Saturday, January 21, 2006

First things to do on an Apple notebook

This is the first post on some of the small things (configurations, settings, programs) that might make life not great but at least acceptable on any of the Apple notebooks (especially if you are used with the non-brainwashed keyboard and trackpad from the "rest of the world").

My very first thing was to go in System Preferences under "Keyboard and Mouse" and choose better settings for the trackpad (I like tapping, tap-and-drag and so on). Ideally I might have been very happy (in theory) with a program called SideTrack (I mostly liked defining the bottom-right corner as a right-click) but on the latest G4 iBook it seems to work quite unusual (the precision was very strange) and for the moment I had to remove it.

Also very important on the Keyboard tab - check "use F1-F12..." - the name of the option is very bad but the explanation below is slightly better - with that checkbox the F1-F12 keys will work almost normal and in order to get to the non-standard (and rarely used) volume, screen and CD controls you will have to use FN+Fx key, which is quite logical and easy to remember!

I also found very important for me to "free" the remaining taken "standard Fkeys" (which I define as F1-F10) - in System Preferences under "Dashboard and Expose" I have moved "All windows" from F9 to Command+F12 (which is easy to reach since F12 is the top-right key) and the more rarely used "Application windows" from F10 to Command+F11.

Even if you do not like so much "normal" function keys you should definitely use some of the "screen corners shortcuts" - for me by far the most importants were "All windows" (bottom left) and "Desktop" (bottom right).

For a notebook (especially a lighter one like the 12'' versions) screen estate is very precious so you should also go to System Preferences under Dock and activate the "Autohiding".

Other things that you should not forget in System Preferences - under "Security" activate the "master password" eventually "require password ... for secure system", and if you must auto-login then under Accounts create a non-admin account and make that the default to "auto-login" - that way some of the risks with a portable or shared computer are kept at a more acceptable level.

The very next step should be installing Firefox - Safari is not bad at all (and quite small and fast for light use) but if you are serious about web pages you need Firefox and probably some of the most important extensions - Adblock, Flashblock and eventually a filterser updater !!!

I am also a MAJOR fan of Commander-like file managers - apparently the more precise term is Orthodox File Managers and if you follow the second link you might better understand why I consider so important that the standard Function keys must be "application-specific" and NOT something systemwide.

On that second link you could also see that in the Wintel world there are a lot of great such programs, but under OSX there are much fewer alternatives - a freeware muCommander and some shareware alternatives, but none was even close to what I wanted so in the end the best (and GPL) alternative was Midnight Commander - but on OSX things are not so simple as expected ...

One way would be to install fink and use apt-get, another pre-compiled version is here, but probably the best low-level one was to use DarwinPorts (binary dmg available on the downloads page) and then the specific mc version from there !!!

At the end of this first part things are already getting a little better ... obviously inside the limits enforced by Apple, so the most important advice from this post remains to never be "locked" on technology from a highly monopolistic company with highly overpriced products in the first place :))

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