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New computers – Mac – some additions

I seem to have avoided the problems with Lion, by virtue of not having gotten around to buying it for a while.  Procrastination has its uses.

The battery problems (not those that Charlie Miller found, which seem to have been rather overblown by the media) appear to be getting worse: the battery is still taking forever to charge, and the charge doesn’t last as long. The power management “decisions,” on the part of the computer, are inconsistent.  Often, even when the computer is actually plugged into the mains, the mouse will be shut down, presumably to save power.  On the other hand, sometimes when the computer goes (or is put) to sleep, the USB power is obviously still running, and the mouse sitting there glowing like a nightlight.

Something is not right between Apple and Twitter.  Looking at Twitter via the Web interface (using Safari) is fine–as long as you are only looking at a few screenfuls of postings.  if you go back several hours, and are dealing with a Web page with hundreds of postings, the Mac becomes almost unusable.  The same size of page viewed with an old netbook running XP and Firefox is slow, but definitely works.

New computers – Mac (Flash)

First off, I probably have to modify the perception that I may have left, in this series of postings, that I hate the Mac and everything it stands for.  Not true.  While I find the “Apple knows best” attitude frustrating at times (all right, many times), the MacBook Pro that I purchased is a nice machine in many ways.  For one thing, it’s the most powerful machine I’ve got at the moment.  (Until I get the time to install the new desktop, anyway.)  For another, it hibernates (or suspends, or sleeps, or whatever you want to call it) really well.  I appreciate that ability to simply close the lid, and open it up, and all my stuff is still ready to go, within seconds.  (This has been a particular frustration with the Asus netbook, which sometimes hibernates, and sometimes decides to think about it.  Forever.  Or, until I take the battery out, whichever comes first.)  I like the ongoing and very accurate battery indicator (although I’ll have more to say about that in another post).

It was the battery indicator that first alerted me to the issues with Flash.  As one of my Mac resource helpers noted when I found this out, Flash may, single-handedly, be responsible for global warming.  It is rather odd to pull up a YouTube video, or any other page with a high Flash content (news sites are particularly vile in this regard) and watch the battery life almost instantly cut in half (or drop even further).  To get your battery life (well, most of it, anyway) back again, all you have to do is drop the offending Flash page.

The thing is, I’ve never noticed this before on my other laptops.  Certainly Flash, on Windows, doesn’t have anything like that same effect on the battery life.  Yes, it’s more of a drain, and, yes, you’ll probably have to keep an eye on heating issues.  But the battery life isn’t half of what it was simply because of viewing videos.

Apple doesn’t like Flash.  The converse may also be true.  Because, despite the Mac’s much-vaunted prowess in multimedia areas, online video definitely seems to be a problem for it.

At home, we’ve recently been watching some TV programs via the Internet.  (We’ve done this because, at home, I get Internet service from Shaw, which provides our cable TV, as well.  And, they seem to be just as unreliable at providing the uninterrupted TV feed as they do at providing Internet service or help.  So we’ve had to fall back on the Internet to catch up on shows we’ve missed while the cable was out.)  Because of this, I’ve had a chance to do some comparison between a seven-year old Windows (XP) desktop machine, and a brand new MacBook Pro.  The old Windows machine wins, hands down.  We’ve watched streaming feeds of shows from the company Websites of CBC, GlobalTV, and Bravo, all at the standard presented resolution, and in the full-screen display.  All of these sites use Flash.  And the old (seven years old, remember) Windows machine, using Firefox, has won every round against the Mac, using Safari.  The streaming is just as good (which is odd, considering the sheer age of the Windows box), but the Mac tends to lock up (or go random places) any time we use the controls to rewind, or pick up a missed segment.

To repeat what I started out with, the Mac is great in many areas.  Viewing Twitter, even with the new (and heavily script-laden) interface, the Mac is very much faster, and Safari opens new windows and loads them quickly.  Which I why I found the online video weakness to be so odd …

New computers – Mac (operations and video)

The review of the Mac functions in my little book is sometimes annoying in terms of the jargon used: does “go straight to the corresponding window” mean that the window becomes active, or comes to the foreground? Does it open a window if it doesn’t exist? Does it relate to programs, or just folders? You need to work through the material with the book in one hand, and the Mac under the other. (This process is not aided by inconsistencies in the operation of the Mac itself. As I was working through this content I tried to create a new document from within the TextEdit program, and found that I did not have any options to create a file in any of the new folders I had established previously. Later in the chapter there was mention of dragging folders to the Dock, and so I tried that to see whether it would allow me to use that folder. Lo and behold, now I could create files in any of the new folders I had made, not just the one I dragged to the Dock. Handy for my purposes, but not very informative in terms of why it worked that way.)

(More inconsistency: hiding the Finder behaves differently from other applications. And hiding used with Expose can give you some very … interesting effects. So far I have not had the nerve to play with hiding, Expose, and Spaces all at the same time.)

One of the constant claims made by Mac devotees is that the Mac is better at media. Well, over the past couple of weeks we’ve had occasion to try and watch a couple of TV shows over the Internet. (Once we just forgot: once the cable went out in the middle of the show.) Since the current desktop is seven years old, I figured that the Mac should be given a chance to prove its worth and strut its stuff. We watched one show on the desktop, and one on the Mac.

Mac: total FAIL. Choked, gasped, stopped for no apparent reason (no, it wasn’t the net feed dying: it skipped a bunch of the show, and went to the next series of ads), would not respond to commands, and overall a general lack of “good viewing experience.” The old desktop was grinding away with the fan running full out most of the time, but at least it played the show all the way through.

New computers – Mac (learning curve)

I’m working through a book to learn about my new Mac.  (You’ll see the review eventually, and probably recongize some of this text when you do.)  It provides the information necessary to begin to operate the computer, but it also gives the lie to the statement that the Mac is easy to use.  There are a huge number of options for different functions, so many that it is impossible to remember them all.  The material is generally organized by topic, but there are notes, tips, and mentions buried in the text, and it is almost impossible to find these again, when you go back to look for them.  (The “delete” key definitely needs to be listed in either the index or the key shortcuts appendix.)

One of the appendices is a Windows-to-Mac dictionary, which can be quite handy for those who are used to Microsoft systems.  It could use work in many areas: the entry for “Copy, Cut, Paste” says they work “exactly” as they do in Windows, but does not give the key equivalent of “Command” (the “clover” symbol) -C rather than Ctrl-C.  (It was also only in working through some practice that I discovered that what the book describes as the “option” key is portrayed, in Mac menus, with a kind of bashed “T.”  Yes, I suppose that, once you know this, it does look kind of like a railroad switchpoint, but it’s hardly intuitively obvious.)

There is a style issue in the written material of the book: the constant assertions that the Mac is better than everything, for anything.  The first sentence of chapter one says “When you first turn on a Mac running OS X 10.6, an Apple logo greets you, soon followed by an animated, rotating `Please wait’ gear cursor–and then you’re in.  No progress bar, no red tape.”  Well, if the gear cursor isn’t an analogue of a progress bar, I don’t know what it’s supposed to be.  Also, this statement is false: when you first turn on a Snow Leopard Mac, you have to go through some red tape and questions.  This is only one example of many.  This style may have some validity.  After all, anyone who does not use a Mac comes across the same attitude in any Mac fanatic, and, even without the system chauvinism, a positive approach to teaching about the computer system is likely helpful to the novice user.  However, the style should not get in the way of factual information.

I’m used to UNIX, and I’m already into Terminal, but it’s annoying to have that be the only way to access some of the material, given the repeated assertion that the Mac is so easy to use.  Another little quirk today: yes, you can access Windows servers, but you can’t save anything to them.  (I did find a way around that: create the file in Windows, open it on the Mac, copy information into it, and then save.  Easy, right?)