Mac mini transition week two: mini-mizing problems

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.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

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:

Editorial standards