Completely new to Mac/OS X. What do I need to know?
January 30, 2010 2:35 PM   Subscribe

My father-in-law replaced his old Mac Mini with a newer Mac, so he asked me if I wanted the Mini. I've been a Windows guy for almost two decades (with a soft spot for Linux) but have never owned or used a Mac. Being that it's an older Mini, based on the Motorola chip and not Intel, it's not going to be the fastest thing ever, I'm sure, but I figure as something that doesn't cost me anything it's as good a way to learn about Mac as any. Seeing as I am a complete Mac virgin, I was wondering if those of you who know your way around Macs would give me a piece of advice.

Something you wished you knew when you first started using your Mac, or perhaps that one piece of software you just love and can't do without. Whatever. Anything. Since it probably can't handle video editing and stuff, being so old, I'll probably mostly use it for surfing, and writing... More if it can handle it. Like I said, I dunno about Macs. Thanks for any heads up you can give me!
posted by Unhyper to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Get something like iDefrag and actually defrag your HD from time to time. Ignore anyone who says that macs don't need to be defragged.
posted by knowles at 2:45 PM on January 30, 2010

A large part of my frustration with Macs has traditionally been with the hideous Apple-made peripherals.

Get a normal mouse with a right-click button. Any mouse you'd use for Windows will work.

You can also use any normal Windows USB keyboard. The "Windows" key serves as the "Apple" key, and holding down "F12" ejects the CD tray.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:51 PM on January 30, 2010

Don't assume that your Linux knowledge will transfer to Mac OS X. Apple like to write higher-level GUI programs that integrate several lower-level (often command-line) utilities. In the case of account management, for example, the old UNIX-style tools exist and pretend to work, but don't call back to all the other pieces of the Apple account management workflow. This has bitten me so many times...

That's not to say that you can't do a lot in Terminal. Just make sure you read the documentation (if it exists, which it doesn't always).
posted by d. z. wang at 2:59 PM on January 30, 2010

If you get a windows keyboard, there is a free app called "doublecommand" that will allow you to swap keys around so you can swap your "alt"(option key on macs) and "windows" keys. Then just pluck out the actual keys and switch them (most keyboards will let you do this).

Get Boxee. A G4 mini should be able to handle it, but not netflix (intel only).

Get Diskwarrior. It will save your ass one day, and other than iDefrag, the only other disk utility you need.

Get VLC. The best univeral media player for video. can be controlled from your iPhone.

Pick up an old Keyspan remote from ebay. You can use the remote included, or use a univeral remote. It responds to JVC remotes.

I just sold my G4 mini, and for years I was using it as a media player for video files on my TV. You can pick up an Apple DVI-TV converter at the apple store for $20.
posted by chambers at 3:09 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Be warned: the early PPC mac minis are slow as molasses, and there graphics cards aren't up to anything. I'd bear that in mind, especially if you try things like iPhoto and write them off as being too slow to contemplate. Even surfing is going to be a bit of a chore, to be honest. Flash will do nasty, nasty things to it.

(I mention this just so you don't spend your time defragging and futzing with settings trying to make it go faster.)
posted by bonaldi at 3:12 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am surfing on my beau mere's mini-mac now and having no speed problems at all. You Tube is playing fine in a second window, and that's all the video I ever need. She manages her photos on it with no problem for simple needs.

Caveat: The first mac we ever bought, in 1985, came with no mouse. We were completely unable to make it work, and had to go back to the store to have someone explain that we need a mouse, and apologize for accidently leaving it out. Make sure you have a mouse.

There is some feature on Macs that causes the whole window to sweep off to the side unexpectedly with some keystroke that I make several times a day. I haven't figured out what the damn thing is yet, and I hate it.

But the minimac is a nice little computer.
posted by SLC Mom at 3:23 PM on January 30, 2010

Don't do anything. Use it for a while and evaluate your needs. Then come back to AskMe and tell us the holes you need filled.
posted by Mikey-San at 3:30 PM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have an old mini. I have run VNC/VLC on it and use it as a desktop music player. It's ok, quieter than a laptop and tiny footprint.
posted by mattoxic at 3:31 PM on January 30, 2010

Get something like iDefrag and actually defrag your HD from time to time. Ignore anyone who says that macs don't need to be defragged.

This isn't a particularly good answer; it's a blanket statement telling you to ignore other blanket statements. You don't have a demonstrable performance issue yet, the kernel goes a long way to dealing with this problem, and most performance issues in Mac OS X are not resolved by running defragmentation tools.

If you run into system-wide slowness, come ask us about it.
posted by Mikey-San at 3:34 PM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

(For clarity: Those two posts I just made are the advice I wish I'd have gotten in the beginning.)
posted by Mikey-San at 3:35 PM on January 30, 2010

PPC Minis are still extremely usable for (non-HD) home theatre and media center duties. My first gen G4 1.25 GHz Mini turns has been around for 4.5 years in the living room, handling iTunes, DIVX playback (via the great VLC), and nightly video podcasts of Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.
posted by porn in the woods at 3:42 PM on January 30, 2010

SLC Mom: I'm talking about a specific, very old, kind of mini mac, which you probably don't have. The modern ones are zippy and nice.

The keyboard shortcut you're having trouble with is expose's "Show desktop", by the way. Go into System Preferences from the Apple menu then click the Expose icon, and look for the keystroke popup beside "Show Desktop". Change that to "-" and it'll stop happening.
posted by bonaldi at 4:11 PM on January 30, 2010

I got David Pogue's Switching to Mac (from PC) book when I bought my macbook, mainly to figure out stuff like screenshots and keyboard shortcuts because I am all bout the keyboard shortcuts. and it was just a really great "if you know to do x this way, now you do x that way" kind of primer.

they probably have it in the library if you don't want to go whole hog, and there's stuff like that all over online
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:15 PM on January 30, 2010

Get something like iDefrag and actually defrag your HD from time to time. Ignore anyone who says that macs don't need to be defragged.
posted by knowles

Ignore knowles. Your mac does not need to be defragged. You will be wasting money and time. Terrible advice.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 4:52 PM on January 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seconding the advice to get Diskwarrior. We're a Mac household from way back and we've saved our bacon, our money, and our time at the Genius Bar by using Diskwarrior.
posted by immlass at 4:52 PM on January 30, 2010

Get something like iDefrag and actually defrag your HD from time to time. Ignore anyone who says that macs don't need to be defragged.

I have the last model PPC mini made, a 1.5GHz one. I put in a new (bigger) HDD and it worked well. Then, a few months later, I installed iDefrag. It did nothing whatsoever to speed up or otherwise improve the performance - if anything, it felt like it made it slightly worse (though that could be an illusion). Shortly thereafter, my HDD (Seagate) croaked. I put in a new one, but skipped the iDefrag this time. Then, in various forums discussing Mac utilities, several times I've come across the claim that iDefrag can kill HDDs. Possibly there's nothing to it, and my personal experience may be coincidental and unrelated. However, I think that's something to keep in mind.

What I like about the PPC is that it is rock solid. I've never had a kernel panic. What I don't like, is that it's really slow as molasses when multitasking - and the RAM maxes out at 1GB.

I strongly advise you to stay with Tiger 10.4.11 on the PPC - don't go to Leopard, because Leopard performs worse on old PPC systems.

Max out your RAM - and since to do that you need to open up the beast, you may as well drop in a larger, faster HDD (7500 RPM).

Good luck, it's neat little puter :)
posted by VikingSword at 7:12 PM on January 30, 2010

There are PPC versions of current Linux distributions.
Ubuntu for one.
(Warning: the PPC iso for the latest Ubuntu release is just a bit too big to fit on a cd-r)
posted by tresbizzare at 7:36 PM on January 30, 2010

Learn and use Exposé and Spaces. I'm not being melodramatic when I say that these two things alone will change the way you use computers forever.
posted by joshrholloway at 8:40 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

chambers: "Get Boxee. A G4 mini should be able to handle it, but not netflix (intel only)."

I believe Boxee is intel only too.
posted by sharkfu at 10:41 PM on January 30, 2010

I think you're right sharkfu, I was looking at both MythTV and Boxee last night, and I think I mixed up the prerequisites.
posted by chambers at 11:16 PM on January 30, 2010

chambers: "Get Boxee. A G4 mini should be able to handle it, but not netflix (intel only)."

Boxee itself specifies Macintel only: "just make sure it's an Intel-based machine, and not a PowerPC one"
posted by mwhybark at 12:06 AM on January 31, 2010

whoops, failed to scroll up. my bad.
posted by mwhybark at 12:07 AM on January 31, 2010

Get something like iDefrag and actually defrag your HD from time to time. Ignore anyone who says that macs don't need to be defragged.

Ignore this horrible advice despite him telling you to ignore me. He either doesn't understand filesystems, or thinks some strange usage pattern he had that made defragmentation necessary for him should apply for you, a complete stranger, in which case he's just not very wise.

HFS+ and other modern fileystems not only obviate the need to defragment due to how things are allocated, there's also implicit actual defragmentation going on in the background whenever a file is fragmented and meets certain requirements (see On-the-fly Defragmentation.)
posted by floam at 9:19 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Its going to drive you crazy that you can't tab between every field when filling out forms online, etc. To fix go to System Preferences->Keyboard->Keyboard Shortcuts->Full Keyboard Access (All controls)

Other than that, I moved from being a linux/windows guy to my Mac and I've gotta echo d.z.'s comment about not assuming your terminal knowledge will transfer over.

For now just use it and ask back once you see what software holes you need filled.
posted by nokry56 at 2:18 PM on January 31, 2010

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