This is Part 2 of a series about me and my new Mac. Part 1 of the series is here:

The saga of me and my new Mac: Conception and delivery

Anyone who has risen up from the command line is very accustomed to doing everything on the keyboard. When mice were first introduced to the computing landscape, many of us just let them sit on the desk. For a long time, my mouse had a little furry cover over it to make it look more “mouse” like. What the heck, I wasn’t using it for anything and it entertained the cats.

When I shifted into system support, I had to change. Suddenly there was a greater need to use the mouse. It was a lot easier to teach a user to drop down the menu from “file” and select “Open” than it was to tell them “Alt + F” and then “O.” But teaching meant doing, so I learned to grasp the almighty mousie and guide my end user. After many months of such teaching, my keyboard skills began to erode.

Fast forward to the XP world where everything is working for me. Scroll mice had been invented and I fell in love. Without much effort on my part, I could navigate through endless documents quickly and easily. Life was good!

Then Vista made the scene and I decided that it was the wrong platform for what I wanted to do. I made the switch to the Mac world.

How my world changed

Here in Mac world, you are confronted with a slightly different keyboard and a very different mouse.

My Mac is a 17″ MacBook Pro. Let me give you some specs so we all know what the hardware looks like.

  • 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 4 MB shared L2 cache
  • 2 GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM
  • 160 GB 5400 rpm HDD
  • 17″ TFT Widescreen – 1680 x 1050 pixels
  • NVIDIA GeForce 8600 M GT w/ 256 MB GDDR3 SDRAM
  • iSight video camera in bezel
  • Express card/34 slot, FireWire 400 port, FireWire 800 port, and 3 USB 2.0 ports
  • Airport Extreme
  • Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR
  • Tiger installed, Leopard on a disk in the box

And so on- but that is the meat of it.

The first glaring difference in the Mac keyboard from the Windows keyboard is that the Windows key has been replaced by one with a little Apple pictograph. Well, that’s fair. It isn’t Windows and it IS a Mac. So I was good with the Apple key. I’m still learning all the ways to actually use it, but I’m good with it. It replaces the “Control” key in many shortcuts, some of which I am beginning to recall.

The standard QWERTY keyboard is virtually the same as any QWERTY keyboard I have ever used. The keys are responsive enough to keep me happy and require little pressure to type. I like this, as I don’t pound the keys when I type. There is still a Control key but it’s used differently in the Mac world. There is also an Option key that is also an Alt key. There is a section in my Mac book on those. There is no Backspace key, only Delete which works the same as Backspace. There is a key in the Fkey row that will eject a CD in the drive. It will also dismount whatever drive is highlighted. The Print Screen button, something that I use a lot, is not there.

By now you’re likely asking yourself, “Is that all? Sounds like it’s similar enough.” And you would be right… until you look at the mouse.

The trackpad itself is silver and blends in with the deck nicely. Like most things Apple, it is attractive and minimalist. Then you realize that the one button- also silver- is all you get. Unbelievable! Where are my context menus? How do I reach them? How do I get back to computing comfortably?

Calm down. You knew this would be a change when you bought the Mac. How about taking a look through the handy book you bought when you bought the Mac and suspected that you would be in over your head?

A few minutes of browsing the index of my handy Leopard book revealed that a series of actions would provide me with all the context menus I could ever want. I simply needed to be in whatever I wanted to reach context for. So from Finder, also known as the desktop, I can press the Control key and click once. That gives me a similar context menu to what you see in Windows. I also had the ability to reconfigure my mouse to allow me to reach a context menu by placing two fingers on the touchpad and clicking once. And so on. I don’t seem to have lost any functionality with this change. I just learned that there is a new way to do things than what I am accustomed to.

Even more interesting is that I am using the keyboard significantly more than I had done in my XP days. While that may not seem like much, I have noticed a reduction in hand strain as I no longer switch between mouse and keyboard as much. With XP, it was much simpler to mouse to what I wanted. On the Mac, it’s much easier to use the keyboard shortcut. What I find myself doing with commands that I don’t recall is mousing to the menu bar and finding out what the shortcut is and then using it.

There are a variety of after-market tools available, both from Apple and from other manufacturers. Logitech, for instance, has several wireless, multi-button mouse options. Apple has both a wired and wireless option, and both would give me back the scroll capability that I had on my HP. But this is the place that Mac shows itself a bit better than the HP. In HP world, there was a scroll track down one side of the trackpad. With the Mac, after some simple configuration, I can use two fingers to scroll through a document, and not just up or down, but from side to side as well. This allows me to keep my hands on the deck of the machine and reduce movement to some extent.

Skiing the treacherous slope of the learning curve

My Print Screen problem had me stymied until I remembered that Google is my friend. The very first return was a link to a tutorial for using a built in utility called “Grab.” (Applications-> Utilities-> Grab) There is also a series of keyboard actions that will capture all or part of a screen.

So I find that a single mouse button has had some advantages. Once past the initial shock, I find that I keyboard more comfortably and am slowly returning to my more keyboard-centric ways. This is not a bad thing. And it forced me to learn something new about my Mac.

The toughest part is that after a lifetime in front of a keyboard, I am finding myself having to look for answers that I once automatically knew. People used to come to me for answers, I now go to the Genius Bar, a Mac forum, or the stack of books that I armed myself with from the beginning. It’s information that I have to seek out instead of having it to hand out. While none of that is bad, it’s a shining example of what I have gotten myself into.

Next week we’ll look at some of the differences between Windows and Mac. Like mounting and docking. It will be fun!