zerosleeps

Since 2010

Windows: maybe not

Thursday 2 May 2019

Purely by coincidence, but with great timing for me, my partner has just acquired a brand new Dell XPS 13 for work and boy has it been an eye-opening experience for both of us.

The hardware is great. It feels solid, has a fine array of ports, and the screen is beautiful with it’s teeny tiny bezel. It’s pretty functional as well, with LEDs to show when it’s charging and sleeping, plus a little battery level gauge.

The trackpad is a far cry from Apple’s current offerings and you need two hands to open it, but it’s still a really nice piece of kit. Nicely presented in the packaging too.

But then you turn it on.

The Windows 10 first-run experience is… fine. Cortana is a bit obnoxious, and Microsoft begged for an online account to be created. It’s very telling that the privacy controls available for review during setup all default to “give us your data” mode as well. It was an easy enough process though.

The next thing we noticed was that the machine was loaded with Windows 10 Home, not Windows 10 Pro as advertised in-store. That’s on the retailer that this was purchased from, and not at all surprising, at least to me. It was a helpful reminder that Windows editions are a thing though. Why?

Next up - bloatware o' bloatware. This is a multi-thousand-dollar machine, which is stuffed with shit like Candy Crush and things that shove Dolby logos in your face. Of course Dell themselves add all sorts of support and maintenance crap. It took a few days for my partner to get through the various Windows updates + Dell updates and the conflicts between them.

Drivers are apparently still a thing, by the way.

None of this was helped by the fact that for some reason, Windows wouldn’t activate. That is also still a thing. Attempting to manually activate didn’t really provide any enlightening information, and the troubleshooter added nothing. And since this was over Easter weekend, Microsoft support was shut down and couldn’t help either. I never found out what the issue was, but it did eventually get resolved by Microsoft.

Aw, and then last night the screen brightness controls stopped working. The on-screen HUD would show the brightness being adjusted (whether by shortcut keys or somewhere in Settings), but the brightness remained steady. So there’s something else that will suck up some troubleshooting time.

The saddest part is that my partner just shrugged most of this off, like it’s normal to have to put up with it all. That right there is perhaps the problem - PC/Windows users just assume that this kind of crap is expected. That’s not okay!

So not a fabulous initial experience for my partner, but it sure helped me form a pretty solid conclusion about my “could I switch to Windows” thing from a couple of weeks ago. Apple can do much better, but it turns out the grass on the other side is a really off-putting shade of brown. It can often feel like everything is broken when I stumble into an issue which affects my workflow, but these past few days have made me realise that MacOS is still head-and-shoulders above the Windows experience.

I’m still pissed off about my MacBook Pro’s keyboard though…

Sublime Text timestamp snippet

Wednesday 1 May 2019

2 parts needed: a Python module to generate the string, and a definition to make the class available as a Sublime Text command.

The end result of all of this is a new Sublime Text command which outputs something like this at the current cursor position:

2019-05-01T19:53+1000

~/Library/Application Support/Sublime Text 3/Packages/User/date-time-stamp.py

Python module which defines a subclass of sublime_plugin.TextCommand and uses Sublime Text’s hooks to spew out a formatted datetime as a snippet.

Ever tried to get Python to output the local UTC offset? What a mess. My solution was shamelessly stolen from this Stack Overflow answer:

date-time-stamp.py
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import time
import datetime
import sublime_plugin

class DateTimeStampCommand(sublime_plugin.TextCommand):
    def run(self, edit):
        utc_offset_sec = time.altzone if time.localtime().tm_isdst else time.timezone
        utc_offset = datetime.timedelta(seconds=-utc_offset_sec)
        formatted_string = datetime.datetime.now().replace(tzinfo=datetime.timezone(offset=utc_offset)).strftime('%Y-%m-%dT%H:%M%z')

        self.view.run_command(
            "insert_snippet",
            {
                "contents": formatted_string
            }
        )

~/Library/Application Support/Sublime Text 3/Packages/User/date-time.sublime-commands

This surfaces the new class method in Sublime Text’s command pallet:

date-time.sublime-commands
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[
    {
        "caption": "Insert ISO8601 date and time",
        "command": "date_time_stamp"
    }
]

FileVault

Monday 15 April 2019

I’ve been paying closer attention to the software I use since last week’s little series of posts, and I think I rely on macOS' underlying POSIX-compliant Unix core more than I initially thought. What’s the story with terminal applications on Windows these days? SSH clients? I mentioned (but skimmed over) using Ruby on Windows, but it turns out I knock up throw-away Ruby scripts more frequently than I initially suspected.

The prompt for this post though was my realisation that FileVault counts as macOS-only software. It’s Apple’s built-in full-disk encryption solution. Does Windows have an equivalent?

More things to look into…

Windows software

Monday 8 April 2019

Third and last post for today, and this is where I’ll become unstuck - software.

I rarely think twice about spending money on software if I think it’s going to be useful, personally or professionally. My impression is that in general, it’s easier to find quality software for macOS than it is for Windows. I’d love to be proved wrong, but there sure seems to be a lot of junk out there for Windows, while macOS has a bunch of awesome indy developers.

I think the best way of tackling this piece of the puzzle is to have a software audit:

Deal breaker

For better or worse I either can’t give some of the things in this section up (for professional reasons), or I’m not prepared to:

  • 1Password
  • Backblaze
  • Dropbox
  • Firefox
  • Google Chrome
  • Microsoft Office
  • Python
  • Ruby
  • Snagit
  • Sublime Text
  • SuperDuper!
  • Things
  • Time Machine
  • Tower
  • VMWare Fusion

Most of these require no further discussion and/or already have Windows counterparts. There are a couple worth a mention though:

I’ve spent a lot of money on VMWare Fusion over the years, mainly so I can run Windows on my Mac. That particular use case would obviously go away if I was running Windows natively, but I’d still have a need to spin up sandboxed Windows and Linux machines. VirtualBox perhaps?

SuperDuper! (I hate the exclamation mark, but that’s it’s name) and Time Machine are both Mac-only drive cloning and continuous backup solutions. I take backups seriously, so I’ll need to find out more about alternatives to those.

Python plays pretty well on Windows, but trying to get Ruby working natively is something I’ve tried once-or-twice and it’s not pretty. Windows Subsystem for Linux? Or just virtual Linux machines as mentioned above? I think I’d really miss macOS’s Unix underpinnings. I’ll think more about that.

One last item: Cultured Code’s Things. I’ll be stunned if I’ll be able to find something similar for Windows with such perfect iOS integration. Still, it’s only a todo list - I guess it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Sure would be nice

  • Banktivity
  • iStat Menus
  • KeepingYouAwake
  • Photos
  • Pixelmator

Windows has a tonne of utility apps like iStat Menus and KeepingYouAwake, so not going to dwell on those for too long.

Banktivity? Now I’m writing this out I’m not sure why this hasn’t made my “deal breaker” list, but Things did. I reckon Banktivity would be much easier to replace than Things though - heck I could just use a spreadsheet really. For further investigation.

Apple’s Photos. I don’t know what Windows people use to organise their photos. And I would hate to lose all my photo titles/descriptions.

Pixelmator. Awesome software, but I don’t use it enough to cry about losing it.

Wrapping up

So that leaves me with a few things to ponder and a few things to research. I feel very differently about this now than I did when I started typing this post. Have I gotten myself locked into an ecosystem that I can’t get out of? Is it worth putting up with broken hardware to use the software I rely on? Is macOS’s Unix underpinnings something I can live without? Would a switch to Windows just move my problems?

I need to think about some of this.