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Making The Switch to Mac OS X – Part 1

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I know, it’s been a long time since I posted here. Cut me some slack…I’ve been busy.

This is the first in a series of articles that will describe my experience in switching from a Linux operating system on my laptop to a MacBook running Mac OS X.

When the MacBook was released, I was pretty excited. Linux has been my OS of choice for about 6 years, and I still use it on my servers. I have no complaints with Linux, but having never owned a Mac, I wanted to see if it was a better environment for me to work in.

The first thing I had to do after booting up was to download all the applications I need to do my day-to-day work. This includes email, web browsing, writing technical papers, programming, and other tasks.

The purpose of this initial post is to list what I consider to be the “required” applications on Mac OS X for mathematicians and scientists, or at least applications that I require.

I recognize that many scientists and engineers will be coming from a Linux environment just as I have, so my first priority was to replicate the features I need in that environment. These applications are just the ones that I needed to do my work, your mileage may vary.

The first missing thing I noticed was that I needed a good text editor and virtual desktops. To that end, I downloaded Smultron, an editor similar to gvim and Desktop Manager, which allows me to have virtual desktops. I like gvim a lot, but it’s easier to use Smultron on Mac OS X (for me anyway).

In addition to basic text-editing and desktop-switching, I needed productivity applications. When I was using Debian, LaTeX and other applications were easily installed with a simple apt-get. However, on Mac OS X, the situation is a little bit different.

If you need LaTeX and its associated conveniences, I would recommend TeXShop for an editing environment (if you need one). Another nice thing about Mac OS X is that you can use LaTeXiT to write complex things in LaTeX and then simply drag them into other applications like Keynote. However, you cannot use TeXShop without a LaTeX environment (MacTeX on Mac OS X).

If you do any file transfers via FTP or SFTP/SCP, Cyberduck will be an invaluable tool.

This leads us to the problem of office applications. For that I use OpenOffice.org although NeoOffice or AbiWord would work as well. For communication purposes, I have Skype handy, although I haven’t had an occasion to use it yet.

That pretty much covers it on the productivity front. The only things left are other applications used for communication and day-to-day tasks (email, web-browsing, IM, etc.)

If you need anti-virus protection, ClamXav is available.

For an RSS reader, Vienna is the best I’ve found. It is clean, intuitive, and doesn’t get in your way. There is another application called RSSOwl that does the same thing, although Vienna is my preference.

Adium can take care of all your instant messaging needs.
Thunderbird will handle your email.
Firefox will take care of web-browsing (unless you prefer Camino).
Flip4Mac will handle playing wmv files, which Mac OS X doesn’t really handle natively. Currently it’s in beta but I got the link from Digg and it has worked flawlessly for me. I don’t know when the release-version comes out, but I do recommend it.

Those are all the apps I use on a daily basis. If you have any others, please feel free to let me know. I’m still a relatively new convert to Mac OS and, at this point, I’m trying to make it resemble my Linux environment as much as possible, while simultaneously increasing my productivity. Overall I’m enjoying it and feeling like I get more done, especially with all the native keyboard shortcuts, which I may write about at some later date.

Future articles will include converting email into Thunderbird on Mac OS and getting used to those glorious keyboard shortcuts I already mentioned.

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About Adam Drake

  • I wouldn’t have installed Thunderbird on Mac OS X; I always used to love the built in Mail app.

    Soon, I will return the world of Macs in spectacular style. And I might just write about it when I do.

    Enjoy Adam.

  • Chris Barth

    Have you tried out Apple’s own Mail app and Safari web browser? iChat for messaging? iCal for calendar? Address Book? These apps all work great for me.

    For FTP, I’d suggest Transmit. Very intuitive and Mac-like.

    I find it interesting (although somewhat odd) that you’re switching to Mac yet staying so close to your Linux roots — may I suggest giving some of the “built for Mac” apps/products a chance. My favorite parts of the Mac experience have always been the user interface, intuitiveness of the software/hardware, and the ease of use.

  • Paul Bauer

    You may also look into fink, or darwin ports. Then you can run gvim, LaTeX and the other applications you are familiar with in Linux. You can also use Xorg and your favorite terminal.

  • Aaron Smith

    Quicksilver is a must have, particularly if you want to work from the keyboard.

  • Terrin

    I have to agree. Part of the Mac experience is using Mac integrated applications like Mail, Safari, and iChat. I recognize that there are alternatives to these applications, some of which could be considered better. Nonetheless, Apple’s bundled applications should at least be tried.

    For what it is worth, I like Safari over Firefox or Camino, and I also like Mail over Thunderbird. Yes, I have tried them both. The main reason is I think they just work better on the Mac. Admittedly, Thunderbird does have some unique features that Mail lacks, and Firefox sometimes has to be used for certain sites. Still, Safari and Mail just seem more responsive.

    Also, out of curiosity, what is wrong with Apple’s included text editor? On the application front, I would include VDC for watching certain videos, such as AVI, which Quicktime does not support. I believe this also fits with your apparent free and open source theme. Azureus is good for an open source bit torrent client.

  • henk

    I agree with Terrin. Most everything you mention can be done with the “pre-packed” Mac applications. On top of that I-work, cheap as hell, translates and edits MS Office files flawlessly. Safari is a perfect browser and it supports RSS feeds. Mail app is better than anything I ever tried. Lastly, the best editor around on the Mac for your apparently prolific use is BBedit. The best FTP program and near standard on the Mac for years is called Fetch by Fetch Softworks; it has been in use since the dark days of the internet by the publishing industry for moving huge graphics around.
    I personally use a little 12″ Ibook because I want to be truely mobile, I avoid anything too “exotic” from an applications point of view. Take your Mac for a spin a couple of days first; it may be easier to evaluate what’s on there and just ad your real needs instead.

  • I also agree to all the rest – well almost.

    As a web designer I can tell you that Safari is better than Firefox; not much, but still better (and it’s more Mac-ish). The same thing goes for Mail although I haven’t tried out Thunderbird myself.

    For FTP I recommend Transmit over Fetch. Used both, but Transmit feels better.

  • Thank you all very much for your comments.

    The reason I don’t use the bundled or more “mac-like” apps is because they don’t work as well for me, or because they have associated costs. I should mention that I am frustrated by being pressured to use applications simply because they come on my Mac. If they don’t work as well it would be silly to use them out of some kind of warped sense of pride or loyalty. I didn’t switch so that I could have a “mac experience”, I just want a more productive environment.

    That being said, on with the line item response.

    I prefer my email stored in the standard mbox format, which Mail.app does not do. Consequently, I use Thunderbird and its address book.

    I don’t use a calendar, but if I did I would likely use Google, which iCal can sync with, but not modify.

    I don’t like TextEdit because if I want to edit html files it doesn’t show the text, but the actual page. When I open files that are not some kind of office documents, I want to see text, not the result of my markup. Hence I use Smultron.

    I don’t use BBEdit because it’s not free. As I said before, Smultron works perfectly for what I do and costs nothing.

    I don’t use Safari because I like the layout of Firefox. I should mention that I have been considering using Safari instead, but when I switched I was in a hurry and grabbed Firefox from the web. If my bookmarks import well into Safari, I’ll likely start using it before the end of this weekend.

    I don’t use Safari for RSS feeds because I find that cumbersome. It’s easier for me to use Vienna, which is designed specifically to be an RSS reader.

    I use Cyberduck instead of Transmit because Cyberduck is free. I very much dislike paying for software if something that addresses my needs is available.

    iChat didn’t seem to support multiple accounts (from AIM, MSN, Jabber, etc.) being on at once, which is a waste for me and makes iChat completely uncompetitive. That being said I may just not understand how to do it because I am still learning. However my question remains; what is the point of having a messaging application that only supports one account online at a time and doesn’t support MSN?

    I tried to respond to all your questions, and I appreciate all the feedback. I’m going to try out Safari today and see how I like it. If you have any other advice for someone like me who is in the process of switching, please feel free to post it or let me know.

    Thanks again for all your input.

    Best Regards,
    Adam Drake

  • I would never switch to Mac, but I may move to Google OS if they ever actually create one.

  • Rattymouse

    Yes, forget Mac OS X. It’s Google OS or nothing for me. Its as simple as that. Google is the future, while Apple is the past. Apple simply cannot compete with Google and Google based technology.

  • Antonio

    To each his own….a Mac is my home. There isn’t anything it doesn’t do for my music, photography, business, education and fun in a classy efficient environment.
    BTW, Flip4Mac IS a must. Telestream is close to the public UB release. Great company.

  • Ishkabibble

    I agree RattyMouse, its Google or nothing in today’s world. Apple is so out of date compared to Google technology. I have had macs since 1988 but I am finished with them now that Google has fully matured into a world class operating system.

  • TimeOut

    What are people thinking???? Google Based Technology? What is the world is that?? someone tell me please!

  • Google isn’t going to create an operating system – don’t you get that? They are just going to create loads of web applications which will be the equivalent of an OS. Apple is producing the best operating system currently available to buy,