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Switcher Hangout The place for switchers to discuss their new machines, and how to work with OS X. General support can be had here for newbie stuff, like "How do I restart my new iMac?" :)

Mac experts please help a Linux user to switch


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klaxian

 
Member Since: Jul 29, 2012
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Hello all. I have been a dedicated Linux user for the past 10 years. I use my computer for software development, photo and video editing, gaming, system admin, and general web browsing / documents, etc. To make a long story short, I have been struggling with some of the recent decisions made by Linux desktop environments and distributions so I decided to try a Mac. I'm not the only one.

I picked up a Macbook Pro Retina a week ago and I have been testing it out. Certainly the interface (gestures, etc) will take some getting used to, but I'm good with change and I'll get better at that with practice. I was excited to use something that truly "just works", but I have been running into some snags. There is a lot to like about this Macbook so please don't think I'm only focusing on the negative. It would just take to long to list all the positive things

Mac experts, I would appreciate any suggestions you could provide to solve these issues or please point me in the right direction. Thanks.

Video Editing
Linux has come a long way, but it still struggles with photo and video editing. I was eager to see Apple's advantages in this area.
  1. Indeed, iMovie has an exceptional interface and easy to use tools. However, it seems to lack support for many codecs. On Linux, I am used to every option being available everywhere. Perhaps that is because Apple has an incentive to keep people using only Apple technologies where the Linux community does not? Anyway, iMovie does not import many formats like MKV and MTS. I read the sticky on MTS and I know that I can transcode them prior to importing into iMovie, but I am looking to make my life easier with this switch - not to add steps and time. Besides, transcoding between lossy formats lowers the final output quality.
  2. My newer cameras use the MOV format so I thought I'd try some basic editing and worry about the MTS and MKV files later. Again, I am impressed with the user interface and I was ready to export my finished movie before I knew it. Much to my dismay, there are very limited output options. Settings like "good, better, best" seem geared toward novice users and don't provide the flexibility I need. Even FCP doesn't have more advanced encoding settings.
  3. Even so, I found a reasonable format (MP4 with H.264/AAC) and tried an export. I then discovered that iMovie does not utilize any of the power of my new computer. It does not support multi-core encoding and it does not use Quick Sync nor GPU accelerated encoding. I'm stuck waiting for 30 minutes while my 5 minute clip is encoded and only 8% of my CPU is used. I learned that Apple's 64-bit Final Cut Pro X does support multi-core encoding and GPU acceleration, but that's way overkill for my needs. It's another $299 on top of the $3000 I just spent on this laptop. Linux video editors use centralized libraries that support most every codec and multi-core encoding so this seems a step backward.
  4. I tested a trial of FCPx and Compressor. Indeed encoding was MUCH faster. However, I'm still stuck with a very limited set of codecs to choose from. Presets like "iPod" might be convenient, but I am not yet ready to swap every electronic device that I own for Apple's version. I want to be able to control and fine tune the settings for encoding video. On Linux, I would export H.264 (VBR quality 27, etc) and AAC (VBR quality preset) in an MKV container. Every option was visible and able to be changed or I could start with some convenient presets.
  5. I read that one option is to export in Apple's standard 1080p preset (which produces an enormous file much larger than the original from the camera) and then use another application (like Handbrake) to encode to the format I want. Again, why are there so many time consuming steps and multiple transcodes required?

Retina Display
  1. The video card in Apple's top Macbook isn't powerful enough to run games at the display's native resolution. As you know, when you don't run games at native resolution, they look worse.
  2. I am only able to control what resolution games are run at when running in full screen mode (in which case I can't switch between open apps). When selecting any "Windowed" mode, the OS displays the game however it wants no matter what resolution is selected. I would prefer for the games to be displayed using the native resolution in a smaller window, but they don't.
  3. Most apps are not optimized for the Retina display and look blurry. I know that this may be addressed in the future, but I suspect it will be a problem for a while. Of course, many Apple apps have been updated.

Other
  1. It seems like the OS only caters to novice users who want to use all Apple products and accept whatever suggestions the apps make. For example, I would like to be able to see actual file paths and hidden files in the Finder. I found ways to accomplish these things, but they are not obvious nor elegant. To see hidden files, a settings file must be manually updated. Once complete, ALL hidden files are shown everywhere so there is a bunch of garbage Mac files in every folder and on the desktop. On Linux and Windows, you can turn this on or off per directory and each time you browse. Settings are equally sparse. I could go on.
  2. Trackpad gestures are nice, but it seems like Apple forgot that users might sometimes connect a mouse. For example, the "natural" scrolling direction setting makes sense for the trackpad, but not the scroll wheel on a mouse. There doesn't seem to be a way to set a different preference by device. I tried a third party app "Scroll Reverser" and it solves that problem except forward/back gestures no longer function. Very annoying.
  3. I really liked "focus follows mouse" in Linux. Windows would gain focus when the mouse moves over them without having to always click. Focus was separate from "raising" the window. This obviously doesn't work on a Mac because of the unified menu at the top. For a power user, having the menus closer to the normal mouse position and "focus follows mouse" time savings add up.
  4. Things seem "locked down" compared to what I'm used to with Linux. Apple certainly wants to make sure I use only their products, file formats, and software. I'm sure someone will point out that you CAN use other things. However, it's not nearly as easy and integrated as the Apple products by design. Adding steps and third party plugins to accomplish every goal isn't ideal.
  5. There is a lack of settings to configure the computer the way I want. Perhaps too many settings is intimidating to the beginner, but I feel like I can't make the computer behave like I want. For example, I don't want the computer to go to sleep when I close the laptop lid. There is no setting to disable that.
  6. I'm not ready to send all my files and settings to Apple with iCloud or to subscribe to the whole Apple culture and iLife. However, everything seems designed to funnel users in that direction. Going contrary to that setup is cumbersome in the OS.
  7. Random gripe: I got Mountain Lion for free because I recently purchased this laptop. However, if I hadn't, I certainly wouldn't have purchased it. I can't find any compelling new features in this supposedly "major release" especially since I don't own an AirPlay device. If this is typical of OS updates, it's disappointing.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading! Again, there are many things that I DO like about the Macbook. The hardware, build quality, design, form factor, overall OS interface, etc. are top notch. I really want to like this computer, but I'm trying to justify $3000 of expense that I didn't have before. If the computer can't do what I need better than my Linux systems, I'd be better off returning it and saving my money. Please help. Thanks!
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IvanLasston

 
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Welcome to Macs. I too made the switch from Linux to the Mac. First let me preface everything by saying - to make the Mac work the way I wanted it to - meant I had to buy some programs. I think OSX is quite good on its own but I like the way some things work in purchased programs and I found them worth the money.

First off - if there are programs that you like that work on Linux - they are generally available on the Mac through FOSS repositories. The two most popular being fink and macports.
Fink - Home
The MacPorts Project -- Home
I tend to use macports now - as I like compiling my software. You can install X11 and Xcode for your Mac.

Videos
As you've found - iMovie is quite capable but you are right - you'll need something more if you are dealing with MKS and MKV files. I found the same thing out when I tried using my Canon HD camera with the Mac. I ended up with Adobe Premiere Pro - but it isn't a cheap solution. That being said - instead of spending hours transcoding - I have my movie editing solution. Premiere Pro is used all over including in Hollywood. I've not used FCP - but there was a lot of hullabaloo on the internet about the latest FCP. For example
Final Cut Pro X complaints fly between editors and developers (Updated) | TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog
But as I said I am no expert in FCP.

Retina Display
don't have one so can't comment too much. But I am jealous. When the retina on the iPad came out it suffered from the same sorts of problems - apps had to be updated to use the retina. In my experience you need dual graphics cards just to get decent performance on a 1920x1200 display - so good luck with a laptop display with that many pixels and high end gaming.

Other
Finder is pretty basic on it's own. The terminal is still available - and you can use the open command to open any hidden directory (as well as cd to it) There is a shell here command that I put into the Finder's toolbar so I can get to a shell at any time.
Download ShellHere 1.0.5 Free - Open a new Terminal window from Finder - Softpedia
You can also take a look at Total Finder or Pathfinder - Total Finder is a nice light add-on that adds tabs, as well as a simple keyboard shortcut to show/hide hidden files. It is still system wide but at least it is easy to turn on and off.
TotalFinder brings tabs to your native Finder and more!
Pathfinder has a bunch more stuff and coming from linux I find it very robust - and what I expected from a file browser. It is more expensive than total finder but the extra features IMHO are worth the money.
Path Finder 6 by Cocoatech

Try Better touch tool - more configuration options for the trackpad/mouse - plus a bunch of options for window manipulation. Also has separate configuration for mice and trackpads.
Great Tools For Your Mac By Andreas Hegenberg » BetterTouchTool, BetterSnapTool & SecondBar

Things are locked down more - but you just add 3rd party items. You do the same on any other OS - I had to add Quicktime to Windows and grab no FOSS codecs for linux. Grab perian (yes it is unsupported but it still works) and Flip4mac as well as VLC and you'll have everything you need as far as codecs go.
Perian - The swiss-army knife of QuickTime® components
Official Windows Media Player on the Mac - Overview - Telestream Flip4Mac
VideoLAN - VLC: Official site - Free multimedia solutions for all OS!

Try Caffine - from the app store to keep the computer on - note you can overheat your computer if you aren't careful. (I've stuck mine in a bag with caffeine on and had to let it cool to reboot)
Mac App Store - Caffeine

You don't have to use iCloud if you don't want to - but it does make life easier. There are other choices for sharing information - like Google - but then you are sending your information to Google. Dropbox, sugarsync, box.net, skydrive, amazon drive, all have sync programs that work on the mac as well.

If you are disappointed in OS upgrades then don't upgrade. I am still running leopard on some older macs and they are doing fine. I don't upgrade with every ubuntu release nor every KDE or GNOME desktop release either. I actually have a rule on OS upgrades - I wait for the first major patch release before doing the upgrade. This gives the OS some time in the wild and I can see any problems people are having. I didn't go to XP, Vista or Windows 7 until SP1 - I didn't go to Snow Leopard and Lion until the first patch release either. Although I do get Lion for free on one Machine - I didn't do the upgrade yet (as I said waiting for patch 1)

The machine and hardware can run Linux too - so if you don't like Mac but like the hardware - just wipe and put Linux on it.

I still use linux quite a bit - as it is part of my job - but I remote in using VNC or SSH. I still have big linux hardware running at various places - but for my desktop - I've gone Mac - and not having to worry about device drivers, compiling, non-foss support has made my desktop life a lot easier (but not necessarily cheaper)
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chas_m

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by klaxian View Post
HTo make a long story short, I have been struggling with some of the recent decisions made by Linux desktop environments and distributions so I decided to try a Mac. I'm not the only one.
Welcome to the Mac! As a tip for future reference, you probably will get more responses if you break up epic and multi-topic posts like this into separate threads.

Quote:
Mac experts, I would appreciate any suggestions you could provide to solve these issues or please point me in the right direction. Thanks.
See my essay in my signature for some general tips. You're obviously an advanced user so some won't apply but a little refresher and mentality-adjustment may be helpful. The Mac is way more "Zen" than Linux or Windows and understanding that is a key element.


Quote:
Indeed, iMovie has an exceptional interface and easy to use tools. However, it seems to lack support for many codecs.
And here's an opportunity to put that sentiment I mentioned above into practice.

As the old Chinese master might say, "and why do you think you need many codecs?"

Mac users like standards. We tend to pick a few and stick to them. This tends to make things less complicated and work better. While the Mac can (with some help from Flip4Mac WMV Player and Perian*) play nearly codec, for making videos we limit ourselves to the best and most common formats. DV, AVI, AVCHD, MP4, MPEG-2, H.264 and Apple Intermediate Codec (AIC).

AVI and MOV are not codecs, they are containers and the files within can be nearly any mix of codecs, so they often require conversion. There are a number of simple tools that can do this. Among the most versatile I've found are the free MPEG Streamclip, the free Handbrake and the cheap Permute.

Quote:
Perhaps that is because Apple has an incentive to keep people using only Apple technologies where the Linux community does not?
People often think this, but having worked at Apple I can assure you this isn't true. It's all about simplicity and a good quality experience. If it were totally up to Apple they would restrict users to maybe TWO codecs in order to make the actual production process as simple as possible. Most users like a LITTLE choice but not ENDLESS choice -- a key mistake Microsoft (et al) have made over the years IMO.

Quote:
Anyway, iMovie does not import many formats like MKV and MTS. I read the sticky on MTS and I know that I can transcode them prior to importing into iMovie, but I am looking to make my life easier with this switch - not to add steps and time. Besides, transcoding between lossy formats lowers the final output quality.
MKV is another container and to call it "non-standard" would be generous. MTS can be transcoded into a NON-lossy format such as AIC (preferred) or DV for editing. It's really not that big a deal.


Quote:
Much to my dismay, there are very limited output options. Settings like "good, better, best" seem geared toward novice users and don't provide the flexibility I need. Even FCP doesn't have more advanced encoding settings.
This is incorrect on both counts. Both iMovie and FCP have advanced, customizable output encoding settings. You just haven't found them yet.

In iMovie, you would export as QuickTime, then choose your general format and click on "Options" to be able to customise to your heart's content.

Quote:
Even so, I found a reasonable format (MP4 with H.264/AAC) and tried an export. I then discovered that iMovie does not utilize any of the power of my new computer. It does not support multi-core encoding and it does not use Quick Sync nor GPU accelerated encoding. I'm stuck waiting for 30 minutes while my 5 minute clip is encoded and only 8% of my CPU is used. I learned that Apple's 64-bit Final Cut Pro X does support multi-core encoding and GPU acceleration, but that's way overkill for my needs.
iMovie is a consumer-level software tool but I would expect the next version will embrace multi-core etc more fully. FCP previously sold for $999 and is one of the pro industry's most popular video editors so in my view it's a complete steal at that price.

Quote:
The video card in Apple's top Macbook isn't powerful enough to run games at the display's native resolution. As you know, when you don't run games at native resolution, they look worse.
It certainly IS powerful enough to run games at the display's native resolutions, but not a lot of games are ABLE to run at those high resolutions. Time and updates will fix this, but as proof I offer Diablo III, that was demo'd at the keynote introducing the new machines.


Quote:
It seems like the OS only caters to novice users who want to use all Apple products and accept whatever suggestions the apps make. For example, I would like to be able to see actual file paths and hidden files in the Finder. I found ways to accomplish these things, but they are not obvious nor elegant.
This is an area where the Chinese Master comes in again and says "why?"

It's an area where you will need to adjust your attitude a bit. Apple's philosophy is that computers are tools you use to make other work, not work unto themselves. That philosophy drives such concepts as "hiding" the iPhoto Library and the User Library folder -- you have no business getting into there and will just make trouble for yourself if you do. Those who know what they are doing and have legit reasons for doing it can easily bypass these obstacles using either well-publicised tips (such as "hold the option key when accessing the Go menu to see the user Library") or the terminal. But making it difficult for typical users to accidentally mess things up contributes GREATLY to the superior experience of the Mac. I am definitely a power user and don't have any issue with these "obstacles" at all.


Quote:
Trackpad gestures are nice, but it seems like Apple forgot that users might sometimes connect a mouse. For example, the "natural" scrolling direction setting makes sense for the trackpad, but not the scroll wheel on a mouse.
It's perfectly natural to me, and I use a mouse. It did take me about 15 minutes for my brain to make the switch, but particularly with the trackpad-like Magic Mouse surface this is pretty easy to get used to.

Quote:
Things seem "locked down" compared to what I'm used to with Linux.
Indeed. But again, that is done to create a universal, elegant, simple experience. In time you will appreciate this, I promise.

Quote:
Apple certainly wants to make sure I use only their products, file formats, and software.
This is absolutely not true. Apple works seamlessly with a wide variety of third-party products, file-formats and software -- but obviously the more those things adhere to widely-accepted standards, the better chance they have of working on a Mac.

Quote:
I'm not ready to send all my files and settings to Apple with iCloud or to subscribe to the whole Apple culture and iLife. However, everything seems designed to funnel users in that direction. Going contrary to that setup is cumbersome in the OS.
I suggest you get ready then. This is not a phenomenon limited to Apple, and again requires a little attitude adjustment.

If you're sufficiently close-minded and "set in your ways" that this concept doesn't appeal to you, return the MacBook Pro and go back to Linux -- but I and the old Chinese Master have to wonder how wise it is to be close-minded when using ANY sort of technology ...
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chas_m

 
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PS. Ivan's info on FCP is way out-of-date. There WAS a lot of hullabaloo when it came out, just as there was when iMovie was revamped in 2007. People are surprisingly inflexible to change sometimes, even when that change is -- in the longer-term -- for their benefit. What's the Matter With Kansas talks about this from a political perspective if you're interested in this phenomenon.

Anyway, point is that the hullaballoo has died down after a few tweaks and a fuller third-party plug-in market, exactly as happened with Mac OS X itself, and iTunes, and iMovie -- and probably several other examples I'm forgetting. Life with Apple is a rollercoaster, for sure -- but don't forget that rollercoasters are fun!
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The included iLife apps aren't really meant to be pro-level programs. Think about it; Windows Movie Maker is a handy little program, but you can't expect it to do the things that Avid or a workflow of several programs does. It's included as a basic tool and as a basic tool iMovie does what most people need it to do, even more so than WMM. And seeing as Macs are meant to appeal to the widest possible market, Apple doesn't want people mucking up system folders and bringing trouble on themselves. For most users, there's no need to ever access those folders, so better to have them safely hidden away.

I'm sure once you get more familiar with OSX you'll be able to get it to do exactly what you want, and it usually ends up being not as convoluted as it usually is on other systems. It doesn't sound like you've had much of chance to really play with it because there are endless third party apps that are a lot of fun to discover. I also like customizing my system icons and finding Terminal commands to make little tweaks. There really isn't anything I can't do that I used to do with Windows, except I do it with a lot less fuss.

Apple doesn't force a lifestyle on you any more than Google, with all its integrated, popular web apps, does. People are going to use such products anyway, so they're being provided. It's not like anyone's being bamboozled into it... the cloud is becoming ever more popular to use and everyone, Mac users or not, want to take advantage of the convenience of it. You certainly don't have to use it in order to use OSX. Or you can choose to use it for some things but not others.

But keep at it. I'm pretty sure you'll get used to it soon enough.

btw I think the new Retina MBP is really overpriced. I have not really recommended them to any new Mac switchers, for a few reasons. Unless money is no object and you just want the nicest, latest thing, I usually steer people more towards the regular MBP. It's a lot less expensive and still does everything you could possibly want it to do. You might consider exchanging it.
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Lotta text in this thread, but basically:

Apple's stuff works Apple's way.
You don't have to do things Apple's way, but if you choose to go your own way, you'll be on your own.

Man, I could be Yogi Berra, if only I could catch a ball
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IvanLasston

 
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technologist - post is still too long and not meme enough...

tl ; dr - You have choices.

Meanwhile
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klaxian

 
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Ivan, thanks so much for your helpful tips! It's a little discouraging that third party apps and plugins need to be purchased to add functionality that I feel should exist from the start (and does on other OS's). However, it's good to know that at least there are some solutions! I have actually already installed some apps using MacPorts and I've used VLC forever

Quote:
Originally Posted by IvanLasston View Post
There are other choices for sharing information - like Google - but then you are sending your information to Google.
I'm not so concerned sending my information to reputable companies because I only really push settings and apps. I have my own personal servers for file backup. The most important difference for me that I see between Apple's and Google's solutions is that Apple's only works with other Apple products whereas Google's works everywhere. For example, my Google Chrome is sync'd with my Linux systems, MBP, Android phone, Windows, etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by IvanLasston View Post
if you don't like Mac but like the hardware - just wipe and put Linux on it.
I didn't know that was possible so thanks for the idea. The Mac hardware is the best for sure. However, I don't think it would be worth the investment when Linux would also run just as well on less expensive hardware. I bought the MBP for the hardware and the OS. I was hoping for something that did what I need more completely and elegantly without as many headaches as my Linux setup. The reality appears to fall a bit short but still a step in the right direction. I'm optimistic.

Quote:
Originally Posted by chas_m
As the old Chinese master might say, "and why do you think you need many codecs?"
I don't think I need many codecs. I just want the few that I like I prefer to use open standards and open codecs when possible to future proof my works and ensure a greater compatibility with more applications now and down the road. For example, I didn't notice WebM as an output option in iMovie nor FCP. WebM is an open standard endorsed by Google Apple, and others. It's essential to HTML5 video support in modern browsers (except Microsoft). It's not an unpopular format. Why isn't that included with these apps? The same goes for Ogg Theora/Vorbis.

I am familiar with the difference between containers and codecs. I'd prefer to use the MKV container because it is open, has advanced features, and produces slightly smaller file sizes. However, I'd settle for MP4 (or MOV in a pinch).

I pride myself on keeping an open mind which is why I'm looking for solutions instead of just returning the MBP. I'd be open to the formats Apple includes, but I wish they were open and the file sizes seem larger for equivalent quality to other formats/encoders. I have installed Perian, Handbrake, and the others that have been suggested. I was hoping I wouldn't have to transcode files quite so many times to get them how I want. Quality also suffers.

Quote:
Originally Posted by chas_m
Most users like a LITTLE choice but not ENDLESS choice
I suppose I'm not like most users then. Ideally apps would be made with simple presets but them drill-down capability for advanced users. VLC has this for their settings for example. Linux certainly has its faults as well but customizability and flexibility are not among them.

I realize I can transcode MTS into something else and then transcode files exported from iMovie yet again, but that's 3 transcodes. It's doable, but it's extra time and steps that I was hoping to avoid. It becomes a bigger problem when you're working with large movies that take a while to transcode.

Quote:
Originally Posted by chas_m
Both iMovie and FCP have advanced, customizable output encoding settings. You just haven't found them yet.
I have explored "Export as QuickTime" in iMovie as well as the export options in FCP and Compressor. I would suggest that those apps have beginner and intermediate options, but not advanced. Check the advanced settings in Handbrake for an example of the types of settings Apple is missing. I agree with your previous statement that this was probably done in the interest of simplicity, but it's limiting. For example, I'd like to output a movie with a constant quality setting (not bitrate) and I'd like some flexibility where I could choose that quality depending on the file size. Good, better, best doesn't provide much flexibility. If I've missed even more advanced settings, please point me in the right direction.

I understand that iMovie isn't meant to be a pro app and I didn't think I needed pro features. The main showstopper with iMovie is that encoding is very slow because it doesn't support multi-core, GPU acceleration, nor QuickSync. Multi-core encoding is not a pro feature to me. It makes me feel like the power of the expensive system I just purchased is largely wasted unless I spend even more on pro software with many features I wouldn't use. I'd prefer more flexibility and more codecs, but the biggest problem for me is exporting from iMovie takes hours while most of my system is idle.

Quote:
Originally Posted by chas_m
*The video card* certainly IS powerful enough to run games at the display's native resolutions, but not a lot of games are ABLE to run at those high resolutions.
Check your source again. An nvidia GT 650m is not powerful enough to run modern games at medium/high settings at native 2880x1800px resolution at a playable framerate. Most games don't need to be optimized for the retina display if they are run full screen. They just see a higher resolution and draw objects accordingly. I have Diablo III and it's way too slow when running full screen at native resolution.


Thanks again for all the great help and suggestions and keep them coming! I am keeping an open mind and I want to make a Mac work for me. As I mentioned in my OP, I could write for pages about the things that I like about the Mac as well. I'm just trying to find a process that works for me for these last few snags. Cheers.
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Mac Specs: 1.8 GHz i7 MBA 11" OSX 10.8.2

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Anyone interested in pathfinder - there are two coupon codes good until August 5th
MTLION - for $10 off a purchase ($30 instead of $40)
MTLIONUPGRADE - for an upgrade of $10 of an older version. (normally $20)
From @cocatech on twitter.
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