Wednesday, July 13, 2005

First Day with Mac Mini : Initial Thoughts

As I rushed home on Monday evening with the purchase of the Mac Mini under my belt, I knew that I had purchased it for a specific reason and that reason was testing. I also knew that it was now 6pm and I would still have to set the computer up in a given location and begin the daunting task of trying to learn how to use OS X. Part of me was excited. Another part was frightened and didn't feel like doing a ton of work to setup and start using a new system.

I sat the cubed box that the Mini comes in off to the side of my regular sitting area in the living room and unwound a bit with some dinner and television. After dinner I ran downstairs and grabbed a network cable so that I could connect the new system to my router and configure it to use the internet. I hesitated slightly as I went to grab my Dell Flat Panel monitor from my parents room, just "knowing" that it would probably be a beast to get it working with the new Mac. I collected all the items I needed and gathered them around my recliner, opened two TV tables, one for my laptop PC and one for the shiny new Mac. It was time, and I was ready.

I reached for the Mac Mini box as eagerly as if it was christmas in July. As I opened it - the first thing I noticed was a very well designed box about the size of a CD case embossed in foam protection. The silver box with white Apple logo caught my eye right away and as I opened it I found that it contained all the software installation CD's for the operating system and applications that were loaded. "Very nice", I thought. I lifted the first layer of foam (in which the CD's were held) and there was the Mac Mini safely surrounded by another layer of foam protection. As I pulled it out I noticed that it also had a thin layer of plastic protection on the actual unit which I removed slowly and it revealed a pristine little machine. I could help but notice how well made this little computer seemed to be made. It weighed in at 2.9lbs, but was built like a rock. No rattling of moving components inside, just "strong". I looked back in the cubed box hoping that there was more for me to find, and there was! Under the layer of foam protection that held the Mini was yet another encasing that held the power supply and cabling as well as the DVI -> VGA adapter. "This is slick packaging", I thought again. You have to understand, I've bought many brand new computers and NOTHING even compares to the presentation quality that Apple put into the packaging of this system. It was impressive. Impressive enough that I'm writing about it! I wondered if as much time had been put into the keyboard packaging and design. It had. The Apple keyboard was also protected by foam on the two edges (not a big deal as most keyboards are), but also had the thin layer of plastic protection right on the hardware that needed to be peeled off revealing another perfectly crafted item. The keyboard is USB and had a nice plastic USB cover that protected the end of the cable from dust, etc. Again - these little things impressed me quite a bit. But there was more to come...

After unpacking the Mac Mini, I couldn't help but think about all the times that I'd heard the saying "it just works" when referring to Apple products. I quickly found the DVI -> VGA adapter and took a look at it. It was designed very well and simply instered into the DVI slot on the back of the Mini. It has nobs on the side that allow you to screw it down tight - these nobs are built right into the adapter and aren't like the kind that you'd find on PC adapters - yes the one's that end up getting stuck or unscrewing nuts from within your PCI / AGP cards because the threads seem to have seized somehow and the adapter is now part of the card. Anyone who's worked with computers a bit will know what I'm talking about. This was very cleverly and carefully designed on the side of the adaptor and designed to be extremely easy to use. I plugged the monitor cable into the DVI adaptor. I hooked up the PC based USB mouse and the new Apple keyboard. I plugged in the network cable too my router and found the power cable for the Mac Mini and plugged that in. Crossed my fingers and turned it on.

OS X welcomed me with open arms as the machine started with a wizard that walked me through registering for a new Apple account. No need to configure a network card - all was setup and working, it had already grabbed an address from my DHCP server and had already communicated information to Apple. Registration was a breeze and within 5 minutes I was greeted with the OS X desktop. "that's it?" - I was shocked at how easy it was to setup and the presentation of all the components. Basically Apple did a good job because they made it extremely easy for anyone to pop out a new system and get up and working with it in no time.

Now that the machine was working - I needed to get to work and complete some of the testing that had to do. But wait - I didn't even know how to install software on a Mac or launch an application. Good thing that the OS X interface is also VERY intuitive. Browsing around a little had me locate "Finder" - which when clicked on listed my home directories and Applications and much, much more. This was a good start. I then located System Preferences, from which I could configure certain parts of the system. Safari caught my eye - so I launched it. BAM - browsing the net I downloaded an application called TextWrangler which is a powerful text editor that I needed to install for my testing. To my surprise, once the download was done a window popped up telling me to drag an icon into my applications folder ( I knew where this was now.. .) and it would install the app, and it did. It mounted as a drive to my system and installed the software from there. Once finished with the installation, you can just eject the mount and move on. Again - the system just kept impressing me. I think some folks may be a bit shy when they find out that the OS X backend is Unix, but don't be... things couldn't be easier. What's nice about it - is that if you do have 'nix knowledge, you'll be able to use it in this new found land! I was able to find "terminal" and I felt right at home. It's like having a linux box with the world's best GUI. It was good - and I was happy.

I did quite a bit that night - found out how to work with Apache (preloaded) and upgrade the version of PHP that comes with OS X. Worked within, and installed applications. Browsed the web and setup email. Changed System Preferences and learned quite a bit about the desktop layout. This was all accomplished in a period of four hours.

Overall - my initial thoughts are very good when it comes to the Mac Mini, Apple and OS X. They've really managed to impress the heck out of me and who knows - if I grow to like it even more - there may just be a G5 in my future.

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