Mon. Aug 01, 2005
Mac Mini Makes Multi-Monitor Madness
It started nearly a decade ago, with one 15 inch monitor. When I turned it on, Windows 95 appeared (In hindsight, it was probably best served small). Soon it became Windows 98, and a dual monitor setup (a new 17 inch next to the old 15 inch), to better accommodate apps like Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, etc. that have lots of palettes that eat up screen space. The palettes all went onto the second monitor, and my productivity went up.
Eventually, it became a 19 inch monitor with a 17 inch by its right side running Windows XP, and the old 15 inch moved to the left, hooked up to an AVermedia TV Box 9. Though it appeared slightly insane, and I called it “Multi-Monitor Madness” at the time … well, it’s gotten worse. Not just because I replaced the decade old 15 inch CRT with a 17 inch LCD. But because last week, I got a Mac Mini.
And the result is so wicked cool. Three monitors, two operating systems, and one mouse to rule them all.
Rather than deal with multiple mice and keyboards, or even a KVM switch, I’ve gone the route lovingly detailed by Matt Haughey: “How to turn your dual-monitor PC into a dual mac-PC system.”
It took a bit of futzing around with the settings in Synergy, the software that performs this seeming miracle of input manipulation. But the end result is that I can start my mouse cursor on the extreme right side of my right most PC monitor, move it across to the central PC monitor, and when it reaches the left edge of that screen, it passes smoothly onto the right edge of the left monitor … which is MacLand. When the cursor is on the PC side, the keyboard works for Windows. When the cursor passes into MacLand, the keyboard switches, too. You can even copy and paste text from one side to the other. It’s entirely intuitive, and just a rockin’ good time.
As Matt said, “Simply put, I get the best of both worlds [...] I can run any app that comes out and catches some buzz and I have the ultimate web browser testing environment. In a matter of seconds, I can tell you if a new design will work in any of six popular browsers across both platforms.”
That’s pretty much what I was doing on Friday, the day after the Mini got here. And I have to say, the whole Apple experience, as hyped as it has been over the years, pretty well lived up to the promises.
I’d been hemming and hawing about spending the money for a couple of months, but I finally decided to do it, and placed the order online on July 20. This, of course, insured that mere days later, rumors would start floating about an imminent new line of Minis. But the rumors also noted that ship dates had been bumped to August 1, and sure enough, I saw online that mine had been bumped back, too.
So I waited. After Apple had made the deal with Intel, and it looked like the consumer line (iMacs and Minis) would be the first to be switched over, I’d decided to save a few bucks and get the low end Mini configuration. I figured in a couple of years I’d just be upgrading to the Mac-Intel Mini, so a newer faster Mini in the current lineup wouldn’t alter my purchase.
Then on Tuesday the 26th, I awaken to an e-mail informing me that my Apple ordered has been changed to “reflect new pricing.” Sure enough, the custom configuration I’d ordered was now $50 cheaper (nearly 10%). But when I looked online at the new Mini lineup, I saw that for a mere $21 more (still $29 less than my original purchase), I could get the faster processor, double the hard drive, and Bluetooth.
So I pounced, and called Apple. “er, um, is it too late to cancel my order and order one of these new configurations?” No, it wasn’t. She walked me through it, and noted that my old order had included a dialup modem, while that was a $29 add-on option for the new configuration I was ordering. I decided it was time to buy my first computer without a modem (it’s got wireless and Ethernet, and if my DSL goes down, I dialup on the PC). For some reason, that felt particularly good.
She also informed me the ship date would move up to July 28, two days later, because I was now ordering a stock configuration. Kewl. But it got Kewl-er. I checked my order status page religiously looking for signs it had shipped, but by noon Thursday the 28th, there’d been no sign. Still “preparing shipment.”
Then about 1pm, there was a knock on my door. Mr. FedEx had a Mini for me (photo of Bosco welcoming it). 48 hours after I’d changed the order on the phone (I didn’t pay for expedited shipping, either). Later that night, I got an e-mail from Apple saying that my order had shipped … in case I hadn’t noticed.
Now, I’m always excited when a new computer arrives (here’s evidence from April). So excited that the common utilitarian packing is almost unseen, it’s just the stuff I’ve got to get out of the way to get to the goods. Opening the Mini was somehow a much cleaner experience. I was struck immediately by a small box that strongly reminded me of the large filter boxes you get for a 72mm lens. Simple. Grey. Clean. It had all the software, manuals, and notices. All tucked into one neat box. Even the styrofoam surrounding the Mini was a bit more designed than might seem necessary. But the overall effect was a notable difference in the Mac vs. PC experience. And I hadn’t even plugged it in yet.
Putting aside the complexity of my current setup, the first boot was a breeze. I had a second keyboard and mouse hooked up (I knew getting Synergy to work might take a while), and the process is dead simple. It detected the wireless network (and/or the lack of an Ethernet connection), asked me for a password, and otherwise didn’t ask me anything harder than my name and address. It self registered with Apple, and less than ten minutes from “power on,” I was looking at the desktop, connected to the Internet. For that most basic experience of opening up a box and being able to quickly and easily get set up, booted up, and on the Internet within minutes, it’s hard to beat.
I’m still trying to find the “Start” button, though.
Seriously, I’m not exactly a MacVirgin. I’ve used and worked on Macs since ‘96, just not regularly, and not within my home. Still, I have Mac based friends and clients who will call me to ask about a problem they’re having with their Mac. I remind them, “you know, I can’t really walk you through this, because I don’t have a Mac,” but then I suggest a few things to try, if anything comes to mind.
So it’s not like I’m lost. I’m just getting better acquainted. Still, there’s some differences that take some adjustment. As intuitive as it is to move the mouse from one OS to the other, the keyboard shortcuts don’t follow. On the PC, I can Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V in my sleep. But if I Ctrl+C on the PC, I have to Command+V on the Mac (Command is the squiggly Swedish road sign thingey). However, on my Dell keyboard, Command is Alt. So it’s Ctrl+C, then Alt+V. Due to years of built in habit, that for some reason makes my brain short and my fingers tremor in uncertainty.
I’ve got an Honest-to-Steve Apple keyboard. It’s plugged in, and still works with Synergy. But I’ve always hated Mac keyboards. I Am One with my current keyboard, so I’ll just have to overcome the brain shorts.
So … what do I intend to do with this new addition? Well, like I said, I was doing it Friday. Thursday night, in an act of near sacrilege, the first thing I downloaded was IE 5.2 for the Mac. It has been the bane of my professional existence for some time, and in a fitting act of irony, Apple decided that with the Tiger release of OSX, it would no longer include IE. So I had to download it.
You see, I find myself building sites, and when I e-mail the client with a draft layout to view, they say “it looks great, except the text overlaps on the top right, and there’s hamsters dancing across the bottom of the page.” I ask them what browser they’re using on their Mac. “Internet Explorer.” I have to tell them, well, in the six browsers I tested, there’s no hamsters, but if you’ll send me a screenshot, I’ll see what I can do.
Now, I’ll be able to see the hamsters myself.
Safari is obviously a far more code compliant browser than IE, but it, too, has its quirks, and I can now view any design, in any browser, Mac or PC. That’s a solid tax deductible reason for getting a Mini.
But it will also be the “multimedia machine,” as little demand as I have for that kind of thing. The Mac monitor is also connected to the TV Box, which allows me to view cable TV in a Picture-in-Picture window and still use the Mac, or go full screen TV with one push of a button. And after I got IE running, the second thing I did was transfer 8 GB of MP3’s from my PC to the Mac, and import them into iTunes. Since I tend to have music playing while working (meaning, while Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, etc., are all open), it’s good to get that load off the PC. And though I’m not sure everyone would hear the difference, the sound is better to my ears (not that my PC has a high end sound card). It seems rounder, and less compressed.
Otherwise, I’ve just been piddling so far. I installed TextWrangler, because I’m a plain text kind of guy, regardless of operating system. But not much else. The software crack on the system so far appears to be Garageband. I downloaded the two tracks that Trent Reznor has made available as Garageband tracks, and playing with them is just an absolute hoot. I think I’ve got a good ear, but I have no musical skillz whatsoever … so I imagine I’ll be making some real noise with Garageband. The software instruments are pretty amazing … the kitties really don’t like the gong.
Yes, in that little 6.5×6.5×2 inch box, I’ve got a gong. And a grand piano. And lots more.
So that’s the level of my interaction with the machine at this point. I eventually hope to get under the hood more, install the developer tools, get a proper faux-TextDrive server running with Apache/PHP/MySQL and all that command line goodness. But so far all I’ve done is drag Terminal out of the Utilities folder into the dock. It has a nice welcome message.
I’ll get there. I haven’t finished with the GUI Goodness yet. I’m still getting acclimated. So if you are an experienced Mac user and have advice or software pointers (preferably of the free or open source variety), I’m all ears.
If I can hear you over iTunes and Garageband.