10 Power Tips to Help PC Users Switch to Mac

Seems like more and more people I know are making the switch from Windows to Mac. Apparently, no one cares that the economy sucks and pundits are telling them that people just like them, Joe the Plumber as it were, are saving their money and not buying bling products like Apple. Perhaps people are realizing that the total cost of ownership for a Mac is generally cheaper than a Windows computer, and that, for the headache that Windows often is, Macs are generally just simpler.

Now I’m not going to be a fanboi. I made the switch two years ago and I remember the awkward, out of body experience that happened for a few days (and it usually takes a few weeks for most people) afterwards. I do want to recommend powertips for Windows switchers who are just uncomfortable with their new Macs still. Learning the power efficiency tools will make your experience that much smoother and once you learn them, you’ll wonder how you ever did without them. Many of these tips are old hat to longtime Mac users, but if you’re an old time Mac user you should add your own tips in comments.

Spotlight

Spotlight indexes your hard drive looking for mail, applications, documents, dictionary definitions, etc. Anything that is on your Mac gets indexed by Spotlight. You can click on the magnifying glass in the upper right corner of your screen, or simply Tap Command (⌘) + Space. Start typing “Firefox” and it will find the browser for you. Start typing “Projected” and it will find that email that was titled “Projected forecast FY2009″ in your Apple Mail. And so on.
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Dock Management

I’m of the mindset that, because of Spotlight above, I don’t need the Dock infringing on my workspace. So I keep the Dock tiny (as small as you can make it in System Preferences > Dock) and keep only the quick-find apps I absolutely need in there. Anything else I can access via Spotlight.

Right Context Click

In Windows, power users rely on the right-click. You can still use a Two or three button mouse (as long as it is of the USB variety) on a Mac and keep that familiarity. In fact, it may be a good idea to start off that way before switching to the one button (or the new buttonless) mice or trackpad.

Context click can be accessed two (or maybe three) different ways, depending on your setup. The ubiquitous solution is to Ctrl-click. The legacy configuration method is to access System Preferences > Trackpad and configure the Two finger + Click method. This allows you to place two fingers on the trackpad and click the button.

The third, new method that is only usable with the brand new aluminum Macbooks and Macbook Pros is to configure the trackpad to accept a click in one of the bottom corners. Note that the new Macbooks don’t have a traditional button anymore. The trackpad is the button.

Personally, I use the lower right corner of the trackpad to activate the context click but I’m on a new Macbook.

Exposé

Exposé is the tool that will artfully show you either all open windows from a single application or all open windows. Fantastic for quick switching or to find one of many many many open windows quickly.

Hand Gestures!

As a new Mac user, you really have to understand a few hand gestures on your trackpad. They will make your life super-easy if you get them.

  1. Two finger scroll – In a browser or any other window with scrolling, placing two fingers on the trackpad and moving them up or down will scroll the window.
  2. Four Finger Exposé – With the new laptops, you can now use the four finger trackpad gesture. Four fingers down moving up activates Exposé. Four fingers down returns things to normal
  3. Four Finger Application switcher – Four finger sweep to the left or right exposes all the applications open. This is in the form of Alt+Tab which is accessible still in OS X and also on Windows.

Spaces

Spaces is my bugaboo. It’s so powerful and allows me to spread out my many, many, many windows across different desktop setups but it comes with the awkwardness of certain applications never wanting to stick on the proper space or having the application menu in one space and an application window in another one. Apple is doing a lot with Spaces to fix bugginess. Regarldess, if you have a lot of windows and apps, I suggest using Spaces.

Optimal layout is:

  1. Browser, Email and Calendar on Space 1
  2. Development and other productivity apps in Space 2
  3. 2 Spaces for porn (kidding!)

Use Apple productivity apps

Unless there is something specific about Microsoft Office that keeps you there (everyone else in the office uses it is generally not acceptable enough, in my opinion, but Jason Thomas does make good points about collaboration) then you have everything you need in iWork ’08, Mail.app, iCal and Address Book.

The mental roadblock for many Windows users is that Outlook provides access to everything in one place but, while that is true, Apple makes a pretty significant transparent effort at app integration. If you get an email in Mail.app that suggests a conference call on Friday at 3pm, you can click on the date and create an iCal meeting appointment. You Can right click on an email address and add it to Address Book. Pages opens and saves to Word. Numbers opens and saves to Excel. Keynote opens and saves to Powerpoint.

You lose superb Exchange collaboration (right now) functionality, but for most people, the drop-off is not too bad and the stability and integration between apps is exceptional.

Installing Applications

This is dirt easy. Literally. If you’re coming from the Windows world, you are used to “installing” applications. You have to go through a wizard that installs all kind of cruft throughout the Windows registry. With Macs, every application is self-contained. Literally, that means that in almost every case, installing an app means drag the app from a ZIP file into the Applications folder in your Finder (Windows Explorer in the Windows world).

Likewise, uninstalling an app is as simple as dragging it into the trash can. There is nothing else. No uninstaller. No half-done uninstalls because the process crashed halfway through. Simple drag and drop.

Shortcut Keys

Shortcut keys can be a bugaboo for most switchers, and they will continue to be after you make the adjustment if you have to go back to Windows ever. All your main shortcut keys in Windows are Ctrl something. Ctrl+C is Copy, Control+A is Select All, Control+V is Paste.

Most of these are identical on a Mac, with an exception. You use the Command (⌘) key instead of Control on OS X. Power users will tell you that it’s actually a more natural keystroke because of the proximity of Command to most of your other keys. Control is farther away and makes your fingers stretch more. Learn to use that thumb for easy access!

Quick Look

My final tip for the day is Quick Look. With most common file types including images, PDFs and documents, you can actually highlight a file in the Finder and hit the Quick Look button (The eye icon on the top of the Finder window) to get a quick preview of what the document is before opening. This has proven to be a huge boon when looking through large numbers of documents for one item specifically.

I know I’m not mentioning everything and there are certainly more advanced tips (like getting to know Automator, calibrating your battery, screenshots, Applescripting and anything Unixy), so feel free to add your own “Switcher” tips in comments. Would love to hear more from you.

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Slipstream Intros, Outros and Other Multimedia Into Talkshoe Calls

So, if you’ve noticed, I’m kind of a perfectionist about podcasts I do. It was one of my downfalls when I did the Suicide Fan sports show awhile ago. I wasted so much time getting details right that I finally gave up as it wasn’t my full time job and I ended up spending hours for little return.

Then, at the beginning of the year, Geoff and I decided to do a Blog Talk Radio show that would eventually become District of Corruption

The sex appeal about doing a BTR show was there was no production. We called in at a set time, the show started automatically and ended when we said it would. BTR would record the show and give us an MP3. If we wanted to do editing, we could, but we rarely did.

Eventually, things started taking more time. We headed over to Talkshoe and started doing the show over there. One of the nice things about Talkshoe was the ability to upload an edited version. The bad part was that, unlike BTR, we couldn’t slip our really cool intro music into the mix.

The OCD in me started going nuts and I started looking for solutions.

Then, I decided to start up The Aaron Brazell Show, an eclectic show that is disjointed from Technosailor.com due to it’s wide variety of subjects (We have some doozys coming in the next few weeks). My new friend, Spam (I’m not even kidding!), works at a local radio station and offered to make a killer intro for the show. I took him up on the offer and it really was killer. Though there has been revisions that I’ll using going forward, you can hear what he originally produced here.

As you can hear, this is an awesome intro and I certainly didn’t want to only include it in post edits after the live show was done. I had to figure out how to slipstream the audio into my live stream.

Here are the steps I took with Mac OS X to handle this. The total cost (USB headset not included) – $61.50.

Requirements

Also needed, for this setup, is a Mac OS X and a USB headset. You can go much better than this with a mixer and a studio mic with a dedicated phone line. This is the poor mans way – my way.

The Concept

The basic premise here is real simple. I have one way to talk to Talkshoe and that is via the phone. Skype is a good phone-to-bridge method and tends to provide the best audio for such a program. Skype provides one way in and one way out for my interaction with Talkshoe. Think Line In/Line Out.

Therefore, if I want to include my intro MP3, I have to get it into my Skype stream. Windows provides some nifty Skype plugins but I have yet to find a decent one for Mac. I do have iTunes though and with that, I can even set a custom “playlist”, should I want to include other pieces of audio throughout the show.

Somehow, I need to merge my iTunes audio with my USB mic audio. Solution.

Cables

In the pro audio world, the way to pass sound around is via cables. Quarter inch cables. XLR cables. Speaker cables. Snakes. There’s a million kinds of cables. In the Mac software digital world, there’s Soundflower. Soundflower is your virtual cables for typing sounds together and shooting them around to other places. Soundflower appears in sound devices as yet another audio device, both input and output.

Audio Hijack Pro

AHP is a fantastic little utility that wrangles sound in the Mac world. Though I’m quite convinced that I have no clue what all it is capable of, needless to say, it can do just about anything sound related. In my little setup, I’ve opted to “hijack” my Logitech USB headset and send it to Soundflower. Screenshot.

If I were to click the Hijack button, this rerouting of audio would begin happening. However, I’m not done yet. You see, one of the powerfully hidden things about AHP is it’s ability to hijack an applications audio and piggy-back it on the back of another hijacked audio stream.

Enter Application Mixer.

Under the effects tab, there’s a grid. Click on one of the empty grid boxes and a context menu will appear. Lots of options, but the key one is 4FX Effect -> Application Mixer. This will prompt another dialog box where I select iTunes and click the relevant Hijack button. iTunes needs to be relaunched – this is okay.

Now, I’ve merged my iTunes audio (where I’ll play my intro MP3) with my USB mic and sent the combined signal out over Soundflower. To where, though?

Skype

I recommend the SkypeOut purchase as I do a lot of these. I paid for a year. You can pay a $2.95/mo fee if you’d like. Whatever works. Unfortunately, the Skypers haven’t figured out that both Windows and Mac have built in audio device controls so they have recreated the wheel by providing separate audio control from the Operating System.

Nifty.

In preferences, I’ve set my Audio Output to be my USB Headset (allowing me to hear Talkshoe) and my Audio Input to be Soundflower 2ch. The beauty here being that I can call in to my Talkshoe show and play whatever audio files I want from iTunes directly into the show.

Eliminating after-event post-production. For. The. Win. You can hear the final result of the slipstreamed audio here.

Enjoy.

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Applescripting Technorati and Skype

I’ve been watching my Technorati ranking over the past few weeks and I’m happy to say it’s been climbing. In other news, I’ve been wanting to learn Applescripting. So, I put the two things together this evening and came up with my first practical AppleScript.

The script does one thing. It queries Technorati for my ranking, and updates my Skype mood message with a little ditty skype.jpg about my ranking: Technosailor.com Technorati Ranking: 2426.

To pull this off, I dug out my Technorati API key and grabbed the satimage XML library for Applescript (very useful!) and set about to write this script:


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set trati_apikey to "xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx"
set myblog to "technosailor.com"
set trati_URL to "http://api.technorati.com/bloginfo"
set trati_xml to do shell script "curl -G -d url=" & myblog & " -d key=" & trati_apikey & " " & trati_URL

(* Uses the SatImage XML Parser from:
http://www.satimage.fr/software/en/downloads_osaxen_pop.html *)
set trati_xml to XMLOpen trati_xml
set the_root to XMLRoot trati_xml
set tapi to XMLChild the_root index 1
set doc to XMLChild tapi index 1
set weblog to XMLChild doc index 2
set rank to XMLChild weblog index 8
set rank to XMLGetText rank


tell application "Skype"
    send command "SET PROFILE MOOD_TEXT Technosailor.com Technorati Rank: " & rank script name "skypetechnorati"
end tell

Now to set about doing more cool Applescripting. :)

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