help with a couple question on mac/osx: kerning on the mac & USB probe
August 29, 2007 10:28 PM   Subscribe

A couple questions about Mac and OSX: 1) does anyone know of an alternative to USB Prober alegedly included with the Apple SDK - to help the OS see some USB devices (see inside)? 2) why is the kerning/tracking on much of the default system software - often sketchy?

I ended making a move on a macbook pro in response to this thread as current sad state of offerings in widescreen pc laptops (crappy bios, horrible form factors, even worse tech support)

Overall I am very happy with the move which I'll blog about in detail soon - but... my macbook won't see my USB mp3 player (essentially a USB drive), and I must say I am disappointed with frequently poor display of type onscreen (in firefox, entourage, photoshop, and other apps)... curious if the smart minds here have recommendations on either of the above?

Getting used to the oddly placed command key again is adventure as well... oh and - is it just me? or is firefox substantially slower on OSX than XP?

overall I am very impressed and quite sure I won't notice the couple warts soon.
posted by specialk420 to Computers & Internet (21 answers total)
 
and I must say I am disappointed with frequently poor display of type onscreen

Are you running your MBP's display at its native resolution, or did you dial it down? Try going back to the native resolution.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:31 PM on August 29, 2007


definitely running at the native resolution... I have seen this for for years on co-workers macs - and to varying degrees on finished raster art (the exact problem with tracking and kerning for raster varies from face to face)
posted by specialk420 at 10:45 PM on August 29, 2007


I occasionally plug a USB drive into my macbook and it doesn't turn up. Starting Disk Utility generally makes it appear.
posted by pompomtom at 11:04 PM on August 29, 2007


Are you talking about how OSX often renders 'mushy'-looking fonts? Jeff Atwood talks about the diff. approaches to rendering between XP and OSX here (and has a comparison screenshot here). Other than that, I really haven't noticed any type differences between XP and OSX (yes, I prefer the XP type -- it 'feels' more legible and *crisper* to me, but I can see where the mac side is coming from)
posted by fishfucker at 11:26 PM on August 29, 2007


thanks for the links - good stuff. i haven't waded into turning off anti-aliasing yet (via tinkertool) - the anti-aliasing is less of an issue than the mushy kerning on some letters on OSX - which is just... like finding hair in an expensive plate of food - given the relatively high cost of a MBP
posted by specialk420 at 11:34 PM on August 29, 2007


MacBook and iMac user here (and, before that, an iBook user). I also run Windows and Ubuntu, and have been a Windows tech advisor.

I find that any kind of font rendering is (a) pretty rubbish, and (b) takes some getting used to. So I'd give it some time. Bear in mind that if it's still irritating after a week then I'd think about sending the MacBook back for a refund. Some people just can't get along with Macs, and never will.

As for USB devices, well, if they're not recognised then that's the end of that matter (until Apple issues a point update, or unless a manufacturer driver is provided).

This is one irritation of Apple hardware coming with its own software. You're locked in. Millions of people have had problems with their built-in Airport wifi cards on Macs, and Apple has released patches for the issue that stretch into the double figures. On Windows you could just try a different driver, or an older driver. On Linux you can hack it however you want. On Mac, you get what Apple gives you.
posted by deeper red at 4:34 AM on August 30, 2007


I should point out too that my Canon camera isn't recognised as a USB drive, as it is in Windows. I'm forced to use Canon's rather crappy software to access its contents.
posted by deeper red at 4:36 AM on August 30, 2007


Ha! Command key. Don't worry about it. I've had my MacBook Pro for all of a month and a half after using Windows since the 3.1 days, and I keep finding myself mashing the Windows key when I mean to hit control while working from my XP box at home. It gets into your head pretty fast.

WiFi is another issue, as deeper red points out. The 10.4.10 update turned my fast Airport card into a hunk of crap barely capable of pulling 10 kbps. Thanks, Apple.

Firefox is slower in general on OSX but a large part of that is due to non-native widgets - when opening a page with a textarea (Gmail, for example), it hangs for a few seconds before finishing. Firefox 3 is supposed to use native widgets; you can download the Gran Paradisio alpha if you want to give it a shot and see if it's faster. Some might say "use Safari" but I can't get comfortable with it, after using Firefox for so long.

My biggest complaint so far is lack of keyboard controls. I kept hearing about how you barely needed a mouse on a Mac, but I feel like I use it more than I ever did on Windows. A large number of menu controls have no shortcuts (where on XP I can just hit alt+letter to access any of the menus, and arrow up or down to the one I want). Many of the windows ("get info", etc.) have pinhead-size "close" buttons that aren't especially easy to target, and won't respond to a cmd-Q to close. Seems kind of counter to the Fitt's Law thing the Mac fans like to point to.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:25 AM on August 30, 2007


A large number of menu controls have no shortcuts (where on XP I can just hit alt+letter to access any of the menus, and arrow up or down to the one I want)

You might like DejaMenu.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 6:31 AM on August 30, 2007


...and won't respond to a cmd-Q to close.
To close a window, use cmd-W. That will close any window. Cmd-Q quits the current application.

Generally, closing a window does not quit the application. You have to specifically quit the app. There are exception to this, but they are usually bad ports of Windows apps.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:09 AM on August 30, 2007


There are known problems with font rendering in Firefox on Mac. Use another browser if you don't depend on extensions. Entourage and Photoshop presumably suffer from related problems; all three are large apps with their own toolkits, rendering algorithms and widgets. "Native" cocoa/carbon apps (Safari, Camino, Mail, iTunes, Terminal, Finder, etc.) don't suffer from these problems. Of course reasonable people can disagree about whether the Mac way of rendering text is the right way, but none of the apps you list do it the Mac way.

deeperred: my crappy Canon is recognized by Image Capture, which is a lightweight alternative to importing with iPhoto. It's installed by default and you should find it in Applications.
posted by caek at 8:31 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Generally, closing a window does not quit the application. You have to specifically quit the app. There are exception to this, but they are usually bad ports of Windows apps.

Just to be pedantic even Apple's own software is not 100% consistent with the close window does not equal quit program rule.
posted by 6550 at 11:54 AM on August 30, 2007


Just to be pedantic even Apple's own software is not 100% consistent with the close window does not equal quit program rule.

Just to be really, really pedantic, Apple's Human Interface Guidelines are are a bit more conflicted on the appropriate behavior:
In most cases, applications that are not document-based should quit when the main window is closed. For Example, System Preferences quits if the user closes the window. If an application continues to perform some function when the main window is closed, however, it may be appropriate to leave it running when the main window is closed. For example, iTunes continues to play when the user closes the main window.
Which basically just tells me that rules sure are easy to follow when you write them.

In my experience, computer novices, to the extent they notice it at all, find this behavior completely befuddling, since, as far as they can tell, the windows are the app. For that reason, apps that don't quit also generally react similarly on being activated (i.e. double-clicked in finder or clicked in Dock) while windowless as to when they're first launched, to minimize the confusion.
posted by boaz at 3:27 PM on August 30, 2007


Hell Deeper Red: try the image Capture application and set what application to open, when you attach your camera. (or not).

I have no idea why some people continue to use applications that render fonts terrible (and look like bad windoze apps anyway) like Firefox. Macs are best if you don't try to bend them your way, but use whatever they offer you (like Safari. I only use Firefox for home banking, as my bank doesn't recognize the Safari 3 Beta yet - which is fair by my standards)
posted by KimG at 3:48 PM on August 30, 2007


hey kim - when they make firebug for safari along with some of the other bomber plugins i use daily on firefox... ill definitely try it.
posted by specialk420 at 6:06 PM on August 30, 2007


Have you tried adjusting the font smoothing in the Appearance control pane? The difference is subtle, but maybe it'll help. You can also turn *off* font smoothing by using TinkerTool (freeware) and selecting turn off font smoothing for anything under e.g. 144 points.
posted by edjusted at 8:20 PM on August 30, 2007


Are you really talking about kerning and tracking (two different things) or subpixel rendering, or none of the above? (Nonexperts tend to call everything related to type “kerning.” Please specify.)
posted by joeclark at 8:21 PM on August 30, 2007


Oh, and in regards to Firefox being slower than Windows, you might give Camino a try. It's more or less a Mac-specific version of Firefox...sort of. I use it daily, and find it a bit faster than Firefox.
posted by edjusted at 8:50 PM on August 30, 2007


I completely forgot that I have a tentative answer to the original question. First, go to the Appearance preference pane and set 'Turn off text smoothing' down to 4 in the popup. Then, download and install the RCEnvironment preference pane and use it to add the environment variable 'QDTEXT_MINSIZE' and assign it a value of '4' (without the quotes in both cases). You'll need to log out and back in for this change to take effect. This should turn off that ugly unsmoothed fallback mode for text rendering in most cases.
posted by boaz at 3:26 PM on August 31, 2007


Thorzdad writes "To close a window, use cmd-W. That will close any window."

...except for the "Get Info" windows, which have even smaller target "close" buttons than the normal windows. Or at least that's what I discovered yesterday. Finder windows close just fine with cmd-W. Get Info window ignored me.

KimG writes "Macs are best if you don't try to bend them your way, but use whatever they offer you"

It's my computer, not Steve Jobs' computer. My computer works best when it allows me to use the software I prefer. Forcing me to use a specific program or interface doesn't make me happy, on any platform. Things like the Adobe PDF plugin only working in Safari now. That sort of thing annoys the hell out of me. It's really not friendly to the users. It's also one of my biggest criticisms of Mac users, that so many are willing to buy into the idea that anything Apple says or does is automatically the best way to do anything.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:28 AM on September 1, 2007


i should follow up on this one xnjb is an awsome tool which allows you to access "foreign" USB devices with your mac: http://www.wentnet.com/projects/xnjb/

and on the font question - i found that my issue was a couple of corrupt font installs - which when removed and replaced - helped the issue dramatically. when i us my xp pro machine i am reminded how much i prefer aliased system text for reading on screen to hinted mac os and vista text.

c'est la vie.
posted by specialk420 at 1:51 PM on January 17, 2008


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