Thursday, November 30, 2006

Windows Vista: A Switcher's Perspective

Today Windows Vista has offically been released to the wild - or at least to businesses. This will be the first time that I witness the release of a new Windows Operating System without Windows being my primary, day-to-day OS and it has got me thinking.

I try my best not to be a Mac Zealot (although I'm sure that I am) - Windows did me well for many years but having seen the Mac way of living in the computing world - I'm not looking back.

I installed Windows Vista Beta 2 (Ultimate Edition) on one of my old desktops to get a taste for what was coming out of Redmond these days and found the experience a mixed bag. the first thing to strike me about the new Windows is that it is rather pretty - the transparencies look nice and the black coloured look and feel to the UI is far more stylish than the freaking TeleTubbie blue/green mess of Windows XP. However, this is nothing new - pretty transparencies are available in Linux distributions and, of course OS X.

Pretty pictures and colour schemes are worth nothing without an intuitive user interface. This is a difficult issue to be objective about - I've used Windows all my life and switched to using OS X as my primary OS earlier this year so I know how things work under XP and OSX. Any new OS takes a while to get used to (especially if you were adept at using the previous release). However, I can draw on my experience of how easy it was to switch from Windows XP to OS X. Switching to OS X was a doddle and, even fun, experience - it was cool to learn how Apple viewed the world. From the perspective of a OS X/Windows XP power user, I found found Vista a bit difficult. The paths of use that I am accustomed to with Windows XP are not there, but the OS is sufficiently similar for me to expect them to be. My absolute biggest gripe with the new UI is the lack of the 'List' view when looking at your filesystem - this alone is enough to put me off switching to Vista. I just don't understand why this has been removed (and if it exists in the newer releases, someone please tell me!).

Onto my next observation - Vista wants a lot of juice to run pretty. Fair enough, I was using the Ultimate Edition on a machine that is about 2 years old but the processing overhead needed to run these pretty transparencies is a bit of a joke. I can run Ubuntu on the same machine (with similar GUI prettys enabled) and the machine runs very fast. I just don't know where the extra processor power is going. Even my very old iMac G3 is able to handle most of OS X at a reasonable speed. I guess this could be due to my version being the Beta release but, having seen the system specs needed to run full Vista, I don't think that is the whole story.

I had some other teething problems but I put these down to the Beta nature of the release I was using - vista didn't recognise my Wireless Card. Also, the software Update feature had a tendency to bomb out. I can't really hold this against them though...unless I have the same problems on the production release.

The one thing I do still use Windows a lot for is as a living room PC - I think XP Media Center edition is a very tasty lil' program. However, I will not be upgrading my living room PC to Ultimate Vista for the simple reason that the new version of the Media Center software is not compatible with XP-based Media Center extenders. Having fought long and hard to get a U.S. Xbox and the U.S. Media Center software, I will not be decommissioning it to the bin for Vista. This does kinda grill me a bit, I can't believe that keeping a compatibility layer in Vista MCE could have been so difficult?

So, having played with Vista for a while, I guess my big question is - why should I upgrade? Besides the improved graphics, I couldn't see much here for me. Microsoft have touted security as being a good reason to switch but, when using my Mac, I've yet to encounter any security problems. Short of the pretty pictures, I don't see what is on offer (even to non-Mac users). Despite having taken 5 years to make, this seems more like a facelift rather than a new OS - it certainly not like the switch from 98 to XP (where MS-DOS was finally sent down stream) or the Apple switch from OS 9 to OS X. From what I can see,a similar comment can be made about OS X Leopard - there just doesn't appear to be that much new on offer. However, Leopard is going to be a darn sight cheaper than Vista and hasn't taken 5 years to make.

I have been quite hard on Vista - don't get me wrong, I don't think it is a step BACK from XP (an OS which I'm happy to work with) but it only seems to be a small shuffle forward...a small shuffle that will cost up to £224.99*

*price from

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Using Apple X11 to access CDE/GNOME/KDE/etc. on a remote machine

I've been playing around with solaris servers in the office this last week and came up against a problem when I wanted to access one of our machines remotely. I installed Apple X11 onto my machine (see earlier posts) and was found myself with an Xterminal command line and the question: How do access my remote machine? I know nothing about Xterminals so the following info. maybe ovbious to a frequesnt *nix user but I didn't know what to do. After much digging on the internet I found the answer.

1)Open (in Applications/Utilities)
2) In the Xterminal command window that appears, type the following:

Xnest :1 -query (hostname/ip address)

So, for example:

Xnest :1 -query

i'm sure there are other ways of doing this that give you more options but this should definately get you started if you're having trouble getting it to work.

If you want to set up a shortcut to this command, go to 'Applications' in the X11 app and choose 'Customize...'. From here, you can add the command line to open any X11 application. A word of advice though, if your remote connection isn't working properly, open up an Xterm window and type the command direct into there rather than using an application shortcut. this is because when you run Xcommand from the Xterminal command line, the terminal command line window acts as a log so you can determine where your X11 is experiencing problems.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Installing a Media Wiki on Mac OS X Server (Panther)

I decided it would be cool to set up a Media Wiki (ala Wikipedia) for a project I'm involved in at work and set about installing it on my OS X Server. I tried installing version 1.8.2 only to find that the PHP it needs to run is version 5. Seeing as Panther is distributed with PHP4, I went on a long crusade to try and install the new PHP5 module into my OS X Server so I could run the new Wiki version.

My advice? Use an older version of the Wiki!

I went through hell and high water trying to install PHP5. An installer has been made to install PHP5 into standard OS X pain free. The URL is:

HOWEVER, I found that it didn't install happily on my Panther Server. I tried a whole host of other methods as well, spent a good 3 hours on it and then started fuming with defeat. I went back to the Media Wiki page and found that there is actually a relatively recent version of the Media Wiki that can be install pain free on a Panther OS X Server:

Media Wiki 1.6.8 will install happily provided you've got your Web Server & MySQL server running (and have created a database & user for the Wiki to install into).

Installing Apple X11 from Tiger install disks

Simple thing but I found installing this little puppy a pain in the behind for 5 minutes. On the disks that came with my Macbook, the installer is contained in the package contents on disk 1. I found the installer by typing 'X11' into spotlight and it came up as 'X11user' in the applications section.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dreamweaver for Mac won't allow 'Web Services' Components

Just a small annoyance - I recently installed Dreamweaver 8 on my MacBook only to find that it doesn't support Web Service-based components. The Windows version of the same software does, grrrrrrr. I have resolved this problem by installing Dreamweaver 8 (Windows Version) in my Parallels installation of Windows.

Mac OS X Server: Apache Web Service won't start

My Panther OS X Server-running iMac (long blog to come) was working wonderfully until I started playing around with the Aliases for my one and only site. After I did this, I noticed that it seemed to randomly create additional Aliases. I next noticed that my website was unavailable in Safari so I went back to the Server Admin app and found that the Apache Web Service wasn't running! I clicked 'Start Service' and it thought about for a moment and then simply brought up the 'Start Service' button again. I couldn't get my web server to run and I was starting to get a bit peeved. I rummaged the Internet and found someone suggesting that I try unchecking my website from the 'Sites' list in the Web Service config pane - I did this and tried loading the Web Service and it worked! Of course, with the website unchecked, it wasn't getting me very far in practical terms :) I chose to create a new site in the 'Sites' panel (with the same config as the old site, minus the Aliases) and clicked 'Start Webservice' - hey presto, I was back online!

Monday, October 02, 2006

FTP in Finder is Read-Only

Just a quick post. I've been battling with FTP via the Finder interface for the last 2 hours only to find that Finder will only ever be able to open FTP sites in Read-Only mode:

There are FTP clients out there on the Mac, personally, I recommend Fetch

P.S. I am writing a long article on eresurrecting old G3 iMacs into servers...should be finished soon.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Changing MIDI transmission channels in Garageband

While I have focused this blog on using the Mac in the world of work, I thought I'd write a quick post on a problem I experienced (and was able to resolve) with Garageband. I write music and had a little ditty that I had started demoing in Garageband. I wanted to put some drums to the piece and thought that it would be nice to write the drum track in MIDI and then output it to a sound module once the drum part was written. I have a Roland TD-3 VDrum set which has some great built-in drum sounds so I wanted to use them in my recording but still have the freedom to edit the MIDI in Garageband. I recorded my drum part and then tried to play it back through the sound module. Nothing happened :(

I checked my setup and the MIDI out of the Mac was plugged into the MIDI in of the TD-3. I did a quick try in Logic Express (a more powerful tool but one I don't understand as well as Garageband... plus I don't have the universal binary for it) and it worked! Why then was there a problem?

The problem was due to the MIDI transmission. the TD-3 will ONLY receive MIDI sent to channel 10 (the traditional MIDI channel for drums). However, from reading on the internet, I discovered that Garageband (by default) transmits on Channel 1. I sighed and moped that I wouldn't be able to get the setup I wanted and then found a cool little plug-in for Garageband called 'midiO' by Retroware ( that allows you to set MIDI transmission channels for MIDI tracks in Garageband. It isn't perfect but it's definitely worth investigating if this is a problem that you are encountering.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Accessing Databases on a Mac

One of the first tasks I faced when setting up a Mac in our workplace for the first time was to get it to access a number of Oracle 9i databases that we use. I investigated the Oracle website to find an official client and came away with my head spinning - they appeared to have one but it seemed incredibly complicated to set up and without a clean installer - I wasn't very impressed. My colleague suggested I try a DBMS called 'Aqua Data Studio' ( which is open source, available for a whole host of platforms and provides access to a variety of different databases.

I really can't say enough nice things about this program - plain and simple, it rocks. In a few minutes I had this guy's Mac accessing the Oracle databases. I was astounded by the number of databases you could interact with using Aqua. We use a home-grown test-case management system that we built in PostGres and I was able to get access to that easily as well. The program also has a lot of nice features like 'Pretty Printing' (Function-B) and excellent display options (Grids, Text Files - all of which can be exported to a variety of different file types). I was also very impressed with it's predictive code-writer.

My only complaints are that it is written in Java which means that it is a bit slow and it doesn't completely conform to the standard Apple interface (e.g. Preferences are under 'File' like in Windows rather than the title menu option) but these are small things that don't bother me much (My MacBook handles the performance issue pretty well)

All in all, I thoroughly suggest you check out Aqua - an essential for Mac users and a very nice option for Windows users as well.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

XML Editing on a Mac

My job requires that I analyse and edit XML documents frequently. I thought I'd share a couple of things I've learnt about XML editing on the Mac.

1- Software: First thing is XML editing software. With my old VAIO, I would use XMLSpy Free Edition - a Windows only program that allows you to validate and 'pretty-print' XML among a whole host of other features for free. Unfortunately, I have not found an equivalent program for free on the Mac. However, I did find a good XML editor called 'oXygen' ( which has a Mac port. Again, it allows validation and 'pretty-printing' but expires after about 14 days.

2- Browsers: To test the XML is create, I submit XML text to a website which then returns a response in an ASPX wrapper. I found that Apple Safari tends to reformat the ASPX response returned by then system so that I can't see the tags relating to the data in the response. As a result, I have found Apple Safari was not particularly good for my line of work and switched to using Firefox ( for my XML tasks.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Remote Desktop Connection for Macs

today I discovered a cool tool available from Microsoft. As 'The only Mac in the village' it is important that I can interact with Windows users and wondered if there was any way of me being bale to make a remote desktop connection to a Windows machine without going through Parallels (which, as cool as it is, does put a strain on system resources). I found that I can using a piece of software that is free on Microsoft's 'Mactopia' site:

In 5 minutes, I was able to be maintaining the Windows server on the other side of the room. The only downside is that the colours are in a low resolution but it doesn't matter if it allows you the ability to make some important config change remotely.

Hats off to Microsoft on this one!

Using 2 Buttons with Mighty Mouse

I went to a gig the other day and got talking with a guy I went to uni with. We got talking about Music tech and I asked with whether he had tried any Mac programs. He replied by saying 'sorry, I just can't give up my right mouse button!'. I think my friend has a point - as much as the Mac seems to have been built on the principle that 'one button is enough', Windows users (including myself) find it hard to give up that 2 button thang.

When I got my Mac Mini, I bought a Mighty Mouse because I wanted to use a KVM switch between my Mac and my Windows PC and the Mighty Mouse has 2 buttons recognised by Windows. Funnily enough, it never crossed my mind that I could use the 2 buttons in Mac OS! While that might sound a bit silly, my belief did have logic - when you plug a Mighty Mouse into a Mac, by default, it will function as a one button mouse with a scrollwheel (oh, and dashboard/expose buttons). However, you can have 2 buttons:

Go to 'System Preferences'-'Keyboard & Mouse' and go to the 'Mouse' tab
You will see that an image of the mouse appears with labels for all the functions. By default, a Mighty Mouse sets the right label to 'Primary Button'. Look at the drop down list and you will see 'Secondary Button' as an option!

Once you have saved this change, your Mac will seem like a far friendlier environment for users with a background in Windows.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Tabbing to a button

Ok, to start things off, I thought I'd mention the issue of tabbing. I was used to tabbing my way through the data entry websites i use everyday for my job. One of my pet peeves about using my Mac was that I couldn't just rely on the keyboard - whenever i would come to a button on a website, I needed to use my mouse to click on it. I thought this was strange as I wondered what some users with accessibility issues would do under this situation. I then found that this was actually a config option and Mac OS X just comes with tabbing to a button as disabled. You can resole this by doing the following:

Click on System Preferences-Keyboard & Mouse
Click on the 'Keyboard Shortcuts' tab
Under 'full keyboard access' choose the 'All controls' radio button.

Thats it! Now you should be able to tab through Forms and webpages with ease :)

My introduction into the world of Apple technology

Hello! My name is Martin and I recently switched to using Apple Macs. My encounters with Apple technology started when I was a kid and my mum worked for the local university. My first encounter of software development was at 7 when I made a little game in Hypercard. My mum changed jobs and the Mac went byebye. I continued being interested in computing via Windows and enjoyed learning how to maintain and build Windows machines. I studied computing, psychology and Spanish at university where I next encountered the Mac. I have to say we didn't get on very well - my catch-phrase over my time using SPSS for my psych stats coursework was 'Fucking Macs!!!'. I then forgot about Macs for the next 2 years until they were brought to my attention via the iPod. I bought an iPod but didn't really experience the fabled Halo effect concerning their computers. However, the iPod DID make me aware of Apple again. I was later required to configure a Powerbook for a colleague of mine at work. It was then that I began to appreciate how good Macs were. Within a relatively short period of time, I had his machine doing all the basic tasks needed of the job and within about a month he was WIndows free. during that time I found his Mac to be a quick machine with an Operating System that was intuitive, clean, reliable and fun.

My birthday rolled around and my parents very kindly bought me a Mac Mini. I am a musician and was quite curious to try out some of the music tools available for the Mac like Garageband and Logic. This was it - I was sold. I was blown away by Garageband. Having used PC sequencers all my youth, I was a bit jaded because I had not found any tools that were powerful, reliable and easy to use. Cakewalk was pretty good but always crashed on me. I began recording music and fell in love.

Having had pleasant experiences at home, I wanted to return to working with a Mac in my professional life. In my time at this company I have brought to laptops to their knees. They would work fine at first but then, with time, they would get slower and slower because of what I can only term as 'Windows Bloat'. It's pretty well accepted that Windows PCs need rebuilds to keep them running tight but that is very disruptive in a professional environment. I don't load crap on my work PCs and always used anti-virus and anti-spyware but still found that my laps would eventually run like dogs. My first one (purchased 2004, with 1gb ram) now takes 10+minutes to load. I knew it was possible for it to do everything I needed at work but didn't have to use in the office!

That all changed about 1 month ago when I was given a Macbook by the company as they knew I was lusting for one.

So what do I want to do with this blog?

Well, I've learnt quite a bit over the last year about using Macs in the workplace (either via my own or by maintaining others) and I wanted to share the knowledge I have acquired. I am no guru but there are lots of little tidbits that I hope will be useful to people who have spent their life using Windows.

I want to make it clear that I am not a creative professional and use my Mac in a software testing organization. I hope to think that while I am very happy with my Mac, that I am not a zealot and still happily work with Windows. I have not qualms with Microsoft and hope that my opinions are relatively balanced. Insecure defence of myself over!

I hope you find something useful on this blog and I would really appreciate any additional input people can add to the topics I bring up.

Good luck in MacLand!
Martin BG