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Scott's Column
All About Mac OS X

November 1, 2007
By Scott Lewis

This month is all about the Mac. And I don't even own one. I spent a lot of time trying to run Apple's Mac OS X software, almost like having a Mac at one point. What did I come away with from the experience? Read on and you'll know what I know.

Current Topics:

Mac OS X 10.4.4 on Toshiba Laptop

In my lust for running Mac OS X, I managed to get Mac OS X 10.4.4 running on my Toshiba Laptop. I believe the current version of Tiger is 10.4.10. The all new Leopard is 10.5.

Even though I managed to get OS X 10.4.4 running on my Toshiba P105-9312, all was not roses. The operating system ran great. It was hardware and driver support that spoiled the experience. I tried a bunch of times to get OS X to recognize my built-in wireless or Ethernet to no avail. I even picked up a cheap Belkin USB Wireless adapter, but that failed to work either. In Fact, no USB devices worked, even ones that do not require software. When running OS X my USB Wireless mouse's dongle would not stay lit. I searched around in OS X and it saw 4 USB things, but no matter what I did it would not see anything plugged into them. (Later when I installed Parallels it did not detect that there was any USB on my machine when running OS X. We'll have more on Parallels later.)

So, with no network support there was little reason to keep running it. However, I did want to do some more testing. I downloaded a few things just to see if I could burn them to a CD and then install them from the CD. That worked well. During this testing I managed to fumble my way around OS X a bit, so if I ever start using it for real I will have some familiarity. I installed Firefox, a shareware version of Sudoku and Parallels Desktop 3.0.

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Parallels Desktop 3.0

I was able to download a 15 day free trial of Parallels Desktop 3.0. I burned the install to a CD and booted into OS X 10.4.4. I wanted to compare this to VMware Fusion, but Fusion required OS X 10.4.9, and upgrading my install would be impossible.

I was pleasantly surprised at Parallels. For starters, it installed its "tools" automatically when I built my Win XP virtual machine. Performance was excellent. In fact, it was the smoothest and fasting running virtual machine I have ever worked with. What makes this extraordinary is that I am running a system that has no right to exist. A hacked Toshiba laptop running a hacked Apple operating system in turn running a Windows operating system through virtualization. Life doesn't get much better than this.

I played around with Parallel's full screen mode and it works well. I had some trouble getting out of full screen mode because some of the keys do not respond correctly. How could they, I am not really running a Mac. Coherence is kind of cool, but has a quirk. Coherence lets you run a windows application as if it were on your Mac desktop. Basically it has the Windows desktop disappear. The quirk is that the task bar remains on the Mac desktop. And it sits above the Mac Dock, kind of hanging there. There may be a way to make this look better, but it works well enough and I wasn't in the mood to play around with a lot of configuration options.

Overall I find this a completely acceptable way to run Windows programs on a Mac. Because of this I feel I can easily use a Mac as my primary machine.

I would still be concerned with gaming performance. But I think that is covered by Boot Camp. Boot Camp is Apple's solution to allow you to dual boot your Mac computer to Windows XP or Vista. Parallels will even use your Boot Camp version of Windows as a virtual machine. So, if you need performance you reboot to Windows. If you don't need that level of performance you just run your Windows apps through Parallels. The only issue will be Windows driver support for graphic cards on your Mac. Current MacBook Pro models are using nVidia DX10 compatible video cards. Will they give acceptable performance when playing a DX10 game? DX10 is only available on Vista, so you would have to run Vista and not XP in your Boot Camp dual boot. I think the ideal situation would be to use Boot Camp for Vista and DX10 games, and create a Win XP virtual machine for Parallels to run Windows non-game applications.

I also installed Ubuntu 7.04 in a Parallels virtual machine. Ubuntu does not work very well. However, I cannot be sure the problems I had would apply in a real Mac. When I ran the install of Ubuntu (and Windows XP as well) I had two mouse pointers. The Mac pointer and the guest OS pointer. They were not aligned, and it made clicking on anything a real chore. The status bars and screens were also very unresponsive during the installs of the two operating systems.

When the Windows virtual machine rebooted the mouse pointer was just fine. However, Ubuntu kept the two pointers and the near impossible clicking. This even happened in full screen mode. In fact, although I got Ubuntu to work I was not impressed with the way it ran. It was one of the slowest virtual machines I have run. Since I was almost done testing Parallels I didn't try to solve the performance or mouse issues with Ubuntu.

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Mac OS X 10.4.8 on VMware Workstation

Before I got 10.4.4 running on my Toshiba laptop I managed to get Mac OS X 10.4.8 running in a VMware Workstation virtual machine. It took some doing, but I was able to get the networking functional. I installed Firefox across the Internet. It was cool.

OS X in a virtual machine is quite slow. Not necessarily slower than other virtual machines, but too slow to use heavily. I tried logging onto my work computer through GoToMyPC. It worked, but it was painfully slow. Now this is not the way to do this, but I would like to test this on a real Mac before buying one. GoToMyPC does not have a full screen mode when running from a Mac (this also applies to Ubuntu). GoToMyPC seems to be geared toward Windows clients accessing Windows workstations.

After doing the short version of testing 10.4.8 is when I got 10.4.4 working. Since 10.4.4 ran at normal speed (and quite snappy in performance) I concentrated on it and put aside 10.4.8. Well, that caused a problem. In my zest to get networking working on 10.4.4 I installed the software on my Toshiba for my built-in Ethernet card under Windows. I don't use this normally, but was desperate. I needed to know what Ethernet adapter I had, and I could not find that out without installing the drivers. Well, I got the information I wanted, but it did not help me get 10.4.4 working with my Ethernet adapter.

The next time I ran the 10.4.8 virtual machine it would not connect to the Internet. I tried a bunch of things, but in the end I think that VMware is binding to the Ethernet adapter and not my wireless adapter. I tried disabling the Ethernet adapter, but that did not change it. I wanted to delete the adapter, but I did not have that option. The delete option as grayed out.

At this point I started giving up on OS X testing. I could run either version without network access, and both versions would only run at 1024 x 768. I proved that it worked. I tested a few important things. I liked it a lot.

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Mac OS X - General Observations

After spending quite a few hours in OS X I have some general observations that are not related to all this hokey testing.

Let's start with the bad. Mac users want to believe that OS X is the greatest thing since sliced bread. In Apple's lust to "prove" they didn't copy Microsoft on anything they have done things that are less user friendly. Here are some things that I don't like, and some of them are just wrong:

  1. You can only resize windows on the right side. If your application launches on the right side of the desktop and you need to make it larger you have to first move it to the left and then expand the application to the right. This is just plain wrong. The same would be said of an application to low on the desktop, you move it up then resize it down. To make this even worse, you actually have to do all your resizing of an application by its lower right hand corner. You can't even use the side of the application. And... the mouse pointer doesn't change when you are trying to grab the corner. This is poor usability, not the excellent usability that Apple is known for. I can only assume Apple is being different from Microsoft here to the point of arrogance.
  2. I am having a hard time understanding "aliases." I tried to create a shortcut to a network folder. It is a simple folder with a few text files I keep notes in (such as the notes I took during all this OS X testing). I created an alias in my Mac virtual machine to the network folder, and then copied that alias to the Mac desktop.

    When I edited one of the text files and saved it the Mac VM saw it was changed, but under Windows the file was never changed on the network. So I tried copying the file to the folder on the network. It showed up as changed when looking at it from the Mac VM, but not from Windows. However, when I deleted the file it really did delete it and not just put it in the trash. Oops!

    This could be related to having networking working only in a virtual machine (I never got it working when fully booted to OS X), but it was strange behavior.
  3. I immediately noticed that Safari does not support tabbed browsing. This is seriously out of date, and I would expect this would be taken care of when Leopard comes out.
  4. Installing software (like Firefox) was almost intuitive, except for dragging some icon image into the Application folder of the Finder. When installing Firefox the instructions told me what to do, so performing the step was not a big deal. But if Firefox had not told me about this step I might never have figured it out. This is a case of being simple... once you know how it's done.
  5. Clicking the Red X in the upper left hand corner of an application does not close the application. You have to go to the "system menu" to close the application. The Red X just puts the application in the background.
  6. The Green +. I think this is a maximize button, but it does not act that way in all applications. In iTunes the Green + switches to a minimum display... exactly the opposite of how it works in the text editor. Now that's consistent user interface.
  7. Speaking of the system menu, I don't like that it changes with each application as the app takes the focus. This is one of those things that Mac addicts will say it is better than Windows. Apple will claim that this adds to making all applications more alike. But it is an issue in my book. For instance, in Windows if an application has a toolbar then the menu and toolbar for the application are close to each other. Mac applications with a toolbar have the toolbar next to the application's window and the menu at the top of the screen. This is not good usability. What about applications that don't have a menu?

 Now that we bashed some nit picky minor points, lets see what I did like:

  1. Since I like taking notes with a text editor it was the first stand alone application I ran. The text editor in Mac OS X has on-the-fly spell checking. This is really cool. Why can't anyone else do this. It would save me a ton of time writing my notes for this web site.
  2. The text in the text editor was really clear. I was very impressive, especially when running in a virtual machine. I can't wait to see this on a real Mac.
  3. Dashboard Widgets are like Vista's Sidebar Gadgets. I like them. You have to do a terminal hack to get them to stay on the desktop, and they stay above other applications. Vista lets their gadgets stay on the desktop, but behind other applications. I expect Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) will do the same thing without the hack.

Here's one right down the middle... the Dock. The Dock is close to Windows Taskbar for comparison. You have shortcuts to applications on it, and it shows minimized applications on it. It is different from Windows, but I can't decide which is a better solution. Windows has all running application on its task bar, The Dock has slightly different behavior depending on some criteria. This really is a matter of getting used to each.

I think the Dock tries to be smarter, but in doing so has conflicting user interface elements.

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The Best Operating System Revisited

Having run a bastardized version of Mac OS X and run Windows application within it using Parallels I am going to go out on a limb and say that OS X is the best operating system. It is based on FreeBSD, a derivative of Unix. Linux is also a Unix like operating system. However, OS X is far more polished that any Linux I have run. I am looking forward to KDE 4.0 due out in December. I would like to try the first version of Kubuntu with KDE 4.0. Fortunately, that will all be available before my next laptop purchase in the summer 09.

Until then OS X is the best operating system.

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Conclusion

That was too much Mac stuff. Next month I want to get back to Windows. I thought of a possibility to install newer nVidia drivers under Vista. Toshiba won't put newer drivers on its web site since Vista shipped. But the drivers Toshiba has don't work well. This is definitely a Toshiba issue as nVidia has a stated policy that they do not provide "mobile" drivers to the public, but to the manufacturers to include any of their own specifics. Before I play around with Vista again, I want to backup my laptop. I want to try an "image" backup application to see if it will backup my Windows XP installation including the activation.

Until then.

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