Tom Chi  

Beep Beep Beep

May 29th, 2005 by Tom Chi :: see related comic

Now that Heller has given us a sensible rundown of his mac switch, I’ve decided to write about my own switch experience… y’know, to maximize redundancy.

I’ll sidestep all that cost-benefit hoo-hah, since for my switch, the price was right (i.e. company paid for everything). So as of 6 weeks ago I became the proud owner of a 15″ powerbook. Since I didn’t need to buy it or the software on it, I was able to focus just on the experience. This is a good thing because if I had to pay for the experience I’ve had, I’d be flipping tables.

So the first day I get my mac home, I’m noticing all the beautiful details — the beautiful case, the rounded corners, the breathing lid light, the magnetically retracting lid clip, EVERYTHING. Wow. So I get it home and try to put it into one of my laptop bags (I have 4). It doesn’t fit. Again. Nope. Another bag — nope, nope nope. Ok. Well there goes my plan of ditching this huge backpack for one of my cooler laptop bags.

But no matter. Soon I’m in there — setting stuff up, surfing with safari, taming the dock. I soon notice that the header for OK/Cancel looks broken in safari. Arrg. Well no matter, I’ll just nab a handy code editor… wait. Where?? I look around all over for anything that will let sensibly edit code. Really all I want is Windows Notepad with line numbers and that’s enough. After 30 minutes of searching I call up my friend.

I say “Hey, what sorts of programs are good for doing code on the Mac… no hard stuff, just HTML, PHP, javascript stuff.”

“um… how about emacs?” he replied.

“Are you kidding?? Sheesh.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against emacs. It’s all I programmed with for years when I was doing astrophysical research — but I figured that given a decade to improve and the fact that this machine was designed by a user experience powerhouse, that there’d be something better by now…

Another thing I noticed when I got home is that my ethernet port was busted. I know this is not a normal mac experience, but the cable wouldn’t click or connect. Sheesh. So I found myself sitting on the hard floor in the corner of apartment which is one of the few spots where I could catch a neighbor’s wireless. This is ghetto.

Still, it was such a beautiful machine, I really really wanted it to work well. All those details — the way the power cord indicates the charge state (as does the battery itself), the fact that the back of the machine has no connectors at all, the one monolithic mouse button. All those details made me feel like I was dealing with an incredible piece of machinery. I found myself wiping off fingerprints and tiny specks of dust. I found myself… bored… poking around the finder for other things to do and ending up playing their semi-lame chess client.

Now if I could have gotten on the network consistently, then I guess I could have had that sweet web browsing experience, but really I can do that on any machine, mac or no. Where was the juice? I messed with iTunes and it was alright. My main thought that it was just really big for an mp3 player (I still use Winamp on PC because I think WMP in mini-mode is too big).

Strangely enough the only software where I felt like I was “getting something done” on my mac was Mac Office. I’ll make no further comment on that.

So Friday rolls around. I’ve had my mac for a total of three days. The small setbacks have only mildly setback my enthusiam, especially because the weekend means I will have enough time to completely customize my machine. I get home and open the lid to wake it up, but something is wrong. The mouse is not responding right. Wait- weird letters and hex address are appearing on my screen. What?? Now neither the mouse or keyboard are responding. Some sort of serious error message is on my screen. I take a photograph to record the scene of the accident, and hold the power button the shut it off. Upon restart I’m getting error messages on the boot screen. Wow.

Now I go back to my PC and google against all the different terms in the error message. It appears that I have a KERNEL PANIC. Um, great. I dig deeper and find some descriptions of how to recover the machine, and soon I’m trying to boot in safe mode. Same response. I try again. Same response. Alright then, just once more…

This time the boot screen doesn’t even come up. The screen is black and the machine just goes “Beep Beep Beep,” and doesn’t even try to turn on.

Incredible. A few more attempts but no luck. Beep Beep Beep. Beep Beep Beep. I feel like an inverse Ellen Fleiss. I try again on Saturday, but it was hopeless. So back to the PC. Back to the lowly machine that I’ve used to write hundreds of songs, record albums, code dozens of projects, paint, do design, play games, and color OKC.

It sounds absurd, but I still felt defeated. Their marketing is that good.

* * * 5 weeks later * * *

The IT helpdesk eventually got the machine working again. I’ve been continuing to use the Mac, but still haven’t totally adjusted. I pretty much need a two button mouse but it ruins the aesthetic of the whole thing. I’ve tried to go without, but using the trackpad on the train has killed my wrist (and I’ve never had any sort of wrist pain in 20 years of using computers). Deep down, I still want the machine to be great for me, but practically I might have to migrate back to the tabletPC soon. The machine is beautiful, but that’s just not enough.

17 Responses to “Beep Beep Beep”
Jim Zoetewey wrote:

I can’t say that I switched to a Mac laptop. I’ve got one in addition to the two desktops in my house (running Freebsd in one case and XP in the other).

For me, an iBook’s been almost entirely trouble free. Personally the only annoyances I’ve felt with the iBook are the ones I always dislike about laptops–screen size and trackpads.

That and one other thing… There are a lot more free PC programs than Mac OS programs. It seems like you pay for everything on the Mac. As a result, I find that I’m using the same open source programs on the Mac as I do on unix or XP…

In my case that means jedit or eclipse for programming.

L.M. wrote:

For a free Mac OS X text editor see (a great piece of Cocoa software). Not much Mac OS X freeware available? Oops, I must be dreaming when I’m sitting in front of my iMac . . . If you are going to write a book use LaTeX together with TeXShop (which is also a great piece of Cocoa software and btw free)!!!

e.o. wrote:

I can’t find any mac freeware either. All this open-source software must be blocking my view of it. Try JEdit (

da5id wrote:

You’re (all) kidding right? For starters how about:




Adrian Simmons wrote:

It’s not that hard to find Freeware for the mac, check the license terms, but most stuff on freshmeat is free, this is the OS X specific listing:

Macupdate has been around for years. Note the far right column in the table, obviously only those with a license of ‘Free’ are free:

Again, VersionTracker has been around for ages, third column of the table lists which are ‘Freeware’:

Personally the problem I find isn’t finding free software, but deciding which to actually use and remembering I have it installed…

Joe Clark wrote:

You can just plug in a two-button mouse and it’ll work.

David Heller wrote:

Looking for software on an OS is a cultural experience. I think Tom is talking about the experience of switching from one OS to another. That means there are things that you just gotta learn. this doesn’t mean that Tom and I don’t appreciate your links and what-not, but the story is not actually geared to existing Mac experts, but rather to the PC Mac-uninitiated who might be thinking that their MacFanatic friends are right and we shoudl just switch. There are pain points in that switch for sure, and that is all we are trying to say. Any cultural change (change in tools is a cultural change) has pain points.

Peter "Beep" Boersma wrote:

“Beep, beep, beep”!?

There I was, thinking *I* was being called and offered a Mac and try the switch!

And it was like bleep, bleep, bleep. :-)

Nick Godwin wrote:

For more information see the WhyNotMac FAQ

Bret Victor wrote:

It’s unfortunate that you got a bad unit, but that can happen when buying any product. No Q/A process is perfect (or even particularly good) and for any brand you name, you can google up a pile of discouraging anecdotes. Ideally, though, they should have replaced the computer immediately (if it was indeed a hardware problem). FWIW, I’ve been involved with the purchase of seven or so Macs, and each has worked out of the box. My success rate with other brands of hardware has been much lower.

Becoming comfortable with the new OS takes time. After I made the “switch”, my initial period of frustration lasted for several weeks before I got the hang of things. This may be necessary. Unlike a website, which is used briefly and transiently and thus can focus on providing a superficially non-intimidating user experience, an OS is used every working hour of every day. Allowing for a learning curve allows for a much better experience once learned. When I was fifteen, I didn’t just hop behind the wheel of a car and tear off down the freeway.

In any case, once I became comfortable with Mac OS, using my PC at work became a painful experience.

In response to a previous poster, there is quite a bit of free Mac software. I’m not sure of the best way of finding it, though. VersionTracker is good if you have something specific in mind, but there’s too much chaff for casual browsing. I usually hang around and listen for recommendations.

For a text editor, I heartily recommend SubEthaEdit. BBEdit is another crowd favorite.

iTunes doesn’t have to be big. You can hide it (command-H) and control it via the Dashboard widget, or by right-clicking (or control-clicking) on its dock icon. There are also third-party extensions that put the controls in your menu bar and other places.

If you are a mouse-user, I recommend getting one with wheels and buttons sprouting all over, and mapping the excess buttons to Expose and Dashboard. It’s easy to brush off flying windows as eye candy, but they are amazingly useful once you learn to use them.

Some fundamental extensions that I recommend:
I find LaunchBar invaluable. It lets you open apps and files by typing a few letters from their names, among other things. Other similar products are “Butler” and “QuickSilver”.
Witch is similar to Windows’s command-tab switcher, in that it lets you switch among individual windows instead of applications.
iSeek puts a search field in your menu bar from which you can fire off internet searches. Similar to “Dave’s Quick Search” on Windows.
I-search Plugin adds Emacs-like incremental searching to any Cocoa text view.
Saft adds a boatload of features to the Safari web browser, including incremental search.

Good luck acclimating!

Bret Victor wrote:

Another way to reduce iTunes’s size: clicking the green “maximize” button in the top-left corner puts it in, for lack of a better label, WinAmp Mode.

Tom Chi wrote:

Thank you everyone for the various tips. I know that the two button mouse works, but like I said - it kills the aesthetic of a mac laptop. Truly, I still would really like my mac to work out — it’s just that the switch has been a lot harder than expected. I am willing to admit that most of my difficulties may stem from the fact that I got a lemon (most people don’t get a kernel panic on day 3).

This is however, a real switch story. I didn’t alter or embellish it to make apple look bad. As someone who appreciates design, I must say the industrial design and UI work on the OS are absolutely great (actually the UI work is so good that the 3rd parties writing software for the mac mostly can’t match the quality and consistency of apple software… which is something of a problem in itself). But as someone who loves to draw and sketch, I do miss my old tabletPC. Even if my new mac worked flawlessly out of the box it would be a close call.

One thing that I can say about the mac community is that they are very helpful to people who are trying to switch. This thread is proof enough of this fact. Compare this to linux where the hardcore people complain daily about the fact that people aren’t switching, but they don’t really reach out to help new people get through the complicated set of installs that is required to get a linux box humming.

Mongoose wrote:

If you’re looking for a text editor for the Macintosh, I must highly recommend BBEdit ( ) . It’s very highly recommended for coding work. A free version is TextWrangler ( ), which used to be known as BBEdit Lite. It’s also quite good, and may suffice for your needs on its own.


Adriana wrote:

mhmh… Too bad that you got a bad unit to start with…
I bought a powerbook 15” last year and although it took me a few weeks to get used to the interface (similar experience to what you described win to OSX); now I have to say that I can not live/work with out it…

Nevertheless in your article there is something that attracted my attention:
“the trackpad on the train has killed my wrist (and I’ve never had any sort of wrist pain in 20 years of using computers)”

This it the case for me as well… after a year of using my new powerbook I have developed a severe pain in my wrist…
I really love my mac, but I never had this wrist pain before (not even after using my old laptop for two years)…
I wander if other people have experienced the same wrist pain using powerbooks and ibooks…. If soo, this could be a case of a serious ergonomic design problem….

Curmudgeon wrote:

Heh, nice to know i’m not the only one who got a lemon. I tried to ‘make the switch’ for some coursework I’m doing (fat discount helped a lot too). Alas, my 12″ PB died after 3 weeks (right in the middle of assignment season) and it took them another 2 weeks to get it fixed and sent back to me. The repair report said they had to replace the hard drive, logic board and top case (!). 4 other friends of mine have also had the hard drives on their PBs die within 12 months of purchase as well, which is a bit of a worry.

I fully agree with Tom that although I would like to say I’m another convert to the Mac, I can only really say I’m cautiously optimistic about my ‘new’ PB and that my experience with my machine not working right out of the box has coloured my perceptions of Macs and whether or not to ‘make the switch’. This is despite the lovely design (though not perfect… why are there no USB ports on the right side of the case, where many people would plug a mouse in?), lovely UI design and elegance of many of the packages (developing in XCode is far less painful than, say, MFC).

I’ve found the wrist strain occurs with almost any laptop I’ve used - I usually try to either stick to a mouse or use keyboard shortcuts.

MM wrote:

I teach web development on Macs and because we are a University and have no money, almost all our software is freeware. We use Taco HTML Edit ( as our principle editor. I agree that there isn’t a good editor included by default with OS X but there is so much quality freeware available that this is but a minor hurdle.

JRK wrote:

I’ve had similiar problems with my wrist since switching over. I need to get a mouse because the trackpad is terrible.

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OK/Cancel is a comic strip collaboration co-written and co-illustrated by Kevin Cheng and Tom Chi. Our subject matter focuses on interfaces, good and bad and the people behind the industry of building interfaces - usability specialists, interaction designers, human-computer interaction (HCI) experts, industrial designers, etc. (Who Links Here) ?