Apple – Dan’s First Mac

I’ve used every major type of computer since the Commodore 64 was state of the art. I cut my teeth on the C-64, then used Apple IIe’s at school, and came home to a Packard Bell running Windows 3.1 and DOS. I’ve used Windows, Mac OS, and Linux since I was a teenager. I’ve owned several computers — laptops, desktops, and the odd server. Thing is they’ve all had one thing in common.

They were all Windows or Linux machines. I’ve never owned a Mac.

Still one of my favourite computers of all time.
Still one of my favourite computers of all time.

Now, keep in mind I used Macs at school or at a friend’s house and stuff like that. I knew my way around Mac OS pretty well, but since I didn’t have one at home, my knowledge of Windows and Linux was far greater. I’ve wanted an Apple computer for a while, but the damn price is the issue. They’re spendy, especially when you consider that, for the price of a decently kitted iMac, I can get two decently kitted Windows machines. Luckily, I work for a library that can afford the occasional Mac purchase and the Services Team scored a Mac Mini for their programming and various projects. They don’t use it a lot, so I asked if I could take it home for the weekend. I figured I’d beef up my OS X skills and fiddle around with the musical capabilities on it, which are damn near legendary.

I set it up on my desk, plugged it to my monitor which has a HDMI port, and hooked up my piano keyboard. I fiddled with it a bit, checked out the browsers, the speed, and all that. Then I fired up GarageBand and tried it out with my MIDI keyboard.

Holy shit.

Two things became clear with the first recording. One, it was immediately obvious why professional musicians use Apple hardware. Everything worked. No bullshit, no tweaking, no fiddling, and no wondering why sound was only coming out of one speaker. Everything worked straight away. The second thing that became clear? I had to have one. I had to have one if for no other reason than as a recording platform.

Then I fiddled with iMovie, hooked up my Wacom, tried drawing….

After that, there was no question. I was getting a decent income tax refund, so I could afford a Mac Mini, especially if I could get a deal on a refurbished model. I could, I did, and now I literally have one of everything in my house. I use an iPhone, my wife uses an Android phone, I use an Android tablet, she uses the iPad for her classes, my kids have Nabi2 Android tablets, I have a Windows/Linux dual boot laptop that is still my baby, a desktop running Ubuntu exclusively, a Windows server, a Windows 7 laptop issued to me by my job, and a Mac Mini running OS X Mountain Lion. I’m not saying that to brag, because nothing there is worth bragging about.

However, when someone asks me stuff like “What computer do you use ?” or “What tablet do you use?” I can, in all honesty, say that I use everything.

So, the Mac.

Basically the Mac is set up to be my multimedia and artistic creativity station. I’m using it make new digital illustrations, for a video mixtape project I’ve been kicking around, and music — especially music. I just recently installed LibreOffice on it so I can get writing done. I still prefer my Android tablet and external keyboard for writing, but sooner or later you need to edit. Beyond that, I’ll use it to create ePubs and the like. The thing that really surprised me wasn’t the usability. OS X is well known for being one of the easiest and slickest operating systems ever made. No, it was something underlying that.

I’ve used Linux off and on for years before I really picked it up and ran with it a couple years ago. Whenever I used Linux I always wanted a GUI because, after all, I work with graphics and video and art and all that. So I always installed some kind of desktop environment. I’ve tried many of them from various kinds and versions of Gnome to Unity to Awesome to Cinnamon to LXDE then XFCE and so on. Time and time again, I always come back to KDE. The K Desktop Environment is a beautifully designed environment that suits me on several levels. First, as an artist and designer, I love the look of it. In the world of computing, if it doesn’t look good, I’m just not going to have the same level of interest.

But looks aren’t everything. I still think the old 8 bit video games are freakin’ rad. So beyond the looks, I love how KDE works. It’s a joy to work with. I learned most of the keyboard shortcuts, how to get around Dolphin, and generally how to use the system to my best advantage.

Then I sat down  at OS X and found, to my surprise, that many of the keyboard shortcuts were the same. Along with KDE I use a launcher called Synapse to control and launch apps, documents, and that kind of thing. A quick CTRL Space brings it up, type a bit of what you’re after, then press Enter to launch.

You know, exactly how Spotlight search works.

kde-600Now, some people may say that’s cheating. Synapse isn’t part of KDE. Fine, I’ll grant you that. Then again, Alfred isn’t part of OS X but when you can install it and it will do the same things for you as Synapse. While OS X is based off of the BSD operating system, there’s a lot of shared ideas between Linux and BSD. It took me no time at all to figure out the OS X terminal commands because, working with Linux, I already knew the commands. There are times I fire up the terminal in both operating systems just because I can type what I want to do more quickly than I can manipulate the GUI.

The Finder looks much like Dolphin and acts much like Dolphin. A friend on Twitter pointed out that I have this reference backwards and that Dolphin acts like the Finder and not the other way around. I won’t split hairs there because all I know is my own experience and my first experience was with Linux before OS X. I don’t know who shared from what to whom, and I don’t care. I’ve long said that KDE is the OS X of the Linux world because KDE “just works.” (Or at least it always has for me. The best part of Linux is that you have choices.) Regardless of what came from where, I picked up the graphical navigation of OS X in a few minutes.

I’m only a couple of months into owning this Mac and I’m still not used to it. I’m not even used to it being around because, a few nights ago I was jogging and listening to MacBreak Weekly. Now, keep in mind, I listened to MacBreak for years before getting a Mac. I like to keep up on technology, no matter what kind it is. Besides, listening to Leo, Andy, Alex, and Rene talk about their favourite things is geeky fun. What stopped me dead for a minute or so was a segment on iBooks and ePublishing with Mac software. As a writer and librarian, I’ve listened with interest to stuff about the iBookstore and iBooks Author. That was when my internal duologue; because there are always at least two voices in my head, the creative and the logical; had a conversation like this:

“Wow,” the Creative Voice said, “I really should try that iBooks Author thing someday. I wanna see what it feels like to write in that kind of environment!”

“Hey, stupid,” my Logical Voice said, as it peered over its copy of Scientific American. “You bought a Mac two months ago. Download it when you get home.”

My internal duologue literally stopped for a couple of minutes and that rarely happens. Usually they’re bickering over things while my logical voice tries to keep me out of trouble.


“Let’s get ice cream!” the Creative Voice cries.

“No,” says Logical.

“Ice cream!”


“Let’s get ice cream!”


“Wow! Check out the ass on….”

“Dammit, Creative! What the hell is wrong with you?!” Logical yells, throwing a copy of Science at Creative’s head.

So when those two actually shut up for a minute, you can hear Sub-Conscious wandering around the dark recesses of my brain, tripping over things and cussing about the lightbulbs being burned out.

When I got home, I downloaded iBooks Author. After all, it’s free, why not? I’ll fiddle around with it and see what I can make it do, and to that end, very little has changed in my technological life. Stuff comes and goes, tech phases in and out, and things get better and better. Yet in the end, it’s just me, sitting down with something and seeing what I can make it do.

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