macbook pro, cons and pros

Having had my new mac for a few weeks now, it is time for a review.

In a nutshell, consider me switched. Overall it’s great and a huge improvement over my slow XP based laptop.

However, since everybody seems to focus on how great macs are,  I’m going to first focus on everything that I think sucks or otherwise annoys the hell out of me. Aside of course from Steve Jobs launching new models right after I got my mac.

  • Key bindings. A matter of taste, habit, and also a matter of consistency. My main gripe is with the latter. I use Mac Office (entourage, word, powerpoint), eclipse, a terminal window and of course firefox. Mac Office is the only of these which preserves the quite sensible behaviour for the home and end key that you find on just about any platform: home means beginning of line, end means end of line. The default in mac applications is different: beginning of document and end of document. I need the former functionality dozens of times per day and the latter … well never actually. So it’s a mess. I ended up reconfiguring eclipse because looking at the java imports each time I press home gets old real quick. Thankfully eclipse is fully configurable. I also attempted configuring the mac itself. Very few applications seem to pay attention. The Terminal application also has its settings, and ignores mac defaults regarding this anyway. Which leaves firefox. Annoyingly still looking for a solution to that one.
  • Delete. The backspace is called a delete button. My usb keyboard has two delete buttons and a clear button. One of the delete buttons is actually a real delete button. Command+delete only works with the backspace variant. The clear button seems equivalent to the (real) delete button. My laptop has one delete button but it is not a delete button. I normally use the delete button almost as much as the 26 letter keys. Gimme back my delete button! If this doesn’t sound very logical, consistent or usable that’s because it isn’t.
  • Mighty Mouse. Of course I got a Mighty mouse with my mac usb keyboard. Nice experiment this touch sensitive surface but I really mean left click when my index finger clicks left of the wheel/ball thingy. Likewise for right clicks. This goes wrong a lot. Middle clicks are annoyingly difficult. The side buttons require quite a bit of grip to press. Yet, it is surprisingly easy to click them accidentally. In short, strongly considering to hook up a reall mouse now.
  • Alt+tab. Expose is nice but often I just want to switch back and forth between two windows. This works fine as long as they are application windows, but not if they are document windows. So open two mails in separate windows and you can’t switch with alt+tab between them.
  • Window management. You can minimize windows. But then it is a lot more difficult to switch to them. Double clicking a window title minimizes (on win32 this means maximize). So I accidentally minimize loads of windows which I then need to find back in the dock. Annoying. When minimized, windows are nowhere to be seen in alt+tab or expose. This sucks if you want to switch back to them. Which is the whole point of minimizing vs. closing a window.
  • No file move supported in finder. This stinks. No select file, command+x, command+v. No right click, move. No file->move. Apparently possible to do with drag and drop and option key. Defaults to copy though :-/.
  • Finder. In general, the finder is a bit underpowered if you are used to windows explorer. I miss my folder tree.
  • Time machine + file vault. Loads of trouble to get this working properly. It’s sort of backing up now, finally. But not exactly ‘it just works’.
  • No VGA connector. This means I need to drag along a converter whenever I go to meetings because most beamers come without a DVI cable. Annoying.

In all fairness, three weeks is not enough to get rid of my windows habits. Especially since I still have an XP machine at home.

However, I’m getting more efficient on the mac by the day. I’ve absorbed tons of new tricks and have had loads of fun figuring out little issues. Here’s my list of big grin on face causing stuff:

  • Display arrangement. I have my laptop left of my 20″ screen. It’s slighly lower. I managed to arrange the screens such that when I move my mouse horizontally, it moves to the other screen at more or less the same altitude. Cool.
  • Display settings persist. The display settings survive me unplugging the laptop, using a beamer for some presentation and plugging my monitor back in. Great & just the way it should be.
  • Ambient light adjustment. Quite funny when I covered the right most sensor while pressing the delete (or rather backspace), the screen dimmed. Turned out that with the desklight shining on one side of the laptop, covering the lit sensor with your hand causes the screen to compensate for the sudden darkness by dimming. Had a good laugh about that. It actually has two sensors so this is only an issue if you are sitting in the dark next to a desk light.
  • Photo screensaver. Looks great with my vacation photos. Apparently my efforts to calibrate my windows PC at home were reasonably successful since the photos look excellent on the laptop, which of course is properly calibrated (being a mac and all that). Of course it dislays different photos on both screens, at the same time. Same for my desktop background, which updates every few seconds (without apparent performance hit).
  • Expose. Love it, partially compensates for the alt+tab. Inexplicably, they only show one desktop if you use spaces. I have it hooked up to my side mouse button.
  • It’s fast. It should be for this price of course. But still. It is fast. Gone is the endless disk churning that comes with windows.
  • It’s silent. This is the most silent laptop I’ve ever worked with. No vacuum cleaner type fans activating and deactivating all the time.
  • Multi touch touchpad. This is a really nice feature. Tap with two fingers -> context menu, drag with two fingers -> scroll. So much fun.

Wubi + ubuntu 8.04

You might have read my previous reviews of Ubuntu which were not very flattering. Basically they apply nearly in full to the latest edition. At least the “scanning the mirrors” issue was fixed. It times out and the installer continues, unlike with previous editions. However, the network driver for my SIS chipset is still broken. It sets the mtu to 1500, setting it to 1492 fixes it. This is explained in this thread by this comment.

Shit happens I guess. At least the right soundcard was used for the sound this time. I’m not sure if that is because they fixed it or because the drivers happened to initialize in the right order by chance (last time the problem was they were not).

The situation on the graphics side is unchanged. Ubuntu still misdetects my monitor and I will have to go to the commandline to fix it.

New uglyness.

  • The clock happily informs me hat it is 4:44 pm. Except it is 23:44. Slight timezone issue I guess. Why not ask me during installation or on first boot?
  • On first boot I was treated to some obscure Gnome error saying that something had failed. Nasty. Probably the graphics driver.
  • The driver icon informed me that something related to graphics was installed (driver presumably). I clicked it and the dialog seems even more confusing now than the previous version. A “new_nvidia” thingy was checked with a red dot next to it indicating that it the driver is unused. Unchecking it, a dialog popped up informing me that the disabling the unused driver would render the hardware unusable. Ehh?? I am looking at a screen, apparently something must be working. It appears that this means that the proprietary nvidia driver is now the only option and apparently it is not working entirely as planned. I guess that means no eyecandy for me (was looking forward to that).

That’s it for now. I don’t know yet if I am going to get my hands dirty on the commandline to fix this mess again or whether I will just use the wubi uninstall.

Update. Not only did Ubuntu guess the time wrong, it mistakenly ‘corrected’ the system clock. I just noticed that my clock was off by 7 hours back in good old windows XP. WTF!

Update. The above was tried with the amd64 bit version. I suspected my problems might be related to nvidia 64 bit support so I retried with the 32 bit version, only to run into this critical issue where the installer freezes while “formatting swap space in partition #1”. This effectively prevents me from completing the 32 bit installation altogether and with the 64 bit version I have as usual a ton of issues to fix to get a reasonably functional desktop.