Mac mini transition week two: mini-mizing problems

Mac mini transition week two: mini-mizing problems

Summary: The second week with my Mac mini has been a mix of frustration and enhanced productivity. Frustration thanks to bad software and productivity thanks to helpful readers.


This transtion from Windows to Mac OS X (Mountain Lion) makes me think back to Dr. Smith on Lost in Space. I think if ol' Zachary (Dr. Smith) had made the same switch, he would bemoan the transitional experience with his famous line, "Oh the pain, the pain". Yes, it's been a painful go-stop-go week with a permissions fix, new quirks, and a complete reinstall of the OS. I almost gave up on Mac OS X (Mountain Lion) but with a little help from my friends and readers, I think week three might be far better than the first two. I can hope, can't I?

I'm thankful for so many private emails from you, my readers, on this topic. Most of them were very nice, some were insulting and crass, and only one was downright rude. I guess the negative ones were to be expected knowing how users feel about their Macs. Oy, it's a religious thing, no doubt.

The top five suggestions, and my reactions, for helping me through my changeover from Windows to Mac OS X were:

  • Fix permissions on offending folders - Did it and it worked.
  • Reinstall the OS - Did it and it worked.
  • Convert the mini to Windows 8 - Not a chance.
  • Go back to Windows - Seriously considered it. Always an options.
  • It's Mac OS X, deal with it - Yeah, some great advice there.

Fixing Permissions

When a few readers made this suggestion in the comments and via email to me, I wasn't into it. That is to say, I wasn't convinced it would help. Being a Linux/UNIX guy, I had never experienced a need to "fix" the permissions on anything. I've changed a few permissions, of course, to make things work. For example, often I have to change a read only file to executable or grant permissions to a particular directory to a group, but I admit that I've never had to "fix" permissions on a directory. I'm not even sure what that means.

Did some software program I installed change the permissions or ownership of a group of system files or directories? Did a new software update cause this? How do the permissions for the App Store become so messed up that they need to be fixed under normal usage? It seems very odd to me that permissions would need to be fixed so quickly, especially since I only had the mini for two or three days when I noticed the App Store crashes.

It worked.

I fixed the permissions and removed the old App Store cache files and haven't had another problem with it since.

Reinstalling OS

 On Friday afternoon, I had to give up and reinstall Mountain Lion. The reinstall was brought on after installing MacFUSE and NTFS-v3 so that I could write to an external USB drive. After I installed those two applications, I couldn't even read from the external disk, so after uninstalling the two applications—unsuccessfully uninstalling them—I opted to perform a safe OS reinstall. Safe, meaning that all of my applications, files, and configurations would remain intact.

It worked. 

Reinstalling Mountain Lion took an hour or so to perform but I could then read my external drive again. Instead of trying to write to a NTFS-formatted disk, I opted to copy all of the files from it onto a Windows 8 system and reinitialize the disk with the exFAT filesystem. I have verified that the external drive works on both the Mac mini and my Windows 8 laptop. I can read and write files to it with either OS now.

Converting to Windows 8

 Three people suggested that I reformat my mini and install Windows 8 on it. I didn't do that, nor would I ever do that, because I wouldn't have paid $800 for a Windows system. That's not to say Windows systems aren't worth it but I could get two very nice Windows 8 laptops for that same $800. So, it seemed a bit wasteful to me to buy a Mac product and to not use Mac OS X on it.

Other than a few quirks plus my own Windows experience prejudices, I don't see all that much difference in OS X and Windows anymore. Prior to Intel-based Apple hardware and Mac OS X, the differences were significant. These days, I'm not sure that there's enough difference between Mac systems and Windows systems to argue the point. And there's a lot of similarities between Mac systems and Linux systems.

So, it seems to me that the operating system you choose to use is really just boils down to personal preference. I don't see any big advantages of one system over the other these days. When I can install Cygwin on Windows, use SAMBA on Linux and Mac, in some cases use Windows applications on Linux or Mac, and use Type 2 hypervisors on all of the above with VMs, there's no need to have a religious preference. Use what you know. Use what you like. Use what you can afford.

  • Mac - $600 up to thousands.
  • Windows - $300 up to thousands.
  • Linux - $200 up to thousands.

Those are new prices for hardware and software combinations. I saw a new ASUS laptop for less than $350 with Windows 8 at a retail store. Mac minis start at $600. Linux, of course, is free but you can spend thousands on hardware if you choose to. You can also purchase a Raspberry Pi computer and peripherals for around $100 and add another $100+ for a monitor.

Of course, you can DIY a system for very little money or purchased a used one. The quality of what you get varies greatly but at least you'll have a computer to use.

Returning to Windows

There were times in the past two weeks that I thought seriously about taking back the mini to the Apple Store for a refund or whatever they'd do for me. I'd decided that the Mac just wasn't for me. After reading a few comments, exchanging emails, and researching fixes, I decided to give it another chance. I can't say that I'm all that impressed with the Mac OS or the mini but it's a new computer and a chance to try something new. I still have a Linux laptop and a Windows 8 laptop, so I'm covered there.

As long as I can work on my new Mac, I'm not sure that I care which operating system is running it. I just want something that works. Sure, some of it's me, some of it's the operating system, and some of it is buggy software. I'm willing to admit to all three contributing to my difficulty. What I'm not willing to deal with is a lack of productivity. If I find myself continuing to be frustrated and annoyed by quirks, then I'll make a decision based on my experiences. Until then, I'm going forward with the mini. As is.

Dealing with Mac OS X

"Just deal with it" is not a good recommendation. Comments like that and accusing me of "willful ignorance" is just uncool and rude. It's comments like those (and worse) that create barriers between people who have different opinions and preferences.

It's selfish, juvenile behavior that causes people to say those kinds of things to someone who is truly making an effort to learn the ins and outs of a new system. And yes, I'm using the mini right now. It's my primary workstation at my desk and has been for the past two weeks.

Again I'll tell you that there's not one particular desktop operating system that's superior to all the others. Each of them has its quirks, anomalies, bugs, strengths, and failures. I've used Windows the longest, then Linux, and now Mac. I currently have no particular religious affinity to any of them.

So, for you religious Apple zealots, I have to tell you that I find no reason these days (Mac OS X/Intel) to continue to fight the good fight. It's an operating system. Nothing more. Nothing less. It isn't better than Windows or Linux, it's just different. Deal with that.

My second week has been, in many ways, more enjoyable than the first—not because of fewer problems but because I've gotten to dig into the OS more. I've done some troubleshooting, fixing, and researching, which prior to OS X, that really wasn't possible. Now, there's a command line and I can deal with that. I love the command line.

When I find myself bewildered by the "Apple Way", I resort to the Terminal window and do it the UNIX way. I'm still getting used to OS X but I'll have to say, at this point, I'm glad I didn't spring the extra $500 for the Air or Pro. I would have taken it back to the store by now, if I had.

The mini isn't a bad system nor is OS X a bad OS. It's just different and I'm on the journey. I want it to work. I want to stick with it. I've always wanted my own Mac and now I have one. I have some cool software for it now and I'm hoping to be very productive and creative with it.

Your constructive comments and assistance are always welcome.

Related Stories:

Topics: Apple, Operating Systems, Windows


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • Did you try the GarageBand tips?

    Hope so. It is a lot of fun once you get it going. Even more fun if you add one of these USB keyboards.
  • Oh the horror

    I agree with you ... Fix permissions ... What is this a Mattel OS? Fix permissions indeed... Something went off the reservation

    Reinstall the OS ... Again way way off the reservation.

    It just works! LOL
    • What's the big deal with reinstalling the OS?

      Frankly, that's the way to fix just about any Dell I've ever owned (far more efficient than Dell Decrapifier.)
      • I think the comment is aimed at Mac fanbois.

        They're always ridiculed Windows users when a re-install of Windows was suggested as a resolution to a problem.
        • It shouldn't surprise me any more

          But it constantly does.

          apple fanboy: "Windows sucks because you have to do (x) on Windows. Windows is SO much worse than osx. You just can't compare the 2."

          Then when it is clear that (x) applies equally to osx:
          apple fanboy: "Yeah well osx and Windows are the same."

          apple fanboys - YOU are the ones that have stated that osx isn't the same as Windows. YOU are the ones that have stated that if you have to do it in Windows, it is bad. For you to constantly fall back on the defense that "Windows is just the same as osx" is a problem for you because you are basically admitting that osx sucks. Or that Windows is great. Take your pick.
          • You're becoming incoherent

            to the point where it is actually hard to follow what you are saying. Your straw man "apple fanboy" above is almost completely unintelligible.

            Operating systems are all fairly similar. They do similar things (operate computers and peripherals) and are built in similar ways (on similar principles, and even similar code, such as the Mach kernel.)

            Why would it be surprising that a thing that works to make one OS work better, would not be an option on another OS? And who said either OS sux/rox? A thing as complicated as a computer operating system is going to have lots of things you like about it... and lots of things you don't. This is true of OS X and Windows equally, or am I crazy to think so?
          • Classic quote

            "And who said either OS sux/rox?"

            "Windoze sux" - said by no one ever, according to Mac_PC_FenceSitter.

            Too funny, you just can't make this stuff up.
          • You've been around here long enough to have seen it.

            "And who said either OS sux/rox?"

            Happens all the time. And it's not limited to ZDNet forums.
          • have to agree

            with todd......Apple fanboys have always been on the mac attack. Just like the itards. And when they can be proven wrong they fall back to safe mode and say "I've never said that". Most tech savvy people knew that it was good to reload windows from time to time and start over again. Not because it was bad, but because people would were willing to take it to the next level and do more. I could be wrong, but I've never heard of anyone overclocking a mac to 5ghz just because.

            Yea apple products just work most of the time. But sometimes they don't. And it's not because you were trying to make it do something it wasn't meant to do.
          • Nope, some people can...

            Break an anvil too. OSX is absolutely rock solid and virus free. They're almost idiot proof.

            But it's true... If you idiot proof a product, eventually an even bigger idiot will be hatched.
          • iTards

            iTards are 67cougargtygoyt

            Grow up, you troll.
            Bee Ryan
          • Windows/Android a$$ kissing much?

            So... let me get this straight. I've seen your anti Apple, as if Steve Jobs kicked your dog in front of a bus one day and you've got a vendetta, haha...

            From first hand experience... I've been in this industry for years so I know a few things as well, cupcake.

            I had nothing but issues with Windows, versions 2.x, 3.x up till Vista. I run 7 because I need to but 8 was a mistake to install on anything without a touch screen.

            I switched to Mac OS 10.4 and for the most part, experienced a huge decrease in issues - It was a little difficult to figure out how to do things differently at first but a lot more of the OS was intuitive and for the most part got out of my way... I mean it's based on Unix so fixing permissions is an issue on Linux and Android as well (From first hand experience)...

            OS X isn't the same as Windows, it's not trying to run on 1000000 pieces of hardware from a 100000 different manufacturers with with different ideas of how to do something, it's not bloated with crapware like Lenovo and Dells that friends have given me to "Decrapify" so the nagware stops asking for credit card numbers... Remember 99% of the population aren't IT people, they just want the OS to get the hell out of their way and let them work... If it does it in a nice way, pleasing to the eyes, so much the better...

            And yes, guess what, the virus' and spyware that have killed both of my brother's PCs made them purchase macs one and two years ago... Both thanked me for recommending it to them as they are businessmen, not IT people with time on their hands to troubleshoot every time something nags them or installs itself via browser...

            So TB3, keep the fight! You'll eventually convert all of us to use Android and Windows... I'll just wait for that snowball in hell....
          • Devils advocate

            This sounds a lot like your experiences = everyone's experiences. You are probably accurate that TB3 is a bit too Windows bias, but saying because you personally had issues with Windows that it must be terrible is ignorant. By that logic, nuts, milk, etc. should all be destroyed because a small percentage of people are allergic to them and are thus give bad experiences for the rest of us.

            And yes- this failed logic is a terrible problem on most comment pages. I use Windows machines because they are the best for my needs. I will argue all day for or against ANY platform if someone writes a stupid article or makes a stupid claim (assuming I happen to read it).

            To Ken- I applaud your efforts in getting to use OS X. I just question the practicality of it all. It still seems like this is almost a "because I can" adventure. I would say that you should take all of it as a learning experience and use it as just that. Otherwise, you will likely find more frustration than anything else in trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Kind of like trying to get all the right cable adapters a decade+ again so you could use your favorite screen with your favorite entertainment device...sure it will work eventually, but is it really worth the hassle?
          • Re: I just question the practicality of it all.

            So you believe in the religious call "everyone should be using Windows, because well, everyone uses Windows?"

            Sheep thinking, this.

            As far as my observations go, anyone who has moved to a Mac from Windows has never, ever looked back! Perhaps they find value in the Mac, that they never found in a computer running Windows. It's just a computer, after all -- it exists to serve you, not the other way around. The practical reason to learn OS X is that you will know more and will make more educated choices when it comes to select one platform or another for the particular task. The "only Windows is good" is just as absurd as "only OS X is good".

            And no, todbottom3's pose here is not that he is particularly an Microsoft fans, his pose is that he is an Apple hater, for whatever reason.
          • Please detail how OS X is more intuitive.

            dragnn: I've been asking people this for years and have yet to get a good answer.
          • You're really going to go there?

            You're really trying to say that there are no aspects of OS X which are more intuitive than Windows? OK, well this shouldn't be very hard.

            - When you go to use the dock, your screen and everything on it doesn't wink out of existence (like the Windows 8 windows key/start menu.)

            - You don't have to use a hidden charms bar to use Spotlight.

            - You can get full screen behaviour with consistent bindings in OS X, the full screen icon in the upper right corner (in Windows apps, F11 usually does it, but a lot of developers offroad their own way of doing it.)

            - When you have a folder open, the dock can hint at the folder's contents.

            Similarly, Windows is more intuitive than OS X, in its own ways. Because remember folks, it isn't a religion. Every OS there is - even ones from the great Satans, Apple and Microsoft - have things they can do that others can't.

            - Pinned applications and websites can show submenus right from the taskbar (there is nothing like this in OS X.)

            - The Metro start screen can be invoked by just hitting the Windows key. The OS X Mountain Lion requires this spider walking gesture on the trackpad to be invoked.

            - When you insert a camera, a straightforward wizard with instructions asks you what you want to do with the pictures on it, in straightforward English. (OS X just opens iPhoto on a window of your pics, with no clear "this is what you are supposed to do with this.")

            - Explorer windows open on a folder show the stuff in the folder... the obvious thing to do. Recent versions of OS X seem to have decided to show you every crappy document you've ever done, all in the same finder window... it is maddening.

            So, in short, let's not pretend that we can't point at one of Windows and OS X, and not find things they do that make more sense than the way the other guy does... each has lots of those.
          • The only one's pretending are those who...

            Mac_PC_FenceSitter: "So, in short, let's not pretend that we can't point at one of Windows and OS X, and not find things they do that make more sense than the way the other guy does... each has lots of those."

            ...make blanket statements such as the following:

            "It was a little difficult to figure out how to do things differently at first but a lot more of the OS was intuitive and for the most part got out of my way..."

            I've always maintained each OS has its own strengths and each as its own weaknesses.
          • Re: ...make blanket statements such as the following:

            That "blanked statement" is actually true: OS X most of the time is out of the way. Not so with Windows, after so many years. Everyone notices this. It doesn't take rocket science.
          • I've never had a problem with Windows being "In the way".

            "That "blanked statement" is actually true: OS X most of the time is out of the way. Not so with Windows, after so many years."

            Then you should have no problem detailing how Windows is "in your way".
          • the "windows" key

            By the way, recent MacBooks do have an button (on F4) to bring in Lanchpad, which is more or less the "start menu". You can use the trackpad gesture too, if you don't want to rise your hand to the keyboard.

            I have to disagree with the photo handling dialog though. Windows has always been a mess here and I have had a number of cases where one application was listed a number of times, or non-existent applications were listed as options (resulting in errors then). Windows is really a mess in this regard (handling file/media associations).
            On the Mac, you can have media connected with various content trigger different applications. This is set in Image Capture (which is what is launched the very first time anyway). You can set different applications to launch when you insert different cameras, SD or USB drives.

            Yes, I don't like that "all your files" view in Finder, but understand it might be helpful for some. In fact, it actually helped my few times so it is not that much of a bad idea. Best of all, that display doesn't slow down your computer as similar function on Windows would.

            As I see this argument, it mostly boils down to who knows what about each OS. Those who don't know what OS X can do are fast to claim only Windows can do things conveniently.. and the paradox is those same people have almost no knowledge of any other environment. On the other hand, people coming from the UNIX (especially BSD) world find OS X extremely good, because it is all they already have, but well polished AND with major software vendors convinced they need to produce software for it. The existence of MacPorts is a bless for any UNIX person. Those same people are usually very frustrated with Windows, because they frequently end up in "but, wasn't this supposed to be fixed already?" situations and "oh, why do I have to click on OK now, instead of just continuing my work?". But, just as people are not equal, knowledge is not equal too.