I thought this thing was supposed to be easy

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Gordon Atkinson's picture

I hope you’ve seen Pulp Fiction.

You know what the funniest thing about the Mac is? It’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same stuff over there that we got here, but it’s just, with a Mac, it’s a little different.


 macpchodgmanblogWell, the first time I started a program on the Mac, I couldn’t figure out where the menu was. There was a menu at the top of the screen called “Finder,” with the familiar file, edit, and view commands along with others, though clicking those wasn’t bringing up anything I understood. I saw a program called “TextEdit” on the dock, a shiny shelf at the bottom of the screen. I clicked it, and a text editing window came up. Cool. But it had no menu at all. I spent an hour opening programs with the finder window, but then having no idea how to run them. It was like there were no menus in this strange world.

“How the hell do these people open documents and save them and do all the stuff you have to do?”

I finally figured out that in the Mac world, the menu bar is always at the top of the screen, and it’s not connected to the program window. This single menu CHANGES depending on which program window is active. Mac people, who have never known anything different, don’t understand why this is hard for us. But I’m telling you it took me a solid hour to figure it out.

So the disembodied, disappearing and reappearing menus would be one of the little differences.

Another one is the collection of three colorful dots at the top of every Mac program window. Any Windows user will assume they correspond to the classic Close, Minimize, and Maximize buttons. And you would expect that on a Mac they would be cute and colorful. It’s sweet, really it is, until you try to use them.

The red one closes the window. That made sense to me and furthered my expectation that I was just seeing the Mac version of Close, Minimize and Maximize. The yellow one minimizes the window, and that made sense too. I assumed the green one maximized the window, but it doesn’t.

Um, I’ve had a Mac for almost two years, and I still don’t know what the hell the green button does. It changes the size of the window….sometimes. It behaves differently in different programs. In iTunes I clicked the green button and the entire program vanished, leaving me with a small window that had an apple and an arrow on it, and those same three colorful buttons, which by now were starting to creep me out.

So my first lesson as a Mac user was this: Don’t touch the green button. Just stay away from it. I later found out you can download an entire program called “Right Zoom” that will help you customize and use the green button. I’m sorry, but if I have to download extra software to make my maximize button work, the Mac people should stop running advertisements with a hippy guy telling us that the Mac works just fine “right out of the box.”

“So how do you maximize a window?”

Well, you don’t. That’s not something the Mac designers felt you needed, so you can’t. There is a strain of paternalism in the Mac world that does irritate me. Once I tried to make some text italic, and the Mac refused because I didn’t have the actual italic version of the font. A Windows program would say, “Eh, if you don’t have the italic font, we’ll just slant the text a bit for you. No problem.” The Mac slapped my hand and hissed, “If you want italics you should PAY for them!”

At that point my “home” and “end” keys stopped working, which I assumed was punishment for my attempted stealing of an italic font. Only it turns out those keys just don’t work anyway.

I’m as serious as death here. You can’t make the Home and End keys work on a Mac. Well, not without lessons. If you want to go to the beginning of a line, don’t hit the home key unless you’ve read the manual. On the Macbook you have a function key to hit first, and even then those keys behave differently in different programs.

But I digress. You can sort of maximize windows on a Mac. You just do it manually. You can grab a corner of the window and make it bigger. It won’t actually maximize, but you can pretty much fill the screen with it. But oh, did I mention that you can only resize windows with lower right corner of the window? So if you have a small window in the lower right corner of your screen, you have to first drag the window to the upper left corner of the screen, then use the lower right corner of the window to resize it.

What the?…why would?…How can they?….I am so damn frustrated by this window resizing thing. It boggles the mind. Why why why why why wouldn’t they make it so that all four corners of a Mac window would be resizing handles?

I have come to love the hundreds of cool innovations and user interfaces the Mac has, but some of these little missing pieces are so basic. It’s hard to understand them.

Speaking of which, I spent a good five minutes staring at the keyboard of my Macbook Pro, looking for the backspace key, which I just KNEW had to be there. Of course it's there. They wouldn’t leave something like that out, would they?

They would. It ain’t there. The delete key works like a PC backspace key, deleting to the left. If you want to delete to the right (as you do with the PC delete key) you have to hold down a function key and then push delete. And we all know how much fun function keys are. If you are a long-time PC user this is going to take you about 9 months to get used to. You probably didn’t know how subconscious deleting and backspacing are for you. You probably never think about it. Well, you’ll think about it for 9 months as you repeatedly hit the delete key, find the wrong letters disappearing, and then remember that you’re now using a Mac.

There are other things. The Apple mouse is just…cheap plastic with a bad roller ball for a scroll wheel. And since you can’t open it to clean it, when it gets dust inside, you no longer have scrolling capability with your mouse. I wouldn’t mind so much if this mouse was $19.99, which is about what it’s worth. But it’s $69 and they do rather force it on you. I had never bought a Mac before so when they shoved it at me I bought it. I thought maybe you had to have a Mac mouse with a Mac. Do yourself a favor. Go buy a good, solid, Microsoft mouse for $39 and use it instead.

The lack of software is an irritation. If you are used to popping onto the net for piece of shareware to do some small job, you won’t be doing that anymore. There is some Mac shareware, but not much. On the other hand, the Mac probably comes with all the software you need to do whatever you used to do with shareware, so it’s a tradeoff.

Like I said, it’s the little differences. In spite of what the commercials say, the Macintosh has irritations too. They’re just different irritations.

You might be asking if I regret my purchase. No. I love my Mac. Every operating system has its limitations. Windows has more of them, if you ask me. I WILL SAY that if you are a serious PC user, plan on 9 months to a year of awkward moments that will slow you down and irritate you. These will, however, be balanced by a great number of “aha” moments when you discover all the things the Mac does so well.

Next week I’ll tell you what I love about the Mac. And there is much to love.


Photo courtesy of iJustine who met the PC guy at the airport. iJustine is the quintessential Mac Girl!


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Kate's picture

Have you looked at

Have you looked at VersionTracker? It's a really nice aggregating site for shareware and freeware (among other things), and might help with your "can't find the freeware" problem.

xyp's picture

on the mouse issue: cleaning

on the mouse issue:
cleaning the ball is simple: alcohol on a paper towel, rub it back and forth. use an air can if you need. (to blast dust out of it.) best not to use the mouse after eating greasy food, either. just a hint.

for me, the apple mouse feels better on my hand, no cramps. and it syncs better with the mac than others ive tried.

the shape of my hand has never gotten along with microsoft mice.

on the other hand, every PC (and PC laptop) i have has a logitech mouse attached to it. theirs seem to fit my hands.

Gordon Atkinson's picture

Thanks for the cleaning tip!

Thanks for the cleaning tip!

Lee's picture

Maybe you're a little slower

Maybe you're a little slower than me, Gordon...even though I used both Mac and Windows machines every day during my Windows-to-Mac transition (Windows at work, Mac at home), it didn't take me nine months to get the menu, screen-sizing and delete/backspace differences down. The behavior of the green button is still surprising at times, but don't forget that the red button merely closes the window, it doesn't shut down the application! This reminds me of my Windows Mobile days, when clicking the X didn't close the app, and it was very easy to have many memory-chomping instances of the same app open.

I always think of the green button as the "right-size" button...it makes the windows what the Mac OS determines to be the "best" size for the application. I do find it amusing that it switches to the iTunes mini-player...

Anonymous's picture

Hmmm...maybe I just wasn't as

Hmmm...maybe I just wasn't as savvy a windows user as you were/are because I figured out my mac in about a day of tinkering, and I especially had no problem with finder (in fact, I liked it a lot). I guess the mac environment just made more sense to me somehow. But I'm totally enjoying these articles, in fact, I keep checking your site to see if you've posted a continuation to this series every day, lol.

textjunkie's picture

Hear hear! I was a diehard

Hear hear! I was a diehard Apple/Mac user in college in the late 80's, but somewhere in the early 90's I switched to PCs--I think it was when I had to buy my own computer and I did the price comparison, and said, You want me to spend WHAT on a mac?? I've been Microsoft and Unix for 15 years now and I can NOT get the hang of Macs at all any more. What can you do with only one button on a mouse?? What were they thinking??

Mind you, Office 2007 went and changed the Microsoft standard interface, so we're still all scratching our heads and asking, where did they put the button to do X... So now's as good a time to switch to a Mac as any, since it's new interface season everywhere.

Richard's picture

Well, was redirected here by

Well, was redirected here by my wife who has just been persuaded to change Windows to Mac. I've been Mac for 3.5 years and was Linux before that and Windows before that. So I've not really used Windows regularly for about 8 years. Now I often find it too bafflingly complex to use for some things... like trying to sort out network problems for friends.

Some things you mention seemed strange to me. I hadn't realised that you couldn't resize a window with anything other than bottom right on a Windows box. I guess it feels natural to resize from that corner, so was doing that on Linux and Windows anyhow. And two finger scrolling is so easy I keep trying it on Windows boxes of friends computers and it drives me wild to try and find out how to scroll on their computer.

Master menus [except for Crossover applications] well, at least I know to always look at the top of the screen. I was always getting the wrong menu on a Windows and Linux computer... often the menu from the window underneath and slightly above the window I was using. And it's nice and easy for multiple virtual screens [which I had been using in Linux for some years].

Why a mac? Well... it's like Linux on steroids. I can have Adobe Photoshop and Final Cut Pro and a few other programs I like, which I cannot have on Linux. And when we swapped from Adobe Premiere on a Windows box [crashed at least two or three times per day] to Final Cut Pro [not seen it crash yet] that was pure pleasure editing again. Of course, maybe a steenbeck is better but...

And... at the time I bought it it was smaller and lighter than a PC for the same power.

Irritating things for me? Well -- that Microsoft Office 2008 has removed Arabic support, WHY, OH WHY... since the earlier version had it... plus difficulty to upgrade hard disks and the fact that two of the three macs we bought at the same time 3.5 years ago had wireless networking problems after the one year guarantee was up. [Buy the three year warranty on any notebook, it's worth it!]

My colleagues both use VMware and so have Windows and OSX running at the same time. Watching their mouse move from the laptop screen showing OSX across to the external monitor showing Windows is very disconcerting. However, it's reliable and fast and they love it.

Anonymous's picture

It's all Vista's fault. And

It's all Vista's fault. And Dell with their totally non-helpful customer "support." And then add AOL. I was crashing every hour. Hubby got tired of griping and expletives. So--for my birthday--he got me the Mac Notebook Pro. It is a totally foreign contraption! I have 2 textbooks and one neighbor who is exclusively Mac and it's still dreadful making the switch. I haven't used a mouse in over 2 years and have learned to navigate mostly with keyboard commands--you can't imagine how hard it is to break that habit--those keyboard commands were automatic! Sigh......but not too loudly. Hubby might decide to throw all the 'puters away and bring up the old Royal from the basement.

jethro's picture

hmm two reasons for your

hmm two reasons for your problems - dell and AOL
heres my suggestion
go and find a local computer store where the technicicians are friendly and offer and in home installation and support service - they will be local people (not foreign support desk) and they will probably charge a little bit more but their gear will be good and their support excellent (unlike dells)
get rid of AOL and never go there again.

Anonymous's picture

Yes--AOL will never make an

Yes--AOL will never make an appearance on the Mac--no AIM, no Bebo and hopefully no BOTS. I won't be doing anything else for the Dell. The monitor frame cracked early on, the keyboard never did work right and it will be allowed to live out its remaining days in peace. Once I install Photoshop on the Mac it will be "Adieu, Dell; Adieu, PC; Adieu and good riddance AOL" I remember when it used to be so fun and exciting. At least the Mac is attractive!

Randolph's picture

The green button is called

The green button is called the "zoom" button. Apple sez: "Your application also sets the values for the initial size and position of a window, called the standard state. Don’t assume that the standard state should be as large as possible; some monitors are much larger than the useful size for a window. Choose a standard state that is best suited for working on the type of document your application creates and that shows as much of the document’s contents as possible." The zoom button toggles between the "standard state" and whatever the window size was changed to.

If that's an Apple Mighty Mouse, the scroll ball rolls left & right as well as up & down. It does other things as well--it's actually a three-button mouse, plus the scroll ball, but you have to activate the buttons. Try the System Preferences. Apple gives a cleaning procedure for the scroll ball.

The single menu bar is an inheritance from the time of very small screens. However, it turns out to be substantially, measurably faster to use than one attached to a window, and it avoids the problem of hitting the wrong menu bar. Some new UI designs typically use large buttons for most functions, rather than menu bars; this is especially important on MS-Windows, where the large buttons are much faster to hit than the small menu bar titles. (This is called "Fitts Law," after the pioneering aviation human factors designer Paul Morris Fitts.)

"Home" and "End" never were part of the Mac; those are an inheritance from MS-DOS. The equivalents are Command-Arrow combinations.

There is actually quite a bit of Mac shareware and freeware, including key redefinition apps, but I'm too tired to point you to it right now.

Melanie's picture

Google Reader has become one

Google Reader has become one of my most-used applications online. I never used to read RSS feeds - just a few here and there. But then I found some great ones.Lifehacker (www.lifehacker.com)Many geeky things, this place has original posts, as well as passes on posts from a large variety of other sites. The comments are