I don't understand my Mac.
November 17, 2006 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Help me grok the Mac.

I'm a week into my first Mac - a Macbook Pro (intel core2 duo). While I really want to "get" the Mac - usability, culture, interface - I'm struggling, probably due to bad habits picked up during the last 15 years of Windows.

What should be exciting me about this machine? I'm finding that the differences are starting to annoy me - as an example, the constant worry that "uninstalling" an application won't get rid of the residual crap that gets put -- where? (At least in Windows there's a registry that I sort of understand.) Some applications spew garbage all over the filesystem, and uninstalling needs to be performed manually. Bottom line: the lack of training material for users who decided to try the "switch" is frustrating.

I want to be excited about using this machine - it's definitely a smooth, sexy beast in terms of ergonomics - but when it comes down to it, I'm having a hard time pinpointing why the overall experience is better than Windows, especially in a corporate environment.

Mac loyalists - please share your advice on how I can better enjoy my new computer. Share the "Mac philosophy" with me. Links to sites discussing the (hidden) advantages of OSX vs Windows would be welcome as well. My hope is that this can turn into a "These are some things that make OSX better for me" rather than an "OMG Windows sux!" discussion.
posted by aberrant to Computers & Internet (67 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Try David Pogue's book Switching to the Mac.

(As for your example about uninstalling applications, the reason most Mac apps don't come with an uninstaller is that, with rare exceptions -- notably Microsoft applications -- anything installed on the drive other than the application itself is utterly harmless, and will affect nothing except your free drive space.)
posted by jjg at 10:22 AM on November 17, 2006


I find that OS X becomes much easier to use if you map your centre mouse button to have the same effect as hitting F9 usually does (show all open windows).

You can set that up in the Dashboard and Expose system preferences.
posted by sindark at 10:23 AM on November 17, 2006


sindark: I don't have a center mouse button. I have one button, at the bottom of the keyboard. This is another big frustration. :)
posted by aberrant at 10:28 AM on November 17, 2006


I'm a recent switcher (2 years?).

Appzapper will remove a program and find all its prefs files.

I think the most frustrating part of OS X is the finder (a la Explorer.exe in windows). Its very unintuitive, inefficient. Thus the term FTFF. It's supposed to be revamped in 10.5.

As for a corporate environment, don't bother. Entourage (Mac version of Outlook), is a POS, as well as whole Office 2004 suite (IMO), its not a Universal Binary either. SMB is pretty crappy.

I really love OmniWeb and Adium for IM. As for the rest, I'm a developer but I find my Windows machine more efficient (yet not as sleek) for doing work.
posted by mphuie at 10:34 AM on November 17, 2006


Speaking of mouse buttons.

The one feature i LOVE about my Macbook Pro is the 2-finger scrolling. Simply put two fingers on your pad and slide them up and down.

You may need to go into the Preferences Pane -> Keyboard & Mouse to set it.
posted by mphuie at 10:36 AM on November 17, 2006


This Mac OS X demo video was linked on Digg a few weeks ago.

"This is a demonstration of what the Mac OS can do, particularly if you are a new user to the Mac or if you've never had one and are wondering what it can do for you or if it is something you would like to try."

I haven't watched it myself, but it may help you out.
posted by geeky at 10:39 AM on November 17, 2006


A *lot* of Mac applications are self-contained and don't spew anything around the OS; the exceptions are almost exclusively (1) things like Office and Photoshop that have lots of plug-ins and options and modules; and (2) programs that stick a preference file somewhere in Library. In general, when you remove an application, unless you need the disk space there is little reason to worry about anything left behind; it almost certainly won't hurt you. Unlike in Windows, programs generally don't fundamentally modify your system settings and can't do much harm.

I think one thing that might be useful would be for you to express other things about the Mac that are frustrating or confusing you, and we can explain / reply....
posted by raf at 10:43 AM on November 17, 2006


raf: I'll do my best.
1. Physically, the one-button mouse is frustrating, as are the multiple (4, 5 if you count shift!) keyboard modifiers: fn, ctrl, alt/option, and the apple (clover?) key. Most applications have a standard way of using these keys, but some (notably Firefox) don't.
2. Click-through is inconsistent - say what you want about the desirability of the feature, but consistency is key.
3. I can't open up multiple instances of applications via the dock.
4. Closing a window doesn't end the application.
5. The finder is hard to navigate.
6. I do worry about optimizing disk space. When I remove an app, I want it gone. All of it.

The crux of it is, despite the beautiful UI, OSX doesn't feel quite as "polished" as Windows. Maybe it's because I've subconsciously adapted to inconsistencies there (and if so, then I can do it with OSX), but the little things grate on me.

I'm hoping these things have some purpose - that is to say, they're an intentional and integral part of the design.
posted by aberrant at 10:53 AM on November 17, 2006


more on 4, above: Closing a window doesn't end the application - except when it does (that is, it's a subwindow). Hitting Apple-Q doesnt get rid of the firefox downloads window; it attempts to close firefox.
posted by aberrant at 10:57 AM on November 17, 2006


Most well-behaved applications put their preferences in ~/Library (in your home directory). Roughly, it's the equivalent of the Windows registry. If you've unininstalled something (say Skype), you can delete files like ~/Library/Preferences/com.skype.skype.plist and ~/Library/Application Support/Skype. They'll be recreated later if you reinstall the software. On the other hand, those files are pretty small and aren't used if the application is not installed. So there's no compelling reason to delete them.

I don't know much about the Mac philosophy, but the killer advantage of OS X for me is the terminal. It gives you access to a standard unix shell, and lots of great scripting/networking capabilities that are really hard to do on Windows.
posted by beniamino at 11:01 AM on November 17, 2006


P.S. Firefox is not very Mac-like. You might find the modifier key thing less frustrating if you try Camino which is the Mac-native browser produced by Mozilla (the Firefox people).
posted by beniamino at 11:04 AM on November 17, 2006


I was going to say. You do realize that the .app is actually a compressed archive, and you can open it and see what's inside it by clicking

Generally, anything else that gets "spewed" (note: exception: by the Turd in Redmond, or anything by AdobeMacromedia) is in /Library/Application Support or in /home/username/Library/Application Support.

To me, the finder is pretty intuitive. You're probably frustrated by hitting enter and it not opening, practice apple-O instead. I can't figure out why my files are opening instead of letting me rename them in Windows now. :( The problems I have are the 'views', and how hard it is to get icons to sort themselves. I use list view most of the time because it pisses me off the least.

One of the things *I* love is how easy network and printer support becomes. It's all in the preferences pane, which can be accessed by the upper left hand apple logo on the screen. I love dashboard and expose (the f9-f11 keys), I love that I no longer even have to THINK about IE except when I'm developing web applications.

Last but not least is the software. I greatly prefer Office 2k4 for Mac to office on windows. I love OmniGroup's applications. I like TextMate. I absolutely adore not having to worry that the next patch tuesday is going to bork some system driver, and avoiding driver version hell is nice. The Finder is nice and snappy on my network volumes, I don't lose a day or three of working time when our slack-ass admins bork Active Directory, and when everyone else can't print because of some arcane windows network error I'm working just fine.
posted by SpecialK at 11:06 AM on November 17, 2006


SpecialK, printing is one of my major annoyances. Our print queues reside on windows servers - and when I try to browse the server's print queues in osx printer setup, I can't find them. It's important to use the windows print queues because they support standard banner pages, which in our busy office guarantees that someone's not gonna walk away with your printout.
posted by aberrant at 11:22 AM on November 17, 2006


If you haven't discovered it by now, you can emulate a right-click on a Macbook Pro trackpad by putting two fingers on the pad, then clicking on the trackpad button. You might need to enable this behavior in the "Keyboard & Mouse" perferences, though (in the "Trackpad" tab).
posted by melorama at 11:23 AM on November 17, 2006


3. I can't open up multiple instances of applications via the dock.
4. Closing a window doesn't end the application.


These are related. Normally in the mac world, you have one application that has multiple 'documents' open - instead of multiple instances of the application each with one 'document' open.

So, the reason it's not easy to launch multiple instances of an app, is that it's unnecessary and sometimes not possible.

6. I do worry about optimizing disk space. When I remove an app, I want it gone. All of it.


Usually, the worst that will be left over is a preferences file, which are tiny, but if you want to remove them, you can. There are even utils out there to help you. Though, manual removal is easy. This is not nearly as evil (TM) as the registry on windows.
posted by nightwood at 11:28 AM on November 17, 2006


I also recently just switched to mac and have been a little uncertain. I know there *must* be all these cool things, but the slope to power user is steeper than I thought.
posted by allan at 11:29 AM on November 17, 2006


As a longtime Mac user, I can't comment on a (current) switcher's concerns, but I've always been impressed by the thoroughness and quality of Apple's support. For example, here's their Tiger support portal. And don't overlook the apple.com discussion forums*, which are freely accessible to all. Browse or just type some keywords into the search window at upper right. (As an owner, you can register to join and ask specific questions.)
*Note in particular the forum on Windows compatibility, specifically aimed at switchers.
posted by rob511 at 11:29 AM on November 17, 2006


btw, it's pretty funny that you feel that the OSX UI and conventions aren't as polished as Windows. I used to feel the same way when I (by necessity) had to switch to OSX back when OSX 10.2 Jaguar came out.

I'm sure you know how this story ends :) Today, Windows seems like a big steaming pile of duct-taped-together crap. Once you finally "get" the Mac way of doing things, you suddenly see how bassackwards and terrible the Windows UI is.

One of the very few things that I still hate about OSX is the Finder. It quite frankly sucks. The biggest problem I have with it is the way it treats folders as files, so if you copy/move a folder over to a folder that contains a subfolder with the same name as the folder you're copying, it will delete the destination folder first, and then move/copy the folder over. If you are switching from Windows, and aren't aware of this behavior, you will quickly screw yourself.

Windows, in my opinion, does it the correct way, which is to merge the contents of the folders when you do this. I still haven't found a convincing justification from Mac fanboys for OSX's behavior in this regard.
posted by melorama at 11:34 AM on November 17, 2006


You might also want to spend awhile browsing XvsXP.com, which attempts to "objectively" compare the XP way of doing things vs. the OSX way of doing things. It's a pretty neat an comprehensive site.
posted by melorama at 11:42 AM on November 17, 2006


Quicksilver is excellent. It takes a few days to get used to, but it is really worth it (almost nothing shows up in my Dock that isn't open), even if you just use it as a launcher.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 11:42 AM on November 17, 2006


1. I would get an external mouse and just get your buttons back. The only reason I find the one-button trackpad usable at all is because of the new two-finger scrolling. I haven't even checked i there's a trackpad-combo that will right-click - but I am very often using my Macbook in places where I can easily use a mouse.
2. I'm not sure what you mean by click-through.
3. This (also applies to #4) is the most important conceptual difference between Windows and Mac OS. I think that the Mac is far more consistent with this than Windows is, and I prefer it - but I've always chosen Macs not Win boxes when I've had the choice. But basically, an application isn't defined by its window, and so multiple windows in the same app aren't considered multiple instances of the application. An application runs or it doesn't irrespective of how many windows you open in that application.
4. See above
5. I don't understand HOW it's hard to navigate. Everything isn't flowers and candies, by any stretch, but with the easily-chosen navigation options, you can move around very quickly when you must. Column view is your friend, BTW.
6. You say you worry about optimizing disk space - but that's not why you want a whole application gone in Windows - you want it gone because there is a significant possibility that the cruft - which is all terribly identified and often un-identifiable - will affect some other application or process or service that you want to run. That is simply not the case with 99% of applications made for the Mac OS. The 1% exception is pretty much restricted to services that rely on kernel modifications, which are largely discouraged anyhow. Nevertheless there are applications out there that will blow away prefs files and other cruft if you want.

The bottom line for a good portion of the adaptation problems that people have is that Windows has trained people to engage in certain computer hygiene practices which aren't really necessary for the safe and sound operation of a computer.

Lastly: I use Entourage every day in an Exchange server environment, BTW, and it works very well, particularly since they introduced Spotlight support.
posted by mikel at 11:48 AM on November 17, 2006


(1) Repeating point 6 above. There's just no *need* to get rid of any 'cruft' that a deleted .app leaves behind. It can't hurt anything, unlike cruft that Windows apps leave behind. At worst, it'll take up a few dozen kilobytes on your disk. Less space than a single photo of your cat takes up - maybe 0.001% of your hard drive space, and that's being generous.

(2) I find trying to use a Mac without a real mouse - that is, one with a left button, a right button, a mouse wheel, and preferably two thumb buttons - to be torture. Do yourself a favor and get a mouse. If you're computer-savvy enough to understand the concept of right-clicking something, there's absolutely no reason to be stuck in one-button-land.
posted by dmd at 11:56 AM on November 17, 2006


I think the biggest difference is that there aren't a lot of hidden things - apps cannot command your OS (registry, DLL, etc ) and everything is overlayed so even if you don't use an app - as someone else noted, it's just HDD space and doesn't do much of anything ... there are some startup utilities that will use some RAM - you can check via ACTIVITY MONITOR to see what's going on ... but also unlike WIN, it's pretty un-necessary as the OS will self adjust RAM as needed. Also note that you can drag anything you want into the dock - including folders where you can add ALIASES of apps you use often or even files, hell, you cna even drag the HDD icon there and naviagte 100 folders deep. It's better to download icons to replace the folder icon so you get a visual clue but maybe that's just me. If you want to open a lot of apps in the morning, you can write an AUTOMATOR or APPLESCRIPT script/action that will do that for you.



If you prefer to copy a folder when moving, simply hold down the OPTION key.


Yea, it's not easy to do an immediate switch but after a while, you'll notice the tiny niceties begin to add up like after you select SAVE AS, you can begin to type the name you want even before the OPEN/SAVE box opens, all your text is there ... enjoy!
posted by jbelkin at 12:05 PM on November 17, 2006


Don't worry too much about uninstalling apps. As others have mentioned, the worst that most apps do is install some innocuous files in ~/Library/Application Support/ and also ~/Library/Preferences/ . These will use up disk space, but that's it. There are some apps that install faceless daemons (such as backup apps). Typically you'll be required to give admin access to let these daemons install themselves, and you can remove them from within the main app.

Explore your drive from the root. You'll see
- Applications
- Library
- System
- Users

Absolutely do not mess with the contents of /System, but it's interesting to note that inside of this is a directory called Library. You can mess with the contents of /Library, but only if you're confident you know what you are doing. Inside of Users you'll see your own user directory (~), and again, a Library in there.

The system scans all the directories named Library for more or less the same stuff. Stuff that goes in /Library is available to all users. Stuff in ~/Library is available only to you.

Once you've spent some time exploring, you'll get a better idea what you can safely trash and what you might as well not mess with.

Always store your documents inside your user folder--don't leave them scattered about. Some people recommend storing 3rd-party apps in your user folder as well, but I keep them all in Applications. With OS X, Apple tends to enforce a certain directory organization (in contrast to the old days), and it's easier just to go along with that unless you really want to roll up your sleeves.

I've found that if you drink Apple's koolaid and religiously use its apps—iCal, iPhoto, Address Book, Mail, etc—you really can get synergistic benefits. They tie into each other nicely, and other apps tie into them as well. Of course, some apps tie into Entourage (or whatever).

Try using the Finder in Columns view. I won't pretend the Finder doesn't have problems, but columns view is very handy. Remember that you can customize the Finder window sidebar icon selection. If you want to get Real Ultimate Power, buy Path Finder.

I'm also a big fan of Quicksilver.
posted by adamrice at 12:07 PM on November 17, 2006


For:

4. Closing a window doesn't end the application.

You need Stoplight. I haven't used it yet, but it's supposed to work quite well.
posted by bibbit at 12:17 PM on November 17, 2006


^ Don't try to make it into a Windows machine. Work with it, and you'll find you get on better in the long run.

Having applications keep running is a legacy from the single tasking days, where you would launch Word, work in it, opening and closing documents, and then Quit when you were finished to return to the Finder. With some apps -- Photoshop! -- that take hours to launch, you really don't want them quitting.

Tip: While Apple-Tabbing, press q on a highlighted app to quit it.

Tip 2: Try dragging and dropping a whole lot more. It nearly always works. Drag a file onto an app icon to open it, drag something from an app window to the desktop to export it. And so on.
posted by bonaldi at 12:27 PM on November 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


There's just no *need* to get rid of any 'cruft' that a deleted .app leaves behind.

For some of us, we need to. Having useless orphaned files all over your filespace, even if they're just harmlessly wasting space, is... well, it's offensive. Painful. Immoral, maybe, in the same way that having unused icons on your desktop is immoral.

Which is to say that "You don't need to" might not be a helpful reply if aberrant's wish is motivated by an aesthetic revulsion at leftover crap, or just a perfectly normal OCD need to keep things under control, instead of being based in Windows in some way. Myself, I still find it hard to let useless files exist, but not from anything to do with windows -- it's from years of managing 30--200MB drives with not enough space for everything, from years of having to clear out room to put on WC2, and from years of dealing with a unix filespace with a low quota.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:48 PM on November 17, 2006


If you're paranoid about what might be left behind after removing apps, you should try AppDelete, a freeware droplet app which does the same thing as AppZapper (mentioned above). I keep it in my Finder toolbar so when I want to remove an app, I just drag it to the droplet and it finds all (if any) related files and removes them, placing everything in a unique folder in the Trash.

And as a recent switcher myself (though I still use XP both at home and at work), I can say just give it time. It took me a few months to get really comfortable with OS X. I'm still not pleased with the Finder (no surprise), and I sometimes slip and forget that closing a window does not close the app. As for Finder, I'm using it less and less since getting more cozy with Quicksilver. For closing an app I use Command-Q. I find keyboard shortcuts are often the best way to go in OS X--even more so with QS installed.

In my experience, I've concluded OS X is significantly better than XP in a number of ways. Aesthetics aside, I find OS X more seamless and consistent and the integration among both Apple and third-party apps to be much tighter. And then there are the small touches which are too many to name. It's just on the whole very slick. After I learned the basics, the OS X way almost always makes the most sense. This of course requires a bit of unlearning after years of Windows, but that's understandable, no?
posted by GS1977 at 12:55 PM on November 17, 2006


Read up on user comments on AppDelete, though — I've heard it can offer up for deletion stuff it really shouldn't.
posted by WCityMike at 1:23 PM on November 17, 2006


You may benefit a great deal from learning the keystroke shortcuts that are common to most all programs. Particularly these:

Apple-Q : Quits the current application entirely
Apple-W : Closes the current window in the current application.
Apple-, : Open the Preferences or Settings for the current application.

If you search online, or look in the OS X Help menu, you can find all the others.
posted by odinsdream at 1:27 PM on November 17, 2006


I double click on something and it opens in Preview. That's nice, but why do I still want Preview open after I close the window? I just don't get it. Am I supposed to ignore that big red button in the corner, and choose File>Quit instead?
posted by smackfu at 1:44 PM on November 17, 2006


I have to add that Apple's "Command" key (aka "Apple key", "Clover" or "Splat") is one of the single best, yet unheralded things about the Mac.

After using a Mac for awhile, going back to work on a Windows machine is pure, RSI-inducing hell, because you end up comfortably using your thumb to invoke the Command key on the Mac, whereas on Windows, the most frequently used keyboard shortcuts are invoked with totally un-naturally located Control key.

I honestly can't understand how I used Windows for 11 years this way.
posted by melorama at 1:48 PM on November 17, 2006


Have a new macbook pro also - but the reverse problem. Been with mac since the 1984 and never used Windows. With this intel mac, I installed Parallels and XP. To me, when I go into XP, I only seem to see the annoying differences. It just doesn't feel right, and I feel like a novice (but also a scared novice due to need for virus protection). About the only thing I do is run the updater for the virus protection program and patches for XP. Even doing that just seems awkward. My point is that the "overall experience" and "advanages" are difficult to see if you've spent considerable time in the other OS.

After using the Mac for a while I'd suggest going to macsurfer.com to get into philospohy etc.
posted by jjcurtis at 1:51 PM on November 17, 2006


- Apple-W closes windows, Apple-Q closes applications.

-90% of all apps are self-contained inside the Applications folder. The ones that aren't will add their own directories by-name to your Documents folder and/or your Library folder.

-Most apps which install anything *at the system level* DO come with their own uninstallers, e.g. Acrobat or Flip4Mac (which is the codec for WMP). If you're suspicious of residual files, check those places.

-No defragging necessary, OS X defrags continuously as things are opened/closed/installed/deleted...

-You can find anything in the Finder by using Apple-F or Apple-spacebar

-Columnar view in Finder will probably ease the transition from Windows to Mac

-Drag & drop works for just about everything on a Mac

-As of now, there's no way for Macs to browse print queues on Windows print server...

-But not being able to browse the queue should have no effect on a server-initiated banner page. The server should still be telling the printer to out a banner at the front of each of your print jobs

That's all I can think of off the top from skimming the page.
posted by stewiethegreat at 2:00 PM on November 17, 2006


Sorry, "check those places" was meant to go in the previous bullet.

Which is to say, that if you're suspicious of residual files, check the Documents folder, and both Library folders (/Library and /username/Library).
posted by stewiethegreat at 2:02 PM on November 17, 2006


before i got a mac, i used to play with my girlfriends powerbook when i was over at her place. it took about 6 months of this cycle:
1) complain about something slow/broken/missing that i had in windows
2) stumble across mac version/way of doing the thing
3) come to prefer the mac version/way
before i realized I wanted one myself real bad.

take your time. the situation was good for me cause i had a windows box i used when i needed to get things done, and a mac to play on. and after i certain amount of time i realized the mac was where stuff got done.
posted by [@I][:+:][@I] at 2:02 PM on November 17, 2006


Sorry to barge in again, but as I'm here at work, ripping audio for a video project, I'm reminded of yet another thing I love so much about OSX: Tracks on audio CDs appear as .AIFF files, directly in the Finder. There's no need to "rip" tracks from a CD using a seperate program. In OSX, you can just drag them directly from the CD to your local filesystem.

It's all of the thousands of "little things" like this which make the overall OSX experience so rewarding, and does wonders for your productivity. You can't say the same for Windows, unfortunately.
posted by melorama at 2:22 PM on November 17, 2006


You really can leave apps running with no open windows. For most well-behaved apps, the additional load on your system is imperceptible (you can check this out using Activity Monitor).

It's one of those things that I know bugs Windows users, but if you give it a chance, you might find it grows on you. I don't want to quit my browser—I'll be reloading Metafilter in a few minutes anyhow—but when I'm not in it, I don't want the visual clutter. You can hide the app with its window open, or you can just close all the windows. Either option is quicker than quitting and relaunching.

Now, some apps are "single window" apps--meaning they don't have document windows, they just have one window where they do something. And some of these apps are designed quit if you close their single window. It's a weird inconsistency in Mac-land.
posted by adamrice at 2:23 PM on November 17, 2006


That whole "closing the window doesn't close the app" complaint just seems bizarre to someone used to Macs.

Which window?

With a Windows application, say Word, you edit a document, and you close the document's window -- does it quit the application? Of course not. Because you can have more than one document open. Because you might want to close the first one and then open another.

Thus far then, Windows and Mac are the same. The Application is open, and it has zero or more document windows open, which you are free to close.

So when you say "close the window", you mean "close the window of the application" -- on PC, there are two windows. The outer window is Word, the application, and within it there is another nested window, the document.

Macs don't do it that way. When you're using Word, it's "in front" of everything else it owns the menu bar. There's no application window to close. The application is either running or it isn't, and it's either in front or it isn't.

So, as long as you know what you want to do, there shouldn't be a problem. If you want to close a document, you close a document, and if you want to quit an app, you quit an app. And you can't go to do one and accidentally do the other.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:20 PM on November 17, 2006


>The biggest problem I have [...] is the way it treats folders as files, so if you copy/move a folder over to a folder that contains a subfolder with the same name as the folder you're copying, it will delete the destination folder first, and then move/copy the folder over

>Windows, in my opinion, does it the correct way, which is to merge the contents of the folders when you do this.


Again, this complaint just seems insane to a Mac user.

I can't have two files (documents or folders) of the same name in the same place. No OS will let me do that.

So, when I try to move "annualreport.doc" to a folder that already has an "annualreport.doc", both Mac and PC will pop up a dialog, which says "there's already a file with that name, do you want to over-write it?".

So far so logical.

And the Mac OS does that for both files and folders. It's consistent. To describe that as "deleting the file/folder and then copying" is a strange way to put it, but technically correct.

So Mac and Windows do that same with files, but differen things with folders. Windows offers to try and merge the folders, but will still over-write files of the same name in the same place anywhere in the tree. It's hard to understand for non-technical users, and inconsistent. I don't know any other OS that does that.

And how do you "screw yourself" by copying a folder over another folder on Mac OS? You get a dialog telling you what's about to happen and you click "OK" or "Cancel". Only if you both failed to read the dialog and believed that Windows merging behaviour is the logical behaviour could you screw yourself.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:31 PM on November 17, 2006


AmbroseChapel:

My beef is not with the behavior of overwiting files. That's a bit of a red herring you're throwing out there.

While the notion that folder *is* a file (so it should not be treated any differently in delete/overwrite operations) is technically correct, I've used so many different operating systems for the majority of my 34 year life that I understand that from a usability standpoint, it's practically incorrect.

In almost every instance when you are dragging a folder named "x" to a different location where there is another folder named "x", your intent is generally to refresh or merge the contents of said folder, including any subfolders and any contents therein. With Windows, all i have to do is drag the main folder over, tell it to overwrite any existing files, and my folder heirarchy is updated in one fell swoop. With OSX, I'd have to manually refresh the contents of each folder seperately, which is hardly a user-friendly "feature"

I frankly don't care what is "correct" from a computer engineering standpoint, as an end user, all I care about is getting things done. I am a total systems geek, but I'm also a real user as well, and all I know is that the instances when I actually want to nuke the entire folder, instead of merging it are very, very rare. And as the unofficial techsupport geek for almost every company I've worked for (Mac-centric or otherwise), I can attest to the fact that this is the behavior that most "real" end users want and expect.
posted by melorama at 4:41 PM on November 17, 2006


I hear you, ROU_X. I was a bit anal and thrify about such things too (still am, thanks mainly to running a PC loaded with overflowing HDDs). Then I sit at my 3 year old eMac w/ 60G HDD (55G available), think of all the stuff I've installed & deleted over the years without a thought to cleaning up their .prop files, all the random crap I've got sitting in ~, and that I've done 2 upgrades & countless updates over the original OS X install painlessly and without cleaning up - and the fact that, despite this, I've still got 10G free.

(Admittedly, big stuff like video files etc goes onto network storage. But all apps and the random day to day accumulation is on the local drive.)

Not to say it doesn't grate my sensibilities a bit when I stop to think about it (like right now - I can feel myself almost itching!), knowing that it's all still there. But I've learned to stop worrying and love the Mac. It's a machine & OS that's designed to be used without care - if I want to farnarkle around tidying and and suchlike I'll go and sit at the Windows machine, de-crudding the registry & system folders while trying to scratch out a few Gig of disk space to hold my temp files...
posted by Pinback at 4:47 PM on November 17, 2006


melorama: I'm genuinely intrigued by this folder merging feature. Has Windows always done this? What happens if two files have the same name? Does the one in the folder you dragged overwrite the other automatically? Or does Windows ask you what to do?
posted by myeviltwin at 6:09 PM on November 17, 2006


One of the great things about the new Macs is that you can now enable right-clicking by tapping with two fingers on the trackpad. Set it in the keyboard and mouse preferences under system preferences. Also see this thread .
posted by GoshND at 6:12 PM on November 17, 2006


myeviltwin: "melorama: I'm genuinely intrigued by this folder merging feature. Has Windows always done this? What happens if two files have the same name? Does the one in the folder you dragged overwrite the other automatically? Or does Windows ask you what to do?"

Windows will first ask you if you want to overwrite the existing files in the destination folder that have the same names as the source. You can either choose "Yes", "No", "Yes to All", or "No to All". Windows basically considers folders as containers and nothing more, so the folder itself doesn't get overwritten.

I would at least like OSX to give you a choice, either with a similar popup warning window, or using a keyboard modifier. i can see that there are good reasons to overwrite the folder itself, but as I mentioned, more often than not, you want to merge the folders, so *that8 should be the default action. Having an "power user" keyboard modifier to force the current, folder nuking behavior would be a welcome addition to the Finder, especially if Apple is intent on having people switch over from Windows to the Mac.

It just makes sense.
posted by melorama at 6:28 PM on November 17, 2006


Physically, the one-button mouse is frustrating, as are the multiple (4, 5 if you count shift!) keyboard modifiers: fn, ctrl, alt/option, and the apple (clover?) key. Most applications have a standard way of using these keys, but some (notably Firefox) don't.

As others have pointed out, the trackpad does have (simulated) two-button & scrollwheel functionality once you enable it in the Mouse preference pane, and you can plug in pretty much any USB mouse you like.

Perhaps I can help explain the differences between the modifier keys:

⌘/Apple/Command:
This is known as the "Command" key, as in "press Command-q to quit." This can be used to access most major menu items by pressing the key combination listed next to those items in the menu.
There are several standard commands which are consistent across nearly all Mac applications, such as ⌘Q (Quit), ⌘W (Close), ⌘C (Copy), ⌘V (Paste), ⌘X (Cut), ⌘O (Open), ⌘A (Select All), ⌘N (New), and ⌘-? for Help. ⌘-Tab quickly switches between applications. Learning these shortcuts can save you a lot of time.
Command-clicking can also be used to select multiple items at once.

⇧/Shift:
There aren't enough letters to match every menu item, so shift is generally used in combination with ⌘ for less-commonly accessed menu items.
Shift-clicking can also be used to select a range of items.

⌥/Option/Alt:
This is known as the "Option" key. This is used in combination with ⌘ and ⇧ for even lower-priority menu items, or for variations on standard items. (For instance ⌘⌥W will close all of an application's windows, instead of just one.) If you pull down a menu and then press option, the menu items will change to their variant options in real time.
In the menus, option is represented by "⌥", presumably because there weren't any other symbols left. (The key has "alt" printed on it for compatibility with Windows applications.)
When ⌥ is used as a modifier without ⌘, it accesses alternate characters. For instance, ⌥-2 gives you ™, and pressing ⌥ in conjunction with vowels lets you place accents over international characters.
Option-dragging items will copy them instead of moving them.
You can also use option with the arrow & delete keys to work with entire words at a time.

^/Ctrl/Control:
The control key exists primarily for compatibility with Windows and Unix applications. You won't generally use it in Mac applications. If an application does include a control-key shortcut, it will be abbreviated as "^".
Control-clicking is equivalent to a right-click.

Fn/Function:
The function key is unique to notebook computers, and exists solely to access secondary functions on the keyboard. Use this to access Home, End, Page Up, Page Down, the F1-F7 keys, and the number keypad.
posted by designbot at 6:50 PM on November 17, 2006


>In almost every instance when you are dragging a folder named "x" to a different location where there is another folder named "x", your intent is generally to refresh or merge the contents of said folder

Once again, what seems "logical" to you seems like lunacy to me. I think that just seems sensible to you because Windows does this extremely counter-intuitive and you're used to Windows doing it. Plus, "refresh"? I don't even know what that could mean.

What do Unix-like systems do if you try to copy a folder to a location where there's already a folder of that name?

I don't think, in all my years of using computers, I have ever wanted to "merge" two folders (unless it was with something like Subversion). If I wanted to move documents from one folder to another, I did just that -- opened folder A and copied documents from it to folder B.

Even on Windows I would do that, because I would expect the copy-folder-over-another-folder operation to do the logical thing: overwrite.

>this is the behavior that most "real" end users want and expect.


That can't possibly be true. Straw poll, anyone?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:51 PM on November 17, 2006


It makes completely no sense to this Mac user, and violates the principle of least surprise completely.

I am a total usability geek, but I'm also a real user as well, and all I know is that the instances when I actually want to merge a folder, instead of nuking it are very, very rare. And as the unofficial techsupport geek for almost every company I've worked for (Mac-centric or otherwise), I can attest to the fact that this is the behaviour that most "real" end users want and expect.
posted by bonaldi at 6:51 PM on November 17, 2006


A lot of good info's been posted so far, but I'd like to inject a more structured approach to answering the question with What is Mac OS X? and the OSXFAQ.com FAQ. If it's not in one of those two places, you probably don't need to know it.
posted by scalefree at 6:53 PM on November 17, 2006


>In the menus, option is represented by "⌥", presumably because there weren't any other symbols left.

Not at all. It's a little tiny railway switch, with the train changing to another track. Or a logic gate.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:56 PM on November 17, 2006


>the multiple (4, 5 if you count shift!) keyboard modifiers: fn, ctrl, alt/option, and the apple (clover?) key. Most applications have a standard way of using these keys, but some (notably Firefox) don't.

Wow, five modifier keys? Windows only has Control, Alt, Shift and the Window key, and, if you're on a laptop, a Function key. So that's ... five.

But seriously, in what way does Firefox not have a standard way of using these keys? As designbot says, all the ones like open, close, cut, copy, paste are standard. What isn't?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:01 PM on November 17, 2006


What do Unix-like systems do if you try to copy a folder to a location where there's already a folder of that name?

They won't let you:

$ mkdir -p foo/bar
$ mkdir bar
$ touch foo/bar/baz
$ mv bar foo/
mv: rename bar to foo/bar: Directory not empty

I have to say, though, that the merging thing sounds like kind of a neat feature.
posted by myeviltwin at 7:02 PM on November 17, 2006


It is neat. But it's complicated and inconsistent, and makes for a big, wordy dialog box. I'd be all for the "merge" thing if it was a power-user's option. Hell, why not make it even neater with options like "newer files replace older files"?

Here's a thing. What should I do in Windows if I want to over-write the whole folder? Is it just me, or is it actually impossible?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:36 PM on November 17, 2006


AmbroseChapel:
Once again, what seems "logical" to you seems like lunacy to me. I think that just seems sensible to you because Windows does this extremely counter-intuitive and you're used to Windows doing it.

Well I don't know what to tell ya, then...

All I know is that I haven't really used a Windows machine for anything more serious than webbrowsing and downloading porn for over 3 years now, and this behavior is one of the only things about Windows that I miss. Everything else that used to irritate me about OSX--non-maximizing windows,

Maybe our usage patterns are different, but FWIW, I work in film & video production, and I find myself needing to merge folders & subfolder contents on a daily basis, whether it be sections of rendered image sequences that need to be updated or whatnot. And since it's common to have a standardized folder structure for projects in a facility, it's extremely useful to simply consolidate folder/subfolder structures from different locations into a single location (an external Firewire drive, for example).

Maybe we live on different planets, Ambrose & bonaldi, but I am not making things up when I say that it has been my overwhelming experience that "real people" (and not Mac/Windows/Linux fanboys/girls) tend to favor the folder-merging behavior. I myself am platform agnostic, yet I *still* favor the folder-merging behavior. It's one of the very, very few good things about Windows that I can think of.

FWIW, I was strictly an Amiga user for almost 7 years before really ever using Windows on a regular basis (and an Apple II/oldschool-Macintosh user before then), so it's not like I'm coming from a perspective of years of exclusively-Microsoft brainwashing. I know I shouldn't have to justify myself about that, but it always seems that discussions about things like this often point at the "switcher"'s years of supposed Windoze-conditioning as the sole reason why their notion of how an OS "should" work is in fact "wrong."

While that's actually true in many cases, I don't subscribe to the fanboy notion that just because Windows does something in a certain way that differs from the Mac, it automatically makes the Windows method "wrong".

And besides, the whole original point of this discussion is how to make the Mac experience a positive one for switchers. Deleting their data simply because they assumed that merging folders is standard operating procedure on most operating systems is a failure of design, NOT the user. All I want for OSX to give me in this regard is choice. As of now, it doesn't, and that's a design flaw, in my opinion.
posted by melorama at 7:42 PM on November 17, 2006


Deleting their data simply because they assumed that merging folders is standard operating procedure on most operating systems is a failure of design, NOT the user. All I want for OSX to give me in this regard is choice. As of now, it doesn't, and that's a design flaw, in my opinion.

The failure of design is that moves aren't undoable. Why are files silently deleted on both platforms instead of being put into the Trash? However, failure to copy an arguably broken UI choice used on only one operating system because "that's what users will assume of most operating systems" is hardly a design flaw.
posted by bonaldi at 7:48 PM on November 17, 2006


Bottom line: the lack of training material for users who decided to try the "switch" is frustrating.

Try this: Switching from Windows. Note: this link goes directly to the built-in help on your computer. I'm not sure whether it will work in Firefox. You can also get to it by choosing Mac Help from the Help menu in the Finder.

(That's another thing; a lot of people swear by Firefox, but it is a port. Unless you're tied to particular Firefox extensions, Safari will generally launch and run faster.)
posted by designbot at 7:57 PM on November 17, 2006


bonaldi: "failure to copy an arguably broken UI choice used on only one operating system because "that's what users will assume of most operating systems" is hardly a design flaw."

So far, neither of you have given compelling "arguments" why this behavior is "broken", other than "i've never felt the need to have to merge folders".

As I stupidly forgot to complete the thought in my previous post, there are many things about OSX that I considered "wierd" or "wrong" when I first switched, but after only a few months of being immersed in daily use of OSX, I quickly grokked the wisdom of these different conventions, and now consider the "Windows' way" to be the wrong way.

The reasoning being OSX's lack of folder merging, however, still eludes me after all these years.

Teach me!
posted by melorama at 8:00 PM on November 17, 2006


Another thing I'd recommend, if you haven't already, would be to check out some of the bundled Apple software, like Safari, Mail, Address Book, iTunes, iPhoto, iCal, iChat, etc. None of these applications are essential, but the seamless way that they integrate with each other is part of the overall "Mac experience."
posted by designbot at 8:05 PM on November 17, 2006


1. It's arguably broken because it violates the principle of least surprise. You drag things about, and it moves the whole item that's being represented. "Merge" is a complete metaphor-destroyer (not that the Finder is free of them, far from it)

2. Windows is the odd one out here. As far as I'm aware -- and I haven't used desktop linux for two or three years, so I could be off there -- it's the only one that does merge on drag. If you discount linux, which a lot of the time values aping MS anyway, it's definitely the only one.

The Mac doesn't have to have an argument for not doing it, you have to provide a reason why. And "everyone I meet, when I explain what I'm talking about, agrees with me" is not that reason.
posted by bonaldi at 8:11 PM on November 17, 2006


>Deleting their data simply because they assumed that merging folders is standard operating procedure on most operating systems is a failure of design

Once again, that can only happen if they don't read the dialog box!

I'm sorry, but I think your "this is what users expect" is pure confirmation bias. I don't think the average user even knows that meaning of the word.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:16 PM on November 17, 2006


Oops -- "...the word" should have been "...the word 'merge'".
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:24 PM on November 17, 2006


Oh, and if you haven't played with Exposé (press F9) or Dashboard (press F12) yet, you're missing some very flashy (yet functional) eye candy that is also part of the "Mac" difference. You can find more Dashboard widgets here or here. It's mostly kind of superfluous stuff, but it is fun and different from Windows.

I hesitate to mention Delicious Library, because it's also sort of superfluous, but it is a good example of the kind of polish you'd really only see in a Mac program. David Watanabe is a shareware developer who also does some flashy Mac-only software: NewsFire, Acquisition, and Xtorrent (currently in beta). If you do a lot of code-type text editing, TextMate is pretty cool. Anything by The Omni Group is very Mac-ish.

Oh, and on a more practical note, you'll definitely want to download the Windows Media Components for Quicktime and Perian. Once you've got those installed, you should be able to play pretty much any media file without additional applications.

Oh, and have you played with Front Row? Again, it's not exactly essential stuff for a notebook, but it is very slick and Apple-ish. I don't want to give the impression that the defining feature of Mac OS X is frivolous stuff, but without know what kind of work you want to accomplish, it's hard to be more specific.
posted by designbot at 8:32 PM on November 17, 2006


All I could possibly add to this very thorough thread is that while I am officially a "Mac person," I hate the one button mouse. I solved that issue with a clever little cordless USB notebook mouse that fits nicely in my backpack and makes using my laptop much, much more comfortable and pleasant.
posted by jennyb at 7:35 AM on November 18, 2006


When I forced myself to switch to a mac full time (this was only a year or two ago), the first thing I did was remap my control and command (clover) keys so that all my windows keystrokes ingrained in my memory still worked.

The other thing that eventually won me over was that safari was faster than any windows web browser (though I use firefox now) and iPhoto was an incredibly simple app.

The finder sucks though, I agree, but don't sweat the small files. Just delete apps by deleting the things in the applications folder
posted by mathowie at 7:54 AM on November 18, 2006


Some applications spew garbage all over the filesystem, and uninstalling needs to be performed manually.

No, you're wrong. Very little is left for the majority of applications. As far as what is left behind, after deleting the app you can search for the apps name in the finder and quickly find and delete anything left behind. You can use an app like appzapper but in all honesty it's just a convenience. You can do the same thing with a few clicks.

As far as the one button mouse, or trackpad, I have a macbook and find no need for an extra mouse. In fact, I've never understood the need for one, especially with the 'two finger tap' is the same as right clicking. Why would I haul around a mouse and take my hands away from the keyboard to do the same thing I can do with the track pad? Makes little sense to me.

At least in Windows there's a registry that I sort of understand.

despite the beautiful UI, OSX doesn't feel quite as "polished" as Windows.


Moving away from windows and the horrid registry is a god send for most people, and OSX, to me, seems far more polished than windows.

I think you've made a mistake in switching. You love the registry, and think windows is polished. Why would you switch? You can be a windows user. It's ok. Each to his own.
posted by justgary at 10:24 PM on November 18, 2006


Getting back to the original intent of the question, i.e. "These are some things that make OSX better for me", I switch back and forward from Windows to Mac all the time and one thing I notice about the OS X is that its dialogs are a lot more consistent than Windows.

Sometimes I use three Windows apps in a row and literally get three different "open" dialogs -- some of them are the dialogs I remember from Windows 95 days.

The only different ones on Mac are Adobe apps, and even then the changes are relatively discreet things and don't make me go "huh"?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:50 PM on November 19, 2006


Re: the constant worry that "uninstalling" an application

I'm always really happy about OSXPM from the osxgnu project (sparsely documented and spottily maintained, caveat emptor).

It's an uninstaller that actually understands package receipts. If the software you want to uninstall was built using the Apple Installer, it left a package manifest containing a list of every single file installed. OSXPM just reads the list and deletes those files, and if successful, deletes the receipt.

If Apple really wanted to add an "Uninstaller" to the OS, it would be a small matter of programming. However, with Time Machine on the horizon it's probably going to be a moot point soon enough.
posted by litfit at 2:03 PM on November 21, 2006


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