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Switching to Mac OS X Using PC Peripherals on the Mac

by Wei-Meng Lee

Apple's latest marketing effort, "Switch," concentrates on converting users from the Windows platform to Mac OS X. I'll stop short of saying "My Dad's PC ate my homework," but I will say that I am impressed with my newly purchased eMac.

Over the years, Apple has assured users that its familiar PC applications would still be able to run on Mac OS X (or made available, such as Microsoft Office X). However, many PC users (including myself) are actually more concerned about the price of peripherals. A typical Windows user would have invested in quite a few peripherals, including an external hard disk, a Zip drive, a digital camera, printers, and so on. Simply telling them that their favorite Microsoft WinWord is available on the Mac is not comforting for these potential converts.

Recently, I decided to see for myself this much talked about new OS that Apple has been touting for the last 18 months--Mac OS X. So I set out to buy myself an eMac, since this is one model that a poor academic like me can afford.

Photo of eMac.
Figure 1. Apple's new eMac, originally designed for students and academics.

With my new eMac, I looked at the various hardware add-ons available for the Mac, such as portable hard disks, printers, and so on. To my surprise (shock would be a better word), prices for the various add-ons are consistently more expensive than those for the PC world. (Unfortunately, I need these add-ons to do my job.) So I decided to try out my existing pool of PC peripherals. To my great pleasure, most of them work!

This article lists some of my experiences in using my existing PC peripherals on the Mac. PC users who are contemplating buying a Mac can use this as an informal guide to see for themselves how much of their existing hardware they can reuse.

Two Button Mouse

Photo of the Pro Mouse.
Figure 2. The Apple Pro Mouse.

The most visible physical difference between Macs and PCs is the mouse. PC users are familiar with two-button (or often three buttons) models. And newer mice often come with a useful scroll wheel, which makes scrolling long Word documents or Web pages very efficient. When I first used my new Mac, I was literally stuck with Apple's simple one-button mouse. Their rationale for sticking with the one-button mouse is that it's more simple to use.

Unfortunately, no matter how much Apple tries to convince me, I don't like the one-button mouse. No doubt there are ways to emulate the behavior of a two-button mouse with keystrokes (see Terrie Miller's article, I've Switched From Windows, Now What?), but I find it easier to use my old, trusted PC mouse. So with trepidation, I plugged in my Microsoft Wireless IntelliMouse to the eMac.

Photo of Microsoft's Wireless IntelliMouse.
Figure 3. Microsoft's Wireless IntelliMouse.


Screen shot.
Figure 4. Using the right mouse button to invoke context-sensitive menu.

It works! Not only does it work, the right click button is also able to invoke the context-sensitive menu on the Mac. Scroll wheel support is good, though not all applications support it. Microsoft also provides the driver for the Mac as well.

USB Disk

Photo of the Pocket Disk.
Figure 5. The Conquest 256MB Pocket Disk.

With my wireless mouse working, I now have more confidence in getting my other devices to work on the Mac. The next device I plug in is the Conquest 256MB USB Pocket Disk. Because the eMac does not come with a floppy drive, finding a way to transfer files from one machine to another is essential. Since my eMac is not connected to a network, I have to rely on my USB Pocket disk, which doesn't require any drivers because it's a Mass Storage Device. So for Mac OS X (and OS 9 too), these little gems are truly plug and play. And if I have to exchange data with a Windows XP PC, no problem. It works the same there too.

Iomega Zip Drive

Another popular storage device with PC users is the Iomega Zip drive. The latest Zip drive connects using USB and does not need an external power supply.

Zip drive.
Figure 6. The Iomega 250MB Zip drive.

I first tried plugging my USB 250MB Zip drive into the USB port on my eMac keyboard, but it gave me a USB Low Power Notice. Obviously, the keyboard does not have enough juice to power up my Zip drive. And thus I disconnected the Zip drive and connected it to the eMac directly. It works and best of all, no driver is needed.

Connectors on the side of the eMac.
Figure 7. The USB ports and other connectors by the side of the eMac.

External USB Hard Disk

The Ziv hard disk.
Figure 8. The Ziv external USB notebook hard disk.

I have an external notebook hard disk enclosure from Ziv. The Ziv drive is pretty neat--it runs without external power and it connects using USB. The drive needs a driver to work on the PC, and it also comes with a driver for Mac OS 8.6 or higher. I have tried installing the driver in Mac OS X but it just did not work. I have scoured the Net for an updated driver, but have not been successful.

I did manage to get it to work under Mac OS 9 though. I restarted my eMac and booted up in Mac OS 9. Although it works, I don't think I would want to do this as the drive emitted a strange noise when it accessed the data. So I think I'm going to wait for an updated OS X driver.

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