Living on Air: A Windows guru spends two weeks with a Mac

Windows expert Preston Gralla was challenged to work with Apple's MacBook Air for two weeks. Will he ever go back to a PC?

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Then I found out about NeoOffice, an open-source office suite based on NeoOffice has a number of Mac-specific touches not included in, such as floating palettes, the ability to use trackpad gestures to zoom in and out, and a more complete set of available menus when no files are open. I found myself using NeoOffice more than, but either suite is excellent -- there's no need to purchase Microsoft Office.

Both office suites handle Microsoft Office formats, including .docx files, so there was no problem with document compatibility with Word files. The suites also recognize Word markup, and their markup is recognized by Word.

I found only two relatively minor compatibility issues. First, although I could read comments inserted in documents, I couldn't add comments of my own -- that feature seems nowhere to be found. (The ability to add comments may be added to OpenOffice 3.1 when it's released.)

Second is that both NeoOffice and have a minor bug related to page numbering in documents created in Word. If you create a document with a starting page after one -- for example, if you're writing a book and need to start a chapter on page 24 -- neither NeoOffice nor will recognize that. Instead, they'll substitute one for the starting page number.

I also found one anomaly between and NeoOffice -- in, the Command-Delete combination deleted an entire line of text, while in NeoOffice, it back-deleted a single word.

As for Web browsers, I tried both Mozilla Firefox and Apple's own Safari (the beta of Version 4.0), and found Safari slightly faster, with some very nifty features, such as a panoramic thumbnail display of your favorite sites.

Both Safari and Firefox work with Foxmarks, an add-in that lets you synchronize your bookmarks among different computers. Foxmarks also works with Internet Explorer. So I was able to use any browser on any computer, and my bookmarks would synchronize among them. This let me switch between Safari and Firefox on the Mac without any issues at all.

Living with a Mac

One of Safari's niftiest features is a panoramic view of your most-visited Web sites.

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I was extremely pleased to find that the Mac also supports Microsoft's Windows Live Sync software, which lets you keep files and folders synchronized among multiple computers. In this way, I could work on my Mac on documents, which would be automatically synchronized back to my PC, and vice versa.

Windows users will at first be confused by one operating systemwide feature related to applications that is quite disconcerting -- an application's menu is separate from the application window, and lives at the very top of the desktop. So, for example, if you're working in an application, and the window is not maximized, you won't find the menu in the application window itself -- it's at the very top of the desktop.

More disconcerting still is that when you minimize an application, the menu of that application remains open at the top of the screen, even though you may be now looking at an altogether different app. For example, if I was working in NeoOffice and then minimized it, the NeoOffice menu remained active, even though I was now looking at Firefox (whose window was initially underneath NeoOffice's window). Admittedly, once I clicked in Firefox, its menu became active. But I never did get used to this, and found it continually confusing.

The keyboard conundrum

Windows users will find that the Mac keyboard will take getting used to, and it's more difficult if you're using the MacBook Air keyboard, which has fewer keys than the normal Mac and dispenses with some common keys such as Home and End.

Generally, the Command key works like the Windows Control key -- for example, to move forward or backward a word at a time, use the Command key in concert with the left or right arrow key. Most difficult to get used to was the Mac's Delete key, which works in the exact opposite way as the Windows Delete key -- it deletes text to the left of the insertion point, rather than the right. (In other words, it works like a PC's Backspace key.) To delete to the right, you have to hold down the Fn key while pressing the Delete key. To delete entire words in this way, you hold down both the Fn and Option keys while pressing Delete. (There is an extended Apple keyboard that has a second delete key, but I was working with the Air.)

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