2 years of the iMac

After 2 years of using the iMac, what do I think of it?


After 2 years I’m really quite happy with the Mac. Hardware-wise, the Mac itself has been fine. The only negatives are that there is a speck of dust behind the screen glass. I don’t feel like taking the iMac apart, and it’s up in the top right-hand corner, so I’ve lived with it for quite some time now. The Mac itself is very quiet. The only time it’s been anything louder than a whisper was during summer, when the sun had been shining on the black back for hours. I know have an external drive (more on that later), and that’s louder than the Mac itself.

As far as the included peripherals are concerned (keyboard, mouse and remote control), it’s a mixed bag. The remote control doesn’t get used, and the keyboard is fine, although there is some wear or discolouring around the arrow keys. The mouse however is not so good. Apple came in for plenty of criticism for the Mighty Mouse, and in my mind it’s deserved. The scroll ball now no longer works, regardless of how much you clean it. The side-squeezing buttons never get used, because with my big hands I have to adjust my grip on the mouse. I’d replace the mouse with the Magic Mouse if it weren’t so damn expensive. At least that has no moving parts.

When I bought the iMac, I chose the entry-level model, with a 250GB disk and 1GB RAM. Since then I’ve upgraded the RAM to 4GB, which was a painless procedure, once you’ve found the right sized screwdriver! The disk space is getting low though, with around 20GB free, although the machine is only used for internet email, iPhoto and iTunes. The next one will have to have a much bigger disk.

Mac OS X

Leopard seemed fine to me. There were some niggles that were sorted out after a few months, such as occasionally refusing to connect to the wireless network first time after waking from sleep, and losing text labels on stacks. Since then I’ve upgraded to Snow Leopard. Once you’ve got over the excitement of having about 7GB more disk space free, the biggest differences between Snow Leopard and Leopard can be summed up in one line.

Mail starts faster

Opening Mail went from about 15-30 seconds to about 2 seconds for me. Apart from that there are some changes to Expose (and I’m not sure they’re changes for the better), and a few other small things you notice, but nothing to write home about. I still think Preview for PDFs blows Adobe Reader out the water, and I hate using Reader, waiting for it start on a Windows machine.

One thing that is fantastic is Time Machine. Setup couldn’t be much easier. Plug in a hard disk, get asked if you want to use it for Time Machine, switch it on. Then get told you need to format it. Then get asked to switch TiMe Machine on again. OK, so maybe it’d be simpler if you bought a drive that came HFS+ formatted.


6 months of the iMac

It’s now 6 months since I got my iMac. So what do I think of it?

The most important fact is that nothing major has gone wrong (yet, as if that’s not tempting fate). I still occassionally get my ” and my @ the wrong way round, as I still use a Windows PC frequently, and it took a while to find the # key. The operating system itself has been stable, though there was an issue with stacks in the dock losing their icons and text labels when fanned out. Since 10.5.2 that doesn’t seem to have happened though.

Getting on with the application software has been easy. Initially Safari would sometimes hang when shutting down the Mac, but that appears to have gone away too. iPhoto, iTunes, and even iMovie have been a breeze to use.

One thing that has disappointed me is that the scroll ball on the mouse gets clogged surprisingly easy. It can be cleaned by wiping it while the mouse is upside down, but this is a monthly occurence for me. When I ordered the iMac I was quite conscious of the fact that I was ordering the entry-level iMac, with a 250GB hard disk and only 1GB RAM. Sometimes I need more memory, especially when I have 30-40 tabs open in Safari, and especially when using VMWare Fusion.

On the subject of VMware Fusion, I bought and paid for it to use Windows with, to save rebooting and using Bootcamp. Fusion has been great, though I have been using it less and less for Windows. Instead I’ve had several instances of FreeBSD running (simultaneously) with no issues (other than needing more memory). A 4GB RAM upgrade may be on the cards…

During the last 6 months I’ve come across several things which have surprised me with their ease:

  • Mounting, creating and burning ISO images is easy.
  • Printer setup consisted of attaching the printer (a HP LaserJet 2550n) to the network, and turning it on. The printer icon is actually a picture of my printer, which sounds trivial, but makes things easier when you have several printers installed.
  • Downloading a gzipped Postscript document resulted in it automatically being gunzipped and converted to PDF, then opened in Preview.
  • Preview is far faster at opening PDFs than Adobe Reader.

The only thing I can think of that has disappointed me is that Finder can only read FTP folders – it can’t write to them.

So what do I think of it so far? Well my father’s PC broke recently (hardware failure), and he’s now a Mac user…


Leopard Impressions

Once I'd got my iMac I unboxed it and set it up. If you've ever unboxed an Apple product before, you'll know that the box is a neat, clean design, and the product itself comes covered in plastic. Setup took about 2 minutes, with a particularly nice feature being that the power lead is flush with the back of the unit. Because I'd ordered the iMac immediately after the release of Leopard, it came with Tiger installed, and an upgrade DVD in the box. I had a five minute play with Tiger, but was itching to see whether Leopard was as good as I hoped it would be.

My impressions of Leopard are purely those of a new user to OS X. I'd not used a Mac before, other than a quick play around in the Apple Store at the Bullring, Birmingham. However there had been plenty of noise about the new features in Leopard, with some of them being positive (the new features), and some of them being negative (the new look).

But before I could have a look at them I had to install Leopard. As I had no data on the Mac, I decided to do a wipe and install, so stick the DVD in, reboot, and hold down the C key to boot from the drive. One of the nice options you have is to check the DVD media before installing from it. I've not had a problem with unreadable installation media for years (I think it was Windows 95!), but it's nice to have the check done for peace of mind. You get asked what wireless network you want to connect to at the start of the install, a few more questions, then go away for an hour, come back, and find it installed.

Once started, I discover that the new features don't really mean that much to me, as I'm not used to using the Mac anyway, but some elements of the new look I do have an opinion on.

Leopard has new default wallpaper. I don't think it's that pretty, but that doesn't bother me as it's usually covered up. However the wallpaper does have some bright spots on it. We'll come to those spots later.

The 3D dock is new in Leopard, with a reflective base. The 3D-ness of it doesn't add anything to the user experience. However, the reflectiveness actually reduces the usability. The first time you put something bright behind the dock, it gets reflected and the icons in the dock become harder to see. Another change is that if an application in the dock is running, it's indicated with a bright spot beheath it's icon. The problem is that that spot isn't immediately noticable, and it looks a bit like the spots on the default wallpaper, which may be reflected. On previous versions of OS X there was a black triangle insteada, which would seem to be much more noticable.

Also new in Leopard is the transparent menu bar. I can't see the point in this, as it's not like you care what's behind there. To make matters worse, the default wallpaper has a bright spot just behind the menubar. It sounds trivial, but it's mildly annoying, once you've noticed it.

Also new (I think), is transparent menus. Once again I can't see what the point of this is. You know what's behind the menu because you only opened it a second ago. Transparency can only make the menu less easily readable!


iMac and Leopard

Once upon a time, earlier this year, my PC broke. At the time I commented that I'd like an Apple iMac. After months without a usable PC of my own, I decided I could justify a purchase.

The problem with buying a Mac in the first 10 months of this year is that it would come with Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) installed, and 10.5 (Leopard) had been in the pipeline for some time (and been delayed due to work on the iPhone). Due to me being the type of person who always wants to have the latest version, I decided I'd wait until Leopard was released before ordering. In the end it took until October 26th for the release, at 6pm, so as soon as that time came I placed an order at the Apple Online Store. I'd had a think about optional upgrades, but in the end impatience got the better of me, and I ordered the entry-level iMac, as dispatch was in 24 hours, rather than 3 days if options were added. While I was at it I decided to order an 8GB iPod Nano at the same time, to replace my aging, noisy 30GB iPod. The order was placed, and it was time to sit and wait. I'd booked the subsequent two days off work, (for other reasons, not to wait for a delivery), and during the only time I went out for an hour, the delivery was attempted. Once I'd got the iMac and iPod it was time to play…