Thursday, 23 June 2005

Mean Machine

It's here! The delivery man, who was lost, eventually managed to find where I live and delivered my new computer. I am currently writing this using it. The install wasn't completely painless though so I shall tell the tale: the first day of a Mac newbie with his new machine.

Boxes and wires

Unpacking the beast was easy: open the box and pull it out. Considering the size of it, it's quite light. Of course, being a geek, the second thing I did was open it. And admire it. The only other computers I've seen that are as well and elegantly designed inside than they are outside are Sun workstations. The Mac is definitely in the same category in terms of hardware quality.

Once it was unpacked, I plugged in everything:

  • The AirPort antenna, to make sure I have good reception.
  • The Bluetooth antenna, ditto.
  • The screen, which is an old 19" CRT.
  • The mains.

That's it. I got the wireless keyboard and mouse as I wanted to minimise cables. So before I went further, I put the batteries inside both.

Install

Having read the manual so far, I switched the mouse and keyboard on before switching the computer on. The install was a breeze. It recognised both keyboard and mouse instantly and was up and running in no time at all. It even managed to connect to my BT Voyager 2100 wireless ADSL router. Or so I thought.

Internet, take 1

Having connected to the wireless router, I thought I would be surfing the net in no time. I started Safari and... nothing happened. I tried a few addresses that should really work, such as Apple's web site. Nothing. I plugged in my work laptop in the router via an Ethernet cable and realised that it wasn't behaving that much better with the laptop, even though said laptop had worked absolutely fine all day with that router. Strange. After a few attempts ate re-starting the router, re-setting the firmware defaults and a number of other things I decided to do something else altogether.

Application install from CD

Being very frustrated with my Internet connection, I decided I'd install iWork, considering I had ordered a copy at the same time. I took the CD out of the box, looked for the button that would open the CD drive... and didn't find it. I thought, this being a Mac, it must work a bit like Solaris and there must be an option somewhere on the desktop to open the CD tray. I looked and looked again, and again... and screamed in frustration! Until I decided to read those parts of the manual I hadn't read yet. And lo and behold, here was the answer! There is a special eject key on the keyboard: the key I originally thought was a number lock. That might sound dead obvious for someone who has used a Mac before but for anybody else, it isn't.

Having solved the mystery of the CD tray, I put the iWork CD in it and clicked on the install icon. The installer then told me in a very nice way that I already had the application installed on my machine so I really didn't need to do it again. Nevermind, at least that got me to find out how to open the CD tray.

Bluetooth devices

After playing a bit with iWork, I decided to see if I could connect other Bluetooth devices to this computer, namely my phone and my PDA. Both got recognised immediately. But I didn't manage to do anything useful with them. The file browser doesn't work with either of them. iSync, once I had found where it was, which was a challenge in itself, said that the phone was not supported and didn't even see the PDA. Not that I have very unusual stuff: the phone is a standard Nokia 6230 and the PDA is a standard Palm tungsten T3.

Camera

Having taken pictures of the machine earlier, I decided to check if I could upload them from the camera, an Olympus Camedia C50. I found the USB cable, plugged it in and I had the images on the computer in a couple of minutes. No hassle, extremely fast and much more user friendly than the Windows equivalent. Just what you need.

Music

I also bought an AirPort Express base station. I was supposed to be able to just plug it in the mains, connect it to the stereo and iTune would magically be able to use it as a networked set of speakers. I did just that and it worked first time. Now that is cool! I am listening to music with iTune and if I'd rather listen to it in the living room, I select the AirPort station as the output rather than the computer and suddenly the music comes out of the stereo! Well, assuming the stereo is on and using the auxiliary source.

Scanner

I have a Minolta Dimage negative scanner. That was one of the reasons for buying the Mac in the first place, as it is only supported on Windows and OS-X so if I didn't want Windows, I had little other choice. I plugged it in, installed the software and it worked first time, even though it alledgedly only runs on OS 10.1 and 10.2, not 10.4 (ah yes, did I mention the computer came pre-loaded with Tiger?)

Internet, take 2

Having a fairly useless wireless router in the room, I decided to move it out to the living room and try to connect it to the AirPort station via Ethernet to see if it would behave better. The logic behind this was that I thought it was getting confused with the wireless. So that's what I did and it didn't work: same as before, so still no Internet.

Exploration

Being a bit bored by then, I decided to explore what was installed on the Mac. I have to say, the amount of software that comes pre-installed is impressive. I will probably never use everything and it will take me a long time to explore the things that could be useful to me. If you compare what come pre-installed on a Mac compared to what is pre-installed on a Windows PC, it's like night and day. Not only is there tons of things but most of them are great pieces of software: stuff to do movies, animations, take notes smartly, etc. And finally, I found the best application of all: the UNIX terminal. Ah, having a UNIX command line available! That's when you realise you're using a real operating system, rather than a bloated GUI that pretends to be an operating system.

Internet, take 3

Having now access to a UNIX command line, I decided tom investigate my network problems. Fairly quickly, I realised that the real problem was that, for some reason, the computer didn't have any DNS information, even though the DHCP server in the wireless router should have provided that information. Fiddling with different things, it appears that the BT router is a bit crap at answering the DHCP request that comes from the G5 or the AirPort Express station. It works if the router is started after the base station though. As a consequence, if the station reboots due to a change in configuration, I then need to reboot the router. Go figure... Anyway, it's now working. I'll have to check if there's an update for the router's firmware though. If would also be nice if the web enabled admin application was developed in a way that wasn't Internet Explorer specific. It's a fantastic example of how stupidly you can code such an application: everything works fine on Firefox or Safari, except the form input fields. It wouldn't take much to make it cross-browser but the way it's broken means you can only really use it on IE.

Conclusion

This is a superb machine. It was a breeze to install. I didn't manage to do everything I wanted but I didn't miss much. I just have to find a way to store the multiple boxes lying around now.

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