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Living with a MacBook - first thoughts

At this week's Web 2.0 Summit, I left the PC home and ventured to the city by the bay with only my new MacBook to see what a week on the road Mac-style would be like. Overall, my experience was great - the machine is a delight to use and very easy to carry around which is critical when navigating the airport maze, crowded hallways and meeting room of an event like Web 2.0, and walking the urban landscape. There are some transitional issues I'm still wrestling with though.

At this week's Web 2.0 Summit, I left the PC home and ventured to the city by the bay with only my new MacBook to see what a week on the road Mac-style would be like. Overall, my experience was great - the machine is a delight to use and very easy to carry around which is critical when navigating the airport maze, crowded hallways and meeting room of an event like Web 2.0, and walking the urban landscape. There are some transitional issues I'm still wrestling with though.

The two biggest issues I'm having are finding the right tools to replace the carefully constructed kit I've assembled on my Tablet PC and conventional laptops on the Windows platform. Over the years, I've chronicled these tools in a series of posts I've written under the "equation for serious productivity" heading. While there is no shortage of cool tools for the Mac, I have not yet been able to achieve the same level of productivity and automation on the Mac as I have on the PC.

Some of that is simply learning curve and, as my time investment in the Mac grows, I'm sure I'll sort out some of what I'm currently missing. For example, on the PC I swear by ActiveWords. This utility is always running on my PC and has allowed me to construct hundreds of mnemonic shortcuts that I can type or scribble (on the Tablet) to perform routine actions I need to take on a continual basis. I've been spending some time digging through OS X's Automator utility and it looks like it will address some, but not all, of what I use ActiveWords to accomplish on the PC. As time permits, I guess I'll have to dust off my long-forgotten AppleScript chops as well.

On the PC, I also swear by a tool called Anagram. This little tray app saves me countless keystrokes and window flips by allowing me to highlight text in an e-mail message, office document, or a web page, press a hot key, and have a perfectly completed contact record, task, or appointment created in Outlook. It's a brilliant tool and I haven't been able to find anything that will perform the same magic on a Mac with either OS X's Address Book or Entourage.

I have MindManager running on the Mac and the transition has been flawless - all of my maps open and work just as they do on the PC. But the integration with Microsoft Office apps is missing on the Mac and so I have lost the ability to synchronize tasks, contacts, and other PIM data that I use so heavily on the PC. My current Windows workflow makes heavy use of Outlook, MindManager, and OneNote to coordinate and synchronize all of my information, projects, and research. I'm still experimenting with tools on the Mac to create an alternative.

I looked at DevonThink - seems a bit too much for what I'm looking for. It's a powerful app that you can do amazing things with but the learning curve and setup investment isn't feeling right to me. I also looked at Circus Ponies' Notebook as a potential OneNote replacement and it didn't quite click for me, despite its system services hooks. I'm currently looking at BareBones Software's Yojimbo which looks promising - a nice balance between simplicity and flexibility on the one hand and accessibility on the other.

Ultimately, I'm moving more and more of what I do onto the net. As we continue to move closer to a fully functional release of Foldera, that will be my habitat for the obvious dogfooding reasons and because it will eliminate many of the platform and device switching issues I'm currently wrestling with. For RSS aggregation and reading, I'm currently using Google Reader for the same reason (alongside NewsGator Online and FeedDemon/NewsGator Inbox on the PC which I've been using for years and is where my full OPML list resides).

The Google personalized Home Page and Gmail continue to be staples as well. The Google Notifier for Mac OS X are useful, although there's an annoying tendency for that tool to require repeated authentications as I move from one network connection to another that I haven't sorted out.

The Treo syncs just fine. I was concerned about potential issues but the combination of the Palm conduits and Microsoft Entourage's Palm conduit have allowed me to migrate my data and get everything set up on the Mac. It took a bit of fiddling to get my Outlook data into the Mac Address Book and iCal applications but that is now working well too. I have not yet gotten DUN, either USB or Bluetooth, working on the Mac with the Treo yet but I suspect that's a Verizon issue I'll need to investigate as I'm not sure my data plan is properly configured to support using the Treo as a modem on the Mac. I may just bite the bullet and get an EVDO card for the Mac to make life a lot simpler, especially since it appears that Verizon has silently switched that network on here in New Mexico (yay!).

Overall, it's been a relatively smooth transition. I'm really enjoying the MacBook and am able to be nearly as productive as I am on the PC. And I've enjoyed great stability, performance, and aesthetic pleasure along the way. This device is a perfect addition to my hardware kit and I'm looking forward to leveraging the wisdom of folks like Merlin Mann and John Gruber to help with my learning curve.

UPDATE: Corrected some typos and wanted to add that my friend Buzz Bruggeman of ActiveWords suggested Quicksilver might be a good partial solution for addressing my automation needs on the MacBook. Some great suggestions in the comments so far too. Thanks to all for and keep them coming!