Fantasy writer. English teacher. For‑the-fun-of it photographer. Typography lover. Decaf drinker. This blog is about my journey as a writer—you’re welcome to come along for the ride.

Stuff I Read

Favourite authors

Orson Scott Card
Sherwood Smith
Robin Hobb
Shannon Hale
Brandon Sanderson
Guy Gavriel Kay

Writing Craft

Advanced Fiction Writing
StoryFix.com

Writing blogs

Juliette Wade, TalkToYouniverse
Chuck Wendig, Terribleminds (Warning: strong language) 

Publishing blogs

Jane Friedman
Kristin Lamb
Anne R. Allen

Word of the Week

unasinous (adj): Being equal to another in stupidity.

For quite a nice-sounding word, the meaning is rather amusing. Could obviously be applied in such areas as politics, reality television and profanity against the written word.

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Thursday
Sep022010

Musings on Macs

I have garnered a bit of a reputation as a ‘Applemaniac’ over the past few months; I’m sure there are a number of people who know me who are sick of me going on about Apple products. I’ve been told by a couple of people that I should be an Apple salesperson. I’m not exactly sure if that is supposed to be a compliment or not, even though it’s usually said with a smile.

If it is true that I’m suffering from Applemania, then I’m not exactly sure where the obsession developed. I know that part of it was my brother’s influence (I seem to have said that a few times in this blog—why is it so easy to blame siblings for things?). Seeing what he could do with his computer and talking to him about some of the reasons he chose to go for a Mac definitely had an impact on my impression of Apple products overall, and specifically their line of computers. (And getting an iPhone at the beginning of 2009 also had a big influence on my decision to switch to Mac, but that’s another post altogether.)

As my laptop computer is leased through my workplace, I had to keep my ThinkPad until the lease expired in May this year. I had always put up with the quirks of Windows, and was quite adept at forcing the machine to do what I wanted it to do. I installed tweaking programs to turn off some of the frustrating features of the OS: like automatically scanning inserted flash drives, which caused me no end of grief when I allowed some students to put the flash drives on my computer and ended up with a computer full of spyware because of ‘auto-run’ virus programs—that little episode ended up with me having to totally re-image my computer to remove the viruses, and so I installed a program that let me turn off the auto-run function.

One of my other frustrations with Windows was the ridiculously convoluted way that files were organised on the hard drive. Default locations of files for newly installed programs were often difficult to find, and being the organised person that I am this was a huge irritation. Case in point: when I decided to re-organise My Docs folder a little over a year ago and do a proper backup of my documents, I accidentally deleted a very important folder for the photo editing program I use (Adobe Lightroom); I didn’t lose the photo files themselves, by I did lose the record of all the editing I had done to them—and there was a good ten hours worth of work lost in a moment because the folder wasn’t in a logical location and I didn’t recognise it as critical. Yes, in part that was my own error, but in the end it still soured my experience of working in Windows.

Enough griping. The many frustrations that users have with Windows are well documented all over the web; you don’t need me to tell you things you already know. I think, for the most part, that regular users of Windows have become resigned to the fact that their experience as a computer user will be fraught with frustration and regular inexplicable occurrences that they have no control over and no idea how to solve. Those who use Windows almost don’t bother to complain because it’s accepted that their experience can’t be any different to the way it is.

So what does all this have to do with Macs? I am aware that there is much debate on the web between die-hard Windows and Mac users. I don’t care so much about that debate (although it is often amusing)—what I care about is my experience as a user of a computer. We all know that computers are an unavoidable part of modern life. What I took for granted for a long time was that my experience as a computer user was going to be one of frustration and angst, and fighting to get things done.

And what changed my mind was realising some of the differences that come with working on a Mac.

Here are some of those differences:

No viruses. I’ve had my computer for three months now, and haven’t had a blip on the virus radar. I used to regularly find spam-ware and ad-ware trying to attack my Windows computer; not always as nasty as what happened with those flash drives, but still frustrating. Macs, generally speaking, don’t get viruses. There are lots of ideas about why this is so; this article goes a good way to explaining some of those ideas. Theories aside, the reality is that I haven’t had to contend with viruses and I don’t expect to. How many Windows users can say that?

An operating system that is easy to use. Yes, ease of use is as much about familiarity as anything else. (Some people I’ve talked to about Macs balk at the idea because they feel they can’t learn something brand new. In reality, there differences aren’t as huge as people think (or as they used to be); some elements often make more sense than the equivalent on Windows. And the help available to new users is abundant on the web.) Anyhow, here are some of the advantages I have found in using Mac OS:

  1. The ability to search the entire computer for the content or name of a document or file almost instantly; the ‘Spotlight’ function on a Mac does what Windows Explorer Search should do, in about 1/1000th of the time, so that I don’t need to worry about digging through convoluted folder systems to find the file I need.
  2. The trackpad and smart gestures. My previous experience with trackpads on my ThinkPad caused me to disable the thing and use the red mouse ball in the middle of the keyboard, often giving me significant pain in my fingers and wrists. The MacBook trackpad is so easy to use and so smart that I can’t think how I did without it: scrolling up and down using two fingers, minimising to the desktop with four fingers—I use these so regularly I don’t even think about them until I am forced to go to a Windows machine (at work) and I can’t two finger scrolling, and I ‘grrr’ to the universe. On my Mac, it works, it’s logical, it’s good for my hands. ‘Nuff said.
  3. Font management. Not everyone cares about fonts, and that’s cool. Not everyone has to. But ever since reading The Non-Designer’s Type Book I have been more and more interested in typography and the enormous part it plays in good design. (Typography is a little bit like punctuation: a lot of people don’t know much or care much about it, but they definitely notice when it isn’t done well because it screws with our ability to communicate effectively.) The lack of ability to manage fonts in Windows frustrated me a lot; third-party software was either expensive or poor quality. The font management tool Font Book is built into the Mac OS, and it works. It’s not as complicated as some other offerings out there, but it does what I need it to do.
  4. Media software. A frustration with Windows was not being able to play DVDs even when the computer came with a DVD drive, because there is no DVD player pre-installed on a basic Windows OS. Forcing users to purchase additional software just to get it to do what the equipment suggests it should do seems counter-productive to me. No such problems with my MacBook.

Applications built for the Mac platform. Some of the things I love doing, apart from writing, are photography, multimedia and design. I’m not a professional, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to enjoy creating digital media (which is also more and more a part of this generation’s interaction with the world). The iLife Suite of programs pre-installed on a Mac computer means I can edit photos and create movies, music, podcasts, DVDs and websites with ease and integration across all programs. The quality and integration of each of these pieces of software is just not available on a Windows platform without forking out substantial amounts of money for third-party software (which still won’t integrate easily or sometimes at all).

Also, three specific pieces of Mac software that have been a revelation to me are:

  • MacJournal. The piece of software I’m using right now to prepare this blog. I journal a lot, in a number of different contexts. I used to use paper notebooks. For a while I tried creating Word documents. Each of these methods made it hard to go back and find what I’d written, and to keep it organised. MacJournal lets me keep all my journals within one program, connect them to a blog if I want to, and I never have to press the save button because it automatically backs up everything I type. The website is here.
  • Scrivener. A piece of software for writers that allows you to keep research notes of any kind (web page, images, text, PDFs) in the same file with the actual writing project. My ‘Writing’ folder on my hard drive has always been a tricky one to organise; now it isn’t. The program lets you concentrate on the writing part of a project rather than worrying about the formatting—you write first, then (re)organise your chapters/scenes/sections using a ‘cork board’ view (like shuffling index cards, and having all your writing reorganise itself as soon as you’ve got the index cards in the right order), and only worry about outputting to manuscript or other format once the creation is done. The website is here.
  • OmniFocus. I’m a naturally organised person; I like my world to be in order (as my work desk testifies—neat, not anal…). However, working full-time as well as (effectively) studying full-time this year has been… a stretch. At times things simply fall out of my head. OmniFocus is helping me to make sure I don’t forget really important things, as well as the little stuff that isn’t urgent but still necessary. I dump all the ‘stuff’ in my head into the Inbox, then sort it into the project it belongs to or the place I need to be to do it, and I’m done. And there is something inherently satisfying at looking at a long list of stuff you’ve ticked off and knowing that, in spite of the insanity of working and studying full time, you’ve done a truckload of stuff that was worthwhile. And it automatically backs everything up without me needing to press a button (I wish my brain would do that). The website is here.

Each of these pieces of software are only available on a Mac platform. I’m sure there are alternatives on a Windows machine; whether they work as well I couldn’t say.

This has ended up much longer than I intended, and a little more like a diatribe than I intended. In the end, the bottom line for me and my Mac is this: the Mac operating system and the software available for a Mac lets me do the work I want to do without me needing to fight with my computer in order to do it. Not only do I not have to fight with my computer, I feel like the computer is helping me to work better. That’s what a good tool is supposed to do, surely?

So that’s why I ❤ my Mac: because it helps me be better at all the other things I ❤.

Reader Comments (1)

"Those who use Windows almost don’t bother to complain because it’s accepted that their experience can’t be any different to the way it is." Quote from your blog

I think I have a 'Windows' equivalent in my life experience, metaphorically speaking that is. There's something I'm not addressing because I believe it won't change the experience and just maybe if I did things would get worse before they got better.
Maybe there's a 'Mac' equivalent out there that will revolutionise my expectations in life. I sure hope so because I can't take much more of this 'Windows' rubbish!

October 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGlenda Sharp

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