Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Switching to Mac OSX (Snow Leopard)

I am starting to migrate to Mac OSX my working environment. I am an old Linux user for my servers but I have never been completely convinced by the Desktops for Linux (mainly KDE and Gnome) and gone back to Windows with the introduction of its first usable version (XP). I have deliberately missed the Vista wagon, and have not been impressed by Windows 7. Being tired by the quirks of XP, I wanted to adopt a more reliable and modern interface. OSX seems to me to comply with this demand, and the Unix that is behind the interface is quite a standard one, quite easy to understand for a person used to Linux. I am a happy camper concerning the very well thought interface of OSX.

Migrating my working environment to OSX has not been completely simple. Before the switch, I have, of course, checked that this migration is broadly possible. Here I indicate what was very simple, what was more bumpy, and the points for which I have not yet found a completely satisfactory solution.

Immediate transition for:
  • Internet tools, starting with Firefox (I really need it for Zotero and other tools that do not exist under Safari or Chrome);
  • Latex compilation, just install TexLive, it is perfect.
  • For many aspects of Tex on OSX, check the wiki
  • Simple Latex editors: TexMaker is a very nice multi-platform editor. Aquamacs (Xemacs with an Aqua interface) comes standard with AUCTex, which a very powerful Tex editing and compiling tool.
  • Graphical Latex editors: I was using Lyx under Windows, there is an OSX version.
  • Mendeley Desktop (very nice, bibtex compatible library manager) has an OSX version.
  • Statistical tools: R-project offers an OSX version, perfect for me; it was my main tool under Windows. I am using Aquamacs also for R, since it comes with ESS (Emacs speaks statistics), which is also very powerful. Gretl (econometrics) works under OSX.
  • Java programming: Eclipse works under OSX.
  • NetLogo works under OSX.
  • Bitmap graphics: Gimp also offers an OSX version.
  • Vectorial graphics: JPicEDT is written in Java, so you can use it also under OSX, without any problem
  • MS Office: I am using Office 2008.
  • Picasa has an OSX version (I prefer it to iPhoto, probably because I am too lazy to replace an old software that satisfies me).
  • Skype has on OSX version.
  • Evernote works nicely with OSX.
  • Freemind mind map software also works under OSX (Java).
  • Zipeg is a nice and free zip archive manager.
Problems begin:
  • One difficult point has been to find a nice substitute to PowerPro (this very nifty and talented swiss-army knife utility for managing many aspects of windows and automatizing many tasks). Butler is able to replace some of them. I am learning AppleScript for some other aspects. Don't call this an easy transition ;-)
  • Lyx has problems to import some big Latex files I have written with Scientific Word, so I continue to use the latter under a Parallel's virtual machine :-( I would really have an OSX version of SWP, even if I love Lyx...
  • Unfortunately Entourage in Office 2008 is not compatible with Outlook (such a stupid strategy!); I am waiting Office 2010 that will reintroduce Outlook. I like quite well Apple-Mail but my several years old mail archive is under Outlook format and I do not want to loose mails during the conversion process...
  • Making Inkscape + TexText work under OSX has been a pain. I do not even remember how I have been able to do it (I have followed and mixed several forum post on this topic).
  • Ipe graphics editor for Latex does not propose an OSX version out of the box. It seems possible to compile it for OSX, but I have not had yet the time to do it (it seems a little bit painful).
  • Xara X drawing software for vector graphics. I am really missing this one. I had to install it in the virtual machine.
Nice surprises:
  • Bibliography management for bibtex: I like Jabref (it is multi-platform), but Bibdesk is a very nice reference management tool.
  • Backup: Time machine is very nice and you have also nice imaging tools under OSX. You can use TimeMachineEditor to customize some of its aspects. Backblaze also works for OSX and I have been able to transfer my subscription to the new machine without any problem (be just ready to loose all your old Windows backups).
  • The Agenda of OSX is very nice and simply synchronizes with Google calendar.
  • Bean is a very nice and light Word file editor.
  • Skim is a very useful free Acrobat viewer (and editor). Preview in OSX also very useful (deleting pages, etc.). FormulatePro allows the filling of Acrobat forms.
  • MyMind is a very nice idea editor.
  • WineBottler (free) is a very nice Wine version that allows the installation of some small Windows programs under OSX. I have tested CrossOverX, but have not really been convinced by its advantages.
  • OSX comes with many small and nice utilities (managing hard disk, writing DVDs, etc.).
Conclusion: I am using my virtual machine only for Scientific Word (only for some files, all new files are written under LyX or Aquamacs), Ipe and Xara X. I am quite happy with the coherent working environment provided by OSX. I am not ready to switch back to Windows for some time... :-)