iMac First Impressions

My iMac arrived a few days ago. I took it out of the box, put batteries into the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, plugged the power cable in, and turned it on. I was pleased to hear the good old Mac startup sound, although it was startlingly loud.

Going through the initial startup screens was pretty easy. The only snag was that I couldn't figure out how to enter the WEP key needed for the AirPort card to connect to my wireless network. So I went without network access at first, then I just disabled WEP on my router so that I could test Internet access and download updates. Later, I found out that it was necessary to enter a '$' in the AirPort password field before typing the WEP key. Once I discovered this little tidbit, I was able to restore WEP.

I last used a Mac in the System 7.5 days. It is interesting to note what has changed, and what is the same. OS X has much more support for keyboard navigation than the old Mac OS had. The top-of-screen menu bar looks familiar, yet has standard menu items in different standard locations.

The new Finder is very annoying in comparison to my memories of the System 6 and 7.5 Finders. The windows and icons are too big to see everything I'd like to see at one time. Too much valuable screen space is used by the brushed-metal title bar and toolbars, and it seems to be too difficult to do simple things. Is there a good reason that the Finder will let you use Edit->Copy to copy files from place to place, but won't let you use Cut and Paste to move them? The Finder's handling of FTP servers and Windows shares really sucks. I've had the Finder lock up, and it was unable to restart when I used Force Quit on it, so I had to reboot. All in all, I think the Mac OS X Finder is the most Microsoft-like of all the Mac's features.

I am getting used to the Dock. I found it a little confusing at first, but now I prefer it to the Windows status bar mechanism. After playing with a few configurations, I settled on auto-hide on the right side of the screen: it is easier for me to flick the mouse to the right than down to the bottom, and this puts the Trash down in the lower left corner of the screen (as God intended). I would like to have a menu of all open applications on the system menu, like 7.5 had, instead of needing to use the Dock or Command-Tab to get to other apps.

Exposé is the coolest new feature. For those of you who haven't seen it, it shrinks all your windows and tiles them so that you can see them all at once and select the one you want to see. It is not just a thumbnail-like mechanism: while shrunk, the windows are still updating (you can see web animations, or terminal windows scrolling). I predict Microsoft and other OS vendors will be providing similar mechanisms soon.

None of the Mac web browsers are as nice as Internet Explorer on Windows XP. OmniWeb and Safari are both OK, albeit a little less "snappy" than I would like. Firefox is slow to render, and doesn't have a lot of the standard file associations built in. I'm sticking with OmniWeb for now.

Here are some other applications that I've settled on:

  • Adium X instant messenger client. (I also tried Fire and iChat, but Adium's duck icon won me over.)
  • Transmit FTP client
  • Shrook RSS newsreader (Also tried NetNewsWire and Pulp Fiction, but I found I prefer Shrook's column-based iTunes-like interface for the wide iMac screen)

As I have a couple of Windows machines at home, I spent a lot of time with Mac OS X's support for Windows file and printer sharing. I am not impressed. It works well when everything is set up correctly, but if I reboot my Windows box while the iMac has a share open, or at other random times, the Finder will completely lock up. I have since given up on file sharing, and I now use FTP to transfer files between Mac and Windows.

I was eventually able to get my iMac connected to my HP DeskJet 5550 printer that connected to my the Windows XP box, but fumbled around for a while because the huge list of HP drivers in the Printer Setup dialog doesn't include the 5550. I eventually decided to use the "dj450" driver (which I vaguely remember from setting up CUPS on a Linux machine), which seems to work although I get edges cut off on some printed pages.

I downloaded Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection software for Mac. It works very well. As my Windows box is in a different room from my iMac, it is nice to be able to remotely control Windows when I need to find a file to be transferred, or check what my password is for some web site, and so on.

I keep hearing about how the new iMacs are completely silent. Mine is not. It's not loud, and it's not annoying, but it is not silent. I assume the sound is a fan, a disk drive, or both.

Despite the minor annoyances listed above, the iMac has quickly become my primary machine. I only turn on the Windows box if I need to move an old file over or to use the RC helicopter simulator (for which there is no Mac equivalent). It's not that the Mac is better than Windows XP; it's just different, and being able to escape from Microsoft when I leave work is a nice thing.

© 2003-2023 Kristopher Johnson