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December 22, 2009

Stories of a move (from WindowsXP to Mac)

Filed under: Links,Work Related — Ivan Herman @ 20:46
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A few days ago my laptop has changed. After about 13-14 years of Windows usage I decided to take a deep breath and change for a Mac running Snow Leopard. I was never a pure Windows user in the sense that the first thing I always did was to install cygwin to give me a pseudo-Unix environment on Windows (I had used various Unix look alikes for about 15 years before and I still use various linux boxes on and off). Also: I stopped at Windows XP, never used Vista or Windows7 (I have heard that some of the features I found on the Mac are now around on those, too). Finally, I am a computer person, working on and with computers, so I do need some features that the lambda user does not. I thought writing down my journey may be useful for others.

A dear friend and colleague of mine used to say “I know the jungle, and therefore I am afraid of the jungle”; ie, with all the praise you hear about OS 10, I was still a bit weary and expected hiccups. And there were of course small issues, essentially finding the right information; some of my colleagues both at W3C and at CWI were of a great help. And, of course, when you do not find something, there is also a google search, which often yields the answer. And the bottom line of my 3 days’ experience: this jungle is friendly:-)

First of all, the book of David Pogue, “Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual, Snow Leopard Edition”, was of a great help (as an aside, kudos to O’Reilly that all their books are available as electronic only, too…). That book, plus some chats with my colleague Jack Jansen at CWI gave me some information in advance that may not be absolutely obvious at first. As an example, and in contrast to Windows or Linux, the “thing” you click on when starting a program is not an executable, but a special folder, that carries everything the program needs. This why installing a program, moving it around, etc, becomes so much more easier than on a Windows; no trace of that damn registry that makes re-installation and uninstallation so complex there.

So here are some of the issues I did hit, however (I do not want to spend time on installing, say, Thunderbird. That just goes smoothly and is well documented…)

  • Snow Leopard does not come with CVS installed. Bugger. However, after poking around on the Web, I found out that you have to install the XCode tools from the apple developers’ site. You have to register as a Mac developer (it is free), installation is simple, and it does install CVS. To be honest, I am not sure what else is installed…
  • There is an installed Apache server on the machine (to be precise, Apache 2), but it is fairly well hidden. I expected to find it as a program to be started from the command line (that is the only way I could get it reliably working on Windows for various reasons) but that is not the case. Apple->System Preferences->Sharing gives a bunch of preferences, and you have to check the “Web Sharing” box to start the server (not really obvious, I must say). Then it almost works, except for PHP: luckily, I found a blog item from Kev Chapman that gives details on how this should be done. Essentially, the http.conf should be changed (good I found it because I had my own extra settings to add).
  • Although the machine is mine and I am an administrator, I am not a super user automatically. One has to use, say the sudo commands in some rare cases. I have seen that in Linux, but is unknown to an average Windows XP user… something to get used to.
  • Coming from cygwin I was used to be able to start up an editor for a specific file from bash (it was not always easy to set that up in Windows, but that is another matter). After my queries, a bunch of colleagues at ran to my rescue (thanks to Coralie, Bert, Yves, Carine, Thomas from W3C and Jack from CWI) telling me that the open command can be used to open a file with its default “handler”; even better, it can even be overridden. Eg, to open a file with the Komodo Editor, one can say open -a /Applications/Komodo\ Edit.app fname and off you go.
  • I was of course a bit wary of the old files moving over from the old environment. No real problem. The only slight issue I had was with iTunes: I expected to simply move my sound files, set iTunes to take that as its library. Nop. You have to import the sound files to the local iTunes set up. No big deal, just takes a bit of time with the 40+GB of music I have on my disc. All other moves were just a piece of cake from my external PC hard discs.
  • At first my Nokia E90  did not synchronize with iCal and Address out of the box. Thanks to Thomas I found out that one has to install an extra driver from the Nokia site and then it works.
  • The only failure: my old, HP printer+scanner does not work as a scanner (although it works without problems as a printer). Unfortunately, Snow Leopard has scrapped this old, 10 year old model from its list. Nothing I can do about it. A little investment to come…
  • It took me a while to find out how to use the Mac with an external display and only the external display (eg, with the lid of the Mac closed). After a while (and poking around the Web) I found out: you set up the external display with mirror (that is relatively straightforward), then you close the lid (ie, the Mac goes to sleep) then you, say, hit a key on the external keyboard, put something into the USB slot, or something similar. Ie, you wake the system up with the lid closed; it will use the external screen. I found that a bit convoluted (maybe there is a better way), this is usually a matter of a function key on Windows…

Of course, I had to install a bunch of extra software. This is largely a matter of taste, though, not really of a major interest here. Many programs (Komodo Editor, Mendeley desktop, Skype, browsers like Opera or Firefox, mailer like Thunderbird) have a version for both Windows and Mac, so that was an easy choice for now. I found Colloquy as an IRC client; it seems to work well. I found the ease of the backup system (TimeMachine) remarkable; backup has always been such a complicated issue on Windows…

Many people told me that once you have transferred to a Mac, you do not look back. I cannot say that yet,  of course, but the transfer has been remarkably smooth.  Maybe these notes will make it even easier for others…

(I have received some useful comments since the original version of this blog. In case you face the same transition problem as I did and you read this blog, make sure to read the comments! See also a continuation blog…)



  1. The only thing on this list that you’re somewhat mistaken on is Xcode. You don’t have to install it from the site, it’s on the install DVD. Installing from the DVD also means that you don’t have to register as a developer, though it’s possible that you will then have to do a software update to get the latest version. Your way definitely works, however.

    Comment by Daniel Grace — December 22, 2009 @ 23:56

    • Hi Daniel,

      I thought of that, but it was not clear, and then the jungle effect prevailed:-) The fact is that I bought the machine last week, with Snow Leopard installed (and some updates ran at first startup), it was not clear that the two CD-s that came with the machine would/could be used for something like that, too. I am not sure what the ‘applications install DVD’ contains, ie, whether it contains anything else that is not already installed…



      Comment by Ivan Herman — December 23, 2009 @ 9:20

  2. […] the original post here: Stories of a move (from WindowsXP to Mac) « Ivan's private site Рубрика: Разные рубрики | Метки: a-computer-person, are-now, […]

    Pingback by Stories of a move (from WindowsXP to Mac) « Ivan's private site — December 23, 2009 @ 2:40

  3. Developers tools on the DVD 🙂 You should modify the article if someone is using it as a reference that will save a few megs of bandwidth. 😉

    When you can’t find one of your favorite file or program. Open the Terminal (shell window), and type “locate …” for example locate httpd.conf 😉

    You can create alias in your bashrc for the open command if you wish too. That will make it shorter to type. As a text editor, I also recommend TextMate which is quite practical. There is a learning curve but productivity improves after a while.

    if you are used to XChat, there is also Aqua XChat which is working perfectly for me for the last 8 years

    Something you might hit soon. GNU tools are not installed on the machine because of the license. But you can download them from GNU web site and it will compile smoothly.

    The preinstalled equivalent of wget is curl. Do man curl.

    The date bash command doesn’t work like the gnu one.

    I know you are a python developer and you might have surprises at the start. The logic of directories is not the same at all. Read carefully before.

    You can create virtual domains for your apache so you can test your pages like on a site. Let say by chance, you would like


    In /private/etc/apache2/extra/httpd-vhosts.conf

    [VirtualHost *:80]

    DocumentRoot “/Users/ivan/Sites/w3.org”

    ServerName w3c.test.site


    and in /etc/hosts w3c.test.site

    sudo apachectl graceful

    Hope it helps.

    Comment by karl — December 24, 2009 @ 21:30

    • Merci Karl,

      I have tried Python already with some of my programs and I did not really have a problem (yet:-). Using PYTHONPATH to set my extra libraries worked well, and that is it. B.t.w., Jack Jansen, my colleague at CWI who is sitting in the next office to mine, is one of the maintainers of the Mac Python, so I am sure to get good help if needed:-)

      I have not thought of the virtual host trick. When I do Web site development and testing locally I simply use localhost and I usually use relative URI-s in my files. That has worked well up until now…

      I already realized the missing wget, for example, I did not think of compiling it for myself. Somebody advised me to use flink to get all kinds of missing tools, but that one does not have a Snow Leopard distribution yet and I am kind of lazy to start compiling it… I will take all this as it comes!

      Merci encore:-)


      Comment by Ivan Herman — December 25, 2009 @ 6:24

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