iMac – First Impressions (updated)

As I mentioned previously, I am not a Mac user. I use Windows and Linux for my computing needs. But now my iMac is in and I have been playing with Mac OSX Leopard for a few hours. Let me just say to Microsoft, this is where the Wow is.

The initial setup of OSX when you first turn on the iMac is as simple as you could ask for. It finds your network, wireless or wired, and prompts you to input any necessary configuration information to connect to said network. It asks you to create an account password and picture (using the built in iSight camera…more on that in a minute) and then let’s you into the desktop. It quite literally took less than five minutes to get the entire initial setup completed. Are you listening Microsoft? I really don’t need Vista taking in excess of 15 minutes on the initial startup. It’s a waste of my time and I don’t have all that much to spare.

The desktop is clean. You have the application bar at the top and the dock at the bottom. Think of the dock as a quicklaunch bar. Icons for the programs you will use the most should be here. The application bar will be somewhat confusing to longtime Windows users. See, programs in OSX do not have a menu bar with the familiar File, Edit, etc menus. The application bar changes to reflect those. This will probably be the hardest thing to learn when moving from a Windows environment to OSX. As for a taskbar showing a little button for every running program…you won’t see that here. However, changing between windows is just a squeeze of the mouse away. Yes, I said squeeze. The Apple Mighty Mouse has left and right click, a scroll ball (for smooth vertical and horizontal scrolling…a wonderful little bonus), middle click, and squeeze. If you squeeze on the two side tabs, all active windows shrink and spread out across the desktop so you can see all available programs. Click on one and it becomes the active window.

If you middle click, you get the Dashboard. This is a pseudo desktop that overlays the current desktop. On the Dashboard are widgets. Think of them as the gadgets in Windows Sidebar. I am not getting into the argument over which company or group came up with these things first, I am simply describing what the Windows equivalent would be for easier visualization. The Dashboard starts with a calculator, weather, clock, and a calendar. You can add, remove, and relocate widgets across this desktop to better fill your needs. If you don’t see a widget for something you want, there are many many more available online.

The iSight camera is simply amazing. The pictures are clear and the video is smooth with very little blurring even during fast motion. I probably played with my position in front of the camera for four or five minutes when OSX just wanted me to make a picture to associate with my user account. I was just that amazed with the quality it provided. I plan on playing with it a lot more over the weekend.

Sound on the iMac is both loud and surprisingly clear. The speakers are built into the system and are hidden behind the lower part of the bezel on either corner. There are no holes in the bezel to denote that sound is coming from there, which caught me off guard. I did not expect so much noise to come from so small a package without it sounding tinny or distorted. Somehow, though, Apple managed to put together a wonderful system capable of making happy about ditching my old Creative speakers and further uncluttering my desk.

My only gripe so far is the length of the USB cables for the mouse and keyboard. At this point I am going to have to completely redesign my desk to accommodate the skimpy length. The keyboard has maybe two feet of cable and the mouse about one. Now I can understand the thought behind the choices. If you have the iMac on a flat desk, the cables are adequately long enough to accommodate comfortable use since the mouse plugs into the keyboard’s USB hub. but if you have a keyboard drawer under the surface of your desk and you want to use the mouse on the surface…well, let’s just say you need to start working on new desk designs.

Anyway, the point is the hardware is impressive as is the ease of setup. I haven’t had enough time to really dive into the applications yet, so that piece will have to wait a few days whilst I delve into the Steve Jobs Kool-Aid…

UPDATE: Well it appears my Superdrive is DOA. I suppose it’s off to the service center next week so I can get it replaced. Isn’t that just a wonderful start to my life with an iMac. And it only cost my one of my favorite CD’s to discover the horrible truth of the refurb.

How User-Friendly Is Your Site? – Demo Girl

Have you ever worked on your own website design? Do you design sites for your employer or for friends? There is a lot of work involved in creating the perfect site and while everyone will have different opinions as to what a perfect site is, there are a few UI gotchas that should be avoided universally. I stumbled across this wonderful screencast that points out some of the more irritating downfalls of website UI design.

How User-Friendly Is Your Site? – Demo Girl

And there is one thing I will add to that. Any site that you must log in to should make the log out link visible and near other account related links. I have a few bills that I pay where I log in and my menu with everything under the sun is in a bar on the left but the log out link is in 4pt font in the upper right corner of the page. BAD WEB DESIGNER! Go to the corner and think about what you have done.

An Apple a day

I have finally decided to go to the dark side. Already my house is populated with both Windows and Linux systems. It is now time to add Mac to the list. I ordered my iMac earlier this week and it should be in tomorrow. Honestly, I haven’t really spent any quality time with an Apple system since my early childhood when I spent countless hours with my mom’s Apple ][e running Apple DOS 3.3. Oh how that was such a monster system for its day. It had the 80 column card, 64k of memory, two 5.25″ floppy drives and a 300baud modem. Seriously, this thing was a powerhouse. But alas, that computer eventually died and I entered the world of the Commodore and Adam and TI99-4a computers. Eventually it settled down into the PC world with my purchase of a Packard Bell 486sx-25.

These days I use my Dell Inspiron 1501 with Vista Home Premium for most of my computing fun because of its portability around my house. My stationary box is a home built AMD Athlon64 running Ubuntu at the moment. I have a tendency to change the flavor of Linux on that box between Fedora, Gentoo, Slackware, and Ubuntu depending on my mood that week. The downside to that system is the noise ratio. I have 11 fans in that system and it sounds like a rabid vacuum cleaner with buck teeth snoring itself into oblivion when I turn it on. When you add the near radioactive glow that comes from the acrylic case and plethora of cold cathode tubes and LEDs, well, it is more than a little distracting. There is also the matter of the 550 watt power supply being strained to its limit and the MAG 19″ CRT sucking in as much energy as it can and happily producing copious amounts of heat as a thank you that just make me tired of using it. I decided to go a bit more green and a lot more quiet.

Enter the iMac. Basically a computer in a monitor, the iMac is a wonderful little device that is quieter, cooler, and immensely easier on the electric bill. Some people say that Apple’s offerings are far more expensive than those of Dell or HP. Not so. I did a comparison build of computers between manufacturers and Apple is right in line with their pricing. They also have the concept of making the computer itself look really nice. Have you actually seen one of the Dell XPS One systems up close? It has all the allure and style of a train wreck. It is large, unwieldy, and just plain bad. I do not put form over function when it comes to my computing, but that does not mean I want something that is downright ugly. Just hand me the sleek one that does all of the things I intend to do on a computer.

iMac computers are capable of everything I want to do. In addition to their renown for being an artist’s best friend, with Leopard and Boot Camp I can load Windows on it as well to perform whatever tasks required Microsoft’s OS. It is not emulation; it is a boot loader that allows you to choose between installed operating systems at power up. As a matter of fact, most performance benchmarks performed on iMacs since their shift to Intel architecture have shown that Windows performs better on them than on similarly built systems from other manufacturers. Crazy, isn’t it? So here I sit, waiting for my new toy arrive…my very own 20″ Apple iMac (refurb). Why refurb? Because I got it for $999 with full Apple warranty instead of $1199. Bargain basement pricing on what is essentially a brand new system. With luck, it will be here tomorrow. Once I get it up and running, I will post a little of my experience in transitioning to the dark side of personal computing.