Well, I did it. As I said in my earlier posting, Iím switching to an Apple Macbook Pro. Well, this week I placed the order and went ahead and bought myself my first Mac laptop.
So after four days with the Macbook Pro, whatís my feeling so far? Well, itís a really nice little machine. I love the wide, bright and easily readable screen as well as the keyboard that illuminates in low light conditions. Although Iím an experienced touch-typist itís nice to have a frame of reference when it gets dark. This is especially true when youíre getting accustomed to a new keyboard youíve never used before.
But letís start with first impressions, shall we? Note that I have a work laptop which is a Dell C610; a 1.6Ghz Pentium M thatís pretty nice; integrated wireless, 40Gb hard drive (small by modern standards, but enough for most stuff I do at work) and generally just a nice machine. I liked it; it was lighter than the D640 I upgraded from, ran cooler and generally just did everything the big old black beastie did, but did it with more subtlety. With that in mind, I was nicely surprised when I opened up the box of my Macbook Pro and found inside a machine that had a metal case rather than plastic, weighed less than my C610 and had a lovely clean design that I really appreciated.
The case is hard to describe to people whoíve not touched it. Itís a nice matte metal casing that covers the entire machine including the screen. This makes the screen quite resistant to flexing. I opened up the catch along the front of the machine. It opened smoothly with only a modicum of feeling. This is a magnetically activated catch that is actually pretty slick. It closes up neatly and when opened leaves no sign that it exists except the holes where the catch itself stows. Very nice, and leaves you with nothing to catch anything on. Nice feature.
The screen itself is large, very bright and easily readable. I like that a lot and I can see it becoming extremely useful. The power adapter is pretty slick, tooÖ and something I donít see much written about. Itís a small box, smaller generally than my Dellís power supply. Whatís slick about it is that itís really designed for the traveling user. The power cord that attaches into the laptop itself has a pair of stowing hooks that flip out of the power supply, and this is really easy to use. Whatís also slick is the way the power supply provides two different connections on the other side. When you need the reach, you can plug in a long cord to go to the wall. This gives you a more than sufficient reach to plug in just about anywhere. However, the slick part is that they also provide a small plug that replaces the cord. This plug folds away into the power supply itself when not in use, reminding me a lot of third-party travel adapters. When this is attached obviously the reach of power is not that bad, but itís not great either. However, for the average road warrior I can see this being incredibly useful.
Also on the power supply is the well advertised and covered ďMagSafe adapterĒ. This is a magnetic power adapter that plugs in to the laptop. Supplying a straight pull on the adapter results in quite a significant amount of pulling to get it to come disconnected. However, if you pull it at an angle then it comes free very easily. Whatís this for? Well, as anyone who has kids or has used their laptop at a coffee shop can tell you, someone will trip over your power cord eventually. This MagSafe adapter is designed so that it will break loose and provide your laptop with the security of not flying off the table at the behest of someoneís legs. Very nice. Hopefully I wonít need to test it ďin battleĒ for a while, but so far itís nice.
So the first boot up experience? Well, in one respect itís similar to Windows; the first boot seems to take forever, and even once youíre run the gamut of registration screens (far fewer than Windows XP I might add) youíre presented with a remarkably clean desktop, the OSX dock and thatís about it. Pretty bare, and to be honest I have to say for a switcher this might be a little intimidating. My experience is most people donít want to randomly click on things for fear theyíll break their new computer. However, once you open up the apps on the dock or go into your hard drive to browse for applications it all becomes pretty self explanatory quickly. Not sure, maybe a paper or digital tour of features would be a nice idea? Iím a technical person myself, so I knew there was nothing I could breakÖ but I could think of people who might have an issue with it.
Ah well, moving on. The amount of integrated and included software with the machine is quite impressive; a 30 day trial of Office 2004 is quite handy unless youíre planning to use open source alternatives like OpenOffice. I didnít spend much time with the included ďiToolsĒ like iPhoto, but I did spend a little time playing with ďPhoto BoothĒ. The Macbook Pro has a built in camera just above the screen, mostly intended for video conferencing. However, a built in utility called Photo Booth allows you to take pictures and apply a number of effects and filters in real time. Something fun to play withÖ
So far I have to say the only negative thing that Iíve had came up on day one. That is that my OSX CDís were DOA. This normally wouldnít be a big deal except that I wanted to install X11 from the CDís. Thatís a UNIX extra thatís not installed by default. Instead you have to install that after the fact. Of course, I couldnít. Sort of annoying, really ?
Well, I lied there a little. I did have a little disappointment a day or so after I got the laptop. That was the battery life. I know that with modern technology, I canít complain too much. The dual-core 2ghz CPU chows down a goodly amount of CPU, and the 667Mhz front size bus architecture canít help. Basically out of a full charge I get just shy of 3 hours of pretty solid use with the wireless on. For many thatís acceptable. Hell, to me itís acceptable but quite a change from the 6 hours I could pull out of my old Toshiba. Now granted, that was an older machine (PIII-700) with an extended battery pack, so the comparisonís not really fair. The LCD was also about half the size of the Macís so that has an impact, too.
For a recent generation laptop thatís acceptable, though a little lower than friend of mine who bought a Dell C620, roughly equivalent in specs to this Apple though without the ďstyleĒ or the wide screen. Iím willing to give Apple the benefit of the doubt here; Dellís been doing Intel architecture for years and Appleís just started. As a result, I can believe the operating system itself may stand for some tuning to get it up to the level that other manufacturers are with Intel architecture machines.
Now, turn off my wireless and Bluetooth and I end up with my battery life exceeding 3 hours, but thatís not a typical configuration for me. Thought it might be in future.
So how does this Intel Mac compare to the PowerPC Macs that have gone before it? Well, running native binaries (called Universal Binaries because they run on Intel and PowerPC architectures), the speed is blinding. In fact, thereís few Macs that can really match it for out and out performance when running a UB app. Against a multi-proc multi-core G5 it might have itís ass handed to it, but hey, weíre talking about a $2000 laptop against a $4000 workstation here. Not really a fair comparison. However, running PowerPC native applications slows things down considerably.
Now, in my opinion Iíll let a lot slide because having been an assembly programmer at one point or another, I know the problems of getting one architecture emulated within a completely different architecture. Itís not easy, or prettyÖ and the surprise is not that it runs slowly but that it runs at all. The upshot of all the technical talk youíll find around is that the old PowerPC architecture is so radically different from the newer Intel architecture that thereís not even a comparison. Functions that exist in the PPC world just donít even have a comparable function available with IntelÖ but somehow they make it all work. Thankfully, this translation layer called ďRosettaĒ is extremely solid and completely invisible to the user. Hell, Iím typing this on Word 2004, and if it hadnít been for the fact that I have Performance Monitor up as well I wouldnít even have been able to tell it wasnít a native app. Canít wait for the UB version of Office to see what performance gains they make ?
I think itís safe to say Iím impressed so far. The operating system has had no crashes so far, and the only time Iíve rebooted it is when I had to update all the OS components right after first boot. Of course, you have to do this in Windows as well so thatís not unusual. The laptop goes to sleep when I tell it, and wakes up when I tell it. I did have one surprising awakening, but I quickly figured out that I had a function turned on (by default) to wake up on Bluetooth activity. My BT cellphone and BT mouse both tried to wake up my laptop. And succeeded. My advice? Turn this offÖ thereís FAR too many BT devices in your average coffee shop these days and if you donít want your laptop constantly waking up in your laptop bag then you might want to turn it off.
I will post more soon. Just wanted to get up my opinions of this great new tool I have.