Advice to New Mac OS X User

My reply to Martine Pagé’s post about her transition to Mac OS X.

Funnily enough, I moved in the other direction (I needed a dirt-cheap computer), back in late December. Still miss my 2001 iBook (500MHz, 384MB RAM) and Mac OS X.

One thing I noticed (and was mentioned by others, elsewhere) is that Flock is much less of a resource hog on Mac OS X than on XP. No idea why. Though I never had issues with Firefox on OSX, I had switched to Flock and this made my transition to XP less fun. Safari can be a great tool, especially if you use one of OSX’s best-kept secrets: Services.

Ah, Services! The best tools for compulsive writers. You know, those menu items like "Summarize," available in pretty much all Cocoa apps and several Carbon apps. They also include support for the system-wide multi-lingual spellchecker (a fantastic tool for us, bilingual writers). Be sure to check out some of these, especially WordService. And once you start using Nisus Thesaurus, you’ll wonder how you did without it.

Perhaps the main trick with the Mac, mentioned in several comments here, is to only use the mouse when you really have to. Especially if you use the Mac to write, at any length. Use keyboard shortcuts as much as possible. Luckily, they’re very consistent across the system so you’ll be used to them in no time. When you’re writing, shortcuts are much more efficient than any kind of mouse movement. And you can usually apply shortcuts to any menu item. Menus are there to find out about features or to reach some of the lesser used features of an app.

Writing, on the Mac, is really pleasurable with the right tools. My favourite writing tools overall are outliners. Yes, there are outliners on any platform. But Mac OS X users arguably have a much better selection than anybody else. (What is widely recognized as the best outliner on Windows has been discontinued a number of years ago and doesn’t support any XML format.) If you’re interested in outlining, be sure to check ATPO. If you’re not yet into outlining, you might want to give OmniOutliner a try (IIRC, it comes preinstalled on new Macs as a trial version).

Another thing you might want to do is check out the wealth of FLOSS (Free/Libre Open-Source Software) on Mac OS X. Not only are most Linux projects also available on OSX but there are very high-quality projects made especially for Mac OS X. These tend to be über-productivity apps (i.e., efficient software for actual work) like the TeXShop TeX editor and the BibDesk bibliography manager. Or academic apps like TAMS Analyzer. But there are more "mainstream" apps like the Camino browser (mentioned here) and the TextWrangler text editor. To be honest, I almost never bought software for Mac OS X because so much of what I needed was already available for free.

Mac OS X is also a very cool geek platform. While the Mac OS turned us long-time users away from CLIs, Mac OS X integrates GUI and CLI elements extremely well. More often than not, I had a Terminal window open to do quick manipulations on files and processes. As any Unix geek knows, the shell is often the best place to accomplish real work.

I guess I’m writing this more out of nostalgia for my days working on Macs than to give you specific advice. There’s clearly a lot to say about Mac OS X.

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