Notes on just working

I receive a PowerPoint slide deck via email.

I double-click to open it and get this error message:

PowerPoint Error

That’s a bit confusing.  It was just a couple of days ago that I was rudely interrupted by Microsoft AutoUpdate.  I had stopped whatever it was I was trying to do at the time to wait for the update to download and install (I’ve learnt from previous experience that it doesn’t like running in the background, and insists on constantly grabbing the focus, so I just waited while it did its thing).

Anyway … what to do?

I click “Yes”, and end up on a Mac Office 2008 support page headed:

I can’t open an Office document after I install Office 2008 SP2 Update

Looks promising.

“This is a known issue with Office 2008 for Mac Service Pack 2 (12.2.0) that prevents some Open XML Format files from opening.”

In other words, the problem is because I have the most up-to-date version.

<sigh>

They promise a fix at some point in the future, but that’s not much use to me right now.

There are however eleven different possible solutions listed.

The first two start “Save your Excel workbook…”.  So, clearly this is not just a problem with PowerPoint, but you would think they could have at least had a custom error page for the specific application I was using.

The third “solution” is: “Save your PowerPoint presentation, such as .pptx, .pptm, or .potx, by using 2007 Microsoft Office Suite Service Pack 2 (SP2) for Windows.”

All well and good, but it’s not my file and I don’t run Windows.

The fifth solution is: “Save your document to .doc, .xls, or .ppt format by using Office 2008 for Mac 12.1.9 Update or an earlier version.”

(the fourth, in case you’re counting, is another Excel only solution)

And so on…

My second favourite recommend solution, further down the list is: “Use the AppleTime Machine to roll back to Office 2008 for Mac 12.1.9 Update or an earlier version.”

But the best, by some distance, is this one: “Remove Office manually, reinstall Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac from the original installation media, and then upgrade to Office 2008 for Mac 12.1.9 Update. Do not upgrade to Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac Service Pack 2 (12.2.0) from Microsoft AutoUpdate.”

I kid you not!

At the bottom of the page is a customer survey:

Microsoft Support Survey

I click “No” and then try to open the file in Keynote.

It just works … first time.

OSX for Windows Refugees

Macbook in Trash

If you’re a Windows refugee and Santa bought you a new MacBook or iMac, then you might be feeling a bit duped by now.

When I first switched to using a Mac I really struggled for the first month or so. Prior to that I’d been a Windows user for getting onto 10 years (gulp!) and during that time had become a power user. Now all of a sudden I felt like I had been dropped blindfolded into an unfamiliar place without a map.

Watching somebody who is not a confident computer user playing with OSX for the first time is amazing. Things work, everything is where they expect and nothing gets in the way.  They land on their feet.

But, for somebody who is an experienced Windows user, it can be a little intimidating and frustrating. There is a dip to go through, and you have a lot of old habits to break, but once you come out the other side it’s a beautiful place. :-)

I thought I’d share some of the things that helped me …

Keyboard Shortcuts

I eventually realised one of the main reasons for my frustration: none of my keyboard shortcuts worked any more … not even Alt-F4 to close applications … so I was forced to use the mouse a lot more than I was used to.

As Phil pointed out, in this situation you really need a fanboy to show you “all the secret five fingered key commands, hidden settings and special software that makes working with a Mac tolerable”

Your chief weapons are fear and surprise … and the “command” key (this is the key with the Apple logo either side of the space bar).

These three shortcuts work in pretty much all applications:
  • Command-Q = Quit the current application
  • Command-W = Close the current window
  • Command-` = Toggle between windows within the current application
    You’ll find the “`” key next to the “1″ key in the top-left of the keyboard
This last one is especially useful if you use Mail.app for your email.
Some others that are specific to mail:
  • Command-N = Create a new message
  • Command-Shift-N = Get new mail
  • Command-Shift-D = Send current message
  • Command-Option-F = Search (very handy – see below)

Here are a couple of other keyboard shortcuts that I’ve stumbled upon since then, which (as far as I can tell) are not widely known. The first two apply to text fields within all Cocoa applications:

  1. Escape or Shift-F5 to display an auto-complete spell checker (from Dave5).
  2. Option-F8 to insert a stylised bullet point – discovered completely by accident (try holding down option and typing random characters, you’ll be amazed what you can find)
  3. In Excel: Command-T to toggle a cell reference to be permanent – e.g. C8 to $C$8 – this one dove me crazy for quite a while!
  4. In Firefox: Command-L to jump to the URL and Command-K to jump to the search box – for some reason the search shortcut doesn’t seem to work in Safari?

I’m sure there must be heaps more that I haven’t found yet.

What secret keyboard shortcuts do you use all the time?

Feel free to share your discoveries in the comments below.

Applications

One of the things that continues to surprise me about OSX is the number of quality third-party apps that are available. These are usually pretty cheap, and generally really well built.

Typically they just do one simple job, but do it well.

Here is a quick list from my applications folder, roughly in order of usage:

  • Yojimbo – Simple note keeping app.
  • Things – Simple to-do list app.
  • Quicksilver – Hard to explain in one short sentence, but I’m much slower without it.
  • RescueTime – Data entry-less time monitoring.
  • TextMate – Text editor which is as powerful as you want it to be.
  • 1Password – Cross-browser password manager (also syncs to iPhone).
  • VLC – Media player which can handle more-or-less any format, including streaming audio/video.
  • Pixelmator – Photoshop-lite – nice for quickly editing photos etc.
  • VMWare Fusion – Virtual Machine, run Windows and Linux apps in OSX.
  • VectorDesigner – Simple vector design file editor (great for quick mock-ups)
  • StuffIt Expander – Zip utility.
  • Switch – Audio converter.
  • Paparazzi – Web page screen-shot taker.
  • AppFresh – Scans apps and tells you when a newer version is available.
  • Transmission – BitTorrent client.
  • Handbreak – DVD utility.
  • Scribbles – Nice-n-simple drawing app for kids.

Two others from my downloads folder that I haven’t played with myself (yet), but which come recommended by others:

I have both iWork and Microsoft Office.  I find I use Excel more than Numbers, Keynote more than PowerPoint and Pages and Word hardly at all.  I used Entourage when I was working at Xero, but thankfully no longer.

I also know others who are fans of OpenOffice, which also seems to work nicely on OSX.

fluid-apps-in-dockAlso, as I’ve mentioned previously I’m a fan of using Fluid to create site-specific browser based apps.  I currently have five Fluid apps in my dock, each with a sexy icon:

Note: If you look closely you’ll see I’ve moved my dock on the left hand side of the screen.  I figure that screen are wider than they are taller, and web pages and documents run top to bottom, so there is generally more free space on the sides than at the bottom.

Finally, if you’re into Media Center type apps, then have a play with:

What applications do you use the most?

For those who have recently switched, do you find you spend more on apps now than when you were a Windows user?

Unfortunately since my switch to OSX I’ve done very little coding, but I’d also be interested to hear what tools people use and can recommend I check out.

Your suggestions for other things I should try are welcome, as always.

UPDATE 20-Feb:

Jean from SmileOnMyMac has been in touch to let me know about their Mac Switcher Bundle, which includes two of the apps I mentioned above (1Password and TextExpander) as well as another I didn’t know about previously (Witch) which looks like it solves the window/app switching problem.

She has also kindly offered a free copy of this bundle for me to give away to a lucky reader.  I thought that I’d give it to the best comment on this post.  Just add your best tip now to be in to win!

Advanced Search

I don’t bother with an elaborate directory structure.

For my emails, I just have a single local folder, called “Keep” which contains all of the messages I choose to hold on to for whatever reason.

I’ve been using more-or-less the same approach ever since I’ve been using email (and I’m not as young now as I used to be then!) so I have a lot of emails.

I rely on search to make it all work.

The search within the default Mail app which is part of OSX is pretty good (even though my email accounts these days are all Gmail of one form or another, I still prefer to use Mail as my email client – how about you?)

As mentioned above, the Command-Option-F keyboard shortcut jumps you straight into the search field.

From there I tend to use the name of the other person and a single keyword. Generally this will quickly uncover the message I’m after.

But, where a more detailed search is required there are a couple of tricks that you might find useful …

Firstly, you can narrow search results using prefixes:

  • “email:” will search for a specific email address
  • “from:” and “to:” will search for a specific sender or recipient
  • “subject:” will search for a word in the subject field only

These work in the search built into Mail and also in Spotlight.

Similarly, within Spotlight you can use “kind:” to limit the results to a specific type of file (e.g. “mail” or “word” or “pdf”).

See: http://www.macosxhints.com/article.php?story=20071121105941992

Secondly, you can use the “Smart Mailboxes” feature in Mail to give you a more detailed advanced search.

Just create a new smart mailbox and call it “Advanced Search”. Then whenever you want to run a search with multiple criteria you can just double click on it and it will open up the standard filter options screen.

See: http://www.macosxhints.com/article.php?story=20071115193741157

Finally, unrelated to email, but nonetheless a nifty little time saving feature built into Spotlight: type an equation as a search and the top item displayed will be the result:

All good.

What other advanced search tricks do you use?

Others?

I hope that helps?  But, what else am I forgetting?

I’m interested to hear any other suggestions that long-time OSX users might have for the newly converted!

Photo Credits: Schlock, by -nathan

Ski Lodge

Here is an example of a beautiful iPhone app and a simple promo website:

Ski Lodge (for iPhone)   

The UI is very easy to look at – little things make it obvious this was designed rather than just developed: like the wood grain background, bold easy to read fonts and navigation elements which have clearly been designed to be touched rather than clicked.  

I especially like the trail map link on the resort page which includes a bar chart showing the percentage of runs that are beginner, intermediate and advanced – a nice way to communicate a lot of information without adding lots of noise.

Their website is great too – a single page with screen shots and an obvious link to the App Store.  

At the moment they only cover the US and Canada, but according to ReadWriteWeb they have plans to add NZ and other countries soon.

Other apps from the same developers, all of which look just as impressive:

Also, something fun… check out Burn Ball by Tim Haines!

PS: If there are any aspiring iPhone developers out there looking for a project to get stuck into in 2009 drop me a note.

iPhone Upgrade

I picked up a 2G iPhone when I was in the US earlier in the year.

I’ve been meaning to write a review here for a while.  

Here is the short version: I love it!

Upgrading to a new 3G model doesn’t really interest me for now. I’ve added 200MB of mobile data to my existing cheap plan, and have never come close to using all of that.  So, I don’t need to upgrade to get on a better plan … in fact, it would cost me more and I’d be locked in, so I don’t really see the incentive there.  

And it doesn’t really seem to me that there are any really compelling functional, or even aesthetic, reasons to switch.  

Am I missing something?  

Until yesterday, I haven’t even felt the need to upgrade my software.  

Then Cultured Code announced an iPhone version of Things which syncs with the desktop.  That will do it for me.

So, I’m looking for somebody who can help me upgrade.  

According to iTunes I’m currently running v1.1.3.  I’d be interested to talk to anybody who has done this successfully.  I’m hoping it’s as easy as the initial unlock and jailbreak.

Also, while I’m at it …

Prior to the iPhone I used a Windows Mobile phone, and used Missing Sync to sync with my address book and calendar.  When I say sync I’m talking mostly theoretically.  It never really worked properly, randomly changing contact details around and dropping appointments into the ether.  

Very frustrating, and not really recommended at all!

What’s more, even though the software is now removed, it’s left some muddy footprints in my network settings:

There are literally hundreds of those dead connections listed.  I can only guess that it created a new entry each time I connected the phone to sync, and never cleaned up after itself.  It’s a pain because it means that this settings page takes forever to load, and I’ve also noticed that my Mac takes a long time to switch onto a different network connection (e.g. when I move between wi-fi points, or disconnect an ethernet connection).  Perhaps it’s somehow working through this list to check which connections are available?

Does anybody know a quick way to remove these?  

Any help with this would be much appreciated. :-)

Monolingual

Here’s a useful little utility for OS X:

Monolingual

Monolingual screenshot

It allows you to remove languages, input methods and architectures that you don’t require (think: all of the translated help files that you will never use).

It took about 10 minutes to free up about 1.2 GB on my system. Your results may vary.

PS look closely at the list of languages in the screen shot above and see if any of them are familiar. Klingon, anybody? :-)

Coming soon

Lance highlights a problem that needs to be dealt with by all Apple aficionados.

Broadly speaking, Apple are a company that make amazing new products which will be released soon.

They often don’t announce release dates until they arrive. And, as I’ve mentioned previously, they don’t seem to have any issue with selling the old version of the products right up until that date. As a result there is a lively ecosystem of rumour sites which offer up various advice about which products to buy when and why.

This is an extreme version of Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice – not only do you have to choose between the various products and options that are available to buy now, you also need to consider what might (but also might not) be available to buy at some near point in the future.

What can you do?

For a while I subscribed to a few of the rumour sites and tried to keep up with it all, but that got too tiring. I’m obviously not a true fan-boy. I abandoned that when I culled my feeds. Life, surprisingly, has gone on.

Thankfully I didn’t labour the decision when I got my iPhone. I didn’t even have to choose between the 16GB and 8GB model, as they only had the 8GB model in stock the day I was at the Apple Store in San Francisco. As per the book referenced above, one choice means far less room for regret.

So, Lance, my advice …

Buy an iPhone. You’ll love it. There are lots of reasons for this, which I’ll save for a future post, but suffice to say it really kicks ass. You can afford it. What’s more, I doubt the 3G version if and when it’s released and available here will be so much better that you’ll wished you waited, and if it is, you can always sell the old one and upgrade then.

Playing with colours

I’ve been doing a bit of design work over the last week or so, which has been fun. I’m not a great graphic designer, but I can do enough to be dangerous. I enjoy having the freedom to experiment with different ideas without having to bother somebody else to do the heavy lifting.

This is the first time I’ve really got stuck into this sort of work since I switched to my Mac, so I’ve had to get used to a bunch of new tools.

Coda LogoFor HTML and CSS I’ve been using Coda, which I chose basically on the strength of its logo (see right), but which has turned out to be a nice tool. I especially like the built-in reference books, which are great for somebody like me who doesn’t spend all of their time coding and needs regular help.

http://www.panic.com/coda/

For image editing I’m using Pixelmator to replace my old favourite on Windows, Paint.net. It’s taking me a while to get used to this, and I’m not sure I’ll continue with it beyond the free demo period. I am feeling quite slow using it, and it’s missing a few of the things I use a lot – for example, it doesn’t support vectors at all so there is no rectangle tool, instead you need to select the required area and then fill in the selection which seems cumbersome when you’re doing it a lot. I’m also pretty slow with it generally, but I have a feeling that will improve once I get on top of the keyboard shortcuts etc. It’s very pretty, but I’m not sure this is the right tool for the job I have in mind.
http://www.pixelmator.com/

I’ve had a quick play with Inkscape, but it uses X11 and doesn’t really feel like an OS X application.

What other alternatives can you Mac users recommend?

(In looking around I did find a really cute tool called Scribbles. If you’re into graphic design I definitely recommend having a play with this, just to check out the smart interface, including a whole new approach to layers which seems really intuitive. It’s designed for kids, but I suspect that kids of all ages could have a lot of fun with it.)

I’ve also found a couple of other useful tool-lets which I thought I’d share (for my own future reference if for no other better reason):

At Webstock Dan Cederholm talked about basing a colour palette on a photograph from nature. This tool from De Graeve makes it easy – simply upload your image and it will pick out a range of complementary colours from the image. It even gives you the hex codes:

http://www.degraeve.com/color-palette/

They also have a simple fav icon editor:

http://www.degraeve.com/favicon/

HexPicker Preview

Robin Wood has a really useful introduction to the OS X Colour Picker, which is actually much more powerful than it first appears.

The magnifying glass and swatch drawer were both new to me.

And, what’s more the picker can be extended with third-party add-ons.

I found this from Waffle Software, which adds a simple hex picker tab (see screenshot right):

phttp://wafflesoftware.net/hexpicker/

Fun, fun!

What other tools are people out there using for this sort of thing? I’d be interested to get your suggestions.

:-)