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Switcher's Diary #1

Date:  7th June, 2005


Apple Power Mac G5 with 30-inch Cinema Display

I've had my shiny new Power Mac G5 up-and-running for around a fortnight now and thought I'd record a few notes about the "Switching Experience."™

The Switching Experience™ began with the Unpacking Ritual.™ This is a rite of passage that all switchers undertake as they begin their journey along the Road of Enlightenment.

Apple's Packaging Department is surely staffed with Willy Wonka's Oompa Loompas, all of whom sing happily while engineering (there is no other word for it) the thoughtfully designed packaging that comforts every Apple product through the hazards of shipping. The Unpacking Ritual is so rewarding that I documented it with a little photo-essay...

Design & Engineering

“the Power Mac G5 is a beautiful computer”

The first thing that strikes you about Apple hardware is how exquisitely designed and engineered it all is. The Power Mac G5 is a beautiful computer. The brushed aluminium finish and clean lines wouldn't look out of place in the smartest designer living-room. But don't be fooled, this computer is no ornament, even a cursory appraisal of its specifications are proof enough of that.

One then notices the attention to detail that has been invested in the computer's enclosure. There are no sharp edges and no clutter. There is nothing that looks like an afterthought. Remarkably, the elegance doesn't end when one turns to the back of the computer, despite the fact that this will only rarely be seen.

The Power Mac G5 is also clean and simple on the inside. The internals are clutter-free and almost completely bereft of the cabling that makes the more mainstream desktop computers look so chaotic when their guts are exposed.

The Apple Cinema Display brings more of the same. The same svelte lines, the same smooth, brushed aluminium skin, the same attention to detail. The bezel is remarkably thin for such a large panel. The ACD has two more qualities that really surprised me. Firstly the rear of the panel is completely devoid of vents, seams and screws. There's no manufacturer's label with model and serial number, voltage requirements, etc. There's a simple Apple logo, two USB and two FireWire ports and that's it. A single cable connects to the back of the display, carrying power and data lines for the FireWire and USB hubs. The second surprise is how easy it is to tilt and swivel the panel. The 30" ACD is a large panel. It weighs 12.47kg. Yet one can tilt the screen with a single finger. There's almost no resistance to movement yet, somehow, the panel stays exactly where you leave it. The hinge-damping mechanism is absolutely perfect!

Keyboard and Mouse

Up to this point, I have had only positive things to write about the Apple Power Mac G5. I wish I could be equally enthusiastic about Apple's keyboard and mouse, but I can't. Now, let's defuse a potential flame war before it even starts: I know that individual input devices can't possibly suit everyone. I appreciate that my perception of "feel", "responsiveness" and "usability" might differ from everyone else's. So, as you read on, bear in mind that perceptions are subjective. Hundreds of thousands of people use Apple's keyboard and mouse without complaint.

So, with that out of the way, let's start with the keyboard. It sucks, it really, really sucks! I noticed it immediately when I began using the G5 and it continues to irritate and even anger me. The keyboard, like the rest of the hardware, is very pretty. Design-wise, it compliments the system perfectly. But, for myself at least, it has two big flaws.

It is completely lacking in "feel", or tactile response. This is the killer for me. Pushing keys on the supplied keyboard is like poking at a dead fish (figuratively speaking). Even after two weeks of familiarisation (I've given it a fair chance), I still can't find anything positive to write about it. When typing, I find myself missing some keystrokes completely, while others result in double characters. It is a continuous irritant. I have to constantly watch the screen while typing, because the keyboard simply doesn't supply the necessary feedback. It slows me down considerably.

The second problem with the keyboard is the key-mappings. The following keys aren't where I expect them to be: @, #, ", |... which results in frequent pauses when I'm working, particularly when I'm programming, as I hunt for the correct key. This is less of a problem than the soggy keyboard and will diminish over time as muscle memory kicks in - but then I'll have the same problem when I use a keyboard with the standard layout on a different computer, like my laptop. Why are the key-mappings different to everyone else's Apple?

If you've ever seen the film "Office Space" you'll be familiar with the scene where Peter Gibbons (played by Ron Livingston) and his partners in crime take revenge on a recalcitrant printer. Using their hands, feet and a somewhat battered baseball-bat, the trio completely, and violently, destroy the printer. They do so with obvious passion. Now, with that scene clear in your mind, picture what's going to happen to my Apple keyboard when its replacement arrives...

So what of the Apple mouse? To be honest I don't know whether it's good or bad. You see, I've never used it. It's still sealed in its original packaging. I've never used it because I know, without even trying it, that it's no good to me. Apple, in their wisdom (or, as some would call it, stubbornness) choose to supply a mouse that has only one button and no scroll wheel.

I've read all the arguments in favour of the single-button mouse, I even agree with some of them. The fact is that Mac OS has supported multiple-mouse buttons since version 8.6 and the scroll-wheel has been supported in all versions of OS X. Thus I can't really condemn Apple - they've given us the option to choose any mouse we want for a long time.

I chose the Microsoft S+ARCK optical mouse. It's a two button affair with a scroll wheel. It's a good-looking mouse and really looks the part next to the G5. It's not perfect (the optical sensor drops the ball sometimes, sending the mouse-pointer shooting to the corners of the screen), but I've got used to it and it suits me, until I find something better.

What I'd really like is an Apple-branded, two-button mouse with a scroll wheel. Make that mouse optical; make it cordless; make it rechargeable - and I'd have no problem paying £50 - £60 for it. I'm not asking for such a mouse to be shipped as standard, I'm simply asking for an option.

Powering Up

Internals of the Apple Power Mac G5My Windows PC runs with it's CPU, NorthBridge and GPU all liquid-cooled, yet the chassis still houses 3 x 80mm and 1 x 120mm fans, along with a PSU that boasts two fans of its own. Thus, despite the elaborate cooling system, my PC is still quite a loud machine. So much so, that I ended up installing an analogue rheobus so that I could balance fan speed, cooling efficiency and noise levels. However, this is a manual process and, for the most part, I simply leave all the fans running at full speed and tolerate the noise.

The Apple Power Mac G5 has a liquid-cooling system in this dual 2.7GHz configuration (for the CPUs only). It also has a multitude of fans and a rheobus. But the G5 has a little trick up its sleeve, its rheobus is automatically controlled. The G5 is an exceptionally quiet computer in general use (for such a high-powered machine). Mine sits on my desk, approximately two-feet away from me, yet I can barely hear a sound from it. When I push it, the system responds to the increase in operating temperature and winds up the fans a little. When the temperature is stabilised, the system reduces the RPMs of the fan and returns to whisper-quiet mode. It is totally non-intrusive and very pleasant to work with.

The Power Mac's cooling system is also extremely efficient, judging by the amount of heat expelled by the fans at the rear of the computer.

It's somewhat ironic that I can hear my liquid-cooled, 3GHz Athlon-powered PC over my Apple Power Mac G5 - despite the fact that the PC is idling on the other side of the room and the Power Mac sits on my desk, in constant use.


Once the computer was booted up, and after I'd marvelled at the eye-candy of OS X, my first task was to install the Macintosh equivalents of the software I was using daily on my Windows XP PC. This is what I've ended up with:


Windows XP

OS X Equivalent

Web Browser


Firefox - For some undefinable reason I prefer Firefox to Safari.


Thunderbird and Gmail

Mail 2 ** and Gmail

Music Player


iTunes ** - Enough said!

Instant Messaging



Office Applications

Open Office

iWork '05 - the only software I have had to buy thus far. I'm also using NeoOffice/J * for when I need to work on spreadsheets.

Image Management


iPhoto ** and gBrowser

Image Editing


GIMP * - Who needs PhotoShop?

Programming IDE & Text Editor


Unfortunately I haven't yet found an IDE with anything like the feature-set of Komodo for OS X. However, I am programming relatively efficiently using a combination of TextWrangler (which I will soon upgrade to BBEdit) and Xcode **.

STOP PRESS: I have recently installed jEdit. This Java-based editor is very impressive. I felt immediately comfortable with it and have found myself favouring it over both TextWrangler and Xcode. This might well end up being my text-editor of choice.





SSH Tectia Client

One of the great benefits of Mac OS X's BSD core is that one can enjoy the vast power of UNIX. OS X's terminal exposes the underlying operating system and provides SSH functionality for connecting to remote servers.

Even so, I still find that I prefer a graphical SFTP client. I am using Fugu for file-transfers.

Peer-to-Peer File Transfers


LimeWire - I should have been using this on Windows XP too. LimeWire blows WinMX out of the water.

Source Control

Subversion, TortoiseSVN & TortoiseMerge

Subversion and svnX

Windows Media Player

Windows Media Player

Windows Media Player for Mac OS X


Command Antivirus

clamXav - There are those who would argue against the wisdom of installing anti-virus software on OS X. To the best of my knowledge, there are no OS X viruses out in the wild. However, this Utopia will probably not exist for too much longer. The runaway success of Apple's Mac mini combined with the growing number of "Switchers" will make the OS X platform increasingly more attractive to the pond-scum who create malicious software.

Even if, by some miracle, OS X manages to avoid the attentions of the virus-creator forever, Mac users should still run anti-virus software to prevent themselves acting as carriers to the plethora of Windows viruses that arrive in our email in-boxes - ready for forwarding to our poor, beleaguered Windows victims.

Technical Drawing / Diagramming


OmniGraffle ** - I'm amazed that software this specialised and useful is supplied as part of the standard software bundle.

DVD Player


DVD Player **

DVD Backups & Video Encoding

cladDVD .NET

ffmpegX - This is an awesome application. "The power of 20 UNIX tools in a single application to quickly encode and author video in any format." At just $15 this is simply too good to be true!

* Requires the X11 Windowing System **.
** Supplied with the bundled software.

Riding the Tiger

The transition from Windows XP to OS X has been fairly easy. I have been running an OS X-skinned version of Windows XP for so long that I am already used to using a dock, a menu-strip at the top of the display, drive icons on the right of the desktop and window control widgets on the top-left-corner of the window.

There are some things I've had to get used to though:

  • Application menus are not located at the top of the application's window (as they are on XP). Instead, the main menu-strip (located at the top of the display) displays the application menu of whatever application currently has focus.
  • Focus does not follow the mouse pointer, windows require a click to take focus. This was hugely irritating during the first few post-switching days. However, I've grown accustomed to it now.
  • Font rendering is absolutely gorgeous on OS X. Many websites appear completely transformed as a result. "ClearType" was supposed to have achieved a similar effect under Windows. As a user of both platforms I can tell you that ClearType doesn't even come close to matching the font-rendering of OS X.
  • Wireless networking is easy and hassle free with OS X. While my G5 is normally wired to my LAN (it's faster), I did make an effort to test the Mac's Wi-Fi connectivity. The AirPort connected to my NETGEAR WG602 Access Point without any problems whatsoever, something my IBM X40 ThinkPad (running Windows XP Pro) still struggles with.
  • Despite all the hype from Mac zealots, OS X applications aren't any more stable than Windows applications (on Windows NT and later). Programs crash under OS X just as frequently as they do under Windows. I've never suffered an operating system crash with OS X, but then I don't remember having them with XP either.
  • OS X is refreshing to use. The eye-candy won't appeal to everyone, but I find the smooth animations, drop-shadows and, indeed, the entire user-interface extremely pleasing.
  • Application windows always re-open in their previous position and with their last dimensions. This is supposed to be the case in Windows too, but it doesn't always work.
  • The window control widgets behave differently under OS X to their Windows counterparts:
    * The "close" button (the red pill) doesn't terminate its respective application, it only closes the application's window. Thus re-opening the application is much quicker than it would be if one were starting it up from scratch. The [Apple-q] key combination terminates the application.
    * The "maximise" button (the green pill) doesn't maximise its window. It does resize the window, to various dimensions. I haven't completely figured this one out yet.


OS X does have some quirks that I'm still getting used to:

  • The "delete" key doesn't always work the same way as does in Windows. For example, I find it very annoying that I can't select a file in the "Finder" then hit "delete" to move it to the trashcan (as one can in Windows). This still catches me out occasionally.
  • The clipboard is controlled using the "Apple" modifier key rather than the "ctrl" key.
  • Dragging a disk icon to the trashcan to eject it is a metaphor that just doesn't work for me. I find this to be very counter-intuitive.
  • Dragging a folder onto the icon of another folder does not merge the contents of the two folders (as it does in Windows). Performing such an operation will actually replace the contents of the destination folder with those of the source folder!

The hardware's not immune from criticism eiither:

  • The power LED on the ACD is off when the display is on. It comes on briefly when the display is turned on (or off) then fades out. Is the correct behaviour? If so, why?

RDC: Praising Microsoft

Switching from Windows to OS X would have been a lot more difficult for me without a clever little bit of software from... Microsoft.

The Remote Desktop Connection Client allows one to connect to any computer running a version of Windows that supports Remote Desktop connections. When connected, the RDC client opens a window in OS X that mirrors the display of the remote Windows PC. The remote computer can then be operated with the Macintosh keyboard and mouse as if one were physically sat in front of it. RDC supports a shared clipboard (data can be copy-and-pasted between the Mac and the Windows PC).

RDC has proven to be invaluable as I make the transition from Windows to OS X. I keep an RDC window, connected to my Windows XP PC, open continuously - switching between the two computers as required.

Final Comments

Terminal, X11 and Fink are essential to my computer usage on the Mac.

Spotlight is extremely useful, accurate and very, very quick.

Automator is a fantastic tool, removing much of the tedium of day-to-day computing. While not as powerful as AppleScript, Perl scripts or shell scripts, Automator provides a quick and simple interface to basic automation.

Exposé is a great time-saver for those of us whose desktops usually contain a plethora of open windows.

Dashboard is a load of pretentious rubbish!