Taking a few bytes out of the Macintosh

Apple provides a uniform "help" interface with each of its applications software packages, but these are often cryptic and somewhat basic.

Feb 1st, 2005

Apple provides a uniform “help” interface with each of its applications software packages, but these are often cryptic and somewhat basic.

As I mentioned in an earlier column, I had become so frustrated with the frailties of the Windows operating system, that I finally decided to consign my Windows PC to doorstop duties and go for an Apple iMac. That decision provoked a larger than usual number of letters and emails, mostly of an encouraging nature. So here’s my report from the personal computer front. I have to report that it hasn’t all been smooth sailing but I’ll get into that later.

Before I decided on the switch, I made serious enquiries of a number of committed Apple aficionados as a reality check. Leading the pack was my old friend and one-time colleague Stan Braverman, former art director of Travel & Leisure magazine. Stan is a heavy-duty Apple user with several G4’s churning out impeccable designs in his studios in Manhattan and Connecticut. “Buy the best you can afford,” he advised, noting that Apple’s technology generally has a longer lifespan than Windows-based systems.

I also sought advice-and was very nearly turned away-from my local Apple retail store in Cambridge, Mass. Although the store publishes a glossy leaflet advertising free courses on switching from Windows to iMac and how to use Apple’s integrated software packages, none of those potentially killer courses were offered last ­November. As I turned away from the store’s counter, evidently looking somewhat miffed, one of the fashionably black-clad twenty-somethings, floated over and offered to give me a ­personalized tour of the iMac G5. This young fellow did a ­remarkably god job of un-miffing me to the extent that I walked out of the store clutching a specification for the system that I eventually bought, although not directly from Apple.

At that time, demand for iMac G5 systems was so strong that Apple could not promise delivery for four or five weeks. However, a quick call to Stan put me in direct contact with David Lerner, president of Tekserve, one of the most venerable, and most venerated, Apple dealers in Manhattan. Not only did David find the machine with the exact specs I wanted but he overnighted it, with free shipping, no sales tax, and all the hardware and software installed and tested, to my New England home office. I talked to him on a Friday morning and the promised system was on my desk by the following Monday afternoon.

What was even more astounding, I plugged in two wires (a power cord and an ethernet cable) and the system was off and running. Without my lifting a finger, the iMac recognized my Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, tapped successfully into my ­Windows-based home network, recognized my network printer, and breezed through locating my DSL connection. And all this in less than the time it took me to make a cup of tea. And without my consulting a manual or making several agonizing calls for help to some outsourced help(-less) department.

Speaking of manuals, my one major gripe with Apple is the lack of printed documentation. To be sure, Apple provides a uniform “Help” interface with each of its applications software packages, but these are often cryptic and somewhat basic. The only hardcopy material that Apple provides is a tastefully done 68-page booklet on setup and expansion. This tends to be of helpful advice to the total newbie variety, such as “plug the USB cable into the USB port at the rear of your G5. Well, “duh!”

Thus, such an important process as making an exact copy of a CD is not immediately obvious-and even less so when you realize that the iMac G5 has only one multipurpose disk drive that Apple calls a “Super-Drive” rather than a separate CD burner. Fortunately, my local bookstore had several Apple books, including the archly named MAC OS X: The Missing Manual, by New York Times columnist David Pogue (Pogue Press/O’Reilly, Sebastopol, CA: 2003). Weighing in at more than 750 pages, this tome and its sister website have answered most of my questions without resorting to the telephone hell of a “help” desk. “Get the book!”

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