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Beemer

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New 'puter [Oct. 7th, 2010|09:03 pm]
Beemer
So I have a shiny new iMac at work now.

It is very shiny. It's also HUGE. And I realized that the large size is actually a design solution: somebody must have realized that if you make the display big enough, you can fit an entire set of computer components in a slightly thicker case, plus you have enough surface area that your sleek industrial-design aluminum case will work as a heat sink and you don't have to have any fans.

The new machine arrived last week, and I'm still using my old linux box side-by-side with it, because OF COURSE my to-do list is a mile long and it's an incredibly bad time to be trying to make the transition to a new computing environment, because that's just how the universe works. But I'm starting to get there.

The other factor is that you don't really realize how adapted you get to a particular setup until you have to change it.

On the hardware side, I can plug my crazy-ass Kinesis ergonomic keyboard right into it with no problem, ditto my trackball. So that's good. (Although I still want to go back in time and tell Apple designers of yore that CTL and ALT keys are plenty, you do not need swirly also! But I switched my keyboard from PC to Windows mode, and I only occasionally notice.) The huge crisp display is of course lovely (now that I turned the brightness down), but it's 90 dpi instead of 72 dpi so I'm going to have to keep making fonts bigger for a while until I find persistent setting on the apps I used regularly.

The software side transition is not quite as smooth. It's unix underneath, of course, so once I've got myself a command-line, things are 99% familiar for the bulk of what I do, at least. (And these days, most of my CLI interaction isn't even on my local machine.) And I'll finally have a copy of Office that can read .docx files, which is a huge improvement. But the UI differences...

Fundamentally, the big difference is that the Mac UI is application-oriented, and I really am much more used to -- and prefer -- a window-oriented approach. But I can cope. With the Spaces app, I have a virtual desktop that's very like the one I am so used to in fvwm. Slightly different kinesthetics to navigate around them, but I think I'll get used to it pretty quickly.

The really, really big thing? The Mac doesn't have sloppy focus.

And not only does it not have it as a standard option, the related behaviors are wired so deeply into the OS that there's really no way to implement it, even as an add-on.

You guys, I can't even tell you. Yeah, Windows is purely click-to-focus, and I'm totally used to it on my laptop, but it's pretty rare that I'm actually trying to accomplish something with it, and when I do try to get serious work done, I notice it.

Seriously, after a day or so this issue was very nearly turning into a dealbreaker for me.

At this point, you either have no idea what I'm talking about, or you are wincing in deep sympathy. Rather than try to explain, I will just point you toward Steve Yegge's rant on the subject, which says everything I would if he hadn't already. It really is like having an air horn go off every time you switch what you're doing.

BUT! THEN! I DISCOVERED!

The X11.app has a sloppy focus setting. Which means that, if you're firing off xterms and emacs windows and suchlike from the command line? All those child windows will have sloppy focus relative to one another! And since almost everything I do (except web browsing) is one of these unix-y programs launched from the command line, the problem is sufficiently solved that I no longer feel like throwing the computer out the window every five minutes.

I would still like to have cut-and-paste with select and middle-click instead of swirly-c swirly-v, but yeah, now that I discovered that trick? I think I can cope.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: toosuto
2010-10-08 03:31 am (UTC)
I just felt good because I was able to read most of his technical rant (ok heavily skim) and my eyes didn't glaze over: go me!
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2010-10-08 03:39 am (UTC)
(nods)
My own solution to the focus problem has been to get away from the idea of using my mouse as a focus-manipulating tool at all. When I want to switch context I use Alt-Tab on windows and Cmd-Tab on the mouse and select the application I want and raise it, do what I want, lather rinse repeat.

Which of course means I don't have an artfully arranged screen where I have a dozen overlapping windows that show me a few pixels of display into which I put input, which admittedly I missed for a while... that sort of intricate optimization is endless fun.

Incidentally, back when I used Xwindows emulation on Windows/Mac, there were ways to get X11-style mouse cut-and-paste behavior, using two-button click to mean middle mouse button. Long since forgotten what they were, but you might find it valuable to look for it.
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[User Picture]From: tdjohnsn
2010-10-08 03:49 am (UTC)
Check the system prefs for your trackball. It isn't so much that the mac -can't- do a select and middle click to copy and paste, just that you need hardware that is built to do that and to tell the computer that hardware can do that. If there is nothing in the prefs about your trackball, it may need a driver to get more than just its basic pointing and clicking functions and if the developer has implemented that for users on the mac, it should be a super easy download and install from their site (and if they haven't implemented those functions for users on the mac, then they are big meanies.)

And the swirly is called the "command" key, though I had an editor once who called it the "puppy paw." The mac needs all three because originally the command key carried many of the functions that users of other operating systems think of as belonging to the ALT key and it was the mac equivalent of the right-click in windows (or visa-versa come to think of it) and the option key just modified functions and in conjunction with the shift key gave easy access to two more banks of characters on the keyboard. (Type 8, then type shift-8, then type option-8, then type shift-option-8 to see what I mean.) And of course, mac users use the keyboard to modify things rather than multiple mouse buttons so the command key comes in pretty handy.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2010-10-08 05:01 am (UTC)
Ooo, that's right, I forgot about that.

I guess the other thing my time-traveling self would tell the Developers of Yore is: switch to a two-button mouse already. Seriously, people can handle it. Future history sez one-button is a Design Error.

(Why yes, it is easier to criticize past decisions with the full benefit of hindsight than it is to retrain my fingers to use different modifier keys. Whaddaya mean it's not as productive? ;) )
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[User Picture]From: 0nce_and_future
2010-10-08 03:17 pm (UTC)
You might want to look into USB Overdrive - it enables a whole lot of advanced HID settings.
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[User Picture]From: dcseain
2010-10-08 06:11 am (UTC)
I use Expose to move between windows quickly in Mac, and that works fine for me, in part because i've never really used sloppy focus, though i can see where it could be useful were i to make an effort to use it.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-10-08 06:28 am (UTC)
To me, the distinction between "command" and "control" is one of the greatest things about the Mac. You can be using Terminal and "command-c" means copy and "control-c" means "send sigint" and each environment does the right thing. This fits my brain just right.
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