Nice Mac things

I had to help a friend buy a macbook the other day. My well-informed advice was pretty simple: “You don’t need _that_ or _that_ or even _that._ Buy the cheapest one in the shop, and, by the way, have you thought of a mac mini instead?” but this got me poking around my own mac mini to see what she was getting into, and that, in turn reminded me of why I had advised her to buy one, and not a PC. It’s not just security or reliability. A properly maintained Windows system has those things, too.

I don’t find macs particularly intuitive, either. If you don’t want to do anything particularly obvious, they hide their unix-ish bits much too well. I needed to set up a small web server on mine, and so wanted to replace Apache with the much more lightweight and easy to configure Abyss Web Server. It took ages to work out how to switch bloody Apache off and then, since the firewall rule is _helpfully_ linked into the services menu, how to open the firewall for a non-Apache web server. I suppose that the sort of user who wants to do that will be able to work out how to in the end, but documentation doesn’t actually harm things.

What Macs do have and Windows doesn’t is a real market in software Almost everything on Windows is either free or compulsory. Because Mac software is seldom free, people make their livings at it, and are able to build things that are impressive and individual. If I were ever to switch, it would be because of programs like Mellel, Yojimbo, Tinderbox, and Textwrangler: stuff made for people who actually work and aren’t given outlook for free.

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7 Responses to Nice Mac things

  1. Charles says:

    What’s Abyss got that Apache hasn’t? Isn’t Apache quite easy to configure (once you discover how Apple hides the config files from you, and makes them impossible to edit)? Also, there is a solution which downloads a virtual hosts thing to your desktop or similar and runs the web server there, so no config files to tweak – it’s all in your control.

    And, finally, doesn’t Abyss work on Port 80 like any other web server??

  2. acb says:

    What I like about Abyss is what it hasn’t got: hidden configuration files; eighty million options; mountains of code that take seconds to lumber into life … It works on Port 80 — or any other you specify, sure. My complaint, though, was that if you shut down the Apple version of Apache then the firewall panel in system preferences won’t let you open port 80 becasue it says you have to run Apache to do so.

    You have to make a new rule to open ports 80, 8000, 8080 — whatever — and call it something other than “personal Web serving”, even though personal web serving is what I want to do.

    And, really, if all you want to do is to maintain a few testbed pages, abyss is much much easier to configure than apache, with or without the web-based interface.

  3. It’s an intriguing argument, your last graf, but there’s both more and less to it than meets the eye. There’s plenty of free Mac software, both from Apple (Mail and Safari come to mind) and from third-party vendors. NetNewsWire is a notable example (and even before it became free, NNW Lite was fine for most users). TextWrangler is free “as in beer” btw.

    There’s something of a blossoming of new and interesting Mac apps that take advantage of a very interesting and powerful Mac development environment. There’s also a real community of Mac software developers, too, and that doesn’t hurt.

    My own experience along the Apache/Abyss line is that I’d want a more compelling reason to use something other than the stock installation, suitably configured. Let Apple take care of the patching. Sure, Apache is big and complicated, but it’s well-documented online, and as near to universal as any piece of net software in existence.

    If I were starting from scratch, I might consider an alternative, but by default I’d leave well enough alone if at all possible.

  4. acb says:

    Well, my “more compelling reason” is that I have run abyss on both windows and Linux before, so I know how to use it; and if I am to be the person configuring Apache suitably, it’s going to take far more time than I have.

    As for the freedom of mac software — yes: I did overestimate the divide. But I am still struck by the number of Mac applications that look as if people really care about them to the extent of paying their own money and getting real support in return. The freedom of Textwrangler is something that never ceases to amaze me.

    But where are the mac standard text movement keys? What is the equivalent of ctrl-arrow in Windows? On this vnc setup, alt is the splodge (“command”) key, and it won’t work with the arrow keys to do anything useful.

  5. Charles says:

    >> But where are the mac standard text movement keys?

    Aren’t those the arrow keys? What does Ctrl-arrow do in Windows then? Trying some combination of Alt+arrows, or Ctrol+arrows, or Fn+arrows, or Cmd+arrows, should do it.

  6. acb says:

    Charles, the arrow keys work, but I meant the combinations to move or deletea word at a time — control-arrow and control-backspace in Windows. I use those constantly, and in any editing program I am going to use a lot, the first thing I try to do is to add commands to move and delete by sentence and paragraph.

    Using VNC, the mac maps the command key to the alt on my keyboard. But it doesn’t seem to work as a modifier for the movement keys.

  7. Charles says:

    I’ve never come across combos to move or delete words – only to highlight and then (say) kill them. Use Shift + Alt + right arrow selects the characters of the word on the R of the cursor. Shift + Ctrl + right arrrow selects to the end of line.

    Er, that’s all I can find.

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