Ladies and gentlemen who have purchased a new Apple Mac, take backups.
If I could offer you only one piece of advice for the future, taking backups would be it.
The long term benefits of taking backups have been proven by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.
I will dispense this advice… now:
Time Machine is built in to OS X and works both with external hard drives and Time Capsules (over wifi or ethernet). It will unobtrusively back up all your changes and will save your arse when your mac breaks / gets stolen / gets run over by a bus / etc. Use it!
If you are thinking of buying a Mac, do buy it with AppleCare – or go out and get it right now if you didn’t. Your Mac will then be kept working for 3 years, by which point you’ll most likely want to swap it for a new one anyway. I can’t recommend this highly enough, especially for laptops which do seem to be prone to hard disk failures (amongst other things). I know it’s not cheap but if something breaks, you will definitely get your money’s worth!
Spotlight is how I launch pretty much all my apps, rather than searching through start menus or anything else. Just hit Apple key + Space Bar and up pops the search window. Also useful for finding misplaced documents, emails, contacts and other things – but I mainly use it for starting apps.
Quick Look means never having to open a file to see what’s in it. Just hit the Space Bar with a file selected in Finder and it pops open a handy preview.
System Preferences if you’re trying to work out how to change settings on your mac, this is the place to start.
If you have a laptop, then two finger scrolling on web pages is your friend. I miss this a lot when using a PC. Remember you can plug any USB mouse in and have that work, so if you have an old mouse that you really like, you can still use it.
This is my one security tip: set up an Administrator account and make the account you use a Standard account. This means whenever apps want to install or doing anything out of the ordinary they need to ask your permission first. This makes your computer much safer against any nasty software. Talking of which, I don’t recommend running any Anti-virus programs – surprising but true! I don’t run any and never have on the Mac. There may come a time in the future where that’s not the case, but right now I’ve never seen or heard of any Mac malware that didn’t need to ask your permission to stuff your computer up first. So just exercise caution when you download and install applications and you should be fine.
Turn your Mac off sometimes, it is very fast to just use Sleep (or close the lid on a Macbook) but even Macs like to actually be turned off and on once in a while – they run some extra maintenance scripts and clean out cruft. Needless to say if your Mac is ever behaving oddly then the first rule (as with all IT stuff) is to try turning it off and on again. Seriously!
Apple Mail – I don’t use it because I’m not at any one mac often enough to keep my mail on it. I just use gmail (which works very well in Safari).
Which reminds me, if you use Google Calendar and Contacts you can get these to sync up with your iCal and Address Book on the mac.
Perian is great if you want to play any old kind of weird video formats – it just adds them all to Quicktime so it ‘just works’.
If you need to save a copy of a document or web page, press Print and then find the little PDF button the bottom left of the Print dialog. Click on that and choose Save as PDF. PDF support is built in to OS X (like support for zip files) so you don’t need to install Acrobat reader (in fact don’t, it is much slower than Preview).
Transmission is a great BitTorrent client and even has a web interface that works on an iPhone/iPod.
Cyberduck is the app to use when uploading files to FTP/SFTP/WebDAV/AmazonS3 — I sometimes use this for uploading things to my web site.
If you tire of using Front Row to browse your music/video from afar then Boxee seems to be shaping up very well as a ‘media center’ for your mac. It has an iPod/iPhone remote control app that makes it very handy.
If you’ve bought a new Mac you’ve probably got all the iLife apps on there. I can attest that GarageBand and iMovie are both handy for some light audio and video-remixing. If you need to do more involved audio editing then I’ve found Audacity to be useful, if a bit fiddly sometimes. If you want to encode video you can either do this from within Quicktime Player/iMovie or use Handbrake for more control.
I’ve recently ditched an old copy of Microsoft Office for iWork and Pages seems to be a lot easier on the eye. Haven’t quite got the hang of Numbers yet, but Keynote is definitely the easiest way to get slides for presentations sorted out. If you don’t have it free on your mac, iWork is not expensive (£70). You can also use Open Office if it has to be free – but I’ve given up on this recently as its just too fiddly to use (like many open source products, UI is not a priority).
If you decide after a few months that you need more memory in your Mac, I recommend Crucial as they’ve supplied me well for a few years now.
Finally if you need to do a ‘spring clean’ on your mac because its acting weird, I usually run Onyx which will clean out all manner of old caches and run the built-in Apple maintenance scripts. (Don’t forget to just turn it off and on sometimes).
I nearly forgot, to install a new application you usually just drag the icon to the Applications folder. Likewise to uninstall it just delete its icon from the Applications folder. It’s really that simple (OS X has a cunning way to package up all the data an app needs so that it is just in that one icon, which is much easier than the Program Files / registry malarkey on Windows).
If you only take one thing away from this, take backups. Seriously.
(There is more advice from Apple at their Switch to a Mac page.)
So in my nice new flat by the sea, I’ve swapped to a reasonably ‘green’ power supplier Southern Electric who can supply power from their hydro-electric power stations oop north, so it’s reasonably guilt free. However – it still costs money, green or not, so they also give you a power meter that tells you how many Watts you’re using, how many you’ve used over the last day, week and month. All very good and geeky – I like!
But, I was quite surprised how much power was being used overnight – 130 Watts! Even when a lot of stuff was supposed to be ‘off’. Fortunately the meter updates pretty quickly – about every 10 seconds – and so on Sunday morning I had a grand ‘switch off’ and then turned on just one thing at a time and built up a handy table of what power was being used on standby (or on if it would be left on, like the ADSL router).
- Oven 0
- Boiler 0
- Fridge 3
- iMac 15 plugged in – not on or asleep! Up to 130 on, 87-ish idle
- Bebox (ADSL/Wifi router) 10-12
- Apple Time capsule 45-28
- 6 way posh surge protected Ppower strip 31
- 6 way not so posh surge protected power strip 0
- Tv 105 on, 17 standby
- Sky HD 41 standby
- Xbox 15 standby
- Mac mini 14 just plugged in
- Wii 13 stdby
- network drive 11 just plugged in
- Av switch 0
- Remote charger 0 off 10 charging
A couple of BIG shocks in there for me:
- One 6 way adaptor took up 30 watts!!! That’s just mental – needless to say I swapped that out right away.
- I’d heard that TVs used up quite a bit of power on standby but I always assumed that was old TVs, not mine — how wrong I was, it eats up 15 watts on standby. Very naughty!
- Even naughtier were the computers that used up 15 watts each without even being turned on even slightly! Just being switched on at the socket, nowt else, 15 watts! I’ve got two computers so that’s another 30 watts I can get rid off just by turning things off at the socket.
- They Sky box is very naughty and just hoovers up power when supposedly ‘on standby’ – I know Sky would like me to keep this on overnight to download stuff, but it’s just too much, it’s going off overnight as that’s the same as leaving a 40 watt lightbulb on all night!
- However its not all bad – the fridge, oven, boiler and some chargers were actually pretty good and took either no or very little power when not in use. Hooray!
So, what have I done, armed with my new ‘power facts’? I’ve got most of my tech in one corner on a couple of power strips, so I’ve got a couple of new power strips that are surge protected BUT have a switch on each socket! So, I can keep various game consoles plugged in but not turned on, until I actually want them. I’ve also set it up so that I can turn off one of the power strips at the wall overnight, so the Sky box and TV don’t eat up power overnight.
For the Macs, I’ve found a useful widget that allows them to ‘deep sleep’ which is the same as ‘hibernate’ on Windows – it means I can save the state to disk and then turn the power off, and its still pretty fast to come back on when I need it. Not as quick as before – which was about 3 seconds, compared to about 30-40 seconds. But I can wait, when its saving so much power.
So now, I’m using about 80 watts less than before – even when everything’s on! Overnight I’ve saved two thirds of the power – about 120 watts! So I should only have about 20-30 watts overnight. That’s great, and all I have to remember to do is just turn off a switch overnight.
Anyway that’s my probably over long and dull post about saving power, money and the planet. Go out and get yourself a power meter and be shocked about how much your favorite gadgets are using!
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