8/29/05

PowerBook Day 1 and Following

Summary: So far, so good!

I've already talked about the reasons that led up to pitching my Windows PCs (in Dude, You're Getting a Mac!.) Then I discussed the processes I went through in determining "What next?" (in After Windows, What?). Today, we're looking at my first impressions, the things that worked, and what did not.

Installation.
Installation was fairly quick and mostly flawless. Initially, I decided to connect to the Internet via the wireless access point, just for convenience. (My desk was crowded with other things.) It did not connect! I heard how it was almost automatic but after I entered the credentials for my WLAN, it refused my connection. So, I switched to wired. (Later, I found that I did not know Mac conventions well enough to realize when there is a pull-down list. Where it asked me for the WLAN password, I should have "pulled down" to select "128 bit WEP key" as the option, and then enter the key as HEX digits. I found that easily enough later. (And it is almost automatic, and does connect easily and without thought on my part, once set up.)

I was a bit disappointed to find no "Welcome to Mac-land" video, or something like that. Generic Windows XP had one. My Windows Viao had one. I found it helpful, and wished there was one on this PowerBook, as I was completely new to it. Maybe some people find it all intuitive, but not to me and my Windows-conditioned hands. Much later, I discovered that the first thing that starts up is "Finder." Finder has "Help." Help has "Mac Help." And Mac Help has everything I needed. I found it, eventually. ("Humph! 'Master of Science,' indeed," my wife would say.) I am learning my way around, and "Mac Help," helped. I'm still learning new keyboard moves for things. Took me a long while to learn that while "Delete" is like "Backspace" on Windows. "fn-Delete" gets me a forward delete. And I'm still learning what+home gets me cursor-left, "home," and "top of document" kinds of things. Old hands, new movements. Or old brain?

Exploring.
I poked around a bit. I figured out, with the help of Help, where to find applications. I fired up some applications. I found that there was a 30 day demo of MS Office. (More on that in a bit,) I opened up the Terminal. Sure enough, UNIX!. And There was ssh and scp! They were on my must have list. I have them, and the work. There were no X applications by default. (Later I found I could install them off of the installation disk, except that it will need more space than I have. I need to figure out what to do about that later (besides kicking myself for not getting a larger disk). I suspect what I will do is move all my photos off to a Linux server (the Shuttle I want) and perhaps get rid of some applications I don't/won't use.

I did install ClamXav, an open-source antivirus program. Viruses on Macs are not a problem. But, I don't want a PC virus to get forwarded in a document from my PowerBook! And the price was right. So, I learned that I just drop the ".app" file where I want it to sit, I learned how to link to it from the Desktop or the Dock (like the Task Menu in Windows).

Mac Vulnerability.
That day, I received in e-mail "US-CERT Technical Cyber Security Alert TA05-229A," which you all will remember (just kidding) declared, "Apple Mac Products are Affected by Multiple Vulnerabilities." "Aha! Stinkin' vulnerabilities on Macs, too!" you say. Well, yeah, It's software. Remember. My dumping Windows was not because of security problems or how big a target Microsoft systems have become. It was usability, pure and simple. It took too much effort. (If you forget, go back and read "The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back," in Dude, You're Getting a Mac!.) I clicked on the little Apple logo, which I had figured out pulls down a system menu), selected "Software Update," and got the fix. I rebooted an was up and running again in short order.

I went to the Network and found "Workgroup." Of course, I do not use that default, so I looked for and found "Avolio." (Clever, huh?) I found my shares and copied over "My Documents"—the ones that I needed. Things, for the most part just worked.

MS Office.
I mentioned that it came with "Office 2004 for Mac Test Drive." So, I tested it. But, I also listened to friends and colleagues. I really, really wanted to use Open Office. I mean it is just wonderful to think of using a free replacement for the very expensive Office Suite. Recall, in a previous installment I wrote, "Complete compatibility with MS Office." Not "almost." So, while I tried it, I also downloaded and tried NeoOffice/J. It is "a fully-featured set of office applications (including word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and drawing programs) for Mac OS X... Based on the OpenOffice.org office suite..."

NeoOffice/J is great (and free), but when I opened one PowerPoint, somethings were just a bit off. A friend suggested that it was because it was based on OpenOffice Version 1 rather than 2. I believe him. I am just not sure I can wait. There us an additional reason to buy Office, which I'll discuss next time.

Next time
And next time I'll talk about
  • E-mail clients,
  • Browser,
  • Instant Messenger, and
  • calendar, address book, etc.


My friend and colleague Greg Shipley (CTO of Neohapsis and contributing editor for Network Computing magazine) offered his opinions:
I made the same switch about a year and a half ago, when my Dell laptop keyboard broke for the gazillionth time (I literally lost count). I've always liked *NIX under the hood, but like you noted I can't turn my back on the applications. And the window manager / GNOME / KDE wars on Linux have made my head hurt. Everyone does something different.

Back to the applications: in my world, that's Word, Excel, Visio, and Powerpoint. And I do mean those apps - not an equivalent. Every year I play around with OpenOffice, and every year I think "wow, cool!" until I get a file that uses some advanced Word formatting or some Excel trick, and it just doesn't work right in OpenOffice.

But Office on OS X? While it has not been flawless, it does almost everything I need it to do. Plus, anyone who spends anytime behind the wheel of Powerpoint will kick it to the curb after 30 minutes with Keynote (the Apple presentation package). It's not even a contest.

I've now had my Powerbook for a little over a year, and it's been flawless. It's easy to patch. My applications work. Hardware just works. My corporate VPN client works fine, and I can run the MS remote desktop client to get into our terminal servers at work. Keynote makes my ridiculous speaking schedule seem less ridiculous due to the HOURS it saves me (not to mention my presentations look better!), and when I get lonely I can still fire up gcc and do stuff in a shell. nmap and p0f don't have problems compiling. Heh.

And the UI smokes everything out there.


One quick postscript on QuickBooks. I decided that for now I would leave it on my wife's (my old) PC and just use it from there. Later, if and when I get Microsoft Office for Mac, it will come with "Virtual PC," which I can use to access my old copy of QB.

8/20/05

After Windows, What?

I'm a few week's into abandoning Windows for my PowerBook and I am doing just fine. I talked about what led up to this step in Dude, You're Getting a Mac!

In this installment, I will discuss my requirements, and initial thoughts and recommendations from others. In later blog entries I will talk about my initial purchase, first time use impressions, software I added (and what I did not), surprises (good and bad), what I like about my new platform, and anything I do not.

I tried to do a requirements analysis. Knowing that people tend to think of desires as requirements, I was careful to ask myself questions. For example, when I thought, "I need Microsoft Office," did I really mean, "I need a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation system," or, "I need something that can read Office documents"?

First, I wanted a listing of all software on my computer. "System Information" (under Accesories, System Tools) gives you this information. A much nicer tool is Belarc Advisor.

I like it better because its html-formated output and organization makes for easier reading. I used it to make sure I didn't forget anything. If you are like me, you have a whole bunch of software that you used to use and no longer do. Next,

I made my list. Requirements.
  1. It just works. What I mean is, I want it to work consistently without heroic efforts on my part. An example, which—I didn't mention as one of my reasons for ditching Windows, but it was, is problems I had with my Sony Vaio notebook PC. Four out of five times when I shove in my Orinoco Gold wireless card it just works. But, one in five times (and I am just guessing here, but being generous) the "New hardware found" message comes up and even if I point it at the working driver it does not know what the device is so does not know what to do. I unplug and replug the card. I restart the computer. And finally it works again. I just want it to work. I also do not want to scour the Internet for drivers to get the system working. I want it to just work.
  2. Not Windows. No, really, for the reasons I mentioned in the previous blog entry. The registry is too easily corrupted. It gets too big. It is a terrible idea. There are too many mystery processes running for me to be able to trust Windows ever again.
  3. Complete compatibility with MS Office. I need to be able to exchange documents of all kinds with clients, all who use MS Office. I am not willing to go back and forth trying to find a common exchange format. That common exchange format is not PostScript. It is not PDF. It is MS Office.
  4. Interoperability with a Palm handheld. I use it a bunch for everything it does including the obvious (calendar, etc.) and the less obvious (eReader, Documents to Go, Expense). (I will talk about trying iSync vs. Palm Desktop, in a future entry.)
  5. Secure Shell (SecSH) and Secure Copy (SCP). I have Windows clients for these (SecureCRT® from VanDyke Software and freeware WinSCP). I use them to maintain my web site and to send e-mail from networks that block port 25 (such as hotel networks).
  6. QuickBooks, which I use for my company books. My account wants me to and I want to keep my accountant.
  7. PGP. Maybe. I've talked about this many times before. I use it for encrypting email and securing files. Virtually no one I email to cares about securing email. But, somehow I cannot give in on this. I think I need it.
  8. A backup mechanism. But not what I was doing. I was doing incremental backups every night using an automated process copying onto CDRs. It worked very well and I was able to restore files I needed to recover. But, I have a large pile of CDRs now. I now need to purchase a shredder that does CDs. (But, that is not part of this requirement list.)
I think that was it. Oh, I use iTunes for my iPod, but that's free. I don't need to list "DVD player," though I suppose I have three on the PC. I also use Total Recorded Pro from High Criteria, to record streaming audio. I'll have to find something else. It only runs on Windows.

Possibilities. It seemed to me that I had two possibilities.
  • Linux notebook and Linux server (for back-ups, file storage, etc.)
  • Mac notebook and Linux server.
I asked for opinions from friends. "MS Word, Exel and Powerpoint have worked under Wine for quite a while now. The Xandros distribution has Crossover in it, so it is "guaranteed" to work. A friend of mine bought a Vaio the other day and is very happy with Linux on it."

"I am fully satisfied with the ShuttleX. Anything that's going to be close to my head has to be quiet, and i know of no quieter box."

"I may be the newest Mac convert here, so I should speak up, perhaps. I got a 15" powerbook back in March, and I am still amazed by how wonderful the whole experience is. For me the key items have been:
  • "Suspend and resume—close the lid, open the lid. It always works. I've never had that experience with a linux or windows laptop. Suse Laptop suspend support actually does seem to work well though.
  • "Wireless support—always works, and it is not confused by, say, resuming in a different network environment. Close the lid at home, open the lid at work. Open the lid at gymnastics while watching the kids, finds a nearby net. I always had to fiddle with strange scripts to convince Linux to switch networks, and XP couldn't hold on to a single network while sitting on the table.
  • "Printing—just works. You say 'print' in a new network environment and you get a popup of available printers. It even seemed to know which ones were duplex capable. (To be fair, it didn't know about the duplexer on my HP1320 until after I installed Tiger).
  • "Software—I have not yet learned great Mac skills, although I am starting to like the Finder. ...
  • "I have Office:Mac. You know what? It doesn't give me the creepy feel I get from using Office on a PC. I can't explain why, but it seems fairly sensible and pragmatic. You have to work with people who use Powerpoint or send you Word documents. It just works. (To be fair, I have had fairly good luck with OpenOffice as well, on Linux.)"


Final Decision I finally decided on "Mac notebook and Linux server." Looking back at my requirements, here's why.

  1. It just works. As far as I can tell this is something the Windows strives for and Apple gets. This may be subjective, but this is what people report. I did not hear this about Linux notebooks. Understand, I am not saying Linux systems do not work. They do, and keep on working. As I said earlier, I don't want to ever again have to wrestle with a notebook PC to have it work. I just want to use it.
  2. Not Windows. Okay, this was an easy one for either a Linux or Mac notebook.
  3. Complete compatibility with MS Office. The jury was still out as to whether I use MS Office on the Mac or OpenOffice. I am attracted to OpenOffice version 2, but do not have a version for the Mac.
  4. Interoperability with a Palm handheld. Palm Desktop runs on a Mac and iSync, I was told, will support Mac.
  5. Secure Shell (SecSH) and Secure Copy (SCP). I "back-burned" this, but have since found that both are already on on the Mac under a terminal window. It's UNIX. It works.
  6. QuickBooks. There is a version for Mac. It will cost money. I can run it under Microsoft Virtual PC 2004, which also costs money. I need this, but may come up with a "Plan B."
  7. PGP. There is a version for the Mac.
  8. A backup mechanism. There will be a way to do this, I assure myself. I will wait.


While I have a Linux system at home—running on an old used-to-be-Gauntlet platform PC my friend Allen sold me 5 years ago&mdash I figure I need something quiet enough to put in my office (the other is in the basement), and one with larger disks. Boy, I would really like a Shuttle. For under $500 I can get a system with a big disk on which to put Fedora. I might even need one.

Meanwhile, someone suggested I just buy a large 300 GB disk to stick in my existing Linux box, or just get a USB/Firewire external disk. I may buy a new Linux system in the future, but for now I am sticking with the old reliable one and I did purchase a large external drive for backups and synchronizing files. I'll not talk more about this, as this is really about the bigger step of moving to a Mac.

Which Mac?
I went a bit crazy for a few days comparing iBook and PowerBook. I compared and compared. Money was important, but so was weight. The 12" PowerBook is 3 ounces lighter than the iBook. That was not the only reason, but I went with the PowerBook G4. I found it in stock at the local CompUSA at a decent price, and picked it up along with a 250 GB LACE external disk.

Next time I'll talk about my initial setup and use, what I found, and my initial migration.

Side note: I noticed that I referred to this computer as "my PowerBook." Little things like that are telling...

8/16/05

Dude, You're Getting a Mac!

I am going to write a series of blogs discussing how it is I now use an Apple PowerBook G4 (12") and have essentially pitched my Windows PCs. Herein, I want to tell you what led up to it. In later blogs I'll discuss the initial thoughts and recommendations from others, my requirements, the software I needed, and what I like about my new platform, as well as anything I find I do not.

But, first, some funniness. As I sat down to write this, I wondered, "In what category should I put this?" My blog has four categories. "Security?" Well, maybe, but that is too easy a poke in the eye of Microsoft. "Theology?" Yes, it does comes down to a "religious argument" for many, MS vs. Apple, but "theology" is not about religion. Really, it is not. Not "E-mail," and "Misc" seemed like a cop-out. So, I created a new topic area, "pc2mac."

By the way, colleague Winn Schwartau went through a similar move chronicled in "Mad as Hell" - Switching to Mac Chronology.

Background.
For years I have used a Windows desktop, a synchronized Windows notebook, and a Linux server for ... well, Linux stuff and to keep my sanity. Also, I stage my website on my in-house Linux system before deploying. I used Windows for the same reason that many used VMS back in my DEC-days: that's where the applications were. And because of that, most all of my clients require Office compatibility from my computing environment. I've known people who bucked that system— and arguably it is not a Windows-thing, but an Office-thing—with the resulting back-and-forth of trying to exchange documents that display on one machine the same way as they did when created. Life is too short for that.

The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back.
One day a few weeks ago I was happily working away when my Norton Antivirus—which I regularly keep updated—crashed. It raised its hand and said, "Sorry about this... I need to crash. Be so kind as to uninstall and reinstall me please." No, not really, but if I had known I'd be fixing it for over 8 hours, I would have written down the error message. I never saw the message again.

I tried restarting. No joy. I uninstalled and reinstalled. Over and over again. It would not let me get very far. It seemed like the MS installer was broken. At first it complained that some components were still installed. I went into a Windows Explorer window to search for a file, and.... Search Assistant did not work. The left hand side of the Explorer window that should have had search options (and a cute little helper doggie, or a wizard, if you're that kind of person) had nothing, just a bluish background.

Craziness. I decided to go to a restore-point. I clicked on "Help and Support" and nothing happened. I ran the restore-point executable resulting in a big empty window and nothing else. I went to the Symantec web page time and again. I tried their web-based system check. I was lost somewhere in ActiveX or JavaScript hell. Firefox problem? I tried IE to no avail. Nothing that might help will run. I try to install SystemWorks 2005. It claims one of the Norton Utilities is already running. It was not. I got the same result with almost nothing running. I started turning off everything I was sure I didn't need in the "startup" list, including an Epson program and a Lexmark program... left over from printers I've not had for years.

At this point I was thinking "really insidious virus or really corrupted registry." But, I am really, really careful about opening attachments, about keeping AV software current, about firewalling. But, who knows? Though it could be the registry. So, I started poking around the registry. It was filled with the the crude of 5 years of installations and removals of hardware and software. I got more and more disgusted, especially since nothing worked and everything takes a reboot.

I scanned for viruses from a remote computer. Clean. I installed a 30-day trial of some other AV software. It claimed that no viruses were found. But, if good friends tell you that you have a mental illness and your brain tells you that you are sane, you better listen to your friends. In other words, how did I know if I have "supervirus?"

I turned off the computer and started looking for advice. The best people could offer was, "Better just reinstall everything on a clean system. Shoot, your should do that yearly anyway, because the registry gets so messed up."

Basically, that did it. I didn't know—I don't know—if it was an unheard of virus or a corrupted-beyond-repair registry. It didn't matter to me. I must have put in 20 hours or more of trying to figure this out. I know UNIX systems didn't have these problems. (And when I write "UNIX," I don't just mean Solaris. I've used UNIX since 1979; By "UNIX," I'm including "Linux.") UNIX systems just keep on running for days, months, years. You don't need to reboot them when you install new applications. But, I also heard good things about Macs. So, I had decided to leave the Windows world if I could. And you know what? I felt happier than I had in days.

Next time I will write about my initial thoughts and questions I asked.

On Monday, Luís Rei sent the following note:
A while back I experienced similar problems with windows search (and other windows applications that rely on javascript). It was not caused by uninstalling Norton but by uninstalling Kapersky.I managed to fix it after googleing for the problem and finding the following:

Fix:
Start->run
regsvr32 urlmon.dll
regsvr32 jscript.dll
regsvr32 wshom.ocx


(I made a blog entry on the subject: http://neacm.fe.up.pt/~rei/archives/javascript-troubles/)


Thanks, Luís! This repaired the desktop computer that my wife is still getting.

8/10/05

Data Breaches

My RSS server pointed me to this securitypipeline article, entitled, "Hackers Break Into Two Universities, 100,000 Identities At Risk." Same old stuff, but it referred to a an interesting site tracking "Data Breaches Reported Since the ChoicePoint Incident."