I'd like to be a power user, not luser in OSX-land
July 29, 2011 5:33 AM   Subscribe

I'm a Windows systems administrator and power user and an enthusiastic user of Unix/Linux-based operating systems. I have hand edited make files and recompiled linux kernels manually. I know how to do administrative scripting and am a Microsoft products (SharePoint, if it matters) support professional/systems engineer in my job. I am certainly not the geekiest person I know but I'm in the top 5 percent. I am switching to a Mac Mini (Lion Server, specs maxed toward storage) after decades of using Windows laptops/desktops and some Linux machines. I'm prepared for the lack of physical mobility, but I don't feel prepared for not being a power user. What methods/resources would you suggest I could use to get up to speed with being a Mac Mini and OSX Lion power user?

I have used Applescript to make shortcuts for my Dad to use on his older Mac Mini (like starting Safari with private browsing turned on, or starting Safari with the GMail URL, etc.)

I'm totally unafraid of experimenting, but I want to know where to start. I have interests in:
- Systems automation and interesting scripting/shell tweaks
- Desktop customization
- Having the server do household NAS services (music and pictures, primarily)
- Having the server share printing services and possibly scanning services with other devices on the network (we will be acquiring an AirPrint-enabled printer, so this is less of a priority)
- Using the server as an internet-browsing workstation
- Using the server as a gaming platform
- Experimental edge cases but not hacking
- Integrating as fully as possible with our household iOS devices (1 iPads & 1 iPod Touch)

I also have some bonus questions:
- If I run a Windows VM via Parallels, do I back up its image/filesystem via the host operating system (OSX Lion) or do I back it up within the VM (I already own Acronis TrueImage for that kind of backup)?
- If I should get to the point where I'm using a significant portion of the 1.5TB of storage available on the Mac Mini, what backup options should I plan to use for the data? Should I just get a bunch of 750 GB hard drive enclosures and keep using the same image-backup utilities I use now? (Acronis TrueImage for Windows, SuperDuper for OSX) Should I plan to get a Thunderbolt enabled Raid array from Pegasus (Expensive!). Should I back up media/data locally but use cloud backups for personal/identity things? Should I do the reverse? What's the industry standard? What do you do?

As always, thanks very much in advance to anyone who takes the time to answers. Also, please no flaminess. I'm not going to revise my choice about platforms now.
posted by kalessin to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
- If I run a Windows VM via Parallels,

Stop right there....

Use VMFusion.

What methods/resources would you suggest I could use to get up to speed with being a Mac Mini and OSX Lion power user?

Start by growing a soul patch and then brush up on your Unix.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 5:41 AM on July 29, 2011

Systems automation and interesting scripting/shell tweaks

If you got some background in Linux or other OSS platforms, you'll want to become acquainted with the macports website. Once you're on the CLI, you'll find the environment fairly familiar as its strongly rooted in BSD. A terminal window will open to a bash prompt. You'll have access to perl, python and all of the other usual suspects.

Sharing devices (such as printers) is pretty straightforward, too. You know how Windows 7 was sort of a quantum leap from a users perspective, especially if there was a long history as a user? I found that Windows 7 started to approach OSX in terms of system management and other things. If you just keep in mind that under all the chome and shininess, it's Unix, oddball things like corrupted permissions in your shared iTunes library will be easier to troubleshoot and fix.
posted by jquinby at 5:44 AM on July 29, 2011

As far as backups go, you can roll your own with rsync, which is what I do for off-site backups, or you can go with Time Machine connected to a Time Capsule. It's really a very seamless approach and personally, even though I enjoy getting my hands dirty with config files, scripts, etc., I very much appreciate the Time Machine option.
posted by odinsdream at 5:48 AM on July 29, 2011

There's a book called Unix for Mac users. There's tons of Command line stuff available on line like Terminal secrets etc. try usingmac.com
posted by Gungho at 5:56 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Re. choice of VM: Parallels is fine. I prefer it to VMWare or VirtualBox. (Strongly.) I am a pretty heavy-duty user with a complicated configuration. Parallels is the only one that will boot my native Linux and Windows 7 partitions inside a VM. (This is magic! Very convenient, too.)

AppleScript and Automator are fun! So is Quicksilver.

I would use CrashPlan to back up the Windows side. You can technically back up the entire Windows image with Time Machine, but it's very space-inefficient. CrashPlan is cross-platform and works similarly to Time Machine. Backblaze is supposedly a good Windows backup solution too, although I haven't tried it.


For backing up: The Thunderbolt RAID array is overkill IMO :)

I would get a couple of enclosures - or a Voyager Q drive dock and rotate backup drives in it. (Any reason you want to back up to 750GB drives? 1.5TB desktop drives are cheaper per GB; The sweet spot may even have move to 2TB drives.)

Then I should quickly mention Quicksilver.
posted by krilli at 5:57 AM on July 29, 2011

CrashPlan link: http://www.crashplan.com/.

To clarify, I would use CrashPlan to back up to a local drive, not onto CrashPlan's servers which costs money. The local backup is free. It's quite cool. You can even back up from the virtual machine back to the host Mac.
posted by krilli at 5:58 AM on July 29, 2011

Grr ... Borked a link. Here's the Voyager Q drive dock.
posted by krilli at 5:59 AM on July 29, 2011

Skip MacPorts and use Homebrew.

Also, open the Terminal and you're in (BSD)UNIX-land. I enjoy using iTerm2 as a replacement for the built-in Terminal but it may not work on Lion (yet).
posted by radioaction at 6:03 AM on July 29, 2011

Oh all my geek advisors, you are all awesome! Please keep the ideas and suggestions coming, I'm getting a lot out of this!
posted by kalessin at 6:23 AM on July 29, 2011

P.S. a soul patch on me would be a very sad one indeed. I shave maybe once every 2 or 3 days. And it's all wispy. Think Lao Tzu.
posted by kalessin at 6:25 AM on July 29, 2011

Some of my favourite apps:

My fav editor is macvim, but also useful is Text Mate.

Nevermind Quicksilver, get Alfred. It gets to the essence. I rarely use the more complicated chords of quicksilver anyway.

Notational Velocity is very useful.

ExpandDrive for mounting remote servers over ssh (sftp/scp).

Other than that, homebrew, homebrew, homebrew.
posted by clord at 6:43 AM on July 29, 2011

Some other things that are useful:

Perian is a free, open source QuickTime component that adds native support for many popular video formats.

Mac OS X Hints from MacWorld can be useful.

Mac OS Installation Guide for Linux Users and a much older Setting Up A Mac guide might help.
posted by blob at 6:58 AM on July 29, 2011

Great tips here, the only one I didn't see is under the heading of

- Desktop customization

Get Growl. It's a system notification api. The closest windows analogy I can make is to the little dialog boxes that pop up from the task tray, but done in a beautiful, elegant, and skinable way. Most cool non-Apple produced programs (text editors, file transfer software, mp3 players that aren't iTunes) use it, and there are scripting hooks in it.
posted by zabuni at 7:04 AM on July 29, 2011

Macports, not homebrew. Ruby people are not to be trusted with root.
posted by mhoye at 7:39 AM on July 29, 2011

If you get interested in the server administration aspect, Tips and Tricks is the place to start. It was written by an Apple systems engineer in his free time with cure pictures of his pug, but eventually got wrapped into the Apple official dev world. It's overkill for what you want to do, but hey, it's the world of tinkering!

As a mac system administrator, I just use Carbon Copy Cleaner to back up our servers. One partition for the boot drive, and for the data. No reason that SuperDuper won't continue to do the job though.

For more system administration, afp548 is the place to be, though it leans more towards the server side than anything else.
posted by jmd82 at 7:46 AM on July 29, 2011

mhoye: You can actually install homebrew without root, putting it in your home directory somewhere. Quite the advantage. (But I'm actually a Fink person myself, love me my Debian tools!)
posted by vasi at 8:05 AM on July 29, 2011

Update from my Mac reseller salesguy - though you might appreciate it. Credit to Twitter @chesazeb:
Best advice I can give: Learn the keyboard shortcuts. It will make you FLY through the OS, and folks will be impressed when you rarely grab the mouse. Make sure you turn on full keyboard access to buttons, widgets, etc. to be able to navigate through dialogs without mousing.

Check out AirMouse for remote controlling the Mac mini with an iPod/iPad/iPhone - acts as a keyboard, trackpad, and scriptable remote all in one.

Speaking of scripting, AppleScript is awesome, powerful, and can automate nearly anything. Integrates with shell scripting and vice versa. Can script almost the entire GUI. Check out Automator to build quick and easy automated workflows. Tons of freely downloadable workflows available online.

If you have it hooked up to a TV, check out the Kylo web browser for the best TV web-browsing experience around (makes GREAT use of AirMouse)

Backup your VM within the VM, using whatever Windows backup tool you like. Tell Time Machine to skip backing up your VM files

Since server is just client with a few apps added on, you can easily use it for gaming, internet, etc. without any additional steps. But don't forget to download the server admin tools: http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1419

If you have a library of Windows games, check out Crossover Games http://www.codeweavers.com/products/cxgames/ , it's a version of WINE tuned for gaming designed for Mac OS X

This probably goes without saying, but for Mac gaming, get Steam http://store.steampowered.com/

Sharing printers and files really couldn't be simpler, you'll see

For a large amount of storage for backup, file hosting, etc. at a decent price, get a Promise SmartStor DS4600 and fill it with 3TB drives. Slice it up to allow between 2-3TB for a Time Machine backup volume, and the rest for general file storage. Or however you want to slice it up after you've got the Time Machine volume carved out.

Macports is good, Fink is OK too, they both have strengths and weaknesses. It's entirely possible to run a GNOME or KDE session on top of Darwin w/out using Aqua at all. Set the User preferences so the login screen displays as a username/password entry form, then log in as >console w/ no password to get straight to the CLI, no GUI. From there, you can startx after everything's been installed and configured.

Windows/mac integration resource: http://www.macwindows.com/

Mac server/sharing resource: http://www.afp548.com/
posted by kalessin at 8:26 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Big +1 on the keyboard shortcuts! That's great advice, overall. Kudos to chesazeb.
posted by krilli at 8:56 AM on July 29, 2011

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