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One of the things I have discovered in life is that when the founder of a company, or one of its most influential people, leaves the company or dies, the company changes. And usually, the change is not for the better. Often, it’s the sacrifice of some long-held ideal that the founder insisted on adhering to.
Now, I’m not saying that this necessarily has anything to do with the recent death of Steve Jobs, but it definitely pushes Apple further into the “uncool” category. They’ve been headed in that direction for some time now, but this is a major change as far as both software developers and users are concerned:
The commenters on Slashdot have probably expressed all points of view on this, but personally, I don’t see it as a good thing at all. But then, I’m one of those folks who doesn’t think it’s right to trade freedom for security. I’d rather be free than secure, in both life and on my computer.
I hope all the OS X application developers start shunning the App Store the way the Amish shun a family member that chooses to drive an automobile, and have electricity and a telephone in their home (I don’t for a moment think it’s right when the Amish do that, but I’m not going to waste my time editorializing about them because they are unable to read what I write!). A giant uplifted middle finger to whichever dickwads at Apple made this decision.
If you’re a regular reader, you know how I feel about large corporations — the larger they get, the more evil they become. Is this additional evidence that my feelings are correct?
First we have this item:
Apple Further Restricts Upgrade Options on New iMacs
The way I read this, I get the distinct feeling that Apple really doesn’t want you upgrading your Apple computer unless you bring it to them and let them do the upgrade (and pay their price, of course). Then there is this one:
Read the above and it makes you wonder why any company would want to depend on Apple as part of their business model. Frankly, when I read that article, I wondered if the day is approaching when Apple will be the subject of an antitrust investigation. I am not a lawyer so I won’t make any specific comments, but when I read that it had me scratching my head and wondering, “Can it really be legal for Apple to do this?”
Now, the funny part is that I found out about both of the above articles from Twitter, in two successive Tweets that I received one right after the other, from two different people.
I have purchased exactly one Apple product in my life, a Mac Mini. It has been an educational experience but there is no way I’d ever buy another Apple product. Another family member also purchased a Mac Mini (a later model than mine) and not too long after the warranty had expired, the logic board failed and if I remember correctly Apple wanted approximately $350 to fix it. Instead, he bought a new HP system running Windows 7. I’m not rich, so I’m trying to make this Mac Mini last as long as possible (but I’m not upgrading it in any way — still running OS X 10.5) and when the day comes that I have to purchase a new computer, I absolutely, positively will NOT buy another Mac. I’d run Ubuntu Linux on a computer before I’d buy another Mac (actually, I have Ubuntu running on a Home Theater system and can do pretty much anything on it that I can do on my Mac, and in some cases the Ubuntu/Linux software works better).
Then there are the rumors that Apple will be switching away from Intel processors to ARM processors in the near future (though some question why they’d do that). If they do, that will make new Macs even less desirable to users like me. But then I wonder if Apple really sees any future in desktop computers. I think perhaps they think that the entire world will move to portable devices (such as iPhones and iPads) over the next few years, and they can lock people into their way of doing things. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, but I happen to think that Apple’s making some very bad choices that are going to backfire all over them. If I were going to buy a tablet computer — which I won’t until the prices take a serious dive — I certainly wouldn’t buy an iPad (that name still sounds like a feminine hygiene product to me). If I had to buy a tablet computer today, I’d be much more attracted to something like a Motorola Xoom, although by the time such devices become affordable enough that I can get one, they may be additional options out there.
As far as desktop computers go, the thing that attracted me to the Mac Mini in the first place was its small footprint, and now the Acer Aspire Revo line of computers is competing in that market space. And of course, many people are just buying laptops. I’m sure that Apple will continue to have a market share for some time to come, but in my opinion they are just taking their customers for granted a bit too much, and they are burning bridges with other companies that have wanted to partner with them. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for long-term success to me, but what do I know?
- The Danger of Playing in Apple’s Walled Garden (gigaom.com)
- Developer Blames Apple For Ruining eBook Business (apple.slashdot.org)
- Fortune’s Apple exposé: Steve Jobs is a ‘dictator,’ and 3 other takeaways (theweek.com)
(I resisted the urge to make the headline read: “Hulu EULA meant ta fool ya?” You’re welcome.)
2. Permitted License Uses and Restrictions. Hulu grants you a license to install and use the Hulu Software on your personal laptop or desktop computer (“Personal Computer”) for the sole purpose of streaming content that is available on Hulu’s site located at www.hulu.com (“Hulu Content”) on your Personal Computer. You may not download, install or use the Hulu Software on any device other than a Personal Computer including without limitation digital media receiver devices (such as Apple TV), mobile devices (such as a cell phone device, mobile handheld device or a PDA), network devices or CE devices (collectively “Prohibited Devices”). You may not use any hardware, software or service other than the Hulu Software to stream, re-encode, project or transmit Hulu Content. …
But, that is not the part that concerns me. I’m far more concerned about section 5, which states:
5. Consent to Use of Data. You agree that Hulu and its subsidiaries may collect and use technical and related information about your computer, including but not limited to system and application software and peripherals that you use to access the Services. This information is gathered to facilitate the provision of software updates, product support, and other services to you (if any) related to the Hulu Software. Hulu may use this information to improve our products or to provide services or technologies to you. (Emphasis Added)
First of all, why should I be required to tell Hulu anything at all about my computer? Is this so they have a way to enforce the restrictions in Section 2? While this paragraph would concern me even without the inclusion of any “weasel words,” including the words “but not limited to” seems to change the entire tone of that paragraph. Let me put it this way: If you happen to read down this far, what I suspect they want your eyes to see is something like this:
You agree that Hulu (blah, blah) may collect and use technical and related information about your computer (blah, blah) software and peripherals that you use to access the Services. …
And that alone ought to put you on your guard, but many people wouldn’t notice. But if I am reading correctly (and bear in mind that I Am Not A Lawyer), what I think this really means is more along these lines:
You agree that Hulu and its subsidiaries, whoever they are may collect and use any damn thing they want to know about your computer.
So, again if I am reading this correctly, this license in effect gives Hulu and its unnamed subsidiaries blanket permission to take whatever information they can find on your computer. Now, I have no idea what information they actually look at, but no way in hell would I knowingly give Hulu or anybody else blanket permission to let their software rummage around my computer and “phone home” with anything they happen to find interesting.
I’m really surprised that this hasn’t apparently hasn’t been noticed (yet) by those people who regularly look for this sort of thing. Anyway, if anyone from Hulu happens to read this, my advice is that you strike Section 5 of your obnoxious EULA. Or, at least run it by someone who understands that users do not intend to give you the keys to their computer (or the right to take the keys at whatever future date you like) simply because you induce them to use your software, and then revise that section to explicitly state what you will collect (with no “weasel words”), and exactly who will have access to that data.
So my question is this: If we have any legal experts in the crowd, does this EULA section seem as offensive to you as it does to me? Or am I just taking this entirely the wrong way?
As for the Hulu Desktop software itself, I cannot comment on whether it’s any good or not, because I’ve never gone past that EULA screen!
This is a post that was recovered from another, very short-lived blog. Since the original seems to have vanished into thin air, I thought I’d repost it here, since it’s still relevant, and links to another article in this blog. Also, it seems that readers like this type of article — whenever I look at my blog stats, articles like this always tend to be among the top posts.
Lingon is one of those tools that at first blush may seem to be something only a true geek would love, but it’s actually fairly practical. What it does is to allow you to launch scripts or programs according to certain criteria. If you have previous experience with Linux or Unix, you can think of it as a way to set up something similar to a cron job, except that you have more flexibility.
One thing you can do is set up scripts or applications to launch at startup. Now, you may already know how you can launch applications at startup — you go into System Preferences, click on Accounts, and then (while your account is selected) click on Login Items. Once there, you can add or remove applications you want to launch at startup by using the + and/or – buttons. And, that’s the preferred way to launch an application at startup for the logged-in user.
But what if you want to launch an application based on some other criteria, or you want to launch a script of some kind? What if you need an application to start no matter which user is logging in? Or, what if you want to tweak an existing startup item that’s run by the system (as an agent or a daemon) and not by a particular user? That’s where Lingon comes in. Lingon lets you edit and create conﬁguration ﬁles for launchd (and maybe you are asking, what is launchd? Well, according to Wikipedia, “launchd is a unified, open source service management framework for starting, stopping and managing daemons, programs and scripts.” Aren’t you sorry you asked?).
To give you an example of how Lingon can be used, we set it up to start the CallerIDpop perl script from the Michigan Telephone, VoIP and Broadband blog. This is a script used with Linksys/Sipura VoIP adapters (and some phones) that, when there is an incoming call, provides a Growl popup showing caller details and the time the call was received (it can also write this information to a log file). Previously we had been using their suggested method of running an AppleScript (saved as an application) at startup, the AppleScript containing the line that actually starts the Perl script. Although this works, it’s a fairly convoluted way to do it and it seems to eat up a lot of system resources. So, we set out to find another way to invoke the script at startup. Here’s how we did it using Lingon (which, by the way, seems to get the script running a lot quicker, and the script itself seems to be running in a more stable environment):
When you first fire up Lingon, you get this screen:
Click the small button labeled “New” (with the + on the button) in the upper left-hand corner, and you get a dropdown as shown here:
We selected “My Agents” because we only have one user account on that system, and didn’t really want the script to have root privileges. You should think long and hard about running anything as a daemon, because if anything goes wrong (whether due to programming error or malicious intent) the script will be running as root and can do just about anything to your system. Having selected that, we got this window:
As you can see, everything is fairly straightforward. In section 1 you give the agent a name, in section 2 you insert the command just as you would enter it if you ran it directly from a terminal window (or you choose the application to run, if you are running an application), and in section 3 you pick the options you want to use to trigger running the script or application. If you’re not sure about any of the options, click on Help (in the top menu bar) and then “Lingon Help” and it will bring up a PDF file in Preview that explains how to use Lingon. The Help menu also gives you access to the man pages for launchd.plist, launchctl, and launchd, in case you are making changes in any of those files.
Note the “Expert Mode” button in the lower right-hand corner – this shows you the actual XML code, and allows you to write keys and values directly if you are comfortable doing that.
Don’t forget to click the “Save” button at the top when you are finished – we forgot to do that and had to start all over! We sort of wish that the “Save” button were underneath the other three sections, maybe in a section 4!
Unfortunately, to make everything work properly you’ll have to log out and login again, or reboot your Mac, as Lingon will remind you:
Not only can Lingon be used to make your own script or application launchers, but it can also be used to edit existing system agents and daemons. While you normally shouldn’t do this, if you know what you are doing it can sometimes improve system performance. On the other hand, if you don’t know what you are doing, you could render your system totally inoperable! As an example of why you might want to do this, we recommend you see the article, “The Case of the Slow Mac (and how to fix it)” at Maciverse. If you think that your Mac is running a bit sluggish, or if you’re seeing the “spinning beachball of death” a bit too often, this article explains one possible reason, and a suggested fix that’s much easier to make if you use Lingon.
Seems like lists are an in thing these days (however, the use of the phrase “in thing” probably isn’t “in” anymore). The Mac commercials would like you to believe you can do doggone near anything on a Mac. Well, the Mac certainly has its advantages, not the least of which is that it’s not a magnet for every virus, trojan horse, and rootkit out there. But even after a over a year of using the Mac, there are a FEW pieces of software that I wish were available for the Mac.
- Winamp. Not because there’s any lack of audio players for the Mac, but because there is a wonderful libray of plugins for Winamp that, sadly, don’t work with anything other than Winamp. The one plugin I’d love to see work with a Mac audio player, above all others, is the SqrSoft Advanced Crossfading Output plugin. No Mac program, nor cross-platform program seems to know how to do decent intelligent crossfading of songs. Workaround: You can run at least some versions of Winamp under Codeweavers CrossOver Mac – and yes, I have written about this in a previous post.
- Paint Shop Pro (preferably one of the pre-Corel versions) – Here’s the thing, everybody these days seems to be in love with Photoshop, but for many users Photoshop is too expensive, and too complicated to learn and use. Then there is the cross-platform program The Gimp, which is free, but it tries too hard to be Photoshop. Back when I occasionally used Paint Shop Pro, I always thought it struck just the right balance between being simple enough for anyone to use, and still letting you do some good editing tricks. Things like improving a photograph, or giving an image a transparent background were simple. And when it was time to save the completed image, you could tweak the compression level any way you wanted – you weren’t limited to two or three presets. There are at least half a dozen image editors for the Mac, but none work as well as Paint Shop Pro did. I sort of expected that editing images would be something that the Mac would do well, right out of the box, but if it does they sure manage to hide the capability well. EDIT: GraphicConverter (suggested in the comments) seems to come pretty close, although it doesn’t seem to have been updated in a while.
- Cool Edit 2000 – What Paint Shop Pro was to image editing, Cool Edit 2000 was to sound editing – a very intuitive interface and just enough power to do everything you might want (assuming you’re not running a professional audio studio). In particular it was great at noise reduction, and had many built-in filters to help you clean up lousy recordings. Once again there is a cross-platform alternative called Audacity, but it takes forever to load and is too complicated when you just want to do some simple editing (like changing the volume level of an audio file, or trimming silence at the start and end – the sort of thing that was easy under Cool Edit 2000). As with the image editor category, it seems your choices are “will do anything but difficult to use”, or “easy to use but won’t do much.” Paint Shop Pro and Cool Edit 2000 were in that “sweet spot” of “easy to use and still had plenty of capabilities.”
- Total Commander – I’ve said before how much I think that Mac OS X Finder Sucks, but if you try to find a decent dual-pane file manager for the Mac you won’t find one as full-featured as Total Commander. What I’m looking for here is ease of use – give me buttons to select my various drives (or Volumes, as they are known under OS X). Don’t make me click-click-click-click-click to get to frequently used locations. I would run Total Commander under Codeweavers Crossover except that it knows nothing of permissions. Strangely enough, the dual-pane file manager I most often use on my Mac is a Linux program called Midnight Commander, which I install using Rudix, as previously mentioned in my post appropriately titled How to install Midnight Commander under Mac OS X (the easy way, using Rudix).
- TextPad – It’s not that there’s any lack of text editors available for the Mac – in fact Smultron is pretty good, and loads quickly, and is what I use for probably 90% of the text editing I do on the Mac. But the one thing that Smultron won’t do, that TextPad makes easy, is comparing the contents of two text files to find the differences. And also, with TextPad, if you have more than one text window open it’s just a couple of clicks to arrange them in some coherent order (Smultron will let you split a window once, but doesn’t make it obvious how to get multiple files into the windows. And too bad if you want to see three files at once). You can, of course, compare two files by eyeballing them in Smultron, but TextPad has a tool to do that, that shows you the differences in the two files – much better because the computer looks for the changes, not the user. EDIT: Text Wrangler (also suggested in the comments) seems to do a lot of what TextPad does, although I wouldn’t say that it’s quite as easy to use as TextPad for some of the functions that the two have in common — but then, that may be partly due to my lack of familiarity with the program. And wonder of wonders, it is free!
- (I know, I said five, but consider this a “bonus” added a couple months after the original article): WinSCP – There are times when you can SSH into a remote system, but if you want to look at the directory structure without doing a bunch of typing at the command prompt, the only thing that will work is SCP (no, SFTP won’t always work in such situations – maybe in theory it should, but very often SFTP login attempts are rejected). SCP is sort of the “fallback” when nothing else will work, and it’s proved invaluable on several occasions over the last several years. Under Windows, I’ve always used WinSCP, because it shows me the files in a dual-pane display similar to that of Total Commander or Midnight Commander, and lets me easily copy files to and from the remote system. Apparently there simply isn’t a comparable program – certainly not one that’s as easy to use – available for the Mac.
The common thing about five out of six programs on this list is that they are easier to use than any of their Mac counterparts (that I’m aware of, anyway), and have additional capabilities as well. Note that I’m comparing Apples and Apples here, so to speak – I’m pretty sure I could find some really expensive software for the Mac that would do what these programs do (particularly for image and audio editing), but I’m not running a professional photography or recording studio, and none of the Windows programs I have listed were terribly expensive back when I was familiar with them. Anyway, if you use any of these and are considering moving to a Mac, be aware that you may have trouble finding something you like as well as you liked those programs.
If anyone has found replacements for any of the above that you are totally happy with, please feel free to leave a comment. But note that if you are commenting on a Winamp replacement, it’s either got to support Winamp plugins or at least have the equivalent of the SqrSoft Advanced Crossfading Output plugin built in, or it doesn’t count (you can still leave a comment, of course, it’s just that I already know of plenty of other ways to play audio files without crossfading).
This morning, some cnet news writer who obviously has way too much time on his hands published an article suggesting that you should follow everyone on Twitter that follows you. He even suggested it might be a breach of etiquette not to follow your followers. My response: That’s crazy talk. And if it really is Twitter etiquette, then f*ck etiquette, because I’m not going to do it. Never have, never will, and if you don’t like it you can damn well unfollow me and I don’t give a crap.
There are two main reasons I won’t follow someone on Twitter:
First, they got sucked in by the question “What are you doing” and think that anyone really cares (outside of, perhaps, their immediate circle of family and friends). I suggest that if you really have a compulsion to Twitter every insignificant detail of your pathetic life, that you set up two Twitter accounts. Use the first to get the tweeting out of your system – maybe you can get your mom and your siblings to subscribe, but unless you are some kind of celebrity I doubt many others will. There are exceptions to this – people who understand that you have to tweet about things that are interesting to others to build a following – but a lot of twits think that if they just had a good cup of coffee or are riding in an elevator or taking a dump on the commode, that’s worth tweeting about. I don’t care, and I won’t follow you if you do that. So put that stuff in your “close friends and family account” (though you may want to omit the bathroom details in any case) and save the interesting stuff for your general Twitter account.
The second is that, when someone starts following me I go to their Twitter page to see if I want to follow them, and the entire page is @replies. I don’t want to read your private conversations, and I surely don’t want to read half conversations. If you are using Twitter as though it were an IRC channel (that’s “Internet Relay Chat” for you young’uns) then it’s highly unlikely I will follow you. Most of those conversations should be sent as DM’s (direct messages).
Why WOULD I follow you? If you do what I do, and post a lot of interesting links to subjects that I’m interested in. Look, I don’t have the time or interest to use one of those social link services, but every so often I come across someone who seems to have fairly mutual interests, and who doesn’t tweet about the insignificant details of their daily life. In other words, I tend to follow news sources, though not all of it is mainstream news (this doesn’t mean I necessarily believe everything I see on the “offbeat” feeds either – I read some things for sheer entertainment value).
I think that at first, Twitter had a “cool” factor that was last seen when Instant Messaging services first appeared. I can remember when ICQ was the cool new thing – in many ways it was the Twitter of a decade ago. At first it was great to be able to hear from your friends in real-time, especially in the days when most of us were still paying by the minute for long distance calls, and relatively few of us had broadband connections, and cell phones, for those who could afford them, were only phones (used for voice communications). But as we found out back then, ICQ could become intrusive – many of us didn’t want to drop what we were doing whenever someone on our Buddy List felt like chatting. I think that with Twitter, what many are finding is that it’s a time sink, and one way to cut the time wasted is not to follow people who waste your time by Tweeting about things you don’t care about.
One thing that appalls me, as a Mac user, is that there are no great tools for dealing with the Twitter flood. I’ve tried several Twitter clients for the Mac and don’t really like any of them, though I keep coming back to Twhirl (which isn’t really a Mac-specific program since it runs under Adobe Air). What I really WANT is a Twitter client with great filtering capabilities, so that (for example) I can look at Tweets that contain links separately from those that don’t, or separate out Tweets from close friends and associates so I can read those without having to wade through everything. My ideal Twitter client would have tabs across the screen and give me the ability to sort which tweets go into which tabs (think e-mail filtering, but for Twitter). If I had that I might follow a few more people (those who occasionally post great links, but also post a lot of stuff I don’t care to see).
I know people who won’t touch Twitter with the proverbial ten-foot pole, and I was like that until I discovered that Twitter can be an interesting news and information source if you are VERY selective about who you follow. I don’t use Twitter for social networking – if you want to use it that way, that’s fine but don’t be offended if I don’t follow you. Or be offended, I really don’t care, but I still won’t follow you. And I’m not begging anyone to follow me either – why on earth would you want to follow me if I’m tweeting about things that don’t interest you?
So if someone ever writes a book on Twitter etiquette and suggests that you should follow everyone who follows you, I suggest that you don’t buy that book, because the author doesn’t know what the hell they are talking about. I don’t want to spend my entire life gazing at a computer screen – I spend too much time there already and don’t need to be reading all the crap in the Twitter stream. That’s just my opinion on the subject, but I’ll bet a lot of Twitter users would agree with me on this.
One thing that I found frustrating as a Windows user switching to a Mac was that the green button on an Application’s titlebar didn’t work as I would expect – that is, it didn’t make the app expand to fill the full screen. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find multiple open windows to be very distracting. I see some guys with five or ten open windows on their desktops and think that would drive me crazy – it’s just way too much clutter.
So I was more than just a little happy to come across this new free app on the MacUpdate site: Right Zoom 1.0 – Created for people who don’t like default behaviour of green Zoom button. It’s described this way:
Right Zoom utility is created for people who don’t like a default behaviour of the green Zoom button in Mac OS X programs. This small program changes its behaviour, so a green button will always maximize your windows to all available screen space instead of inconvenient resizing.
The program changes a behaviour of Finder and Safari – these two applications are most annoying examples of inconvenient zoom button behaviour. You can easily extend this list with your own applications.
To extend the list you have to open the /Applications/RightZoom.app/Contents/Resources/Applications.xml file and then add the apps you want, save the file, go to a terminal window and type killall RightZoom to stop any currently running instance of the program, then restart it. I hope in the future they might consider something that makes it a bit easier to add applications (or, alternately, a way to specify that you want to apply this behavior to all of your applications except those on an exclusion list), but this is only version 1.0 so I’ll hope for future improvements. Edit: As of version 1.61, you now can apply this behavior to all of your applications except those on an exclusion list. This program has come a long way since version 1.0.
Now if only someone would come up with an application that would resize and tile all your open Finder windows with one click (so that no Finder window overlaps another) – it might actually change might opinion of Finder from hate and loathing to mere tolerance. (Edit: See my related post: Mac OS X Finder SUCKS – could someone PLEASE make a tile utility?)
Fixing the numeric keypad directional keys and Ins/Del on a Mac with PC style keyboard, and more Mac commentary
If you read my earlier post, Seven Mac (OS X 10.5) annoyances, you know that one of my top annoyances was this:
….. This is the one that really bugs me. On a Mac mini, you can plug in any USB keyboard, or just about any keyboard if you get a cheap PS2 to USB adapter (these are easy to find on eBay), so you can still use all those free-after-rebate keyboards you stocked up on several years ago. A minor annoyance, at least for me, is that if I simply reboot the computer without powering it down completely for a few seconds, it doesn’t recognize the keyboard at all. But, that I could live with. What’s really annoying is that the geniuses at Apple decided that the numeric keypad should only be a numeric keypad – the NumLock key is disabled, and there’s no way to get the directional keys or Ins/Del keys to work (please note I’m talking about the keys on the numeric keypad, NOT the keys between the alpha keypad and the numeric keypad, which for the most part work fine though not always exactly as on a PC). The reason this is a HUGE annoyance for me is that I learned to type on a manual typewriter and when I want a number, I use the numbers in the row above the QWERTY line of keys. And for that reason, ever since there have been numeric keypads on keyboards I’ve always released NumLock and used the numeric keypad for navigation only. Do you have any idea how hard it is to unlearn a quarter century of habit? And there is simply no good reason that Apple could not have allowed PC keyboards to work as expected – their OS is built on Unix, after all, and I’m sure that most Unix-based operating systems don’t disable the NumLock (no version of Linux does that to my knowledge). I hope that when whoever made the decision to eliminate the NumLock switch gets old, they are forced to change some longstanding habits just to accommodate some idiot designer’s idea of how things ought to work. Can you tell I’m REALLY PISSED about this one? You would be too, if you hit the wrong key about 300 times a day (in my case it’s the Delete key on the numeric pad), then had to backspace and find the right one. …..
Forgive the quoted rant, but this really annoyed me, and it’s part of a pattern I’ve started to detect with Apple, which annoys me even more (more on that in a minute). But the purpose of this post is to let any of you who may be similarly annoyed about this issue know that there is finally a solution that works great, and is free! Just head on over to the home of KeyRemap4MacBook and download the latest version. Before you install it, make sure you completely uninstall any similar keyboard utilities such as DoubleCommand – if you’ve been using DoubleCommand only to get PC-style home and end keys you won’t need it anymore, because KeyRemap4MacBook can handle that also.
Once you get it installed, go to the System Preferences and click on the KeyRemap4MacBook preference icon (an “alt” key). Once you get to the preference pane, these are the entries you probably want to check:
Of course, you are free to select the options you like, and there are many others available. If you have a weird keyboard, are an Emacs lover, or are fluent in Japanese, there are probably other options here that would be of interest to you. The one that fixes my particular gripe is “Use KeyPad as Arrow”, and the one that eliminates the need for DoubleCommand (for me, anyway) is “Use PC Style Home/End.”
This has totally eliminated my frustration with the Mac keyboard, now let’s hope that Apple doesn’t try to deliberately sabotage this program in a misguided attempt to force people to buy their overpriced keyboards. Why would I even think that they might do such a thing? Well, you see, in the Leopard operating system, Apple introduced a great new feature called Time Machine – great, that is, if you have an external drive that you want to dedicate to Time Machine backups. In Leopard 10.5.1, there were a couple of different ways (freely posted on Mac-related blogs) to let Time Machine use an existing networked external drive for your backups. They involved either running a small utility program called iTimeMachine, or making a one-line tweak from the command line. After that, backups to a share on an external drive somewhere out on your local network worked just great – that is, until Apple pushed out the most recent upgrade to Leopard (version 10.5.2), which for many people (including me) made their old backups inaccessible and prevented the creation of new backups (the backup attempt would fail with the error message, “The backup disk image could not be mounted”).
Strangely, this happened right after Apple announced their own (in my opinion) overpriced backup device called “Time Capsule”, leading at least a few folks to wonder if Apple may be deliberately trying to force users to buy a new backup device (and hoping some will choose Apple’s device because, you know, it’s an “official” Apple product with the Apple logo on it) rather than backing up to their perfectly good existing network storage devices. Of course, you can use Time machine with any external USB drive, you don’t have to buy Time Capsule. And, there is other backup software out there that would let you use an existing networked drive, but Time Machine is really great when it works, and has on more than one occasion let me rescue a file that I had deleted thinking I no longer needed it, only to realize a day or two later that I still did. Now I can no longer do that, until I either shell out for another external hard drive dedicated exclusively to Time Machine backups, or figure out how to trick Time Machine into using my external share again. Apparently, not every Time Machine user had this problem after the Leopard upgrade, but so far every Leopard upgrade has gone badly for me – after the most recent one I got a “blue screen of death” on bootup (just a sky blue screen with no information whatsoever) and had to do what is called an “Archive and Install” to get the system working again.
So if anyone tries to tell you that Mac users don’t ever have the kind of problems that Windows users have, I call bullshit – sure, maybe if you are using Windows Vista or Windows ME you will find Leopard a welcome change, but so far I’ve not been terribly impressed with Leopard. The latest upgrade does seem to have made the system a bit more stable (no more nightly reboots required to clean up memory leaks, or whatever was causing weirdness), but at the cost of the Time Machine problem. So, I’m still rather annoyed with my Mac Mini, but at least I am much less annoyed after finding KeyRemap4MacBook. And admittedly, I’d still much rather have a Mac Mini (even running Leopard) than a Windows Vista machine any day of the week. But that doesn’t mean I’ve joined the ranks of the Mac fanboys who think that Apple can do no wrong. To my way of thinking, on some small scale, Leopard is Apple’s “Vista” – in my limited (one week) experience with Tiger (Leopard’s predecessor), it was a great, stable operating system, and maybe Apple should have built on that instead of releasing Leopard, which has caused so many problems for users. But, all of this is just my opinion – as always, feel free to leave a comment if you disagree.
This may be slightly off-topic for this blog, so I’ll say up front that if any Mac blogs (or Mac-related web sites) would like to pick this up and republish it, please feel free. Having said that, I’ve been using a Mac mini for a little over a month (alongside a Windows box) and there are a few annoyances I’ve discovered that don’t appear to have easy resolutions (and please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about any of these!). These have all been observed under Leopard. Listed in reverse order, starting with the least annoying and progressing to most annoying (to me, anyway):
- Finder won’t save FTP passwords – you may not realize that you don’t really need an external FTP client to connect to an FTP site. Finder lets you do it (while in a Finder window, use Go|Connect to Server from the top menu bar, then specify the FTP address as you would in a web browser, starting with ftp://). It will pop up a box asking for your user name and password, and that box includes a checkbox that offers to remember your password on your keychain – except that it doesn’t, at least when I tested it. Once you’ve done this, the site opens in a finder window, and (assuming you have the proper permissions on the server) you can move files back and forth just as you can to or from any networked drive. The annoyance here is that you have to re-type the password each time. My solution? I use muCommander (a cross platform, twin-pane file manager, somewhat like the old Norton Commander program) for FTP transfers – it will remember the passwords, works very well, and it’s free!
- Unexplained program crashes – sometimes, for no apparent reason, a program will just crash, and a box pops up asking if you want to restart it or ignore it. This seems to happen frequently when I’m actually trying to quit a program (some programs are worse than others in this regard) but at least in those cases I’m actually wanting the program to quit. More annoying is when it happens for no apparent reason while trying to do something perfectly normal, like opening a file. This happens with both Apple-supplied apps and third-party apps. The saving grace is that this rarely happens in a way that you actually lose data, so it’s just annoying that you have to restart the program (or click a button to ignore the error when you really want to quit).
- Firewall blocks incoming connections only – Leopard provides a firewall, but it only blocks incoming connections, and seems to allow or disallow connections on a per-application basis only (in other words, if you allow one incoming connection to an app, you allow them all). It has no way to prevent rogue apps from “phoning home”, and third-party Mac apps seem much worse about phoning home without express user permission than PC apps (although many do ask first, and in some cases the only reason for “phoning home” is to check for new versions). There is a third-party add-on that provides outgoing connection blocking but it costs money, and some users have reported problems after installing it, which is why I’m not naming it here. C’mon, Apple, one of the reasons people buy Macs is because they perceive them to be more secure than PC’s, so at least give us a firewall preference panel that doesn’t look like it was thrown together in a single afternoon, and actually allows flexibility in blocking both outgoing and incoming connections.
- No simple way to paste plain text – Let’s say you want to do a copy and paste of some text from your web browser to an outgoing mail. You’ll get different results depending on the browser you are copying from, but under no circumstances will you get plain text. On a PC, using Eudora, I could always do Control-Shift-V to paste plain text. Try using Command-Shift-V in Apple Mail and it does change the formatting, but also pastes the text as if it were a quote from the message being replied to. The ONLY way I’ve found around this is to use a utility called Plain Clip, which sits in the dock, and when you click on it it changes whatever text is in the clipboard to plain text. But that’s cumbersome to use when you are in the middle of a keyboard operation (you have to move a hand from keyboard to mouse to perform this operation). I can’t believe there’s no keystroke combination that will simply strip the formatting from text and paste it as plain text, but if there is, I sure haven’t found it. Edit: Would you believe that pressing Alt-Command-Shift-V (or in AppleSpeak, Option-Command-Shift-V) sometimes works to paste plain text? Yes, that’s a FOUR key combination. Wonder what genius came up with that one?!
- No way to delay outgoing mail – While on the subject of the Apple Mail program, I’m the type of person who frequently composes a mail, clicks Send, and then realizes that I should have added something (like a URL to a web page) or perhaps included another recipient. Sometimes, infrequently, I realize I shouldn’t have sent it at all. On the PC, in Eudora, I could set it up so that it only sent out mail in batches at predefined intervals (I used 20 minutes), which let me catch most of my “mistakes” before they were actually sent. With Apple Mail, you click Send and boom! It’s gone, with no “cooling off” period whatsoever. I would be oh, so happy if someone would come out with a “delayed send” plugin for Mail, that you could click and it would delay sending until 20 minutes into the future (or some other predefined period) – and if you then reopened and edited the message, the clock would reset. There are, of course, times when I really do want the message to go out immediately, but most of what I send is not time-sensitive and I’d really appreciate the opportunity to have an automatic delay on sent e-mail (and one that does not involve clicking around and making an event in iCal, or something that’s more difficult than it should be).
- iCal can’t set a recurring alarm for the exact time of the event – And speaking of iCal, maybe I’m missing something obvious, but it doesn’t seem to have a fast and elegant way to set up a simple recurring reminder (such as, I want an alarm to pop up on my computer at 9:00 AM on the third of every month). You have to create an event, and then you can specify that it’s a recurring event and then specify the popup alarm, but annoyingly you cannot set the alarm to the exact start of the event – it can be one minute before or one minute after (if you manually enter those), or 15 minutes before or 15 minutes after if you take the defaults. But sometimes you don’t want to create an event in the usual sense of the word, you just want a simple reminder at a specific time, and iCal makes this more difficult than it should be. Bonus iCal annoyance: If you enter someone’s birthday in the Address book, an entry shows up on that day in iCal, but there’s no way to associate an alarm with it. Didn’t anybody at Apple consider that you might want to have a popup reminder a day or two before the birthday?
- This is the one that really bugs me. On a Mac mini, you can plug in any USB keyboard, or just about any keyboard if you get a cheap PS2 to USB adapter (these are easy to find on eBay), so you can still use all those free-after-rebate keyboards you stocked up on several years ago. A minor annoyance, at least for me, is that if I simply reboot the computer without powering it down completely for a few seconds, it doesn’t recognize the keyboard at all. But, that I could live with. What’s really annoying is that the geniuses at Apple decided that the numeric keypad should only be a numeric keypad – the NumLock key is disabled, and there’s no way to get the directional keys or Ins/Del keys to work (please note I’m talking about the keys on the numeric keypad, NOT the keys between the alpha keypad and the numeric keypad, which for the most part work fine though not always exactly as on a PC). The reason this is a HUGE annoyance for me is that I learned to type on a manual typewriter and when I want a number, I use the numbers in the row above the QWERTY line of keys. And for that reason, ever since there have been numeric keypads on keyboards I’ve always released NumLock and used the numeric keypad for navigation only. Do you have any idea how hard it is to unlearn a quarter century of habit? And there is simply no good reason that Apple could not have allowed PC keyboards to work as expected – their OS is built on Unix, after all, and I’m sure that most Unix-based operating systems don’t disable the NumLock (no version of Linux does that to my knowledge). I hope that when whoever made the decision to eliminate the NumLock switch gets old, they are forced to change some longstanding habits just to accommodate some idiot designer’s idea of how things ought to work. Can you tell I’m REALLY PISSED about this one? You would be too, if you hit the wrong key about 300 times a day (in my case it’s the Delete key on the numeric pad), then had to backspace and find the right one. Yes, I finally did find a hack that works in a few programs (Apple Mail for one) but for whatever reason, it doesn’t work in Firefox (such as when entering this post). Edit: Help is finally here! The program KeyRemap4MacBook now has the ability to fix the numeric keypad (even in Firefox). Be sure to get the latest release version (3.1.0 or better). In that program, you will want to enable “Use KeyPad as Arrow (PC Style NumLock)” and (optionally) “Use PC Style Home/End (Command+Arrow)” and/or “Application Key to F11″ (the “Application” key is the one between the right-hand Windows/Command key and the right-hand Ctrl key on PC-style keyboards).
Well, that’s my list of Mac irritants. Now, please don’t get the wrong idea, there’s a lot to like about the Mac, and some things are definitely easier on the Mac. Even my list of irritations are for the most part small stuff, but that’s part of what makes them irritating – I have to think that none of the things on my list would take considerable effort for the coders at Apple to fix (except maybe the firewall thing), and many of them might only take an hour or so, maybe less. What I don’t know is whether these things annoy anyone but me, or whether others have found acceptable workarounds.
One thing that might have been on this list a month ago, but isn’t now, is a lack of good freeware and open-source software for the Mac, compared to what’s available for Linux and the PC. It turns out that there’s a wealth of Mac freeware out there, but you have to find the sites that list it, and they do exist. The annoyance, if you can call it that, is that on several of the Mac-based forums they just don’t talk about the freeware much. It seems that there is a certain contingent within the ranks of Mac devotees that has the attitude that free software can’t be good software, which is a myth long since discarded among Windows and Linux users (and I think the Mac folks are coming around, but some of them are doing a lot of kicking and screaming about it). Here are links to a few good Mac freeware sites that also have RSS newsfeeds:
Edit: Also see this blog post: 20 Resources for OS X Freeware
There are probably other good Mac freeware sites (feel free to mention them in a comment, but be aware that I’ll actually check the link, so don’t try to spam!)