In my article for the Guardian the other week I said that I think that the big show about keeping secrets back about what’s going to be in Leopard is just marketing fluff; and that mostly I don’t use the stuff that gets shown off at the Apple keynotes, though I do use OSX. (I had early tryouts of both Tiger – aka 10.4 – and Panther, aka 10.3.)
And in case you think “why is your stuff slow?” my answer is I don’t know – I’ve got a 1.67GHz PBook with 1GB RAM and a 5400rpm disc (the faster version that was on offer), so this was front-of-line when Tiger came out, and ahead of the game for Panther (or whatever 10.3 was called).
So, now, I don’t use
- Expose. Hardly at all; because I use lots of tabbed windows, and lots of windows, and my Powerbook chugs away thinking where to put them all. It’s not the roaches-fleeing-the-light experience it’s made out to be.
- Dashboard. Nope, barely ever, even though I did buy the Flickit widget. Dashboard too takes ages to chug up and appear.
- Spotlight. Well, hardly at all. Very rarely. Slow to appear.
- Automator. I write Applescripts and shell scripts, which get the work done a hell of a lot faster and even let you write branching code – you know, like “if … then..”.
- Safari. Too slow for me; I prefer Camino, which looks and feels lighter and faster. Perhaps it’s just cosmetic, but having a dozen Safari windows open makes it look like you have a gathering storm on your machine – all that dark grey metal..
- iMovie. Haven’t used it since about iMovie 2: it’s bug-prone, and downloading video chews up lots of disk space. But the principal thing is that it takes ages to edit video – and that’s time I don’t presently have. Plus its Applescript dictionary is rubbish, as is the case with almost all Apple’s own products. I only use iPhoto and iTunes of the other iLife products. And only iTunes has a good Applescript dictionary – which it has had since before Apple owned it, when it was Cassady & Greene’s SoundJam.
OK, then, so what the hell do I use and delight in? Here’s what.
- Stability. I really like the fact that forced restarts are very, very unusual. (It equally means that I curse any company that insists I should restart my machine to install their damn software. Give me a week and I’ll get around to it. Perhaps.)
- Search in Preview. This is fabulous. You have a huge document, like, say, the thousand-page MySQL manual, and you want to find stuff about creating indexes for databases. Type “create index” in the drawer and every page where that appears comes up. And you go there by clicking. Brilliant. Plus it’s lightweight; not a memory hog at all.
- Apache and PHP right there on the machine. PHP is marvellous for getting things done in simple webpages (very easy to learn), and Apache serves the pages up. Though to be truly useful you also need..
- MySQL. OK, this isn’t on the machine itself (unless you get Mac OSX Server, which puts you in a very small group), and I am trying to contain myself to things that come on the machine out of the box. It’s not quite drag-and-drop, but installing this industrial-strength free open-source database is pretty straightforward; plus there are great GUI tools to handle it. (Sure, you can put Apache, MySQL and PHP on Windows, but here you start with two out of three.)
- You can do
whoisqueries straight off the command line. Want to know who’s running the site that’s annoying you? whois millionchristians.com or whois try-a-diet.com (who are both, I suspect, the same organisation, and are spamming the Guardian’s tech address to hell with fake spammy mailing lists). Works for IP addresses too.
- Other Net utilities like
traceroutework straight off the command line too, which helps to track problems and sites down.
- Applescript. It’s brilliant for tying together processes across different programs – I can process emails where I have to open a webpage which has to have something added, meanwhile replying to the email with some of its content reflected back; or I can (and have) written a script so I can find what’s happened in the past four hours on the blogs I subscribe to, or subscribe in my newsreader to blogs and sites I’m viewing in my browser. And the new Script Editor, with its column view style for functions, is very good; I’ve long forgotten what the 1.x versions were like, because this is so good.
- Closing windows that are behind other windows but which have their red ‘close’ buttons in sight. (Except on Word. Grr.) In “classic” Mac, you have to bring the window to the front to close it. Dumb.
- Parental preferences on childrens’ accounts. Very useful indeed.
- Multiple concurrent accounts – they can all run at the same time. (They only got this sorted in 10.3, as I recall. Before that you had to log completely out of one account to join another, which even XP had got sorted in 2001.) Nice thing is that the invisible running accounts will still do stuff like picking up email and refreshing newsfeeds if they have a connection, so there’s no wait for everything to get back in sync.
- Synchronisation between Address Book, iCal and mobile phones – via Bluetooth. I think Address Book is a pile of poo (too slow, search is rubbish) and iCal just as bad if not worse (terrible interface – done far better and faster by Palm Desktop, and that goes for the Address Book function too) but the Bluetooth-mediated link with my Sony Ericsson mobile means that I’ll use them even so. Well, I don’t ever look at iCal; I’ve written an Applescript so that I can enter events into it through Applescript dialogs. It’s about 10 times faster than going to iCal and waiting for it to catch up with my typing and tabbing.
- Mail. This has achieved the status of “not terrible”, though I had to junk its indexes to get it to search my mailboxes properly. It’s useful primarily for handling my Gmail POP mail, because that needs SSL which Eudora doesn’t have (yet?). It also handles my mac.com mail, which is increasingly just junk, and makes me wonder quite why I bother with mac.com at all, but that’s a separate story.
- Unix stuff – the shell scripts and piping and also all the programs that work on Unix but never worked on Windows or the old Apple OS. Here, there’s a huge playground of things to try. Very cool.
Stuff I’ve missed? Stuff that’s really indispensable? Tell me in the comments.