Why I Like the MacBook (and Other Things)

Note: I posted this already a few days ago, but then the post got lost and my blog started acting up, creating two copies of every post I wrote. I hope that’s now fixed.

A friend of mine recently sent me an email and asked me about my opinion about Macs. He had never used or liked Macs or Linux very much, but this is changing due to his job, and he wanted some input for making personal product chocies.

I have never found Mac particularly appealing, but neither did I find Linux appealing;

I was pretty much in the same camp, which is probably not a camp at all: I wasn’t for Macs, I wasn’t for Windows, but I also wasn’t for Windows or against the other two. I just didn’t want to find something cool just because the in-crowd thought it was cool.

My view of Linux changed when I got a CSnet account (Owlnet wasn’t enough), and when Corky accidentally ordered two MacBooks, of course I said yes, I’d take one. Who wouldn’t? Working with the MacBook and MacOS X dramatically changed my view of Macs, and now I love the Mac notebooks. I have no real opinion of Mac desktops though.

But Linux, or bash or some kind of descent shell is a must-have for me. I just can’t deal with Windows’ cmd.exe, because quite often I want to recursively search a directory for files of a certain name, then filter out the files that do not contain a certain string, etc. And it’s so easy with bash, but virtually impossible with cmd.exe, unless you have special programs, and they tend to be heavy-weight.

yet after working with it more, I see its advantages, and I can begin to see why you find working on Windows impossible without Cygwin. I can see why Mac might seem the perfect hybrid platform — real Unix back end and consoles, but with a beautiful user interface (which is Unix’s primary failing) and good hardware compatibility.

Especially since you can, almost without performance penalty on x86 Macs, emulate Windows using Parallels Desktop or vmWare. I don’t anymore since I lost my MacBook hard drive, but for a while I ran Windows 2000 effortlessly within Mac OS, including file transfer, drag and drop, and clipboard.

These are things I can see, but I wanted to ask you personally. What do you find so appealing about the Mac laptop?

I find myself doing almost everything casual on the MacBook. Only stuff that requires lots of screen real estate I do on my Windows PC (but then again, I can’t speak for dual-screen Mac desktops). The GUI is just very slick, easy to use and intuitive. You can literally do most things with just one finger.

Then there is the other side, a solid Linux-style operating system underneath, with all the strength of Linux shells. As a bonus, all free Linux apps that you have to compile also work on the Mac, and that’s a lot. I guess they work on Windows too, if you have Cygwin and do some configuring.

What I don’t like about the Mac is that it’s impossible to list folders first in the Finder (=Explorer). Whenever someone asks for that feature, the reply of the Mac-Nazis is “that’s a Windows thing; get used to how it’s done on the Mac.” Not very satisfactory, I think. But there are 3rd party programs like Pathfinder that solve the problem.

Another problem is that Java on the Mac always lags behind a little. Java 6 is only available as a beta for 10.5 (Leopard) right now, because Apple implements the JVM itself, not Sun.

And then there’s the issue about maximizing applications. To me, maximizing means “let it take up the entire screen”. To Mac users, it apparently means “give it the space the application thinks it needs”, which may be less than the entire screen.

As a summary, I’m very glad that I have the MacBook, because I tend to do nearly everything on it: casual web browsing, writing emails, anything that requires a command line, most development work (except major refactoring, etc.).

I have never spent much time on Apple computers, but I have found myself increasingly liking Apple products. The iPhone is quite nice and I would probably get one if I were richer;

I’ve tried the iPhone a couple of times, and I don’t like it. I like the stylus and touch screen on my Palms, but I wouldn’t want to go without any buttons. I’m not gonna get an iPhone, even if I were richer ;-)

I just got the new Apple USB keyboard which is *amazing*, best keyboard I have ever used;

I don’t know about Apple keyboards, I still like my MS Natural Keyboard Pros. One thing I’d never get from Appe is a mouse, though ;-)

the latest iPods all look sick, etc.

Never had an iPod either, but I’ve been successfully using my Palms as MP3 players for years.

I guess my conclusion is this: As desktop, I’d probably still buy a Windows or Linux PC, not an Apple. Maybe this is just lack of experience, but price also plays a role, and I have a feeling that Macs won’t play as nicely with dual displays. As a notebook, I would definitely buy a MacBook again if I had to. If Corky took the MacBook he loaned me away from me, I’d have to bite the bullet and buy one right now. I had to live without one when the power supply crapped out
on me, and it wasn’t pleasant.

On that note, I have had two hard drive failures, a power supply failure, and there are small cracks at the very edge of the keyboard, just below the touch pad. I don’t know, I may be responsible for the hard drive failures, although I do take good care of my MacBook — it’s always in a neoprene sleeve, and I’ve never dropped it — but cracks and the power supply problems are very common. It’s probably an issue with the first generation of x86 MacBooks, notebooks that aren’t iBooks (stupidly rugged) or titanium PowerBooks (ruggedly stylish). As as summary, I’d definitely shell out the $249 for three years of AppleCare. All of the problems I’ve had have been taken care of either within a day or over night. It’s not good that MacBooks have these
problems, but I’m very happy with how they are being taken care of.


About Mathias

Software development engineer. Principal developer of DrJava. Recent Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Computer Science at Rice University.
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