XBook: Thoughts on Mac OS X on a PowerBook

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Date: Monday, February 1st, 1999, 00:00
Category: Archive

After the first full week of using Mac OS X on my PowerBook G4 Titanium I wanted to share some of my observations on Apple’s new, modern OS. Pre-requisite configuration info: 500 MHz, 512 MB, 32 GB, Firmware 4.1.8. My drive is partitioned into two: one big one with Mac OS 9.1 and a 2.0 GB partition for Mac OS X. While not required, partitions are your friend. Especially if you are an extreme PowerBook user, like myself.


Ok, X looks pretty but there are some nuances to get used to if you plan to use it full time. My first real full day of use felt like I was using my PowerBook with both hands tied behind my back and using my nose for data entry.

You see, I am a creature of automation. QuickKeys, DragStrip, Applescript – love ’em. I am also the type of person that has a messy desk (the analog type) but I know exactly where everything is. If someone attempted to straighten up my desk I would be lost. Well, Steve and company cleaned up my desk (the digital one) and although my chair rolls around faster, it takes much longer to find things. Plan on being in a bad mood for the first day or two after you migrate to X, especially if you are a creature of habit and automation.

After biting the upgrade bullet with my close friends at PPUG this Saturday, I was determined to convert to X full time and to be productive again in one week. Five almost sleepless days later I think that I can do almost anything almost as fast (how is that for hedging?) but I could really use a beer.

Some general notes: the hardware brightness and volume controls on the PowerBook keyboard do not work in X, although mute seems to work. Go figure. A cool interim solution for volume control is PTHVolume which adds a volume slide and mute button to the Mac OS X menu bar. Side note: PTHClock and PTHStockTicker are also worth a look.

Mail.app. Don’t even get me started about the importance of Email. Suffice it to say that I get a lot (keep it coming, btw) and that I need it to be solid and feature rich. Perhaps I am just spoiled from the niceties of Entourage but using Mail.app is closer to postal mail than it is to a full-featured, industrial strength email client. Before you fire off a nasty “spoiled” email, I realize that third party solutions will emerge and that it is only a 1.0 release. Nah, hell with it. Fire off an email if you like, but be cogent don’t just tell me to try PINE or something like that. Note: people who flame me in the feedback will be flogged 🙂

My first and biggest complaint is SPAM. When your domain and email address(es) are all over a site like this for over five years the email harvesters pick you up faster than September corn. It just comes with the territory, I guess. But I have to admit to almost never seeing SPAM since using Entourage (after being a staunch Eudora user, mind you.) The filtering in Entourage is pure genius, period. The good news is that now I have a lot of Toner, Golf Balls and Herbal Remedies.

Other weirdness from Mail.app: clicking a URL in an email to launch your browser seems to be intermittent. It also desperately needs a column to tell if you have replied to a message instead of just read/unread. And while they are at it a neato flag/unflag feature would be nice. Hell with it, MS copies everything from Apple anyway. Also, I cannot seem to paste an URL from IE 5.1 into mail (but I can drag and drop it there). Mail.app also needs a way to add accounts or personalities that do not require a discrete user name and host for each. i.e. “dumb” accounts that are used to send mails to network solutions and to unsubscribe from lists, etc. that you do not necessarily POP mail from.

Internet Explorer 5.1b1 blows chunks. It crashes hourly and is v e r y s l o w. If you like dial-up, traffic jams and random accidents use IE. An example: while downloading a file the program is almost unusable (pinwheel icon spins constantly). Being a glutton for punishment, I sometimes like to use IE, but its most annoying crawler is that you can cut and copy URLs and Web text from IE but it rarely pastes into the target application. The solution: drag and drop from the address bar instead. Sheesh. At least it understands site passwords and Web forms, which is more than I can say for (the much more beautiful) OmniWeb. Use IE for secure sites, use OmniWeb for everything else.

AppleWorks 6.1 is a potentially usable replacement for MS Office:mac 2001 with the exception of Entourage. But Apple hastily removed the AppleWorks 6.1 updater mid-week without explanation giving me some concern about using it again until the mystery issue is revealed. AW 6.1 has all of the MacLink plus translators to go bi-directional with your Excel and Word files, which is nice, but MacLink plus cannot open passworded Excel files, so be careful. Other than that, anti-aliased fonts in word processing would be nice, but merely a cosmetic issue.

Fire.app: AOL doesn’t like AIM clones that threaten their revenue so they block them, Fire.app is no exception. This is a real shame because Fire integrates all of the IM services (AIM, YIM, ICQ, IRC and MSN), and could be useful if it worked with AIM. They good news is that Steve Case cracked the whip and had his code monkeys busted out a version of AIM for X. [Update: the new version of Fire works again, but probably not for long.]

One important discovery for PowerBook users: Mac OS X seems to suffer from a phantom monitor bug on my Titanium. I have been using it fine all day in my desktop configuration: external Apple 17-inch display, MacAlly iKey, MS Intellimouse and power cable plugged in. But when I sleep the PB and bring it over to the couch to watch Letterman, I wake it from sleep and it still thinks that the external monitor is attached. All of my Fetch and IE windows are on the other monitor even though it isn’t connected. At one point I thought that I had finally crashed OS X because the mouse was frozen, but wiggling it slightly revealed that it was hiding on the other monitor too. The only fix is to shut down, restart or log out. Bummer, because you just want to use that millisecond wake from sleep feature.

I just watched the snowboarding DVD AMP twice (i give it 5 bindings, btw) and am getting tired, so stay tuned for XBook Volume II next week. Start asking your software vendors about versions of their applications for X. Oh, and feel free to post your thoughts on Mac OS X using the… well, you know the rest.

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