What is Larry Thinking? #13 => Mac Edition

June 15, 2008

In this edition…

About this Newsletter

This newsletter is the second one all about Macs (the first went out in November 2007). There’s nothing too big here, mostly I just wanted to mention a few Web sites, some new applications, and my thoughts on Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5). If you have any feedback or questions regarding these topics, please pass that along.

On the Web => Other World Computing

I don’t normally actively promote any commercial venture, but I thought I’d give a shout out to Other World Computing (http://www.macsales.com/). Based outside of Chicago, Illinois (US), this company has been around for about twenty years, although I think I’ve only started using them in the past couple. I realized lately that every time I go to buy hardware for my Mac, including accessories, I end up using their site. I’ve purchased RAM, external hard drives, replacement CD drives, etc., and always been pleased with both the price and the service. I just upgraded my MacBook Pro from 2GB of RAM to 4GB. The price, after a $20 (US) rebate on my old memory, was around $80. $80 for 4GB of RAM! How crazy is that?

They also have a good newsletter, that’s casual and informative. Plus I appreciate their environmental policies (that’s a big deal for me). I have no relationship with OWC but wanted to recommend that you check them out if you have Mac-related needs.

What is Larry Thinking => Leopard

I originally had no intentions of upgrading to Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5) from Tiger (10.4). The main features and benefits of Leopard didn’t really strike me as being upgrade-worthy. Then, I got a new MacBook Pro and it came with Leopard on it. In no time at all, I was hooked. So much so that I bought a second copy of Leopard to upgrade my wife’s MacBook Pro (i.e., my old laptop). You can find out details about Leopard’s new features at Apple’s Web site, of course, but I thought I’d talk about my experience a little bit.

One of the big areas of improvement are the visuals, like the 3D Dock and transparent menu bar. I found both to be very off-putting (not being used to it), so the first thing I did was made this stuff look more like Tiger by using a utility called Docker. After a month or so, I reverted to the standard look, when it was less of a shock. I do like that stuff but it’s not a big deal and does take some getting used to.

Time Machine has gotten a lot of press and is one of the things that I appreciate most about Leopard. This is a backup utility that’s really smart and mindless to use. It automatically backs up your entire hard drive to an external disk, even over a network. I like the fact that it automatically keeps hourly backups for the past day, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups as long as space allows. I was pretty good about backing up regularly using Backup (Apple’s program) but this is easier and certainly better. It could be a little more configurable but maybe keeping options to a minimum is what makes it so easy for anyone.

Spaces is another big, cool feature. It creates multiple desktops, so you can have applications and windows that only appear in a certain “space”. Maybe one for work, one for personal stuff, etc. I used it a while, then stopped. I will probably use it again when I get the time to really master it. It can be a bit confusing when you switch to another program and it’s not visible because you’re in Space 1 and that program only exists in Space 2. This is a feature that’s been available in Macs for a while using third-party tools, by the way.

Some people hate the new Stacks feature, some people like it. It’s just a different way for folders in the Dock to appear when you click on them. I think they’re really nice, personally.

What else? The Finder windows have built-in searches on the left side, which is useful, although I rarely remember to use them. The QuickLook feature is excellent, particularly when it comes to email attachments. I’m not really using the changes in Mail, Safari (I primarily use Firefox), and iChat, or doing anything with the Parental Controls and Boot Camp (I use Parallels). But overall, I’ve been much more pleased with Leopard than I expected to (and, as I already wrote, I even bought a second copy).

At the WWDC last week, Apple announced very preliminary plans for Mac OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard. It sounds like most of the effort is going into making the OS fast and stable. That’s a really smart idea, and not something Windows (for example) is known for, but I wonder if Apple will have a hard time getting it to sell.

What is Larry Thinking => My Favorite Applications

I wrote about this in a previous newsletter, but just wanted to update the list of favorite applications. These things can change quickly! My favorite program is BBEdit, a top-notch text editor. I’m hearing a lot about TextMate, though, so I may give that a try when I have the time. I still use Aptana for my Adobe AIR development and may use it for Web development and Ruby on Rails. For transferring files, I use Transmit, by Panic. For running Windows, I use Parallels, which is very impressive and reasonably priced. Of course, I also use Microsoft Office (the books are written in Word) and Photoshop. Both more because I have to than because I want to.

I use lots and lots of Apple’s programs, including Mail and iLife. I think they’re programs are truly excellent, worth switching to a Mac for them alone. I also purchased the iWork combo, in part to use Keynote for a presentation I was giving and in part because any time I can get away from a Windows program (like Word or Excel), the better. I like the iWork stuff and the price is exceptional ($79 for a family license). I haven’t yet upgraded to Office 2008, mainly because they dropped Visual Basic support, which I use extensively, and also because it’s way too expensive.

What else? QuickSilver is still vitally important to me. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I strongly recommend it. I do like Delicious Library, but haven’t yet upgraded to version 2, which just came out. I’ve been pretty pleased with MAMP for installing PHP, MySQL, etc. (without impacting the operating system as a whole). And I’ve been totally addicted to a game called Peggle Deluxe. I used to love a game called Tropico, but it doesn’t run on Intel Macs (sadly).

What is Larry Thinking => Stickies and Notes

One kind of application that I really upon a lot is a note-management system. I liked the Stickies application that comes with Mac OS X, but it lacks a lot of features (any features, really). What I need is something that will store lots of notes, that includes spell check, some basic formatting, and searching capability. And that allows me to sort, store, and organize the notes in an easy way. For years I used StickyBrain, and was quite happy with it. That application was rolled into SOHONotes. For some time I used SOHONotes but eventually decided to replace it. I was unhappy with how frequently they released updates that required paying for new licenses and it seemed to get buggier and buggier. The syncing feature was a real pain! The final straw was when they dropped the clipboard functionality. This was a feature the kept a long list of previously-copied material so you could easily go back to it. Chronos, the people that make SOHONotes, also has an application called iClipboard that still serves this role, and I like it, but was disappointed when I paid for an upgrade that had fewer features than the previous version. Plus, the bugs, the bugs…

So I did some research, looking into the various applications that serve this same purpose. Many did way more than I needed, like organizing images, movies, and sounds, and some were too expensive (spending over $50 for a note-taking application wasn’t working for me). In the end I went with Yojimbo, by Bare Bones. It’s reasonably-priced and has all the features I need. Plus I’ve been using Bare Bones’ BBEdit for years, so they have a good track record in my mind. I like that I can “print” PDFs to the program (e.g., receipts from online purchases can be saved there). I also like how easy it is to turn a copied bit of text, including passwords or serial numbers, into notes. And it uses a Mac-like Smart folder feature, like that you’d find in iPhoto or iTunes. So, for now, Yojimbo is on my list of “must-have” applications. In fact, I’m writing this newsletter in it right now!

My Book News

For what’s worth, if you are interested, I have written two books on Mac OS X: Mac OS X Tiger Timesaving Techniques for Dummies and Mac OS X Panther Timesaving Techniques for Dummies. Both are in the For Dummies series, although it’s in a newer “Timesaving Techniques” sub-series. The Panther version was written first, then upgraded for changes in Tiger (there are no plans to do a Leopard edition). The book is exactly as the title implies: hundreds of pages of timesaving techniques, ranging from how to get your computer to run or start faster to how to better use the programs you already use to what other programs you ought to consider. I think there’s useful information in these books, but I’m biased! Both were co-written with Marc Liyanage, as I felt that having two Mac user input would make for a better book.