Switching to Apple Macintosh OSX

What works, what doesn't work.

Notes about an attempt to switch to Macintosh. This was from several Windows 98 systems, desktop and notebook, with their files synchronised over a local area network for backup and instant portability when I needed to travel at short notice. I tried Macintosh after too many horrible encounters with Windows XP on a brand new IBM Thinkpad notebook computer.

The Apple Switch Campaign

The Apple Switch campaign caught my eye enough to make me start checking out descriptions of Apple products (something I hadn't done in probably 20 years). I knew I didn't want an Apple, for a whole bunch of very good reasons. The company only makes expen$ive products. They have a BandD operating system that won't let you do anything except their way. There is no command line for experienced users. There is no scripting ability. And it was no more stable than Windows. I absolutely knew that Apple wouldn't suit me at all. Besides, none of my multitude of (very) old peripherals would work with an Apple.

I had absolutely no intention of changing platforms, but I also absolutely hated Windows XP, due to a very bad encounter with a new IBM Thinkpad starting in January 2003.

For a long while I tried doing everything on my PDAs, very capable units from the British company Psion. One of their models has a great keyboard, and the word processor, spreadsheet and database were enough for my needs, and were wonderfully well integrated with each other. Email was a bit of a pain (mostly it couldn't handle the volume), and web access was outright painful. As for graphics and sound, well, it made an adequate meeting recorder, but you could forget quality music and videos. I'm still using the Psion for a lot of stuff, since I haven't found alternatives that are as good, but since the company no longer exists, I have to move away eventually.

I spent a lot of time looking at a move to Linux, which has some great server facilities but seemed a bit of a handful on the desktop. I asked some of my friends who were heavily into Linux (one supports over 100 Linux desktops, one does kernel work). It seemed a lot more friendly than in the past, but you still had to put in a fair bit of effort. I was really after something I could just use, with minimal technical overheads.

Then there were the stories from Apple switchers, which I actually found very entertaining. Well, maybe they were put up to it by Apple. So I checked to find who had denounced these Apple switcher stories as a PR fake. What I found instead was a Mac to Microsoft fake: "An employee at a public relations company hired by Microsoft, Valerie G. Mallinson of Shoreline, Wash., later acknowledged she was Microsoft's mysterious convert."

Not having any store stocking Apple anywhere close, it took me a long time (in between battles with various old PCs whose hardware was dying, and various XP problems) before I even saw an Apple at a store. But I made a practice whenever visiting a major town to check for any such store. Most of these stores were pretty hopeless on information (although some stores were very pretty), but arstechnica and various Mac web sites covered that side.

I discovered I was wrong in almost everything I thought I knew about Macs. There were cheap models, and I seriously considered getting an eMac, just to try one out. There was a BSD underneath the pretty face, and you could get at it and play with the command line.

Still, that didn't help with the old peripherals that I couldn't connect. GPS with serial port, scanner with parallel port, printer with parallel, cell phone with IrDA or serial. Then the printer and the scanner partly died (of old age), and I knew I'd have to look for replacements sometime. I could still use the cell phone and GPS via the PDA, which was better for portable use anyway. Then it was just a matter of which Macintosh model to try out. About the only model easily eliminated was the G5, since I didn't have any computing intensive tasks planned for the Macintosh.

There were certainly attractive models, but if I got an iMac, I'd obviously have to refurnish my room in glass, stainless steel and leather chairs. Plus throw out all my old furniture, and stop dropping my paper and books on the floor.

Since I travel a lot, a notebook was really the way I needed to go. I considered the iBook, and I think I would probably have done fine with it. However given I was going to see whether I could change platforms, and didn't really know the effects of the pricing decisions that went into the iBook design, I decided that in fairness, I should go with a top of the line 15 inch Powerbook (the 17 inch was too large for travel). If I didn't like that, then it wasn't because I had scrimped on the hardware, it was because the Macintosh just plain didn't suit me. That decision did push the price of entry up considerably.

First few weeks

For the first three weeks I thought I had made a horrible mistake. I basically had trouble with everything! Meta keys seemed out of control, couldn't find how to do things, nothing was where I expected to find it.

The biggest single problem was the Help Viewer was broken, so I couldn't use the internal Help system without the pinwheel of death. Luckily before I bought the PB I had also bought a couple of OS X manuals, and they got me through the first few weeks. Also, very often I would find something that worked really nicely, and that would set me playing with the system again. Expose, and the iLife applications (which I didn't expect to use at all, and now find one or another is always open).

Now I can't recall precisely why I had so much trouble in those first few weeks. I think one thing is that with my Windows experience, I was always expecting to have trouble setting anything up. So when things worked I basically couldn't believe it, and went looking for the fault that I just knew was awaiting me. Not that I'm implying everything just worked, but a lot of stuff did (connecting to a Windows network was interesting, mostly due to differences in terminology).

Lack of Virus and Worm attacks

Regarding a Zero viruses ad campaign, I don't think that would have drawn me in. I never ran an anti-virus on my Windows systems, because the major commercial anti-virus systems interfered with other programs I needed (mostly one for connecting and converting PDA material). I always did custom Windows installs (which took a whole day) with Win98 Lite that included removing Outlook Express, Internet Explorer, plus a bunch of scripting weaknesses, and some DLLs that couldn't be trusted.

Many of my XP problems came because I couldn't find the equivalent changes I thought were needed for security. I always had firewalls installed before connecting to the internet, but my network configuration was carefully tuned to reduce my footprint and vulnerability. Since I got away with that for years on Win98 without a successful virus attack, I don't think a lack of Mac viruses would have influenced me. My reasoning is that I have to take highly similar precautions with the Macintosh, not because there are viruses, but because there could eventually be some. So, did I switch because of the Switch campaign? From an advertising point of view, I'd think No. It was a long time from seeing the first switch material to buying. If I hadn't seen the Microsoft switch material I might not have checked further, and thus wouldn't have looked at the Arstechnica articles on OS X that made me look even closer. But it certainly was an influence, because before that, I hardly knew that Apple still made computers.

Airport Express

The Apple online store delivery times are outstanding. Airport Express is an interesting but limited gadget. With only one Ethern et port, you can't run both WAN and LAN. When playing music, you lack a remote control. If your computer is in another room, this is a pain.


DVDs mostly fail to work at all.

DVD-R is what you want to use. DVD+R is like Beta VCRs. DVD-RAM is for computer use only.


How do you reset the dates of older photos when you scan them in, so as to place them in their correct chronological context?

Internet and Broadband Access

The Australian Bureau of Statistics in September 2003 said Internet access was up 32% since its previous survey in September 2000, and now reached 4.5 million households. Of these 11% were on some manner of broadband.

In the UK, 42% of homes had Internet access, unchanged in the previous 12 months (this was 10% in 1998). Among business enterprises, 97% of medium sized businesses had Internet access, and 67% of small to medium enterprises (SME) had access. 63% of SME were on dialup, 13% had broadband, and ISDN was down to 26%.

Cisco claim 35 million US household will be broadband users by 2005, but they would claim that, wouldn't they? Nielsen Net Ratings said the June 2004 figures were 52% dialup, and 48% broadband.

Local ISP Broadband

Local ISP isn't the cheapest at A$89.95 for a 512/128 kbps ADSL connection, but at least provides technical support in the event of problems. Activation fee is $49.

Their standard ADSL modem is a Netcomm NB1300Plus4 for A$149, and they provide a line splitter filter. The NB1300+4 has four Ethernet ports plus a USB. It runs by default as, and supplies network address translation (NAT). Very little in the way of firewall provision, but you can block ports by forwarding them to itself. No print server, no dialup failover. VPN single session passthrough.

External Disk Drive

USB hard drive. The 30 MB Fujitsu MHT2030AT 2.5 inch 4200 rpm notebook HDD says its typical operating power consumption isw 2 watts, idle is 0.65 watt, and standby power is 0.25 watts. However its spin up power drain is 0.9 amps maximum, which is close to twice the permitted power consumption of a USB devoce.

The Cisco owned Lynksys have a Network Storage Link (NSLU2) which doesn't include any hard drives, but lets you connect two standard USB hard drives. The cost of this Linux based device circa mid 2004 is around US$100

Help Viewer doesn't help

Actually, it doesn't even appear after you select it from Finder Help. All that happens is that a window appears briefly and shuts down straight away. Not helpful at all. I think it did work for a day or so. Failed to fix that by trying to fix permissions (unlikely cure, but people recommended it for other similar sounding problems). I also tried redoing the help preference lists (there seem to be three of them). I think the solution is in this preferences area, but don't know exactly where.

I established another user. Help Viewer works in an alternative user space. That isn't really a suitable solution.

Time Zone settings

While travelling in Australia I noticed System Preferences > Date and Time would only let me set my Time Zone to a limited number of major cities. There are some areas that use Time Zones which do not correspond with those in major cities. Examples in Australia are Broken Hill (in NSW but mostly uses S.A. or Adelaide time zone). The example I specifically had problems with was Mid West Australia. This zone is near the West Australian border, and is between the settings for Perth and Adelaide, but is 45 minutes different from each. It covers only the small towns of Eucla and Border Crossing. /usr/share/zoneinfo/Australia contains a specific entry for Broken_Hill, and I could use zic (zone information compiler) to make a MidWest zone, however the GUI doesn't pay any attention to these entries.

Having some way to tell Date and Time to look at the additional /usr/share/zoneinfo entries would be nice (maybe there is some way to get to it via the pref files, but I haven't spotted it so far).


I had to install the debug mode into Safari from the Terminal defaults write com.apple.Safari DebugIncludeMenu 1 so that I could use some map and direction finding modifications to Address Book. Didn't work. Tried defaults write com.apple.Safari IncludeDebugMenu 1 Didn't work. Finally opened the preferences file com.apple.safari, manually deleted the first setting, and saved the file. That worked (on 10.3.5). Debug gives a real nice range of additional menu commands.

Networking to Windows

It just works out of the box, right? That was what an Apple retailer told me (actually two of them claimed that). On a more modern network than mine, they might even be right, but I sort of doubt it.

My first problem was that my little Windows 98 network was ancient and very much ad hoc. No central server. Because my original PCs from a decade ago only had 10base2 connectors for RG58 coax for their Ethernet connection, I'd just kept right along using the old coax cables. When I got a newer PC, I'd get it with a combo Ethernet card that could handle both coax and twisted pair wiring, and continue to use the coax. The new IBM Thinkpad was the first one where I could not use coax, so I just used a crossover twisted pair cable to connect it to one other computer (the one it was scheduled to replace). To add a Macintosh, I really needed to update the wiring. So I bought a $20 network hub, and some standard twisted pair cables, and connected all the PCs. The desktop PC didn't connect. The Ethernet card couldn't autoswitch between coax and twisted pair. Had to locate a driver and run it to configure the card for twisted pair. That got all the PCs talking to each other. Now to add the Macintosh.

Nothing. Not even looking like it wanted to connect. Most likely cause, network protocol. Although like evenyone else I use TCP/IP over my slow external phoneline internet connection, I always set up my local Windows networks to use NetBEUI internally. It is probably a poor protocol for large networks, but for small ones it is just fine. No IP numbers to configure, no need for any name or IP server. However perhaps the Macintosh didn't know about it. The Macintosh equivalent is probably Appletalk, which my Windows PCs knew nothing about.

Obvious first thing after reading the Macintosh help about available protocols was to try to find out what SMB was, in networking terms. I had this vague decade old memory of it being mentioned in IBM OS/2 in connection with Lan Manager, and even having MS-DOS clients. Nothing about SMB in Windows 98 Help, nor in the Windows books I had. I eventually decided it would probably be something like NetBios running over TCP/IP.

So I moved all the PCs network over to TCP/IP protocol, but without setting an IP number. Nothing connected. Disabled the Zone Alarm firewall as a test. Each Windows machine self assigned an IP number, and connected just fine after a reboot. I set the Zone Alarm firewalls in each to accept the IP numbers all the PC and the Macintosh used. I soon learned that self assigned IP numbers were not all that stable. It is better to assign your own fixed IP numbers to everything. That way you don't have fewer firewall interventions.

The Macintosh help files were not detailed about your SMB addresses for Windows, and I initially used the Windows computer names as part of the address. This is wrong, and I should have realised it before doing so. It might have worked had I added an lmhosts files to the Windows machines, to match Netbios names to IP addresses. Easiest way out is use only the IP number and the name of any shared file resource.

Not Burning CDs

Don't have permissions. Well, OK, given that for security reasons I made my normal account a standard user rather than an administrator, that is probably reasonable. If you have an administrator password you can change the standard user so as to allow CD burning. Except it doesn't work! The secret is that you must be logged on as a different user to the one you are attempting to alter. Just one extra line in the Help text about not being able to burn CDs would have saved me a bit of scratching my head.

Transferring Email

Eudora was my standard Windows email client. I don't trust Outlook or Outlook Express. In addition, they save email in a non-text proprietary format file, a habit I hate. I figured I'd have the easiest conversion if I used Eudora on the Macintosh. However as Apple's Mail was included, and used the Address Book, I decided to check it. First thing was to ensure the mailbox files were saved as standard ASCII text (or HTML if appropriate), just like Unix (and Eudora). They were.

Apple's Mail included Import facilities, one of which could import Eudora. It imported my early Windows Eudora mailboxes from where I had tranferred them just fine. Mail put them into a separate folder, with each mailbox in a new folder within the import folder. I did have to change the name of each, as Windows Eudora names them like name.mbx, and they used the same name on the Macintosh, making the folder name name.mbx.mbox. I just renamed each within Mail. I also had to mark all messages in each folder as being read. Luckily you can select all folders and have it done to all in one move. Obviously you don't want to do that with your In mailbox, so before you transfer your Windows files you should file all you can in other folders.

I had several email addresses, so I needed to do the above several times.

Transferring Address Book

Address book has no way to import Windows Eudora email addresses. These are held in Windows as an ASCII file nndbase.txt, by default in the Eudora folder. The file format is pretty obvious. Just says alias name and email address. Obviously I didn't want to retype them, as there is too much chance of errors.

Apple's address book could import vCard format files, however I had nothing on Windows that used vCard. However I did have a PDA that had an address list program that could export vCard. I used a text editor to change the Eudora nndbase.txt file to a comma separated file. Then I used a database on the PDA to import CSV. I also had a program in the PDA that could convert its database files to its address book files. Then I used the PDA address book to export the file as vCard format. Once I moved it to the Macintosh, Apple's Address Book imported all the vCard just fine.

Mind you, these are only names and email addresses. It might get more interesting when I attempt to import a full address book (currently in a PDA database).

iPhoto Crashes OSX

Not only is iPhoto unstable when you attempt to add informative text to photos, but it can also lock up OSX so thoroughly that only a powerdown can get keyboard activity back. Shades of Microsoft Windows. I thought OSX was supposed to be more stable than Windows, not less! Two forced quits and one power off crash in one day.

That was when I discovered my iPhoto was version 2, and further that version 4 was the current version (it seems there wasn't a version 3). Turns out that although my new (in late March 2004) Mac had iLife, it didn't have a current version. Luckily the DVD came with it, so I updated all the iLife programs. Count that one as user error, although I'm not certain it is all my fault.

I'm pretty happy with iPhoto. In the middle of an 80 day drive around Australia, and I've taken 2880 photos (so far) with my digital camera. All of them are in iPhoto, and all have comments about what they show. I've never previously managed to get my trip photos so organised.

Install Developer System

I'd been told I should have a CD with a software development kit. Couldn't find any such CD, and I was a bit nervous about trying to install from the DVD that came with my Powerbook. Basically I didn't know whether installing from the DVD would attempt to overwrite existing material rather than giving me a choice about what to do.

Turns out that you look on your hard drive in Applications, Installers, Developer Tools. Click on developer.mpkg and then Install Xcode Tools.

Apple Mac
Psion Epoc




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