Getting started with my Mac Mini

After using MS operating systems for 20 years (DOS then Windows) I finally decided to buy a Mac to be used as my primary non-work machine. I got a Mac Mini 1.83 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 1 GB of RAM and Mac OS X 10.5.1. What follows are some notes on my thoughts and experiences over my first few days as a Mac owner.

The Mac font smoothing makes fonts look really blurry to me. Under System Preferences -> Appearance its possible to turn off font smoothing for font sizes 12 or smaller, and if you download TinkerTool its possible to use it to turn off font smoothing for larger sizes. After some playing around I decided to set the font smoothing cutoff at 16 pt. Turning off smoothing helps a bit, however, Mac's rendering of unsmoothed fonts is definitely not as good as Windows, and may not be as good as Ubuntu (I haven't done a real side by side comparison yet). According to various posts on the web the difference is explained by Apple deciding to optimize their screen fonts so they match the printed appearance as much as possible, while Microsoft optimizes for screen appearance. Since I maybe print out 6 pages of hard copy a year, you can imagine which approach I favor.

One thing about the Mac that surprised me was its lack of built-in support for working on mixed networks. After hearing about how everything 'just works' on a Mac, and how Mac OS X was built on some flavor of Unix, when I wanted to edit a PHP file on my Linux home web server I cheerfully clicked on mount network drive and typed in sshfs:// expecting to quickly mount the drive from my Linux box using sshfs. Nope. SSHFS is not built-in in OS X Leopard. After poking around a bit it looks like Apple offers a download to add sshfs support, or you can use a shareware filemanager that includes sftp support, or you can use MacFuse from Google. I decided to give MacFuse a try, and so far it seems to work, though I haven't really given it a workout.

Other options I have discovered for working with sFTP/sshfs are to use a 3rd party file manager that includes support for it (I am trying out Forklift at the moment, but there are others), or for text files using the TextWrangler text editor which has built-in support for editing files over ssh.

I was also shocked that although I could mount an ftp volume in Finder it was read-only even though the ftp server was set to give me read-write privileges. According to the Apple website this is a feature, not a bug, and you have to use a 3rd party app to be able to upload files to an FTP server. I tried Filezilla, but didn't like its apparent lack of keyboard shortcuts for copying files Same with Fugu, another free application for sftp transfers. Downloaded beta of Forklift and so far it looks like what have been looking for. You can choose Commander keyboard shortcuts which gives you F5 to copy a file from one pane to the other like I am used to. I didn't get around to trying Cyberduck.

No luck getting my Xerox Documate 250 scanner to work with the Mac Mini. Apparently there are no Mac drivers for it, and just plugging it and seeing if it would work didn't. When I ran out of possible leads to pursue I went ahead and ordered the $86 OEM version of Windows XP from Newegg.com so that I can dual-boot XP on the Mac Mini so that I can scan PDFs. It may sound extreme, but I am a fanatic about being paperless and I gotta have my scanner. Anyways, I am sure that I will discover other things that I will need to have a copy of XP around for.

Once I committed to having a dual boot machine I looked into running both OSs at the same time using either VMware Fusion or Parallels. From posts on the web it seems they both work well and are more or less equivalent. However, one friend who uses Parallels remarked that it takes a lot of RAM to run two OSs at the same time, so I promptly went to Crucial.com and ordered 2 GB of RAM for the Mini, which showed up on my doorstep 2 days later.

Upgrading the RAM on the Mac Mini is not for the faint of heart. I followed the excellent directions at:
You haven't lived until you are prizing off the cover of your brand new expensive toy with a couple of plastic putty knives and hearing all kinds of snap-crackle-pop noises as the little tabs pop loose. To make things more fun, the RAM in the Intel Mac Mini is hidden underneath the hard drive and optical drive, so things have to be unscrewed, and a little cable carefully removed, to get at it. Although it was an intimidating process to launch into, in actual execution it went pretty smoothly and the whole thing took less than an hour from start to finish.

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