My Mac OS X Top X

In my first post I commented on being lucky to have found the right way, namely the way from Windows to the Mac. However, upon re-reading that post, it occurred to me that I have not given good reasons why I feel that way. Hence, this post explains some of the key features of Mac OS X that I have come to love and that, incidentally, are not available on the Windows platform.

The following list is loosely in order of importance, from more important to less important:

1. Ability to Rename/Move/Delete Open Files
This is probably the single biggest advantage for me. I work with a lot of files, either received e-mail from co-workers and friends or downloaded from the web. In almost all cases, I like to rename the file to help me find it later. To determine a good filename I have to open the file. If it is a scientific paper, I prefer to use the title as the filename. In Mac OS X, I simply copy the title, and then paste it over the filename in the Finder.

In Windows you cannot do this, the file has to be closed. Worse than that, in some cases, even the application that you had used to review the file has to be closed. This happens rather frequently and certainly is a bug, because it does not always happen. Usually it happens this way: (1) you open a file in Word, (2) determine the name, (3) close it, (4) try to rename it, (5) and then are told by the OS that the file is still in use. Why? Probably because Word has not released the file back to the OS. You first have to close Word. If that was the only open file it is not too much of a nuisance. But if you are working with five other files it is very annoying. This problem also does not seem to be limited to Word.

On the Mac I don’t have to worry about these things. I can rename the file, I can move it to a different folder, I can even delete it. I can also rename the folder the file is located in. Windows does not allow you to this either. After deleting a file, it is still open; only its location has changed to the trash can. I use this all the time when downloading articles from the web. After the download I open the file and then either delete it or rename it and move it to a different folder without having to worry whether or not it is still open.

2. Spotlight
This is one of the Tiger features whose usefulness I did not realize at first. I have a very intricate folder structure in my home directory. Everything is clearly categorized with the goal to help me locate it more easily. Unfortunately, this does not always help.

Not a problem with spotlight. It finds almost any file almost instantaneously. And not only by filename. Any word or phrase within a PDF file can be searched for as well. This is very powerful and I use it more and more. Sometimes, when I am too lazy to go to the Applications folder, I simply do a spotlight search. It usually is quicker; especially now that I memorized the keyboard shortcut (Command-Space).

3. Exposé
Ever have too many windows open? When I get focussed into my work I usually open more and more files: several PDF’s, OmniGraffle, Pages, Keynote, Mail, Photoshop to name just some of the more common ones. With more than one file open in each application things could get confusing very quickly.

No so with Exposé. Need to see the Desktop? Hit F11. Need to see you application again? Hit it again. The show desktop command also exists in Windows, but unless you reverse the command right away, you will not be able to bring your windows back into the foreground again, but have to maximize them manually which is tedious.

You want to see all open windows in all applications? Hit F9, and select your favorite window. Now I have heard, that Windows Vista tries to do something similar, but if I am not misinformed then you can only click through your windows, but cannot see them all at once. That is not nearly as powerful.

And then finally, F10 shows you all open windows from your currently active application. This is very convenient when working with multiple documents you want to copy and paste from.

4. Preview opens (almost) Everything
Preview is a small gem. It is always handy to open almost any kind of file you throw at it. With the exception of audio/video files; for those I use QuickTime. Not only does it open all sorts of files, it also opens them very quickly. That is particularly true for large and graphics intensive PDF files. I frequently come across PDF’s whose pages render very slowly on my Windows computer. You can literally see how each element of a graphic gets displayed individually. First I thought that was due my work computer being 4 years old, but it is no different on much newer computers.

5. Locate a File by Command-clicking the Window Icon
Frequently I work with files that I need to know of where they are located. For instance, I might have opened it from Spotlight, or maybe I am comparing two files with the same name and need to know which one is which. No problem in Mac OS X. Simply Command-Click on the little icon in the center of the window’s title bar. When you do this, a small list drops down showing you the precise path with all folders. If I then want to see other files from the folder, I simply click on it, and a Finder window opens.

6. Save Pictures & Text from Web Browser by Drag-and-drop
A nice feature when working a lot in web browsers is the fact that you can simply drag any image from the browser to the desktop and it is saved there as an image file. It is equally convenient to save text, a so-called text clipping. Simply highlight the text you want to save, then click-hold-and-drag it to the desktop.

7. Integration of PDF Format
The world of online documents is more and more focussed on PDFs. It is the best format to share any content, other than audio, video, or pictures. So how do you create them. On Windows you need to purchase Adobe Acrobat which is very very expensive. On the Mac you select print to file and choose PDF. Done.

What if a coworker sends you a PDF with a chart you would like to share in your next presentation or report? On the Mac, I can simply drag the file into Keynote or Pages and its content is displayed. Try to drag a PDF into MS-Word. You will get to see a little PDF icon and the file name below it. It created a link to the file. Not very useful.

Together with the previous item, this could more simply be stated as well thought-through drag-and-drop support that behaves as you expect it. If you drag an image from a web browser on Windows it looks like you could drag it, but you can not, because you cannot drop it anywhere.

8. Connections to Projectors, TVs and External Monitors
Do you have a wide-screen Windows laptop? If yes, then you probably more than once ran into the problem of your laptop screen’s resolution changing when you connect it to a projector. I do not know why it is set up that way, but I see it every day at work. Typically the laptop screen switches to 4:3 aspect ratio to match the projector’s aspect ratio. You can then switch it back to widescreen afterwards, but why should you have to? To be fair, my PowerBook is not a widescreen display, so I do not really know that Mac’s do not have this problem but based on my experience of connecting various TVs, monitors and projectors to it I have just come to believe that it always works well. I would appreciate if anyone in the know could comment on this.

In contrast, if I connect my PowerBook to a projector, it automatically finds the right resolution for the projection display while not making any changes to the laptop display. Why should it? This works equally well for TVs or other external monitors. Just connect it and it works. Every time.

You do not have to know what keyboard to stroke sends the data to the external display. After you connect the external display Mac OS X automatically displays on the external screen. Of course this makes a lot of sense, if you did not want to show content on the external display you would not connect it to your computer in the first place. Well in Windows things are not that easy. Frequently I encounter people who do not know how to get the projector display to work. You have to press a certain key combination first.

9. Simple built-in Screen Capture
In Windows you can do screen capture, either full-screen, or just the active Window. But what, if you want just a section of the current window. In that case you probably need a third party application. On my Mac I just hit Command-Shift-4 and then can easily select any area of my linking and it gets instantly saved to the desktop as a PNG file.

10. Screen Resolution and Menu Font-size
Did you ever change screen resolution on your windows box? If you did then I am sure you are familiar with the two annoying info boxes, the first one informs that Windows will now change the resolution (as if that was such a surprise, after all you just told it to) and then another one asking you whether or not it worked as expected. If you do not confirm within 15 seconds then it reverts back to the previous resolution.

And here is another problem I frequently have: On todays high resolution displays or large monitors, the standard font size becomes too small to be read comfortably. Changing the system font to large does not help in all cases, so the only thing I found to help in most situations is to change the font DPI in the advanced display settings. Unfortunately, that results in some text being cut off in all non-native Windows dialog boxes.

So why do I elaborate on Window’s shortcomings in a Mac top 10 list? Well, in Mac OS I do not have these problems. If I tell the OS to change the resolution, it changes the resolution right away, no questions asked. All fonts are always legible, at any resolution.

Last not Least
Of course, there also is Dashboard. This did not make it to the top 10, not because I do not like it, but because Vista has now a similar feature. They call it Gadgets. I do not know how well they work, but somehow I doubt they work as well as Tiger’s Widgets.

The more I use my Mac as an everyday tool at work, the more I appreciate Dashboard. In particular the calculator, the dictionary, and the Wikipedia Widgets are very helpful. I also found a very handy unit conversion tool. Of course Macs as well as Windows always had calculator application, but somehow I never found those very useful. They are simply not as much at you fingertips as the quick hit on F12. That is really it. Just as quickly as it appears, it vanishes again so you can continue working.

One Response to My Mac OS X Top X

  1. Pingback: Optimality! » Blog Archive » Widescreen Macbook plays nice with projectors

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