Macbook Pro Newbie
July 14, 2007 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Help a newbie make the transition to Macbook Pro

After quite a lot of researching and thinking, i have decided to bite the bullet and order with a discount by using a student developer account as suggested by lostburner . Because this is a big investment for me, ive also decided to bite the bullet again and go with the 17 in MBP with a high-def screen.

Now with my questions:

1. I'm looking for sources to teach me how to use my new MBP. I have used windows all my life and only played with apple products a few times. I am quite knowledgeable with windows (registry tweaks, services etc) and I want to learn the apple equivalent.

2. Source for apps: What are the apps apple computers users love and use most. Sources to get those apps.
Also I must specify that i will use my computer for movie playing (DVD, divx, xvid etc) and what are the best apps for this.

3. Instant-help: I am sure that the apple comunity is like a 'club', and I am looking for a source of quick info and/or troubleshooting. IRC abounds with windows related help channels, but i dont know any good mac related help channels.

4. I ordered the hardware with only 2 GB of RAM (4 GB cost ~700 CAD) and I'm thinking about replacing it with 4 GB. Any drawbacks/risks (warranty issues, compatibilities, installation) if i do it myself (after reading a few how-to guides)? How can i find the right RAM to replace it with?

Guess thats all the questions I have for now....

I'm sure that the wisdom of the Mac crowd will lead me well ;)
posted by victorashul to Computers & Internet (28 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
1. you dont really need to do the same tweaks on OS X

2. DVD software is included as standard. you can either choose to use VLC or use perian which will allow you to play just about all the video files you can think of in quicktime

macupdate is a good source for software.

3. the macrumors forums can be quite good, any issue i have had they have solved incredibly quickly

4. no idea i bought mine with the 4Gb.

if you have any questions about the mac you can contact me in my profile if ya want!
posted by moochoo at 8:38 AM on July 14, 2007

No warranty issues with ram replacement--the manual will even tell you how to do it. However, I've heard of stories where people with defective computers bring them to the Apple Store and the store won't do anything about fixing it if non-apple approved ram is in it (they blame the ram for the issues). I basically just throw their ram back in when I bring my computer in for service.

For DVDs I use VLC, which is free and plays pretty much anything.
posted by dobbs at 8:43 AM on July 14, 2007

Realize that the 4gig RAM is going to be very expensive. Although it's almost always cheaper to do it yourself than to pay Apple to install it, you'll still be paying a lot.

Even with a 'paltry' 2 gig in my 17" mpb, I can do all the same things simultaneously, with no noticeable problems:

Windows XP under VM Ware
World of Warcraft
Microsoft Entourage
2 concurrent VPN connections

In other words, that extra 2 gig may not be that necessary.
posted by iwhitney at 8:44 AM on July 14, 2007

1. Learn to use the command line (''). Learn about plist files, how to edit them, etc. Learn about packages, because a lot of program preferences are kept in packages.

2. Just search a little bit. There's big application lists all over the place. My favorites: SuperDuper! for backups, OmniGraffle is a great visio replacement, OmniOutliner comes with the MacBook and you'll wonder how you lived without this convenient outliner. Preview is great for opening up files quickly. Adium is a great Trillium replacement. If you're a terminal addict like I am, you'll prefer iTerm over

iPhoto,, iCal, Quicktime, etc. are all programs that come standard and are excellent... MacTheRipper is a good program for ripping DVDs if that's your kind of thing.
DiskUtility might allow you to make ISOs and then burn CDs of disks that would otherwise be copy-protected... But I wouldn't know *anything* about that.

3. Here or Macrumors...

4. Just google! Or froogle. Be aware that you need to buy two 2gb sticks, since both of the slots in the MacBook are already taken up by 1gb sticks...
posted by SpecialK at 8:50 AM on July 14, 2007

Thanks for all the good answers so far.

I forgot to ask: I am also looking (ebay) for a cover to protect my investment. The MBP owners have any suggestions. Which are good and which I have to stay away from?

How is the case/finish? Does it scratch/bend/discolor easily?
posted by victorashul at 8:59 AM on July 14, 2007
posted by gramcracker at 9:16 AM on July 14, 2007

the aluminum case doesn't like being dropped, so keep it in a good case if you're moving it around. Speck makes a SeeThru case, which is a plastic case you never take off. for a regular-type case, Brenthaven makes excellent ones - I have the Edge II sleeve and it comes with stiff sides and lots of padding. it's pretty resistant to discoloring but if you have problems with discoloring jewlery you might want to get something like the Marware Protection Pack. I have an older PowerBook (same case, basically) that was constantly getting shoved in and out of a desk for a year before I got it that doesn't really have any scratches on it. it was a little gross when I got it, but nothing some Windex didn't fix. (not on the screen, though.)

I'd recommend Crucial for memory, as their stuff is pretty good quality-wise and has a lifetime warranty. beware of just searching for memory that matches the specs on froogle/newegg/whatever, since cheap RAM may cause you problems if it goes bad. going with a name brand like Kingston, Crucial, Corsair or Mushkin means less screwing around getting an RMA if your memory fails.
posted by mrg at 9:17 AM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I recently made the jump, I'm also a developer. One good piece of advice, I'm not sure where I read it: Unlike Windows, the reasonably-priced Mac apps are often worth the money

2. MPlayer OSX is better than VLC in my opinion, because it has some shortcut keys that VLC doesn't (afaik), but they're both great. I use Coda for all my developing needs, and Transmit.

And install Quicksilver. I can launch all my apps by hitting 'Apple+Spacebar', 'App Name'. And that's just scratching the surface.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 9:18 AM on July 14, 2007

I'm very happy with my PowerBook's WaterField sleeve.
posted by thejoshu at 9:32 AM on July 14, 2007

I just bought 2 GB of RAM from OWC for my MacBook and it arrived quickly and works a-ok. For MacBook Pros, they're selling 4 GB (2 DIMMs, 2 GB each) for $235, which seems like a good deal.

Like iwhitney, I have 2 GB in my MacBook (but mine isn't a Pro) and it feels plenty fast. Before you buy more, wait and see whether you really need it.
posted by medpt at 9:33 AM on July 14, 2007

I switched to a MBP only recently from years of abuse by Windows. Don't worry: what there is to learn will come to you after a couple of hours of playing with your new MBP.

My Software tips:
Find Freeware, Shareware etc. at and

I second the aforementioned praise for the products of the Omnigroup.

VLC Player has the benefit of being able of raising the sound volume higher than the built in volume when you have low volume video files.

wmvflip - makes quicktime play wmv.

transmission and bitrocket for bittorrents.

audacity for quick sound recording and editing.

comic life - pure creative fun and joy

cyberduck - free, simple ftp
forklift - ftp plus dual pane file management for a couple of bucks

graphic converter - more than basic image editing for little money if you don't need photoshop

the unarchiver - unarchives almost everything

snapz pro x - anything to make screenshots and record the screen to video

taco - html editor

well... and loads of other free or cheap apps that really will rock your world, you'll find them in no time.
posted by ollsen at 9:34 AM on July 14, 2007

Seconding Quicksilver. It makes you look like a ninja on your laptop. (There's the slight disadvantage of the phantom pains you'll experience when using a computer that doesn't have Quicksilver.)
posted by grobstein at 10:25 AM on July 14, 2007

1. You really dont need too many tweaks on Mac (I switched a year ago). But somethings will be useful like remapping the backslash key to a DELETE key. i'd get another external mouse, although the single button isn't too bad. find someone with an apple and practice installing/uninstalling because its a little confusing the first time. also the apple file structure seems very different. also i had to do some trick (that i can't remember) to show all hidden files which i like very much.

2. i'm not a super techie user, so i dont need too many apps. but one thing that sucks about macs is that there is hardly any freeware available to do neat little things that was avail on windows. so torrent is really your friend, especially if you're a student and not going to have any money after dropping 2000+. quicktunes is something i love and thankfully a free download. i have often found myself just dealing with the fact that i can't do as many things (for free) as i could in windows. all you will need for movie playing is VLC. free download.


4. DO NOT buy apple ram. biggest ripoff in history. buy the minimum RAM and then upgrade to whatever you want. go to, enter in the type of mac you have and they will tell you exactly what kind you need and the cheapest price. that's the ONLY way to go

good luck
posted by ruwan at 10:44 AM on July 14, 2007

I'll see what I can do to get you informed about mac applications. For starters, iusethis is a great source for information about the mac software community. Think of it as Digg meets Cnet; it's a massive tag-based index of applications that users are able to mark that they use. This results in incredible utilitarian lists of the most used apps, hottest apps, and newest apps. It's an invaluable resource, really. For example, many of the programs I will mention later on will not be free (e.g. AppZapper). To search for freeware alternatives, check the "similar apps" sidebar module of the program's iusethis page...often you will find a free alternative to the program you are looking for (e.g. AppZapper's counterparts DesInstaller, AppCleaner, and AppTrap).

As far as movie-watching, you won't need to stray any farther than the familiar VLC traffic cone. By far the best movie-viewing program out there. Perian offers a "swiss-army knife" of codecs, but leaves out the Windows Media codecs, which can be taken care of with Flip4Mac. DivX has a mac version, but you shouldn't need it with Perian working properly. For a great MBP-to-television experience, I strongly recommend Apple's DVI to video adapter, which converts your Macbook's DVI port to RCA and S-Video outputs. Used in combination with VLC, it serves as a 2-monitor setup: a full-screen movie on your television while you can still use your computer. Of course the Apple TV will let you do that wirelessly, but that's quite a bit of money to drop for that privilege.

Web browsers: you have a number of options, all of which are very strong and serve their purpose for different uses.
  • Built-in Safari works great for most users. Quick, well-interfaced with the rest of the computer (you'll understand this later), and it gets the job done. Not very extensible, but there's a fair-sized repository of Safari plugins, Applescripts, bookmarklets, etc. at Jon Hicks' excellent Pimp My Safari. Based on the WebKit rendering engine.
  • Of course your second alternative is Firefox, which has one major advantage: its extensibility. You're a PC user, I'm sure you know all about this. Firefox (until version 3, which promises to change this) is not written in Cocoa, Apple's native programming environment, so it just doesn't feel like a mac program. That may not sound like a big deal, but is. Additionally, it runs fairly sluggishly after running for a while. I only use it if I am doing web development, so that I may take advantage of the great tools available for it. Using the UNO sunken unified GUI, some nifty extensions and a certain Firefox theme, I've managed to make Firefox look similar to Safari (Safari is on the green, Firefox on the Blue). Unfortunately the performance issues persist. Uses the Mozilla rendering engine.
  • Camino tries to be best of both worlds...Safari's great performance and the Mozilla rendering engine. It's quick, pretty, and looks and acts like a mac program should. It's not very extensible (again, Pimp My Camino) however, but it does have built-in ad blocking (albeit not as robust as Firefox's AdBlock Plus) and equivalents to Stylish, GreaseMonkey, and the DOM Inspector.
Let's see, I suppose I'll go through a list of the programs that I find to be essential and use on a daily basis.
  • Apple's generic productivity suite is pretty phenomenal. The built-in Mail program, iCal, and Address Book all reside on my dock (which means that I use them constantly; I keep my dock very tidy) and are key components for my productivity.
  • Midnight Inbox is a mainstay for me. It's pretty generically a GTD application, but it is really so much more powerful than that. Just try it, you'll fall in love.
  • For instant messaging, Adium is the 1000 lb. gorilla. Think Trillian, if it was actually good software. It completely eliminates iChat from my repertoire.
  • I'm a student, and I've found that Schoolhouse is a great option for managing schoolwork. It has replaced the generic paper-and-pencil assignment planner for me
  • Along the same lines, I use Papers to manage my library of journal articles. Think iTunes for PDFs. Brilliant, really.
  • For word processing, I use a combination of Bean and WriteRoom. I use Bean for most purposes, WriteRoom for when I really need to work. I have Office for Mac on my computer, but I don't touch it unless I absolutely have to. It's an abhorrent piece of software.
  • For web development sorts of things, you have 2 options: a text editor (TextEdit and BBEdit are both renowned), an FTP program (Transmit is my favorite, CyberDuck is a great free alternative), a CSS editor (see CSSEdit), Terminal (the mac command line program), and a web browser for reference books. Or you can just use Coda. Your choice!
  • MAMP is a beautiful program that helps manage the built-in Apache server with MySQL and PHP support.
  • If you have a blog, I swear by MarsEdit for blog posting.
  • The built-in image previewer (which has built in FTP support) is great for reading PDFs, but it can't touch the open source Skim, which actually lets you highlight passage, post notes and comments, and so much more. It's one of the truly brilliant programs that make the switch so worth it.
  • If it's within the realm of things that you need to do, Apple's iWork suite is pretty phenomenal. Pages is Apple's answer to Publisher, and Keynote is their answer to Powerpoint. Both are better than their Microsoft equivalent.
  • One of the big flaws of OS X is the lack of a universal uninstaller. AppZapper takes care of that.
  • There are many, many, many username/password managers out there...1passwd is my favorite, mostly due to the fact that it interfaces with Firefox, Safari, and Camino.
  • As far as torrent programs go, Azureus is the omnipotent power user's choice, Transmission is extremely lightweight and feature-free, and BitRocket falls in the middle. Pick what suits your needs.
  • CandyBar and Pixadex work well with each other to manage your system's icons.
  • iGetter and Speed Download are the preeminent download managers.
  • The Unarchiver is a capable WinRar replacement (handles nearly all compressed files, including .zip, .rar, and 7zip files).
  • I must say a word about's incredible. It's hard to exactly describe what it does, because it's so powerful and extensible. Just try it, you'll never go back. For a scaled down version that only launches applications, try Namely.
  • Apple (unfortunately) has several styles of windows (brushed metal, aqua, etc...) that serve to make the mac experience a bit uglier. Try UNO to solve that problem.
  • For a fun example of how beautiful and useful mac software can be, try Delicious Library.
That's all I can think of presently...Let me know if you have any questions. I have a pretty good grasp of the mac software community.

On preview: I've been working on this novel sporadically for the last few hours during random free minutes, so I haven't read any of the above comments.
posted by charmston at 11:20 AM on July 14, 2007 [22 favorites]

1. Instead of tweaks, you'll end up customising your system via the Terminal. They're mainly small changes, or added functionality, as most Mac stuff either works well out the box or can be changed pretty easily. Here's a hint - if you want to change something in System Prefs, just start typing what it is in the search box. The more you type, the more it will narrow down where the option to change what you want is.

2. You'll tend to hear people waxing lyrical about their favourite apps all over the place, but one nice place to find stuff is iusethis. One thing you should get straight away is AppZapper, which is a slightly better uninstaller than the standard "drag to trash". It basically makes sure there's no cruft left on your system, so when you're starting out and installing/uninstalling lots of things, it'll make sure you don't leave lots of small files lying around. It costs $13, but it's a good investment. Also, as others have said, get VLC. It's better than getting Perian for Quicktime, as unless you buy Quicktime Pro, you can't play fullscreen (although you could use it via Frontrow, but frankly I'd rather have quick access to my other apps without having to esc my way out of Frontrow. YMMV).

3. Google it. Seriously. There's not much you can't find, especially if you preface your search osx.

4. I got 2GB with my MacBook, and paid Apple to do it. I basically couldn't be bothered to do it all myself. I was a bit annoyed that they scuffed the battery lock, but the fact that it was done quickly, on-site, was worth it to me. I understand it's cheaper to buy extra RAM yourself however, and have heard good things about Crucial. Oh, and buy AppleCare.

List of apps you might find useful:
  • TextMate. Close to being the de facto text editor on OSX.
  • iTerm. A better Terminal, but once Leopard comes out with a tabbed, you won't need it.
  • Adium. IM client. Does AIM, MSN, Yahoo! etc.
  • VLC. Plays everything.
  • Quicksilver. App launcher on steroids. Does a ridiculous amount of things, ridiculously quickly. I actually feel lost without it on others Macs.
  • ClamXav. Anti-virus for Macs. Better safe than sorry.
  • OnyX. System maintenance and cleaning app.
  • Handbrake. DVD ripper, but rips to .mpeg or .avi rather than a disc image.
On preview: Damn you charmston!!! The rest of the post is now obsolete.

posted by djgh at 11:26 AM on July 14, 2007

The rest of this post...
posted by djgh at 11:33 AM on July 14, 2007

One tool I'd add to these excellent lists is a PreferencePane called MondoMouse. It lets you move or resize any partially-visible window without calling it to the front, just by moving the mouse cursor over that window, holding down fn or fn+ctrl, and moving the mouse. This is especially handy on a MacBook, where using the trackpad to click on windows' move bars and resize boxes is really annoying.
posted by nicwolff at 12:59 PM on July 14, 2007

The first thing you should do is create a second, non-administrator account that will become your primary user account. Since you seem fairly IT-knowledgeable, you already know why it's bad practice to run as administrator all the time. Unlike Windows, OSX has terrific seamless roles integration. When you install a program in OSX through your non-admin account, it simply pops up a dialog window that prompts for an admin login and password. Type these in and that's it. This works for like 99% of programs that require admin privileges. As an IT admin for my work, it bugs me to no end that I'm forced to grant users admin (or some custom role) just so they can run and install necessary programs. Apple's execution of this is simple and brilliant.

On to your questions:
1. OSX doesn't use a registry for program preferences. Applications are self-contained packages (think something like a zipped file that you execute). Preferences are stored as separate files called plists either in the package or in specific folders. It's like a separate small registry file for each application (as opposed to one massive registry file). The great part about this is because each preference file is separate and only linked to its application, they don't mess with each other. And when you delete a program, you don't need to worry about its preference file -- just leave them be, it's just a few kb anyways.

If you're looking to customize system settings, a combination of Onyx and TinkerTool pretty much covered everything for me. Try these programs and also search around the Internet for other small programs before going to the terminal. Chances are, if it's something you want to customize, someone has had the same issue and has already developed a small free app for it.

2. Quicktime enhanced with Perian and Flip4Mac does it for me. VLC is also great as well.

Get Quicksilver right away. The Start button will feel like such a piece of crap after you start using QS. Also get in the habit of just leaving your windows open and scattered on the desktop. It'll feel weird at first but soon you'll see how efficient it is just to have program open and ready to use at all times. Use a combination of dock, QS, and F9 (Expose) to switch between programs.

To add to the above programs already mentioned, I like Nocturne. It converts your display to monochrome night-vision mode. Sounds weird but something about the lack of colors and increased display contrast really boosts my productivity.

3. Google, seriously.

4. Buy and install the RAM yourself. Nothing special about RAM for Apple laptops. Newegg and ZipZoomFly have great prices. Read the comments at Newegg and in most cases, someone will have mentioned installing it in a MacBook Pro.

Congrats and welcome to easier, superior computing.
posted by junesix at 4:27 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

1. Switch thinking about tweaks to thinking about applications and scripting. And start reading Daring Fireball.

2. 2nd, 3rd, etc. Quicksilver and SuperDuper!; get Parallels if you want to run Windows; Coda and MAMP if you're a web developer.

3. Google is... correct!

4. I 3rd Crucial RAM.
posted by ads at 6:07 PM on July 14, 2007

It took me about a month of daily use to get comfortable with my first Mac. YMMV.
posted by squink at 6:22 PM on July 14, 2007

OS X Hints has been veddy veddy good for OS X esoterica. Apologies if it's a repeat.
posted by Orb2069 at 7:59 PM on July 14, 2007

Thank you very much for all the useful suggestions!
posted by victorashul at 8:42 PM on July 14, 2007

I know I'm a bit late to this but I wanted to mention browsers in a bit more detail. I've used Safari and Firefox extensively and Camino some. There isn't a perfect browser for OS X but Firefox was by far the best choice for me. If you're used to Firefox's flexibility and customization with add-ons I think you'll find you miss that with Safari and Camino. I know I did. Though some feel Camino and Safari to perform faster, and this might be an issue, I've not really noticed it in just general browsing aside from Firefox taking a bit longer to open.

Also, I found Safari's managing of large numbers of tabs inferior of unusability. And Camino, I honestly don't see the point of running over Safari, if you don't like Firefox. It has the Mozilla engine but not the add-on support which is my reason to use Firefox in the first place.

BeatnikPad has OS X optimized builds of Firefox for different platforms which is what I run. I haven't done a back-to-back comparison with the official build but these work well enough for me.

One thing I have noticed with Firefox is it's memory usage increases with time. I end up restarting every few days. But Safari has the same issue.
posted by 6550 at 11:57 PM on July 14, 2007

Oops! inferior almost to the point of unusability.
posted by 6550 at 11:58 PM on July 14, 2007

Although I know of Firefox and I've used it sporadically, i find it quite slow on my (older) machine.

I use another client build on the same engine as Firefix, but it is MUCH lighter. K-meleon

Unfortunately, they dont have a version for mac. I'm starting to think about Camino.

6550: It's not that i dont like Firefox, it's just that with my slower machine its very slow loading pages, and also the problem with the memory usage. I dont use soo many plugins, as to be stuck with firefox.
posted by victorashul at 9:30 AM on July 15, 2007

ruwan, I'm surprised you gave up \ for DEL. On all the powerbooks I've used (haven't gone to a "macbook" yet), fn-backspace gives you a forward delete. There is no symbol indicating this on the keyboard itself but the Keyboard Viewer shows it.

Keyboard Viewer (aka Keycaps) is a good app for figuring out how to type accented and other non-Roman characters. I don't think it's visible by default, but if you use International panel of System Preferences to enable the Input Menu (aka "flag menu") then you have easy access to both the keyboard viewer and the full character palette.
posted by olecranon at 12:11 PM on July 17, 2007

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