Mac Mini – An Update

Yes, it’s time for a more detailed update about my ickle Mac. I’ve mentioned a few things here and there, such as the incredibly spiffy way I can run those odd Windows applications quite seamlessly, but it’s been a while since I made any more general comments.

I’ve got to the stage now where I’m actually using the Mac for actual work. All the photos I’m putting on show now[1] are being processed in Lightroom on the Mac. This works the same way it does on Windows, and there are no performance issues[2]. Exporting to Flickr or to disk works in much the same way, and I feel quite comforatable working that way. I haven’t got round to installing the Canon camera software on the Mac yet, so my workflow involves transferring pictures from the camera to the Windows PC, then copying them over to the Mac, and importing them into Lightroom. I could cut out a step or two in that process, but I rather like having multiple copies of my master images on several separate hard disks.

Getting the Mac and the Windows box to talk to each other was reasonably simple – so far I’ve got this as a one-way process, with the Mac having access to shared folders on the PC. Copying files is quick enough – I could possibly speed it up slightly by using an Ethernet connection rather than wireless for the Mac, but it’s not an issue for the odd one or two gigabytes I copy at a time. I haven’t tried sharing printers yet, but that will come sooner or later.

I’m tending to make more and more of my weblog posts from the Mac now – and I’ve even got Safari playing nicely – that borkage that I mentioned last month turned out to be caused by an easily fixed coding error in a plugin. Another user posted the fix on the plugin site, and it worked perfectly. Safari 3 actually works well – it’s got the tabs that I couldn’t live without, it renders my site pretty much as I expect it to look[3], and does render a lot of sites more quickly than Firefox does (on Mac or PC).

The latest thing to move is my infamous weight spreadsheet. This has a sheet for each year’s data and a sheet for each year’s graph. On the PC, this lives in an Excel 2007 workbook. I’m not prepared to buy the current version of Microsoft Office for the Mac, though I will consider the new version when it’s released later this month[5]. I first tried to convert the document to work with the trial of iWork (a moderately nice little office suite made by Apple). Unfortunately, iWork didn’t work with some of the funny text formulae I use, so I moved on from that. Then I decided to give NeoOffice a try. NeoOffice is a port of the well-known open source office suite OpenOffice. It’s been given a good thrashing to make it look and feel more like a native Mac package, and my first impressions are that it’s going to be “good enough” for the limited word processing and spreadsheeting that I need to do at home. But could it handle my weight spreadsheet?

The first attempt was a miserable failure. In order to convert Office 2007 documents, NeoOffice has to use a separate converter program, which may still need a little work. It ground my 2GB, 2.2GHz Mac to a standstill before admitting defeat. A bit of gooooogling revealed that other people had the same problem. So I went back to the PC and saved the file in Office 2003 format. I copied the new file to the Mac and NeoOffice happily opened it.

In converting from Excel 2007 to Excel 2003, I lost some conditional formatting (I have various colour codes indicating my progress, or lack of progress). I was able to recreate these as closely as seemed reasonable in NeoOffice. It appears to be working correctly, so I’m making the Mac version the primary one.

I’m even getting used to the different, if you’ll excuse the expression, UI paradigm. In Windows, every application has its own menu bar which stays firmly attached to that application, and when you close an application’s last open window, you terminate the application. On the Mac, there is one menu bar, which lives at the top of the screen. It changes when you switch to a different application, and applications keep running even if they have no windows open, until you select “Quit” from the menu. Neither approach is more sensible or “better” than the other, but there is a very human tendency to prefer the familiar, which leads to all those fun arguments[6] that people have about their choice of computers.

There’s lots more to try, lots more to play with, and lots more to learn before I come close to deciding if my next serious computer is going to be a Mac, but I like what I see so far.

[1] Apart from the few I did while I was in Wales,
[2] That might have something to do with the ever so slightly faster processor in the Mac…
[3] Apart from some colour oddness in the header, which I’ll look into later[4]
[4] Tuits, etc…
[5] In the US, anyway. Possibly later here?
[6] Otherwise known as Holy Wars