New computers – Mac (basics)

My father-in-law is a dedicated Apple fanatic (as are a number of my friends).  Since I had an MS-DOS machine when we first met, he tagged me as an IBM person.  (It was vain to point out that, although I had once installed a Baby 36 for a charity, I did not, in fact, have a System 360 installed in the non-existent basement of my apartment.)  He eventually figured out that Microsoft made the operating system, but, even though I have worked on (among others) a predecessor to AOS(VS), Apple DOS, UNIX, TOPS-10, VMS, JCL, and CP/M, and make no secret of my frustrations with Windows, he still considers me to be one of “the enemy.”

Well, I’ve always wanted to have a crack at Macs.  I got the first one installed in one company I worked for, over twenty years ago, used it for a while, and, despite the frustrations, was still interested in getting one of my own.  So, this year, while I had the need to update at least two machines, and since the price had come down from “completely-out-of-the-question” to merely “obscene,” I decided to get one.

The experience has been interesting.  I shall, no doubt, have more to say about aspects of operation in the future, but it has been an education to get a new Mac (a MacBook Pro laptop) and take it out of the box.

To give credit where credit is due, I’ve got to say that I’ve been impressed with the performance of the Mac and the Safari browser on the Web, which is what I’ve done with it so far.  The overall design is nice, of course.  I like the battery life (so far), and the “sleep” mode performance.  The machine recognized a generic mouse I plugged into it, and happily connected to the Internet when through a wired LAN.  The minimal (well, OK, slightly more than minimal) experience I’ve had with Mac OS X was quite sufficient to get me started on the machine, and I’ve even managed to puzzle out some things with the help of the “Help” system (but more on that later).

The big thing with Mac advertising, and Mac devotees, is that the Mac is easy to use “right out of the box.”  And, yes, that is partially, and possibly even mostly, true.  But not completely.

The reason that I needed to plug in a mouse was that I could not figure out how to “choose” or activate something with the trackpad.  I could move the pointer around, no problem, but then there were no buttons to push.  Tapping didn’t work.  I remembered seeing people tapping hard on the trackpad on Mac laptops, so I tried that.  Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t.

Experienced Mac laptop users will be smirking, of course, knowing what I eventually found out.  You don’t tap the trackpad, or even tap it hard.  You press, deliberately, and you can actually feel a detent “click” when you’ve pressed hard enough.  (And, of course, whatever you wanted to activate gets activated.)  This is sort of implied in the documentation (when I found it), but even there isn’t really made clear.  And it certainly isn’t “intuitively obvious.”

Ah, yes, the documentation.  Once you’ve figured out how to open up the box the laptop comes in, you take the laptop out of the clear cellophane “envelope,” and open it up.  Since it is shipped with the battery charged, as soon as you take the protective foam sheet off the keyboard, and figure out the power button (not *too* hard, if you’ve got good eyes: white on silver is pretty, but not exactly clear) things start happening.  Once you’ve gotten over the excitement, you may notice that there are power cords in a bay at the back of the box.  You are less likely to notice that there is a black cardboard envelope nestled into the black packing material at the front of the box.  Pulling on a tab in just the right way starts to loosen this, although you still seem to have to find a finger hole in the envelope in order to get it out, and then figure out how to open it.  Once you do, you will find a brief booklet which does tell you which of the two power cords is actually a power cord, and which is a mere (and very short) extension cord.  It also tells you a few other things that would have been handy, had I not already figured them out by trial and (mostly) error.  (There is also a CD or DVD which I haven’t yet had the time to try out.)

OK, some of the design is great.  (Not insanely, but great.)  Not all of it.