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Portables (Apple)

Journal timothy's Journal: New MacBook for mum; hand-me-down iBook running Ubuntu 4

My mom finally replaced her iBook, which after 6 years had become too slow even for her near-infinite patience with the spinning beach ball. I dunno why (cosmic rays?), but it really does seem slower even than its 500MHz G3, 128MB RAM goodness should make it, and the new MacBook is rockin' with the Core Duo processor and lovely half-gig of RAM. For bottom-rung, I think it's pretty snazzy! Since I was home for Spring Break, so-called, it was a good week to get the new machine, so I could make sure she can do all the things she wants to with it (mostly email, word processing, consulting Google).

Some notes:

- Boy, Apple makes good-looking hardware. The old iBook, the new MacBook -- both are just clean clean clean, lightyears and eons ahead of nearly any other notebook makers' designs. I also like the ThinkPad look, but am less favorably disposed toward ThinkPads since two of those much-vaunted machines have died on me in the last few years, including one about two months out of warranty.

- Not news to anyone who uses OS X more than I do, but OS X 10.4 is pleasant. Not so much different as I'd thought from the 10.2.8 it's replacing (my parents, both of them, resist software upgrades), but the much faster hardware and wider screen make it wonderfully fun to zip around with. Expose and Dashboard widgets, both very nice. I've seen pictures, and I've used these things briefly on friends' computers, but I switched to Ubuntu on my own iBook a few years back.

- Between the version of mail on the iBook and the version on the MacBook, it seems that the bundle of folders holding the mail has changed. Probably if we'd taken the machine home and set it up there, the data-migration tool would have found and converted her old mail fine, but instead we did the set-up routine at the store (I wanted to make sure that it booted, that we had all the pieces, not an unlucky broken-on-arrival notebook, etc), and I didn't get to the mail-migration part until I'd downloaded and installed other software (more below), and then I found that her mail was set up to be deleted from the ISP (Comcast)'s servers rather than keep a copy there. I wasn't sure what would happen, and didn't want to find out, if I tossed the differently-organized / formatted mail collection from the old computer straight into the new, equivalent location on the new one, either. Long story short, I ended up moving mail a slow and stupid way -- aggregating it by sender, and forwarding these chunks. I felt dumb even while doing it, but it all got done. And she doesn't want most of that mail anyhow, so in the near future it will all be gone.

- I also (finally) set up the Mail app to fetch mail from Gmail as well as from her ISP. This was a bit of a pain, because in following the directions on how to set up the application, I missed the vital information that I needed to actually specifically authorize it from within her gmail account as well, so I encountered frustrating errors / denials even though I knew the account name and password were correct. Once I found the error of my ways and clicked the right buttons in the gmail interface, all was well, and now she can get mail from both sources without switching between Mail and Firefox, which is part of my long-term plan to get her switched completely away from Comcast's mail system. If at some point she decides to get Internet service from Verizon or some other company, being tied to a mailbox is a bad reason to stay stuck with Comcast (or any ISP), but I bet it's a big reason for brand loyalty in this area.

- iTunes is a pain. I hate the interface, I hate the Outer Limits ("We control the vertical, we control the horizontal!") tyranny over music file organization, and I resent the inability to play Ogg Vorbis files. So, installed VLC, so if mum should want to listen to some downloaded Metallica, she can do so with a player I like much better than iTunes, and without being nagged to upgrade to QuickTime Pro "later."

- TextEdit isn't so bad, but I had been under the misimpression that Pages came with the MacBooks; not so -- needs an $80 investment in "iWork." Eh, pass. a) I installed NeoOffice 2.0; in not many days, the 2.1 version will be free to download, but I didn't feel like the hassle of signing up for the Early Release Program and paying for it; the 2.0 version is both very nice and freely downloadable. Mum misses the old Mozilla splashscreens ("Can you bring back the little dragon?") and NeoOffice at least adds a pretty icon of a ship, or, as I call it, a pirate ship. NeoOffice is a better choice for her various letters to the editor, I am trying to convince her, than AppleWorks.

- However, all her old AppleWorks documents are usable just by draggging AppleWorks from the old computer to the new one's Applications folder. Surprised me -- I was convinced there would be some sort of gap, that the OS X version was different enough that it wouldn't work, or that the fact it had been installed on the older computer, and that I didn't carefully drag over and emplace every little crumb or directory with AppleWorks in the name, would mean that it wouldn't work. But it did the famous "just works" routine -- nicely done, Apple. So now she has a dumb, limited word processor to at least open and convert the old documents to a better-supported and cross-platform format.

- Safari is nifty, but since I prefer Firefox, and mum's used to the Firefox icon (just like some people can't get over clicking on anything other than the Blue E on a Windows machine), I installed Firefox and put it in the toolbar. I know I *could* find out, but in a few minutes of playing, I managed *not* to find out (though I wanted to) how to open a new tab in Safari. I tried what I thought were all the obvious combinations, tried clicking in the bar where a new tab should appear, etc. Bah -- back to Firefox! (However, I was really glad to see all the KDE developers, among others, listed in the Safari credits, and to see the LGPL, mention of the FSF, etc. there for people unfamiliar with Free software to read. Similarwise, nice up-front credits and FSF mention for NeoOffice -- class.)

- The new (or at least current) widget for choosing wireless networks is really nice. Not necessarily better than the one found in Gnome 2.18, but still a big step up from the one from 2001.

- Printing on her HP color laser went without a hitch, didn't even need to install the drivers like I did for the older version of the OS. It also pops up a nice little (accurate) picture of the printer, has a utility to check the toner levels, etc. Cool.

- That magnetic power connector: rocks.

- The screen's a bit anemic, but then, so are most notebook screens in my view. At least it's not the stupid shiny variety like on my current least-broken laptop.

- My consolation prize is the *old* iBook; mine of the same vintage -- heavily abused, hauled to 20 or so states and used on three continents -- died late last year. So now (as of a few hours ago) it's running Ubuntu Edgy and has the RAM upped to 384MB, so it's now a much more comfortable machine for my use than it was when running OS X. Compared to current machines, of course, even low-end ones, a 500MHz G3 is always going to seem lugubrious, but it's really not a bad machine for uses currently considered undemanding, like playing back music, typing, websurfing, etc. Progress is always relative -- it's not that long ago that it took a "high-end" machine to so much as play back an MP3 at 100% speed, and the astronauts of course went to the moon (which was called Luna then, or just referred to with pointing and grunting) each with a stone abacus -- just one stone, strung on sabre-tooth tiger gut and knotted in place ...

- My old iBook (the dead one) was also running Ubuntu -- Breezy Badger, I think -- and seemed well-enough supported with it; sound, networking, all worked fine. I have hit one major snag though with this one running Edgy, which is that the networking is semi-borked. Though the Device Manager shows the internal Airport card as a supported WLAN device, the Networking widget lists it not as a wireless card, but as a wired one, which doesn't help in getting connected through it. Luckily, my years-long quest for working USB-dongle wireless in Linux means that I had a few such devices lying around the house. I plugged in a Netgear MA111 USB dongle, and ... it too was recognized as a *wired* network adapter. Huh? But I plugged in the ugly grey tank of USB wireless devices, a Belkin F5D6050, and that one ... burned down, fell over and *then* fell into the swamp! No, actually, that was was actually seen by the system as a genuine wireless device. I set it up to connect to the house wireless system, and I had a connection. Not elegant, but working.

- PPC has understandably been dropped as an official Ubuntu platform, but Edgy really is fine for a while. I just hope that some upgrade one day will make the airport card work, since the big ugly dongle is a bit of a nuisance.

- One button on any pointing device sucks, and trackpads suck anyhow. OS X really does a pretty good integration job, but with Ubuntu, I'm using an external USB mouse and loving it. Sorry, but the right way to paste is with a middle click, or a simulated middle click, on a trackball, or at least a mouse.

Anyone with helpful advice on making the Airport work will earn some sincere appreciation ;)




This discussion was created by timothy (36799) for no Foes and no Friends' foes, but now has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

New MacBook for mum; hand-me-down iBook running Ubuntu

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  • I didn't notice anything about wireless in any of the updates I ended up installing, but somehow, somewhy, the Airport card started working. Huh. In fact ... heck, I'll plug in the Netgear USB dongle and see what happens with that one now. Drat -- that one's still seen as a wired connection. Weird.

    I wonder if it will act like my Ubuntu (Linux Mint, actually) installation on my main laptop and decide to just be random when it comes to wireless -- it's sure looking that way.

  • Apple Mail in 10.4 switched from standard .mbox files for mail to folders (named *.mbox) containing each message saved as a separate file. I think this was done to facilitate Spotlight indexing. I think other ways of hooking in to Spotlight indexing are *possible* but even the Entourage 2004 update that added Spotlight support did it by saving each message as a file *in addition to* keeping its database format as the primary storage.

    I didn't quite follow what you did at the store or why you did it. I forget
    • by timothy ( 36799 )

      Thanks for the reaction; some interesting stuff in here to which I don't have time right now to respond, but hope to later ...

    • "Apple Mail in 10.4 switched from standard .mbox files for mail to folders (named *.mbox) containing each message saved as a separate file. I think this was done to facilitate Spotlight indexing. I think other ways of hooking in to Spotlight indexing are *possible* but even the Entourage 2004 update that added Spotlight support did it by saving each message as a file *in addition to* keeping its database format as the primary storage."

      "I didn't quite follow what you did at the store or why you did it. I for

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