02 December 2013

...to have PCs behave more like Macs

Dear Reader

I recently spent four months as a PC user.

Despite my greatest efforts to get the machine match-fit by installing Windows equivalents of all my usual production tools (such as PlainClip and HexPicker), it's a grave understanding that it doesn't, and never will, behave quite like a Mac. Not that I'm some toffee-nosed Apple fanboy; I've often used PCs in tandem with my work and am quite rational about the technology and what one gets out of it. I'd just kind of forgotten the little niggles that come from using a platform not built bottom up for design. One example in particular: the lack of preview for Photoshop files which forces you to open 200mb of layout and realise it's not the droid you're looking for.

But still, the PC I used at work was the PC I used at work, so I made it the best PC I used at work that I possibly could.

If you're a Mac user who has made - or is making - the switch, here's my list of mods, tweaks and rubs applied to the PC which helped me endlessly day-to-day and which may help you too. Hey, some may be features already in Windows 7, but I never found them myself by prodding Google or lurking around forums. To be frank, the result - should you get involved - is akin to a mock Tudor house. But at least it's habitable.

One last thing. Some mods can make a PC unstable. My experience with what I installed had been good. Switcher sometimes quit on me, and QTTabBar sometimes stopped working, but what I'm trying to say is, you're a grown up; if you install these, and your PC crashes, it's not my fault.

Anyway, here you go:

On the Mac: The Dock
PC equivalent: ObjectDock
Cost: Free 30 day trial, licence approx £7
THE DOCK! Waaaaah! Oh my gracious how I needed this. There are other PC docks out there, but this fitted my needs the best, and appeared to be the most stable. It takes some messing with the prefs to get it how you like it, but you can pin your most valuable apps, folders and drives to your heart's content. Some things you still miss, like bouncing alerts when you get a mail or Skype message. However, I found a good workaround is to set up ObjectDock to display system tray icons, meaning alerts still show. Lovely!

Mac: Hexpicker
PC: Hex Color Finder
Cost: Free
Take hex values from anything visible on screen.

Mac: PlainClip
PC: PureText
Cost: Free
Strips out embedded meta data from text when cutting and pasting from one doc to another. PlainClip is possibly the greatest plug in ever created for Mac, so to find the PC equivalent was OH MY GOD!
Tip: Set up PureText to display in the system tray as it didn't seem to work as a link on ObjectDock. Every time you need to strip out data from the pasteboard, just click the icon.

Mac: Grab
PC: Snipping Tool
Cost: Free (bundled with Windows)
If you want to do more than just ‘Print Screen’ this allows you more control over screen grabs.

Mac: natively view preview of PSDs
PC: Mystic Thumbs
Cost: Free 30 day trial, licence approx £15 single / £18 business
It does lots of other stuff I didn't need, but the main thing is *you can see a preview of your Photoshop files* within explorer. Best purple lady I ever spent for work.

Mac: Reads HFS formatted drives
PC: MacDrive
Cost: Free trial, licence approx £32
Worth not having the hassle of shifting archives and reformatting my external Mac drives. There's a free app called HFSExplorer but despite all my efforts, I couldn't get it to work.

Mac: Mounted drives appear on desktop
PC: DeskDrive
Cost: Free (but DO consider donating to its developer Mike Ward)
No biggie for most I'm sure, but when I plugged a drive in, I wanted to see it on the desktop. Suddenly I could. And it cost me the price of a coffee.

Mac: Quicklook
PC: MacComfort
Cost: Free limited version (which allows use of 'Quicklook'), full fat version approx £11
This does all sorts of things relating to making the PC more Mac-y, changing the PC to use Mac keystrokes, adding Active Corners and Spaces. But all I really used it for was QuickLook. It's not amazing, to be frank, a bit shit, but hitting spacebar displays a preview of the file selected. Beggars can't be choosers!

Mac: Folder colour labelling
Windows: Folder Marker
Cost: Free
Doesn't quite do the same thing as a Mac (marking the whole folder line with a colour strip) but it does colourise folders. However, you lose the preview of whatever documents are within the folder.  Maybe the least useful mod made. In fact, I barely used it.

Mac: Column view
PC: QTTabBar
Cost: Free
Not its primary function (that's adding tabs to Windows Explorer) the best thing QTTabs adds are cascading menus which appear on the fly when you click a folder, allowing you to see the contents without opening it. Almost like column view.

Mac: Expose
PC: Switcher
Cost: Free
Pretty much works like expose, you can even assign your own hotkey within the app. F3, natch.

Mac: Volume controlled on keyboard
Cost: Free
With my plugged-in Mac keyboard, the volume control keys (once assigned) control the PC volume without fiddling around with the stupid volume mixer on the toolbar. Plus the volume icon appears onscreen with that familiar pop-pop-pop sound thrown in. Makes you miss home, though. I tip my hat to the developer Matthew Malensek.

Mac: FontBook
PC: NexusFont
Cost: Free
Windows’ built in Font management is foul and does nothing apart from act as a dumb repository (sorry if you’re one of the developers who worked on it, I’m sure there’s a lot going on under the bonnet). Nexus offers a few more features and the ability to make ‘sets’ of fonts.

Mac: Black pointers and The Spinning Beach Ball of Death
PC: Reskin with Mac cursors
Cost: Free
Try these.

Missing from Windows: 15 years of Mac hotkey muscle memory
Patch: retraining yourself
Cost: time
I've added a Mac keyboard to my set up but nothing can help me with all my hard learned keystrokes and diacritic inputs. That's a hard one to accept.

The above mock Tudor house image is used courtesy of Jesse Raaen.