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Going online – Mac style

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This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on July 20, 2001

(Issue 1929, The Wired Home)

I'd promised the kids a new iMac over the summer, and since I'm still wrestling with my KVM switcher for my three Intel boxes (Windows, Solaris and Linux), this is the first column to be written on a Mac. (Eventually, when I get Samba up and running, I'll have all four computers running on my home LAN.)

Past columns in ComputorEdge (going back to the now-extinct On-Line San Diego column reviewing local BBSs) have been written on an Atari 800, an IBM XT, an Atari ST, an Atari Falcon and, of late, various Windows boxes (with an occasional column written on the Solaris or Linux box when the kids have the Windows machine tied up doing homework).

Now, the last time I regularly used a Mac was in the early '90s – and it wasn't exactly a Mac, anyway: it was an Atari ST running the Spectre GCR hardware Mac emulator. I was running Mac System 5 on that, I think – used it to call bulletin boards to download Mac files occasionally; mostly used it for PageMaker and Word.

The most notable difference between Windows 98SE and Mac OS 9.1 is how much easier it was to get the Mac online. (I recently had to get Windows 2000 and Windows Me online via dial-up connections at work, and found no noticeable improvement from Win98.) I'm temporarily on a dial-up account while I wait for my DSL to get reinstalled (I was caught up in the Northpoint bankruptcy debacle), and it took me one menu, maybe a full minute – at most – to get the Mac online checking my e-mail. Far simpler than under Windows (which would still be booting up when the Mac was downloading e-mail!), and let's not even mention Linux or Solaris.

My Mac and Windows box are roughly comparable – Windows is running on a 500 Mhz PIII; the Mac is a 500 Mhz G3. The Mac only has 64 megs of RAM (to be rectified shortly); the Pentium has 128.

Given that, the Mac does seem to browse the Web a bit slower than the Wintel machine, although I've yet to download Opera for the Mac – and I've found that under Windows, anyway, Opera loads pages much faster than Netscape or Internet Explorer.

What's interesting to note is that IE5 has a lot of features on the Mac it doesn't have in its Windows version. The organization of its tabs is sleeker on the Mac – taking up less room, yet just as easy to find and activate.

Eudora 5.1 also is slightly different on the Mac than in its Windows counterpart. You get a little song when you have mail, along with an icon of three pigs (replacing the earlier Eudora for Mac icon of a rooster holding a letter).

So it seems that, despite all the hype about there being more software available for the Mac, in terms of accessing the Internet, you have almost all the same options – Netscape, IE, Opera for browsing; Eudora, Netscape, Outlook for e-mail. And just about every multimedia browser plug-in – Flash, Quicktime – is available for the Mac.

The Mac doesn't seem to have some of the basic built-in Internet utilities that Windows, Unix and Linux have, though – I may be wrong two days into my Machood, but I'm not finding a telnet utility nor standalone ftp dlient. For someone who lives by his Unix shell account for checking e-mail, the lack of a command shell/telnet client presents a serious crimp in my computing style. A line-item command ftp client would also be nice – I'll be hunting for a telnet and ftp client on the various shareware archives in the weeks to come.

But for getting online quickly, easily and with a minimum of both fuss and computer savvy, the Mac simply cannot be beat.