The Quantum Pontiff

Notes on Moving to a Mac

A list of observations I found in moving from a PC to a MAC.

  • The default on a Mac is that the tab key only moves between text boxes. That’s just silly. To fix this, go to System Preferences, click Keyboards and Mouse, and then select the appropriate radio box under the Full Keyboard Access section.
  • Latex Equation Editor and Leopard don’t seem to be getting along well. See here for example. My workaround has been to use LaTeXiT instead. However LaTeXiT doesn’t work with Leopard yet, and in particular the linkback functionality apparently causes all sorts of problems. One solution is to use a prior version of LaTeXiT. Another, that is, so far, working for me, is to install the latest version of LaTeXiT, and then patch the linkback plugin. See this thread for instructions.
  • Slowly but surely I am getting used to having “fn,” “control,” “option,” and “command” keys. Boy that’s a lot of modifiers.
  • I’m using FireFox as my browser right now. One issue I still haven’t figured out is how to configure FireFox to open preview when I surf to the arxiv and click on the “pdf” link for a paper. I don’t care about this opening in the browser window (something which isn’t possible with FireFox apparently), just getting the damn thing to recognize that its a pdf I clicked on. Anyone?
  • Upon opening the box for my new MacBook Pro I had a olfactory flashback. Is it just me or do Apple products of today smell similar to the Apple products of yore? In particular I’m remember the smell of opening up the boxes for my Apple IIGS (4096 colors…but not at the same time!)
  • Keynote converts my Powerpoint reasonably well, enough that I should be able reuse some of the content. I’m still debating whether to get Office for the Mac.
  • iTunes actually works on Macs. As opposed to hogging up memory and CPU cycles like it did on my Vista machine
  • The trackpad sensitivity is a strange. This is something I think I’ll get used to, but it is odd when I’m in a folder and all of the sudden instead of the mouse moving, the icons change size.
  • Cyberduck seems to fail when making major moves of data (like, for instance the 50 gigs of my old laptop hard drive backup.) Not sure if this was just me, and my bandwidth restrictions, but it kept failing on transfers over a few gigs.


  1. #1 Sandra Porter
    March 27, 2008

    If you want to open pdfs with Preview, always, do this:

    1. Find a pdf document and click it with your right mouse button.

    2. Select Get Info from the menu.

    3. Look through the information appears and open the selection that says “Open With”

    4. Choose Preview from the menu and click the Change button to tell your Mac to always use Preview to open this kind of file.

  2. #2 Sandra Porter
    March 27, 2008

    Also, in the System Preferences, you can control the sensitivity of your track pad.

  3. #3 Bouncing Bosons
    March 27, 2008

    I’ll admit to being jealous. I got a MacBook last fall, and I love it, but secretly wish I had gotten a pro instead.

    If you need office functionality, you may want to consider trying NeoOffice, a aqua port of OpenOffice that’s much farther along that OOo’s “official” aqua port. OOo is not to everyone’s taste, but it has been playing nicer with powerpoint recently. YMMV

  4. #4 Bouncing Bosons
    March 27, 2008

    Sorry for the double post, but if I may make a configuration suggestion: there is a trackpad option to set right click to be clicking the button with two fingers resting on the pad. It’s much more natural to me than having to hold option (or whichever key it was) or setting up tapping of any kind (tapping annoys me, lol).

  5. #5 dan
    March 27, 2008

    Hi Dave,

    I suspect your arxiv PDF issues are due to an incompatibility between the new betas of Firefox and in the way MIME-types are handled.

    I have had the same issues and can suggest the following workarounds:

    a) Go back to Firefox 2 (boring!)


    b) Use the aps mirror of the archive which seems to use a different (proper?) MIME-type method and seems to work fine with Firefox 3.

    As far as PDF reading goes, I recommend you install Skim – a freeware PDF reader written specifically for academics.

    Oh, and have you discovered Papers yet? 😉


  6. #6 Sam
    March 27, 2008

    The Schubert PDF Browser plugin should work in Firefox.

  7. #7 PhilipJ
    March 27, 2008

    I suggest using Camino in lieu of Firefox on macs. It uses the same gecko engine, and is actually made for macs, while Firefox still has some strange un-mac-like mannerisms.

  8. #8 Dave Bacon
    March 27, 2008

    Thanks all.

    Sandra: yeah that’s not the problem for the pdfs on the arxiv. I think it is the mime problem dan describes (i.e. this is only a problem for Also the complaint about the trackpad isn’t about the speed or such, it’s about the fact that m fingers are too big! (i.e. the issue is that sometimes it thinks my finguer is touching twice…or maybe its that I accidentally touch another part of the pad.) But this is a minor issue.

    Sam: thanks for the link. I’ll check that out.

    Bouncing Boson: that’s what I have for double click…slowly but surely I’m getting used to it.

  9. #9 dan
    March 27, 2008


    That Schubert PDF plugin you mention is not compatible with the new generation of Macs with Intel processors.

    Safari and OmniWeb do have the ability to display PDFs inline on their own, but Firefox does not. It is not a feature I have ever missed….

  10. #10 Dave Bacon
    March 27, 2008

    Confirmed: the Schubert PDF plugin doesn’t seem to work.

  11. #11 Dave Bacon
    March 27, 2008

    Yeah it is the mime types for the arxiv. works for me fine.

  12. #12 Pieter Kok
    March 27, 2008

    Dave, I migrated from PC to Mac (yay!) a few months ago, and I use TexShop for all my LaTeX needs. The editor is not quite ideal (especially if you are used to emacs), but it is not bad either. Another possible text editor that people seem to like is textmate, but it is not free.

  13. #13 dan
    March 27, 2008

    Pieter: If it’s Emacs yer missin…

  14. #14 Jocelyn
    March 27, 2008

    You can also configure TexShop to use an external editor of your choice in a terminal and from there run the command “open” on the file to compile/view in TexShop.

  15. #15 Rev Matt
    March 27, 2008

    I bought TextMate for all my coding needs and it is seriously worth the money. And you can get a full functional 30 day trial to check it out (

    My wife gets lots of word docs to deal with and we used first OO and then NeoOffice but found that performance for both was miserable (on G4 macs, granted). I’ve been happy with iWork, but I don’t meddle with spreadsheets or presentations.

  16. #16 peter
    March 27, 2008

    textmate is worth the money. at least for coding.

    btw, have you noticed yet that in “cocoa” apps, (native OSX apps,) many of the emacs ctl-key shortcuts work? not the meta ones, but most of the simple editing commands do. C-o, C-a, C-e etc.

    vi, emacs and pico are all built in too 😉

    for the pdfs opening from camino, there is a preference in camino to ‘open files after download’ which you can use to pop pdfs open in preview. I don’t have firefox on the macs in my office so I can’t check if there is an equivalent.

  17. #17 chezjake
    March 27, 2008

    For Firefox, get the PDF Download extension to Firefox. It gives you choices of viewing in the browser, converting to HTML in the browser, downloading to disk, and setting preferences for which app to view in.

  18. #18 JohnQPublic
    March 27, 2008

    Any reason you’re choosing Firefox over Safari? (I use firefox user on Windows, but Epiphany on Linux (which blows Linux Firefox out of the water), but my wife took up using Safari on Windows and likes it better. I just wondered what the advantages were.)

  19. #19 Travis
    March 27, 2008

    Any reason you prefer Papers over BibDesk? BibDesk is free, has been around longer, and uses .bib files as its database (for better LaTeX compatibility).

    I like a lot of things about CyberDuck, but it’s often not very stable (some releases have been better than others). For big, simple transfers, I’d recommend the command line.

    Thanks for the warning about LaTeX Equation Editor. I’m running Leopard and haven’t seen this problem so far, but perhaps I’ve just been lucky.

  20. #20 Jud
    March 27, 2008

    I happen to love Opera as a browser – works on Mac, and as long as you’re in the trying-apps phase….

  21. #21 astephens
    March 27, 2008

    I recommend WebKit + Safari as the superfast browser of choice (

  22. #22 John S. Wilkins
    March 28, 2008

    LaTeXiT works fine for me on Leopard. Try a reinstallation.

  23. #23 Srivatsan
    March 28, 2008

    Hello Professor
    I have followed your blog for quite sometime and its very refreshing. I am form India and my background is in CS(Bachelor’s);currently my day job at a startup involves researching on Functional programming and NLP Algorithms. But my interest has been to pursue a PHD with specialization in Quantum computation. I have a good understanding of Quantum mechanics and have been reading Professor Nielson’s wonderful book on Quantum information. What advice would you have for someone like me who is looking to make the shift?

  24. #24 dan
    March 28, 2008

    Travis: I love the Mac-like interface of Papers and find the searching and matching of online databases works better. It’s still a bit buggy though. Bibdesk is a great too.

    While we are recommending software, here’s one which isn’t as widely known as it should be…. If you use Cisco’s VPN client, install Shimo – it does the same thing but in a much more elegant and convenient way….

  25. #25 Dave Bacon
    March 28, 2008

    To be clear LaTeXiT seems to work fine for me in Leopard, but the linkback plugin didn’t.

  26. #26 Ian Durham
    March 28, 2008

    Why FireFox? I used FireFox for awhile but then found all sorts of things that it didn’t like. I returned to using a fully configured Safari and everything works just dandy. Haven’t tried the linkback plugin on LaTeXiT yet, but it’s awesome when used in conjunction with Keynote – just drag and drop. The best thing about Macs since OS X was invented is the UNIX core. If you’re a tinkerer you can get almost any UNIX program to run on a Mac. I once ran the NRAO’s AIPS program on a Mac successfully (under 10.2 I think – this is like five years ago).

  27. #27 Matt
    March 29, 2008

    Try Camino instead of Firfox.
    Try Fugu instead of Cyberduck.

    Safari still sucks!

  28. #29 Dave Bacon
    March 29, 2008

    Good thing I didn’t get the air 🙂 BTW, low market share has always been good virus protection, no?

New comments have been disabled.