Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Mac Report - Day 1

Day one of owning a Mac, and so far so good! The first thing that hits you is how well made and solid they are, compared to your average PC laptop, the MacBook Pro is a stunning piece of kit. The second thing that you notice is just how quickly it boots up - it is like lightning compared to Windows XP. The third thing that you discover is just how different it is to use - to start with where is everything?!

As with any new OS, whether it be a new mobile phone, video recorder or computer, there is a certain learning curve one has to negotiate before one becomes comfortable with the device. To begin with there is always that feeling of not wanting to click the wrong thing for fear of loosing everything or breaking something. I guess that if you didn’t know another operating system already that Mac OS X would be pretty easy to pick up - it does seem fairly logical even to someone with well over a decade of experience of Windows, which, to be fair, isn’t the most logical of systems, and certainly not the most reliable!

This particular MacBook has version 10.5.7 installed, which i believe is “Leopard”, and although it also came with a CD ROM of “Snow Leopard” which i gather is 10.6, i am rather un-keen to change up to it just yet - i still am only tip toeing my way around this one, and would like to feel a lot more comfortable with it before i go mucking around with things that i don’t really understand.

I have managed to download and install “Bean”, which is a basic word processor - a bit of an upgrade to the text editor that Macs come with, which is basically like notepad on windows. While Bean is not going to worry MS Word, it does most things that us mere mortals need, is fast and compact, which i like.

Even the method of installing software is different - the downloaded file shows up as a disk drive type icon on the desktop, you drag it to the folder of your choice, it is installed and you then “eject” the virtual disk drive. Odd, but blindingly easy and quick.

Of course, one of the main problems with PCs is Windows - the basic architecture of them was never designed to run a graphical user interface (GUI) - oh those good old days of MS DOS, with the command line interface when you had to type the commands in with the correct syntax. Lovely......once you had got your head around it that is. It meant that you really had to want to know how to use a computer, unlike these days when they are designed to be so obvious that even the most idiotic of people can use them without a problem. Which causes problems of its own - surf the internet to see what i mean!!

Microsoft knew that they had to create their own GUI because of the waves the first Apple Macs were creating - there was a machine that was designed from day one to be used with a GUI. Microsoft knew that they had to compete, and that although their best option would be to start from scratch, that this approach would alienate their existing user base - if their current software wouldn’t work on the new machines, they would have to replace them and may as well change to Apple anyway. To avoid this, Microsoft found a way to bolt their new GUI (Windows) onto the existing DOS, and it basically ran as a program that could run others within it.

The next snag was that this needed more memory. Originally, memory was very expensive, and as the text based systems didn’t really need much of it anyway, 640Kb was deemed to be plenty. The system could not officially access any more than this even if it was present, and so a routine had to be written which would “fool” the computer into using the extra memory that was now being fitted.

Imagine if the only car that had ever been created was the Model T Ford. Any updates to it as the decades wore on were just bolted and welded onto it, so that even the latest car was actually a Model T with a body kit - that is basically Windows for you - MS DOS with other bits bolted on. Other bits that have been created by people working in different departments who never actually meet up, meaning that different segments of the system don’t “fit together” perfectly, and have to be cobbled and fooled into working as one. This begins to explain why PCs are so unreliable and crash so often. It’s a miracle they work at all to be honest.

So, now i am using a system that has been created by a small team dedicated to making something that just works. We will have to wait and see if this is the case, i know that i have a lot to learn before i feel comfortable, but i believe that the effort will be worth while. I will get back to you and let you know.....

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