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Aleph 0 Computing: Mac OS X

Contents

Introduction

I've admired some aspects of Apples for some time. The hardware is quite impressive; both it and the Mac OS X operating system seem to hold up well and look pretty doing it. As a Unix geek, I was thrilled when OS X came out, but the price of Apple's machines alwyas kept me away from them; it was always far easier and cheaper to simply scrounge around for bottom-of-the-barrel x86 components and install Linux or OpenBSD on the resulting beige box.

Much of that changed in early 2005, when Apple released the Mac mini, a gorgeous little machine that was (relatively) low-priced and available sans keyboard, mouse, and monitor. As I mentioned, I'm a scrounger, so I had plenty of those, and I shelled out $500 for the new toy.

I've been very happy with it; I would have been even if only from an aesthetic standpoint, but it's actually useful, too. It had nice little touches, from the brushed-metal case to the shiny desktop; it was full of little surprises no PC maker ever considered. Good stuff.

For better or for worse, though, I was used to doing things a certain way, and had to re-learn a decent number of things. Part of this page is a (very) small collection of tips for Mac OS X newbie geeks. And for those of you who have recently acquired a machine and have no idea what else you might need on it, I've begun cataloging the software I install on OS X.

Tips

Mac OS X as a DHCP Server

I've made some initial progress using OS X (the client edition, not the server) as a simple DHCP server, especially for temporarily connecting UNIX laptops. There are still some minor problems, but the upshot is that Mac OS X as a DHCP server works quite well.

Connecting a Zaurus

Surprisingly, this isn't as difficult as you might think. In order to recognize Linux-based PDAs by USB, there's a simple (and free and open) package it install: Andreas Junghans's Mac OS X USB driver. Install following the instructions on the website. In order to get your Zaurus to connect, it must be set to sync by “USB - TCP/IP (advanced)”. Mine, with version 3.x of the official Sharp software, doesn't use this by default, but can be set properly using the “PC Link” application on the “Settings” tab.

Video

I regularly play a few different types of video files. I have a few Quicktime movies, a handful of DivX-encoded AVI files, several “backed up” DVD VOBs, and a ton of MPEG-2s made by copying video off my TiVo and editing it with Womble MPEG-VCR. Further, a few web sites I visit (like ebaum's world) exclusively encode their video in WMV format.

This turned out to be one of my little annoyances with Mac OS X: I originally had three video players on my Mac (five if you count the built-in DVD player and iTunes, neither of which I regularly used for playing video). Quicktime player is installed on the system when you get it, Windows Media Player 9 for Mac OS X was to be the only way to play those errant WMVs, and the open-source XinePlayer covers everything else. Phew.

Now, Microsoft has stopped developing Windows Media Player for the Mac, and thrown their support behind the newly-free Flip4Mac Windows Media Components for QuickTime; despite the long name, it's a reasonable way to play WMVs in QuickTime. Dr. Feelgood's FFusion is an up-to-date libavcodec plugin for QuickTime that allows playing DivX, XVID, and other format AVI files. VLC media player covers everything else, and is a bit more usable than XinePlayer. If I could get a VLC (or even Xine) plugin for MPEG2s in QuickTime, that'd be great.

I suppose getting down to two players in my dock isn't too bad. Technically, at the moment, I don't need to install the FFusion plugin mentioned above, as its functionality is part of VLC, but I'm slowly edging out other players….

Software

Surprisingly little additional software is necessary to have what I consider a usable computer. Still, there are several extra programs I like to have on my Mac for the sake of completeness; I've listed and described them (along with links for where to obtain them) on a separate Aleph 0 Mac OS X Software page.