Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Easy to Use is Easy to Say

When I'm done, the title will probably seem, to most of you, to be a cheap shot. It is. Deal with it.

At work I need to create actual, honest, true blue, all American, PowerPoint files. Accept no substitutions, especially files produced by

Given that constraint, I need two computers -- a "real" Linux one, which will actually run complicated Fortran codes while reading my email, surfing the web, walking the dog and polishing my car, and either a PC or a Mac to run PowerPoint. Your tax dollars at work, folks.

OK, it's a no-brainer:

  • Mac OS X is BSD-Unix based. I can, and have, run the same codes I run on the Linux box on a Mac.
  • All of the people above me in the food chain use Macs. They're the ones that need my PowerPoint files, so that they can select parts of my presentations, mangle them together with others, and show those higher in the food chain all the neat stuff we're doing.
  • Though they are produced by the same Evil Empire, Mac and PC versions of PowerPoint don't quite get along -- in particular, fonts used in equations get screwed up when going from one platform to another.
  • A Mac PowerBook is infinitely cooler to carry through the airport. And, when it's on, the Apple on the back of the screen lights up, sort of like a Cylon's backbone during sex.

To go along with the notebook computer, this week I got a Mac mini for my desk. It runs Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger).

OK, it's easy to use. It's a joy, a breeze, except that FireFox won't recognize the middle button on my 3 button mouse, and I haven't figured out how to get FVWM running under X11.

But there are some (a very few, but some) things on the Mac that just aren't obvious. And so I list them here, so that the next time I get a new Mac I won't forget:

  • Making something other than Safari the default browser:
    1. Open Safari (well of course, what could be more obvious?)
    2. Under Preferences, click on "Default Web Browser" and put in FireFox or whatever
  • Make something other than "Mail" the default email reader:
    1. Open Mail (after the Safari thing, what did you expect)?
    2. Give it the information to open one of your POP email accounts (otherwise, it will just kick you out of the program. Who'd want to run a Mail program without an email account. Duh.)
    3. Under Preferences, select "Default Email Reader" and change it to the desired program.
  • Bring up something other than a single xterm window when you start X:
    1. Open a terminal window and run the command:
      $ cp /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc ~/.xinitrc
    2. Edit ~/.xinitrc to start the programs you desire
  • Change your default shell:
    1. Go to the Applications folder, find the Utilities folder, under it find the "NetInfo Manager" folder, and in it find a tab called "users"
    2. Catch your breath
    3. Under "users" click on your account name
    4. Click on the Lock icon in the lower left-hand corner of the box and enter your password, assuming your account has administrative privileges.
    5. If it doesn't, find an Administrator. Yell at him for awhile, until he gives you Administrative privileges.
    6. Find the line that says "shell", click on the /bin/bash part of the line, and replace it with /bin/tcsh or whatever.
    7. If your worst enemy shares this computer, change his login shell to /dev/null
    8. Click the lock closed
    9. Exit the whole mess

OK, that's only four things, which is why the title of this article is unfair. However, you'd think that Apple would have made these choices just a bit more transparent, don't you?


Anonymous said...

You do know about Crossover office right (running windows xp office and other popular software on linux)?

I myself use it and it works perfectly on fedora core 4 with speed as good as native xp office and no crashes ever. But congratz on buying that mac mini anyways :-).

I go thru ur blog pretty regularly and like its content.

rcjhawk said...

Yeah, I know about Crossover office. However, there are a couple of considerations for getting another machine in addition to the Linux box:

The higher-ups use Macs, and the default display computer in all the meeting rooms is a Mac. There's no Crossover to run the Mac version of Powerpoint. If I've got a Mac, then I know that people will see exactly what I see when I'm creating the document.

For reasons of security, we have to use some equipment which has Linux drivers promised, but not yet delivered. I doubt the Windows drivers will run through Crossover, so I still need a computer with a supported OS, which means Windows or OS X.

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