Settling in with OS X

It has been over a month since I got my MacBook Pro. I’d never really used OS X before, and apart from a lightning introduction in the store (backed up by some sound and invaluable advice from Adrian) I’ve been essentially on my own since day one. Roo suggested that I pick up the Missing Manual, and I will do that, but I’m going to wait for Leopard to appear first.
I’ve been promising to write about my experiences, and it is about time. Long post on the ins-and-outs of Mac OS 10.4 follows.

The biggest adjustment has been getting the hang of the keyboard layout. I’m pretty much acclimatised now – to the point where I hit Alt on Windows expecting it to be the Command key! I know that I need to hold down Ctrl for my right-click menu; I know that Alt-3 is the hash symbol; I try to remember that Shift-Cmd-4 lets me grab a screenshot. I find it weird that there’s no Delete key, but I can live with it. I still forget to hit Fn when I want to use Expose, and end up turning the brightness down. I’m getting there. I’ve never been a fan of touchpads, and yet here I am using one like a pro.

From day one, I knew I’d be wanting to install a whole bunch of software, despite the excellent suite that comes with OS X (this led to the Mac beating a PC in last night’s Gadget Show face-off between the two systems). Here’s a summary of what I’ve installed.


Firefox is a known quantity to me, I’ve been using it for years, and I trust it. I did start out playing with Safari, but it doesn’t have the range of extensions offered by Firefox (although I’ll post on an interesting FF limitation I’ve discovered shortly). I do think it has some memory management issues, but that could be due to my habit of running with ~50 active tabs. I’ve downloaded Camino too, but that doesn’t support extensions either, so it hasn’t seen much use.

Thunderbird was another obvious choice. I’ve not tried OS X Mail.

Beyond surfing and reading mail, a good blogging client and a good RSS feedreader were essential. I’ve gone with Vienna for reading feeds, and ecto for blogging. Both seem to work well, with some reservations. Vienna doesn’t let me follow track comments, while GreatNews on Windows does. ecto has some annoying limitations when compared to the elegance of Windows Live Writer… limited ability to format my posts; inability to post images to at the moment; no way of grabbing my Flickr photos without installing 1001, which I didn’t like; and the multiple windows get on my nerves since they don’t all come to the front when I click on one of them or on the program icon. ecto is the only piece of software I’ve had to pay for so far.

For photo work I’ve got Lightroom, and I upload to Flickr using jUploadr, which just works brilliantly – exactly as on Windows, and looking entirely OS X-native. I love it. Gimp solves my image editing requirements.

I’ve already posted about office applications: NeoOffice over OpenOffice.

For media, so far I’ve basically only needed to installed Realplayer, Flip4Mac and VLC and I’m good. Oh, and for grabbing / transcoding audio streams I have CocoaJT and ffmpegX. I’ve also dropped the current version of Songbird on the system.

Social networking

For IM, I’ve configured iChat to use Jabber for my Google Talk account. I downloaded Adium too, but it doesn’t support voice or video, and I rarely use the other networks I’ve got accounts on. I’ve also installed Skype, although I’m frustrated that the Mac version appears to lag behind the Windows one (2.5.x instead of 3.1.x currently.

I’m using the Twitterlex widget for the Dashboard to post and view updates on Twitter, although I also use the web interface a lot.

For, I’ve got the full client installed. I have also found a nice tool called Amua, but it doesn’t scrobble tracks from iTunes, so it isn’t quite as useful as I’d hoped (the official client won’t start silently, which is annoying).

Plazer works fine on OS X.


I’ve installed Eclipse, but not really played with it in depth. I’ve also been over to the Apple developer site, and installed Xcode and Dashcode. I installed the Subversion client today as well.

For editing, I started out using Smultron, which seemed to be a nice text editor. More recently I’ve discovered TextWrangler, the free version of BBEdit, which seems even better.


The uber-tool on my machine is Quicksilver. I’m far from being a ninja with this software, but I can basically launch any app with a few keypresses, and don’t have to open the Applications folder very often. Check out the various tutorials on the subject.

I’ve replaced Terminal with iTerm, which is far nicer and more reminiscent of the terminal program I used under GNOME on Linux.

I had a lot of trouble opening archives until I discovered that Tiger doesn’t include StuffIt Expander by default. I installed it, then found something even better – The Unarchiver – it handles pretty much any archive file format I might throw at it.

Google Earth is a must these days, on any machine I use.

I sometimes use VNC for connecting to other machines. I’ve installed Chicken of the VNC, but I’m disappointed to find that UltraVNC on Windows is incompatible with it. I’ve also installed the Microsoft Remote Desktop client for OS X, which is handy for controlling machines on my local network.

I installed a bunch of other little utilities to help me get my head around OS X – Growl, Bonjour Browser, GeekTool, Lingon, coconutBattery


I’m no longer a big games player, but for fun I’ve installed Frozen Bubble, krank, Battle for Wesnoth, Second Life (of course!!), and I await EVE Online.

That about does it. Right now I’m fairly comfortable with the system. If anyone has any suggestions as to important things I’ve missed, I’m willing to listen, since I’m still a total beginner 🙂

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9 thoughts on “Settling in with OS X”

  1. Hi Andy here a few you might want to look at :
    Reader – Newsfire –
    (Although I have moved to Google’s reader now)
    Editor – TextMate –
    (Popular for developers particularly ruby devs)
    or even – Subetha edit –
    which has unique collaboration features
    diagrams – OmniGraffle –
    Twitter – Twitterific –
    Fink –
    Music – Clutter –
    Screen capture – Snapndrag –
    IDE – IntelliJ – a non free alternative to eclipse with some nice features
    Carboncopycloner for local backups –

    Many of these are pay for but are apps I have historically used a lot. Although recently I have moved more and more functionality over to the web.


  2. […] Settling in with OS X « The lost outpost Why on earth are we still publishing our software lives in unstructured media like blogs in this way? Its very helpful info but absurd we dont have a way to capture these declarations about infrastructure choices. Why is there no infrastructurescrobbler? (tags: declarativeliving) […]

  3. @Al your comment got held up by Akismet, but thanks for the links.

    I just opened a bunch of tabs to check out the majority of your suggestions.

    I’m not keen on Twitterific, it seems a bit too intrusive to me.

    IntelliJ… ha… Simon Brown used to wax lyrical about this one when we worked together, but I’ve never been keen – plus Eclipse is actually free, which helps.

    In terms of moving stuff to the web – cool – I agree that would be great, but I still have periods of significant offline time or where I just can’t get a connection, so things like RSS readers I prefer to keep on the desktop. Maybe this will change over time.

  4. if you find the ctrl-click tedious for right clicks

    you can configure the mouse to give you a right click when you place two fingers on the trackpad and click.

    it’s the third last option in the ‘trackpad’ config screen

  5. Evoreal team – thanks, I’m a long-term Linux user. I’ve yet to find a Linux desktop that is as nice as OS X, unfortunately, but I do swear by Linux for my servers.

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