Living on Air: A Windows guru spends two weeks with a Mac

Windows expert Preston Gralla was challenged to work with Apple's MacBook Air for two weeks. Will he ever go back to a PC?

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I have a network printer, and finding and installing it was also exceptionally easy via System Preferences. When I chose to add the printer, the Mac operating system quickly found the device on my network and installed the driver. At that point, all I had to do was print. Very nice.

As easy as networking with the Mac is, there is one feature I miss from Windows Vista -- the Network and Sharing Center, and particularly the Network Map, which draws a map of your network, including all devices, including your home router. From the map, you can easily browse to any device and get information about it. Mac OS X would do well to emulate that.

Installing and upgrading software

For a Windows user, installing software downloaded from the Internet on a Mac takes some getting used to. At first, I found it quite confusing. When I downloaded files, they showed up on the upper-right-hand side of the desktop, as if they were new hard drives, and it wasn't clear at all what needed to be done at that point.

By clicking on one, I managed to stumble on an installation routine. But then when it was done, I wasn't sure how to run the program. Unlike Windows, there was no icon on the desktop, and no Start button for accessing installed programs. Eventually, I found the applications in the Application folder of Finder, and ran them from there.

Once I learned how to install software, though, it became a breeze. Generally, when you download a program to install to your Mac, you're installing a disk image -- which is why it shows up on the desktop like a disk. Double-click it and, from the folder that opens, double-click the file with an extension .pkg. At that point, you'll be walked through the installation process.

Once you've installed the software, you can run it from the Application folder, put it permanently on the Dock and run it from there, or create an alias for it on the desktop and run it from there. You can now delete the disk image from the desktop by dragging it to the Trash.

Living with a Mac

Software Update offers a list of applications ready to be updated on the Mac.

Click to view larger image

Upgrading software was straightforward and simple as well. Select Software Update after clicking the Apple menu, and you'll see a screen like the one pictured nearby. By default, all updates will be checked. Uncheck any you don't want done, and leave those checked you want updated. Then click the Install button, follow the instructions and you're done. Depending on what you've installed, you may have to restart the Mac. I upgraded from Mac OS X 10.5.5 to 10.5.6 in this way, and it went off without a hitch.

Getting work done

With everything set up, it was time to get work done.

When it comes to applications that ship with the operating system, Mac OS X beats Windows hands-down. The iLife suite of applications -- including iPhoto, iMovie, Garage Band and iWeb -- is superior to anything you'll find in Windows. You won't need them for work, but for home use, they're excellent.

Given that I'm a writer, and also need to occasionally use spreadsheets and sometimes presentation software as well, I needed an office suite -- and the Mac doesn't come with one. Because an Air is not an inexpensive device, and applications are tough on the wallet, I decided that I would try, if at all possible, to get by without paying for software.

Apple offers a reasonably priced office suite in iWork '09, which costs $79 (or $49 if you pre-order it on a new Mac), but I decided to go for a free alternative. I had previously used the Windows and Linux versions of OpenOffice.org, and decided to give the Mac version a try. As expected, it was straightforward, simple to use, and offered all the features I needed for writing, spreadsheets and presentations.

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