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Dear Aunt TUAW: ZDnet switcher has some wires crossed

Aunt TUAW hat logoAuntie knows that some of her correspondents don't get around to sending in their questions promptly -- in some cases, not at all. This week, she's handed over the perfumed stationery to nephew TJ, who has a bit of a bee in his bonnet over Ken Hess's account of his first week with the Mac, published last week by ZDnet.

Dear Ken,

After your rather colorful piece about wanting to trade in your iPhone 5 for an iPhone 4, I was curious to read your account of switching to the Mac. The challenges you're facing are surmountable; I believe I may be able to give you a few pointers to make the transition smoother.

I went through this exact process about 10 years ago, and I've never looked back. While things may feel easier on Windows, as someone who spent time and has done tech support on both platforms, I think it's fair to say that really depends a lot on what you are used to. For example, when I bought my PowerBook, I hooked the Ethernet cable to it. Then I started searching for the equivalent of Windows' "Network Wizard" to start configuring -- whether or not this was a public network, a home network, or a work network. After several minutes of searching I finally gave up and thought, "Wait, you don't suppose that it's just that easy? I plugged in the network cable and I'm on the network?" But that's how it worked.

Click to close ... when it makes sense.

You wrote: "[W]hen I click the X on an application, I expect it to exit." At the risk of frustrating you further, some apps on the Mac do close when you close their window, and some don't. For example, if you close the "Contacts.app" window, there is really nothing more for you to do with that app, so the app closes. However, if you are in a word processing or text editor and close the last window, maybe you want to create a new document. If you close the last window of your web browser, maybe you want to go somewhere else.

But here's the thing: the way that Windows does it isn't better, necessarily; it's that it's familiar. If you want to quit an app on Mac, just quit the app using the File menu's Quit command, or the handy Command-Q keyboard shortcut. (Yes, you can control the Mac using the keyboard.) Most apps will resume right where you left off, including re-opening windows just like you had them before. If you don't want an app to save its windows, you can even tell it not to.

Aside: Force quitting iOS apps

You also wrote: "A similar thing happens on the iPad and iPhone. My daughter never quits any apps, so she always has twenty or more 'minimized' apps on her devices. Of course, everyone in my family also makes fun of me because I want them to close the doors when entering or leaving the house. I must be the one that's wrong. I like to close doors and apps. Deal with it." You are, of course, welcome to use your devices however you like. However, your analogy to closing doors when entering or leaving the house doesn't really fit, because background apps on iOS will automatically quit when the OS needs to reclaim the memory they're using. Force-quitting apps on iOS is like standing at one of those automatic doors at the grocery store and pulling it shut behind you. You can do it if you want, but don't expect other shoppers to compliment you for your diligence.

When you re-launch an iOS app, it will pick up where you left off, so it appears as if you never quit it at all. (Sounds familiar? Apple is trying to introduce that convenience into Mac OS X too.)

Free and Bundled Apps

You wrote: "If you haven't noticed, I really like free applications." That was a strange thing to say after mentioning, twice, that one of the first things you installed was Microsoft Office, which is probably the most expensive "app" most Mac users will ever install, unless they decide to spend $20 on Pages instead. Fair warning, Pages isn't filled with oodles of overcrowded toolbars reworked into a 'ribbon' either.

In fact, the default look of a new document in Microsoft Word compared to the default look of a new document in Pages.app may be a good illustration of the difference in mindset between the two platforms -- Word first:

vs. Pages:

That's after Microsoft updated Word with the "ribbon" feature to "simplify" it. Now, is one of those better than the other? No, they're just different approaches. Personally, I prefer Pages because it shows me a small subset of commonly needed features, whereas Microsoft Word looks like a bad case of UI overreach.

Let's move on. The next concern you raised was about the perceived lack of bundled apps on OS X: "At the price that Apple charges ($800), you'd think I'd get a free copy of PhotoShop Lite or some other 'lite' versions of something with it but, no, it's pretty bare bones."

First, "the price that Apple charges" for its operating system is $20. The rest is for the hardware. Microsoft doesn't bundle third-party apps with its operating system, either -- that's down to the PC manufacturers.

Second: Really? You're complaining that Mac OS X doesn't come loaded down with the free applications and utilities commonly derided by Windows users as "crapware?" You may have noticed that there is no Mac version of PC Decrapifier, either. This is generally considered to be a feature of buying a Mac -- not a flaw.

Instead, Apple has created the Mac App Store, which is conveniently bundled with OS X and accessible at all times, via the "Apple Menu" as shown here:

Fire that up and you will find more apps that you could ever hope to use. Many of them are free, and those that aren't free are generally pretty inexpensive. When you buy from the Mac App Store, you also know that the app developer has met Apple's standards for inclusion in the store, so it won't muck up your computer. (The question of whether those restrictions, particularly the "sandboxing" rules that control which areas of your Mac an app can access, are overly restrictive is a question for another post.)

Oh, and there are no license codes for apps from the Mac App Store, and you can use them on all of your Macs. In fact, you can also set it up so that whenever you download an app from the Mac App Store, that newly-purchased app will automatically be downloaded and installed on all of your other Macs.

On paying for software

I find it disheartening to hear a tech writer claim that he doesn't have any money to spend on software. (Even more so when that tech writer is "a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments," as your ZDnet bio states. Sysadmin wages are, by and large, better than writer's pay.) I assume that you get paid for your work, and that you pay your mechanic, accountant, and doctor for their work, not to mention either mortgage or rent. I'm not sure how you expect software developers to pay their mortgage or rent or their mechanic, account or doctor if they aren't getting paid for their work. But that's a whole other conversation.

Crashing

You wrote "Pinta, for example, won't allow me to cut or copy a bit of a drawing. I get an exception when I try. That's a significant fail for that product." Wow. You ran into a bug in a free, cross-platform image program? I'm shöcked. (By the way, we call that a Sarcastic Umlaut.) I'm not sure what this has to do with a review of your purchase of a Mac.

"I get some app crashes -- far more than I should for a brand new system. So far, the App Store app has crashed multiple times, Pinta has crashed, and a few others that I can't recall have crashed on me." Seems like you've run into more crashes on your new Mac than I have on all of my Macs in the past 6 months or more. In fact, I purchased that exact same Mac mini about 2 months ago and I'm not sure I've seen any crashes on it, and certainly haven't seen any crashes of apps from Apple. Do third-party apps sometimes crash on Mac OS X? Sure. Do Apple's own apps sometimes crash too? Sure. Does that happen on Windows too? Yup.

Desktop Publishing

You wrote: "I've always wanted a Mac for Desktop Publishing, for Graphics creation and editing, and for movie editing. All those things are now available for Windows and I'm not convined [sic] that the Mac versions are any better these days. Twenty years ago, they were. Today, not so much." As someone who has used Microsoft Word and Pages extensively, I can tell you that doing consumer-level desktop publishing in Pages is much easier than it is in Word.

Have you actually tried any Mac graphics programs? I don't mean "Mac versions of Windows programs" or "free app that tries to work on Windows, Linux, and Mac," I mean actually developed-for-the-Mac applications like Graphic Converter or Pixelmator? Because it sounds like you've tried a bunch of Windows-based or Windows-centric apps on Mac and then declared that a Mac is no better than a Windows machine. That would be like me switching to Windows and complaining that iTunes and Safari aren't any better than on the Mac (which they're not, but it's hardly a fair assessment of the whole platform).

The menu bar is better. No, really. It is.

You wrote: "That weird application bar thing at the top is application focused." It's called the "menu bar." Not to put too fine a point on it, but maybe it'd be worth taking an hour or two to learn the Mac-specific terminology before declaring yourself ready to write an post for a major tech website dismissing an entire mainstream operating system that you have used for "a full week." [This is a strong real-world example of Michael Chastain's legendary General Motors Help Line joke. "Motor? Engine? I don't want to learn technical terms, I just want to go places in my car!"--Ed.]

The menu bar is better. It works consistently across all applications. No longer will you have to blindly click around some application to try to figure out where the menus are. They are at the top. Always. Yes, if you find yourself clicking randomly around the OS (any OS) then you might get unexpected results. The difference is that OS X offers you consistency.

In sum ...

You started off by saying that you had been using Mac OS X for "a full week." I expected you meant that you were just getting started -- after all, you've been using other operating systems for decades -- but you seem to have already given up. Of course Mac OS X seems strange; it's different from what you are used to! There is still a lot out there to discover, such as the fact that you can get free screen recording built-in using QuickTime X (as pointed out by our own Megan Lavey-Heaton). Is it as good as Camtasia? No, but it's free. And if you want Camtastia, it's available for Mac (for a price), along with Jing and other products from TechSmith at several price points. There's also iShowU and ScreenFlow and probably some others that I'm forgetting.

If you're seeking software tools and Google doesn't turn up what you are looking for, there's always Alternative.To. As a new Mac user you might also greatly benefit from checking out AskDifferent, Mac OS X Hints, and our own Mac 101 series. Of course, mainstream social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are good places to seek out help; so are Apple's own support forums.

Even the most experienced Mac users were beginners once. Unlike the bad days of the 1990s, however, now you've got a lot of company; reach out, ask for help, get what you need and enjoy. But maybe the first step towards the comfort zone is learning -- and accepting -- that you don't know what you don't know.

Anyway, we're here to help. Good luck with week two of your Mac experience... and beyond.