I just don’t understand Macs

I’ve had this iBook for a year or so now, and I really like it. I use it primarily as a portable Web terminal — it allows me to do on-line things in the kitchen, the dining room, the back yard, and even in bed.

I don’t use it for much else. My desktop machine (Windows XP) has a bigger and better screen, and a better keyboard and mouse, so for writing and working on photos and such, I’ll use that machine. There is also the small problem of the fact that I just can’t wrap my mind around the Macintosh way of doing things.

Macs are simple, yes. Perhaps too simple.

I am grateful for that simplicity in some cases, such as the ease and grace with which it finds and  connect to wireless networks. But some other things continue to baffle me — such as installing software.

Yes, I could hear all those Mac fans popping their eyes out at that one. I admit that the problem is my own — I install software on the Mac so infrequently that I haven’t given it a chance to sink in, which is to say, using that term that was so popular in the 90, I don’t grok it.

With Windows software it’s simple — you double-click the setup file and then click "Next" a few times in the wizard and bingo, you’re installed. I fully understand what is happening during the installation, and I know where the application lives. I can put shortcuts on my desktop or in the taskbar without even thinking about it. Easy.

It’s supposed to be easy with the Mac too, but for some reason it rarely is. For one thing, when I’m downloading a file it’s often unclear if the file is compressed or ready to go. And where should I install it? After I double-click to extract and install, can I throw away (or archive) the download file, like I do with Windows downloads? Why do I always end up with something installed on my desktop instead of in the Applications folder? What are all these extra files laying around, and can I delete them? What the Hell is an "extension?"

There are two main problems. First, Apple has made the process so "simple" that it hides what’s really going on, which means that unless you’re really dedicated you never learn what’s really going on. Second, most installation instructions are stupid or opaque, and assume you’re either some kind of über-Mac user, or a dumb teenager who doesn’t care how badly-installed the thing is as long as it works.

Then there are the applications written for Windows and ported to Mac. They’re often as kludgy as as a Dymaxion car in a mud-hole rally. Take for example the iRiver Music Manager software. Installing it and using it on my Windows machine is a snap. The other day I decided to put it on the Mac, too. Here’s the instructions page for doing so:

duh!

Three easy steps, right? Take a closer look. Not only is the process convoluted, but it doesn’t actually install the software. It just sets it up to run from the CD.

Not that you can tell — at least not until you take the CD out and then try to run the software.

This is retarded. I don’t want to have to insert the CD every time I want to flip a couple of files onto my MP3 player. I finally figured out that instead of navigating on the CD to the DMG file and then double-clicking it, I should navigate to the file and then drag it to the Applications folder on the Mac!

Once the DMG file is on the Mac, I don’t need the CD anymore. So why don’t the instructions say to do it that way?

Mind you, it’s still a bit convoluted — I double-click the file and it mounts a temporary drive and opens a finder window where I have to double-click again to start the software. Plus, I can’t put a shortcut in the desktop dock because the Mac doesn’t recognize the DMG file as an application, so it won’t let me do it.

And while we’re at it, what the Hell is a "CarbonLib Update?"

But at least I got it to work, no thanks to the stupid manual. This reminds me of the bad old days of Windows 3.1 and even Windows 95, when nothing ever happened the way it was supposed to, and you were always fighting with the machine and finding your own workarounds. Come to think of it, that’s how I came to learn and understand Windows. Maybe I just need to fight with the Mac a bit more if I want to really understand it.