Our first Macintosh. Setup experience: A-

Our first Macintosh. Setup experience: A-

Our Mac Mini arrived today. I ordered it for Jane. It will be our first Mac computer. I’ve used Macs before, even developed on them a long time ago. Though I haven’t used them in years, I feel I know them just from following Apple over the years and keeping up with their innovations. I make it a point to read about the applications that run on them and the features built into the OS.

I’m writing this on the Mini after setting it up. Jane has not even had a chance to use it. I wanted to make sure it connected to our wireless network, setup her mail, and make sure everything was working first. Though I was prepared to enjoy the new experience I wasn’t prepared to be as impressed as I was. I knew that the user experience, especially for people new to computers, was superior to Windows, but as a savvy user, that benefit was never a priority for me. For the benefit of others that do care about this I have to give credit where credit is due.

It begins with opening the plain brown box the computer was shipped in. There was nothing on the box to indicate it came from Apple (I ordered it online). Perhaps Apple does this for security reasons, perhaps to keep it secret so the addressee can surprise someone in the household. The box was incredibly light, the mini certainly lives up to it’s name. You open the brown cardboard box and the first thing you notice is a small handle at the top of the contained Apple box.  You just pull on the handle to lift the Apple box and the tight styrofoam braces out of the box. Nice.

Connecting everything up was easy.  Stepping through the first time setup for the OS was simple as well; even fun.  My biggest fear was getting the Mini added to my wireless network.  I was thrilled that during the setup it found my network!  This is where the only hiccup occurred setting up the Mini.  I was using encryption on my base station. The Mini recognized that and prompted me for the "Network password".  That threw me for a moment because I was use to thinking of it as an encrypted network and I simply had to provide the encryption key to connect to it.  Apple simplified the concept down to simply "This network requires a password".  But passwords can be for login profiles, or network access as well.  Anyway, I assumed they wanted the encryption key so I gave it.  Unfortunately it didn’t work.  I ran upstairs to my office PC and used the management console for my base station to try different settings for encryption.  I must have run upstairs 8 or 10 times trying different settings.  The only thing that worked was to turn off security on the base station, hitting the "rescan" button on the Mini and then proceed selecting my wireless network again, this time the Mini didn’t prompt me for my password.  By the way, the rescan to search for networks was almost instantaneous!  Very impressive. 

I didn’t want to leave my network security disabled so I went online to research the problem.  The help that came on the Mini didn’t provide the answer.  I found this page that explained my exact problem. I needed to precede my hexadecimal encryption key with the ‘$’ character. Who knew?  Perhaps I may have been in the minority group of wanting to connect my Mini to a Third Party wireless base station, but for me, Apple did not provide enough instruction during setup to have a clean setup experience.  That hiccup causes me to lower the first time experience grade from an A++ to A- overall.  It would have been easy to have a help screen available with the details I needed to complete my wireless connection.  See, even with Macs, computers can still be intimidating and difficult to use/setup.

The coolest feature I’ve noticed so far is the ability for the built in mail program to view an email with picture attachments, as a slide-show!  What a great idea.

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