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December 29, 2009

Stories of a move (from WindowsXP to Mac) Part II

Filed under: Links,Work Related — Ivan Herman @ 13:08
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A few days ago I wrote a note on my move from Windows XP to Mac. I received some comments since, and have also discovered some additional tricks; maybe it is helpful if I write a follow-up… It serves as a set of notes for myself but, if it is useful for anybody else, all the better!

First of all, as one of the comments by Daniel Grace to my previous note made me understand, I could have used the installation DVD I got with my machine to install Xcode, instead of getting on the Web for that. My impression was that this DVD is there only when one has to re-install Snow Leopard, hence I did not really consider this. My bad, I could have saved some transfer time…

So here are some other smallish tricks and discoveries

  • You can recycle a bunch of hardware goodies that you might have had for your PC:
    • My mouse works out of the box and, in contrary to the popular belief, the right click also works automatically. Nothing to do…
    • I also have a cheap Logitech USB keyboard: just plugged it in and it worked. The ‘Windows’ key (the one with the Windows Logo, ironically) maps to the most typical Mac key, the one with this curved symbol and usually referred to as ‘Cmd’; the ‘Alt’ and the ‘Ctrl’ are simply reused.
    • Actually… the default keyboard setup, though works, is not ideal. There are indeed some unfortunate small differences in the physical layouts (I use a US keyboard): the horizontal order of the ‘Cmd’ and ‘Alt’ keys are reversed compared to the laptop‘s own keyboard and the ‘~’ character and the ‘±’ characters are also switched. Disagreeable, because one‘s fingers get messed up. But the flexibility of the Mac comes at your rescue for the command keys. Indeed: go to the Keyboard setup in the system preferences, click on the “modifier keys”, be careful to choose the right keyboard on the top menu, and change the setting. I switched the command and option keys and, voilà! it is exactly like on the laptop.
    • I also switched the default setup for the laptop’s keyboard so that the function keys would behave, by default, like the external keyboard’s function key (instead of the built-in facilities like dimming the screen). This helps my fingers remembering the right usage… If you begin to use things like Exposé (most of us have already seen Mac users displaying a small version of all windows on the screen to switch quickly among them, that is the one!) it is good to have the same keyboard setup than on your external keyboard. You can do that change in the ‘Keyboard’ setup panel, too.
    • I also have a small Polycom® Communicator C100 that I use for Skype: although the Polycom site claims that it is usable with Windows only, that is actually not true. I plugged it in and it works. The only thing you cannot do is to start up Skype using the button on the device. Big deal.
    • One difference, though, that cannot really be handled: the PC-s, usually, have two slots for headphones, ie, one for listening and one for the microphone. If you want to use a headphone on the Mac for Skype, for example, you will have to invest into a separate headphone with USB. Which is unfortunate because the Mac laptop has only two USB slots, which is not much these days. That being said, the mike of the laptop itself may be good enough, in which case any headphone will do for listening.
  • I need accented characters, plus some other special characters like quote marks or ellipses. Most West-European characters (e.g., for French or German) are available using a two-key solution. For example, to type the character ‘ü’, you have to type ‘Alt-u’ then ‘u’. You also have a help tool: go to the Language & Text setting and choose the ”Keyboard & Character Viewer”. You should also click the ”Show input menu in menu bar”. You will get a symbol on the upper right hand corner of the screen and you can then get a virtual keyboard on your screen which shows what you have to type. The rest is just trying and getting used to. B.t.w., you can also add other keyboard types; e.g., I checked the Hungarian keyboard, too. What happens is that using the same menu item you can change the keyboard to be Hungarian. Although the physical keyboard remains the same, using the virtual keyboard you can get characters like ‘ű’ or ‘ő’. A bit convoluted (better use a real Hungarian keyboard for this case) but can be helpful in some cases.
  • The Mac user interface, e.g., the Finder, is the land of keyboard shortcuts. It will take many weeks before I get used to all of them. If you do have David Pogue‘s book, keep the relevant appendix under your pillow. The possibilities in getting around in the Finder are rich and well worth getting used to.
  • One of the tiny goodies: if you want to have your shell windows’ title to show the directory you are in, add this to your profile (I use bash, so it is in ‘.bash_profile’:
    PROMPT_COMMAND='echo -ne "\033]0;${PWD/#$HOME/~}\007"'

    A bit cryptic, but it works… (thanks to Carine and Coralie).

  • As Karl said in his comment, some GNU software, that are usually installed on a Linux box or with cygwin (e.g., wget) does not come installed. But downloading the source code from the GNU site, going through the configure+makefile dance seems to work. I tried it with wget, although I had to run the configure script with –prefix=$HOME (ie, install the program in my home directory, not into /usr/local). I presume that this is related to the super user vs. administrator account that I noted in my earlier blog.
  • Of course, there are programs that crash or have otherwise strange behavior although, truth must be said, until now I had only problems with Thunderbird (in combination with some extensions) and with Komodo Editor, i.e., not with Mac software (I know, this will come:-). It is therefore good to know about the “Force Quit” menu entry under the Apple menu (upper left hand corner). It gives you an easy way to shoot a program.
  • OpenOffice (or its Apple equivalent, NeoOffice) is fairly easy to find and well documented. I had more difficulties finding LaTeX, but I found, after all MacTeX. It is a fairly standard (though large) Mac distribution and it seems to work (add /usr/texbin to your Path variable if you want to use it from bash).
  • Bluetooth is always black magic. I paired the Mac with my Nokia and (with the extra driver I had to install, see my previous blog) it synchronizes and I can also browse the content of the phone (submenu for the small bluetooth sign on the upper right hand corner), send files to and from. Great. But I also paired it with my EEE PC (runing Linux); I can send files to the EEE PC but not from. No idea why (this worked without problems on Windows).


  1. >But downloading the source code from the GNU site,
    >going through the configure+makefile dance seems to work.

    You can try MacPorts, installing wget would have only been a matter of typing “sudo port install wget”. There is also fink that can be handy at times.

    Comment by Stéphane Corlosquet — December 29, 2009 @ 19:48

  2. Ivan, on bluetooth file sharing: in System Preferences, check the settings not only in the Bluetooth preference panel, but also in Sharing (section Bluetooth Sharing). It could be there’s something there that makes sending files from the EEE PC work.

    Also, knowing you’re a technical person, you should get familiar with Console (Applications->Utilities->Console). It’s the interface to the console messages, but also to lots of other log files. Watching the logfiles (All messages, diagnostic messages and system.log are my first stops, along with anything relevant to the problem at hand, such as apache logs) while doing the operation that doesn’t perform as you expect it to will often provide you with just the bit of insight you need to solve the problem.

    Comment by Jack Jansen — December 30, 2009 @ 1:19

    • Hey Jack,

      I tried all different bluetooth settings but I am afraid the issue is on the Linux/EEE PC side. I can browse the file system of my Nokia phone and transfer files to and from; ie, the Mac side works. I tried to look around the Linux settings on the EEE PC that should, I presume, make browsing possible (the EEE PC can _accept_ files) but I did not find it. No big deal in practice, though, I can always transfer files via some web sites or simply use an SD card, so it is not that important (I must admit having the transfer for the phone is much more important).


      Comment by Ivan Herman — December 30, 2009 @ 10:27

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