16 May 2011
Adventures in Mac-Land: My New MBP
For my new job I was given a brand new Macbook Pro. This caused both joy and trepidation. I’m always excited by new tech toys, but the last time I used a Mac was in secondary school when the iMac looked like a giant piece of neon fruit. Since then I’ve been primarily Windows-based with occasional Linux use. So how have I been dealing with this new environment?
My first experiences with the MBP were rather negative. Coming into OSX without any sort of primer was a jarring experience. How do I install apps? What’s this ‘dock’ thing? Why don’t the Home and End buttons work? The feeling was quite strange. Here was a computer, something that I’ve been building my life and career around for years, that I’m struggling to do even the basics with. If I may use a comic-book analogy, I felt like a Superhero losing his powers. All the pieces were there, but whereas I would usually be able to assemble them into a powerful tool, for some reason they weren’t fitting together like they used to.
A few years ago I fancied myself as a sysadmin, so I cobbled together some old PC components and made myself a home server running Ubuntu. I didn’t have a spare monitor, so after the initial setup it lived completely headless. For a number of months I did everything via the command line, and quite enjoyed it. I installed Apache, got Wordpress and Mediawiki set up, and then delved into getting temperature stats from the internal sensors. It was fun for a while but eventually I got bored with the endless little tweaks I had to make to get everything running just so. I abandoned Linux and went back to the comfort and familiarity of Windows. That said, I missed the level of control that bash gave me. Cue the MBP. All of a sudden, even though most things were alien, I found myself in familiar surroundings once I opened up the terminal. The environment I missed from Linux, the power of a decent shell, it was all there. There was hope.
Starting From Scratch
I realized that if I wanted to take command of my new system, if I wanted to turn it from an uncooperative servant into a powerful companion, I was going to need some help. I had done the same thing on Windows over the years. Over time, I’d build up a library of tweaks, tools and hacks that allowed me to use the system the way I wanted to, not the other way round. The same needed to happen here. I didn’t have the time to organically build this arsenal, but fortunately my co-workers had already done a lot of the legwork for me.
First to go was Safari, replaced by my old friend Firefox and its extensive suite of familiar plugins. Firefox doesn’t have the best of reputations on Mac, but so far I’ve found that the current version performs just as well as it ever did on Windows.
Next I needed a better text editor. On Windows I’ve always used Notepad++ but I’d heard that the standard on Mac was TextMate so I gave it a try and was impressed. The lightweight ‘project’ model is really useful, and like NP++ it has an extensive set of extensions available for further customization.
Thanks to the cross-platform AIR runtime, I was able to stick with my twitter client of choice: TweetDeck. As I’m partly responsible for the @ShopifyAPI account now, the multi-user, multi-column features are invaluable.
I also installed a few other tools recommended to me: Alfred to replace Spotlight, Text Expander to handle email signatures/templates and other commonly used text snippets, Divvy for window management, Evernote, and Visor for the terminal.
Still a Long Way to Go
I’m feeling more comfortable with my new environment now that I’ve customized it a bit. That said, I’m definitely not there yet. I’m too reliant on the mouse right now which is going to slow me down until I get comfortable with the various ‘standard’ keyboard shortcuts. I might switch out a couple of my new tools for alternatives before I’m 100% happy and the OS itself still feels slightly strange but I’m getting more adept daily. The most useful tool I’ve found so far though has to be my co-workers who have been using the platform for years and who are always happy to answer my stupid questions about really basic things. They’re awesome.
Thanks for reading! If you like my writing, you may be interested in my book: Healthy Webhook Consumption with Rails
David at 10:00