Thursday, March 22, 2018
Apple progress - and a nifty computer gadget
As I mentioned some weeks ago, I've been considering buying an Apple computer system for use with Vellum, a desktop publishing program. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing (including the use of an old Apple computer donated for testing purposes by friend and fellow author Cedar Sanderson, for which I'm very grateful to her), I decided to go with a Mac Mini, the cheapest entry level system. Following reader advice in that first post, I bought a lower-cost Apple-refurbished and -guaranteed computer. I've been setting it up this week, and I'm enjoying the learning curve. After so many years (over 4 decades!) using IBM mainframes, DEC minicomputers and PC-architecture personal computers, this is a new departure for me (of which more later).
The Mac Mini comes without keyboard, mouse or monitor, which is why it's relatively low-priced compared to the rest of the Apple range. Fortunately, I had all those components already. However, I'm also still using an HP laptop computer, and have other PC-architecture systems in the house. I don't expect to become an Apple-only or PC-only household anytime soon. That means there's the potential clutter of multiple keyboards, mice, etc. on an already crowded desktop - not ideal, particularly when I have reference books open, and other things that need space of their own.
I was therefore very pleased to come across this USB switch selector on Amazon.com.
It allows you to connect up to 4 USB-interface peripherals to one side of the box. I've plugged in a corded keyboard and mouse, a laser printer and a scanner. On the other side of the box are two more USB connector sockets, which you can connect to two different computers. By pushing the button on top of the selector, you can use all the peripherals with either computer (but not both at the same time).
Using this little box, I now have all four peripherals working happily with both my Mac Mini and my PC-architecture laptop. All I had to do was make sure that the appropriate device drivers were loaded on each computer for the printer and scanner. It's very nice to have one of everything, instead of two - not to mention taking up a lot less desktop real estate! I simply power up the computer I want to use (or both of them), and use the selector button to direct the peripherals to the one that needs them. I can even swap back and forth between them in mid-use, just by pushing the button. Very useful indeed. For mobile computing, I unplug the laptop from the switch selector and go on my way, using its own keyboard and touchpad while on the road. (I can also use them while it's plugged into the switch selector, of course, which has come in handy a couple of times.)
I'm enjoying learning how to use Apple's operating system and software. They're reasonably intuitive, so I haven't had any major problems, and there are plenty of articles, tutorials and videos online to provide any help I need. I'm starting to understand why Apple fans so strongly prefer their systems. I've heard more than one say that they want to do things with their computer rather than to it, and that's why Apple is "better". I'm beginning to agree with them. The Apple OS requires considerably less tinkering to get it where I want it, and it takes care of a lot of stuff behind the scenes that I'm used to doing "manually" under Windows. I'm impressed. Also, much of the software I use (LibreOffice, Private Internet Access, Dropbox, Dashlane, etc.) is available in MacOS versions, making the transition easy. The only one I miss so far is Irfanview, which doesn't have a Mac version. I'll have to find something similar to replace it on the Apple system. (GIMP isn't really a suitable replacement - it's a lot more complex and difficult to navigate. I want something powerful, but simple, without a major learning curve. I'm a writer, not a graphic artist!)
It's too early to say yet, but I might be tempted in due course to transition entirely to Apple hardware and software, and move away from the PC altogether. Being my own boss as a writer and not having to run an employer's PC-specific software, I have that flexibility. I never thought I'd say that (yes, I've joked about Apples and their fanbois for many years, along with the rest of the computer world), but now that I'm actually using an Apple computer, I'm enjoying it very much. We'll see what the next year or two brings. (I can hear the catcalls now . . . "Come over to the dark side! We have Apples!")