My MacBook Pro – first-time Mac owner

First and foremost, let me tell you that I don’t abide to the poor labeling of being a Mac fanatic or a Windows user. I’m a computer user, period. I use the programs and computers and programs that are good, no matter what their eventual name might be.

With that said, I hope this post will be balanced and fair instead of just trying to take sides, and informative no matter from what angle you’re coming.

I’ve mostly been working with Windows since 1996, but recently I got a opportunity that I couldn’t turn down.

At the end of last year I put in a lot of hours working and ended up getting a cash bonus from my manager in the beginning of this year for it. Without loosing a lot of it to just taxes, I made a deal with him to instead by a new computer and then pay the difference between the bonus and the cost of the new computer. At about that time Apple announced that they would release the Intel Macs soon, so I thought that it would be a great machine and that I would also probably be able to run Windows as well on it.

I decided to get a 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 2 Ghz Intel Core Duo processor and 2 GB of RAM and a 7200 rpm 100 GB hard drive; basically, a very good computer. When I finally got the computer by the end of March I was ecstatic! So, about five months later I’m ready to write about my experiences and opinions.

The hardware

The good

Everything from packaging to the actual machine, it looks extremely good coming from Apple. I seriously cannot understand why no PC provider can match this; why does all they produce have to be bulky and look completely tasteless?

A picture of the MacBook Pro box

The keyboard is very nice to type on and the trackpad is outstanding! I’ve never liked trackpads before, but since this is so wide it makes it really easy and comfortable to use, and coupled with the fantastic two-finger scrolling feature and two-finger-click equals right-click feature I don’t feel the need to use a mouse (this, however, doesn’t work when clicking in the top bar).

The illuminating keyboard is a fantastic feature! If it eventually gets dark in the room when you’re sitting there typing (this seems to happen all to often for me) it automatically illuminates the keyboard keys so you can see them. Very nice!

A picture of the MacBook Pro seen from three different angles

It has also got a built-in motion sensor, so if you’re a Star Wars fanatic, you can make your MacBook Pro sound like a light saber when you’re moving by using MacSaber.

Another feature that has been appreciated is MagSafe, which is a magnetic power connector that lets go of the computer if anyone/anything gets stuck in it. Very cool, although it doesn’t help that much if one has one other cable connected to the computer… :-)

The bad

The thing that definitely disturbs me the most is the heat it’s generating. It’s gets very warm, and I would not using it in my lap without having at least two layers of clothes. I’ve used Temperature Monitor and it can get as hot as almost 50 degrees Celsius/122 degrees Fahrenheit. I mean, come on, it’s a laptop!

I did a non-scientific test at home to see how much this actually affects the surface below the computer. I had to use 8 thick morning newspaper below it to avoid the wooden table it was standing on to get scorching hot.

It is also extremely annoying that it’s only one mouse button and not two. Apple, that’s far behind you; nowadays you need to right-click in every application. Just add the extra button, dammit!

Another annoyance is the genius that decided to put the network socket on the right-hand side of the computer. If you’re not using wireless in any sort, and are right-handed and using a mouse, you’re bound to hit your hand on the cable sticking right out there in the middle of the way all the time.

Apple has decided to have all USB ports, Firewire etc on the sides of the computer and not on the back. I like that (except for the network cable, of course), but with this comes the limitation that you can only open the lid/screen to a certain degree; it then stops. I can imagine this is very annoying for someone sitting slouched down in a couch trying to use it.

The blinking light when on standby is cool for about a second, and then just a pain. If you have the computer in the same room as you and it’s dark, it will be constantly reminding you of its presence, almost looking like the northern lights.

Some people have also had problems with a whining sound, and maybe a solution for them can be found in MacBook Pro Complaints.

Mac OS X

Mac OS X is truly an impressive operating system. It looks fantastic, is very classy and at the same time offers you some hacking if you’re interested. The difference compared to the upcoming Windows Vista is that Mac OS X has subtle animations and transitions while Microsoft (which is often the case) starts out with a good idea but then goes overboard and becomes tacky and just too much.

Unfortunately not all applications are ready to run on the Intel-based Macs, so they’re emulated through something called Rosetta (this applies to, amongst many others, Adobe Photoshop). This in turn makes them much slower than they actually should be, but everyone seems to work on releasing so-called Universal binary versions.

Installing applications

Installing applications on Mac is almost overwhelmingly easy. You have the application and then you drag and drop it into your Applications folder, and voila!, it’s installed. Basically, as it should be. A few applications that I have came across have install wizards, but these seem to freeze up on a regular basis, meaning that I usually just utter a sigh of relief when a new application turns out to just use the drag and drop installation approach.

If you’re sincerely interested how this works, make sure to read Dave Verwer’s excellent Application Installation – Mixed Feelings.

Keyboard shortcuts

There are, of course, a number of keyboard shortcuts that’s available; many of them are listed in Keyboard Control. Some I really like, like the ones for changing to certain folders, like the Desktop, no matter where I am in the Finder, be it in a dialog or in a window. And I love Command + 1/2/3 to easily switch between Icons/List/Columns view in the Finder.

Another favorite is selecting one or multiple files and press Command + i to see more information about it/them.

However, there are other less perfect ones, like when you have selected a file in the Finder. The Enter key is reserved for renaming the selected file, while Command + o or Command + arrow down opens the file. Definitely not effective; Enter should always open the item. This also comes back in dialogs in programs; not all programs supports tabbing and selecting buttons with the keyboard, while with those who do, Enter here means selecting the button with the full blue background color while the space bar now enters the scene, meaning selecting the button with the blue outline (the blue outline is moved around when tabbing; the solid blue background is locked to the default button in the dialog).

Something else that I have a problem with is jumping to the first respectively the last file and selecting it when in Columns view in the Finder. I eventually found that the fn and arrow up/arrow up does the actual scrolling but no file is selected so I have to click it with the mouse…

And last, but not least: setting focus to the menu bar at the top. In Windows you simply press alt to accomplish this; in Mac OS X it’s Ctrl + F2. Not very handy, and I almost get a wrist strain trying to do it.

Dashboard and Exposé

Dashboard and Exposé are features that look really cool at first, but in everyday use I very seldom use them. Dashboard is a set of widgets that you can use to check things like weather, e-mail, calendar etc right on top on what you’re doing at the moment, which instead gets dimmed down.

A picture of the Dashboard feature

Exposé are different ways of looking at one application or all applications running at the moment, side by side. with the background dimmed down. It would be very useful if one could invoke the command and then drag and drop from one application to the other. That is not the case, however; a click on one application in Exposé just sets focus to that application and no more action is possible.

A picture of the Exposé feature

The iLife package

The iLife package that comes with Mac OS X comes with these applications:

I’m going to cover the first three, since they are the only ones that interest me.

iPhoto

I really wanted to like iPhoto. But I hate it. Sure, it looks really nice and the full-screen feature are great. But there are just some things that drive me crazy:

  • A lot of the commands are available either as buttons in the interface, through right-click or in the top menu. Naturally, every alternative should be available in all those locations.
  • The default setting is to copy every image to a separate iPhoto library. Kind of upsetting when you import a lot of pictures…
  • Performance is a joke. If I import, say, a 100 pictures, my Mac soon gets sluggish and the fan runs like a little hamster on the lam. And this is even if I’ve turned off the copying of every picture to the separate iPhoto folder (however, it apparently saves a lot of images there anyway, in a smaller format). Given the hardware specs on my machine, this is unbelievable.
  • I want to edit the image file I have on my computer. If I rotate them, or any other action, I want it top happen to the original file. This doesn’t have to be the default setting, but at least a setting that is even possible.

All the alternatives I’ve tried have unfortunately not turned out to be better.. How come there aren’t any ACDSee or Picasa for the Mac?

iMovie HD

Generally, I like iMovie HD. It’s very easy to import movies and to edit them, and then to export them to create a DVD in iDVD. Something you should read, though, is Avoid iMovie HD annoyances to be able to shy away from some common problems.

iDVD 6

It’s easy to create DVD movies with iDVD 6 and there are a lot of nice themes to choose from to add menus and navigation to them. It seems a little slow to me when preparing to create a DVD from the given material, but overall it’s ok to use. Microsoft really do have to come up with some equivalent to iMovie HD and iDVD 6 in Windows Vista, because these are the programs and functions that home users really need.

Oh yes, it crashes

It is said that Macs and their applications are supposed to be more stable and Windows and that they will never crash. This is not true. The complete operating system has frozen for me a couple of times (I can’t actually remember when this happened to me last after using Windows XP).

However, there are some applications that are far worse than others, and for some of them it might be because of the Rosetta emulation.

CyberDuck has been crashing about every other time when I’ve been using it. Not that comforting when transferring files… However, in their defense, they released a version during late summer that seems to be working out better.

Updated August 25th

After several commenters recommended Transmit, I installed it and tried it. It seems to work fine and act stable. What I can’t figure out, though, is if there’s any keyboard shortcut to upload the selected file, instead of having to double-click or right-click on them.

Flickr Uploadr also crashes almost every time I’m using it and uploading more than about ten pictures. Very discomforting.

QuickTime Player

Please apologize my language now, but QuickTime is the biggest bitch of them all. When you get an error like:

QuickTime Player has unexpectedly quit

it just blows my top! It is not fucking unexpected when it happens for the 127th time in a row! And while on the topic, what’s sad is that I like the interface and generally using the program, it really misses fundamental features to be used. Except for the crashing all the time, to me the two most disturbing ones are:

No support for subtitles
I think that most of you out there, at one time or another, watch movies that require subtitle files. That QuickTime in no way supports this is pathetic. Sure, you can permanently add subtitles to a QuickTime movie by using TitleLAB, but it’s just too much of a hassle.
Viewing fullscreen actually costs money
You actually have to bye the Pro version of QuickTime Player to be able to watch movies in fullscreen. Outrageous! Not even Microsoft would come up with something like that.

FrontRow and the AppleRemote

The MacBook Pro comes with a remote control, AppleRemote, and FrontRow, a program in Mac OS X for multimedia purposes; i.e. watching movies, DVDs, photos or listening to music. It looks insanely good and the way it fades in and out of the Mac OS X desktop can’t help but bring a smile to my face.

Unfortunately, though, the joy is killed. There aren’t any settings at all in FrontRow, e.g. meaning that you you can’t change what player to use to watch video files. The consequence of this is that I then can’t use the lovely FrontRow to watch movies, since it uses QuickTime Player(and QuickTime player, as I’ve told you, crashes and doesn’t support subtitles…).

Two alternatives to FrontRow, if you’re looking for that media center feel, is MediaCentral and CenterStage.

What I (and many other disappointed souls) have done is to find a video player (in my case: VLC media player) that is actually competent and designed for this century, and then there are a number of add-on software to control the AppleRemote.

My favorite of those are Apple Remote Helper, which is free and basically controls everything you want to do with VLC media player. Only thing missing is that fast forwarding/fast rewind doesn’t work and it just skips instead and that the volume controls the volume of VLC instead of the MAC OS X system volume.

Other alternatives are:

Updated August 25th

After autoy’s tip I tried out Movie Time. With its fullscreen and perfect AppleRemote support, I was really intrigued! Initially I had problems with Swedish characters in subtitles getting messed up, but after being in contact with the Movie Time creator, I changed the subtitle encoding to Western (ISO Latin 1) and now it works like a charm! Well recommended!

What web browser to use

The answer is easy: Mozilla Firefox. It’s the best web browser there is, no matter the platform. The functions and the myriad of extensions that are available are very hard to beat. I’ve never cared much for Apple’s Safari, neither as an end user or as a web developer.

The only annoyances with Firefox are that keyboard shortcuts are case sensitive (meaning that if Caps Lock is incidentally pressed, nothing happens) and that it sometimes loses focus when closing a tab with Command + w so the next one doesn’t respond to any key press.

The runner-up that is definitely heading in the right direction is Flock, but it needs to add keyword support and more extensions before I’ll try it out more.

But what about Camino?, I hear you say. While it’s nice that Camino has more of an OS X-look with form buttons and other things (by the way, this should really be addressed for Firefox), some keyboard shortcuts are weird to me and I miss the extensions that I’ve gotten dependent on.

Instant and video messaging

MacBook Pro computers have an iSIght camera built in, so I thought it would open up for more video chats. Naturally, I wanted to be able to chat with people not having Macs as well, but after an extreme amount of failed attempts (iChat and the PC version of AOL Instant Messenger sucks so hard) I gave up. All I could do was take a picture of me with the iSight camera and then send it to my brother through Adium (which is outstanding for Instant messaging).

A picture of me being angry, taken with the iSight camera

So, needless to say, when Skype released the 1.5 beta of Skype for Mac with the additional Skype for Mac with Video Preview, and it works like a charm. Finally!

Applications that I like and use

For your convenience, I though I’d list the applications that I have become dependent on, and which I really like and recommend as well.

QuickSilver
QuickSilver is an amazing application for oh-so-many things directly with your keyboard and not having to be inside an application for certain actions. It also beats Apple’s built-in Spotlight by far. A recommended read is how to search Google with Quicksilver.
VLC media player
A very good video player that supports most formats and subtitles. Read How to enable/use subtitles to automatically display subtitles when they are available (I can’t believe this isn’t default, and that it’s hidden so far down).
NetNewsWire Lite
A fantastic and simple RSS reader, with great support for navigation only with the arrow keys and the Enter key (if you know of any Windows equivalent, please let me know).
VirtueDesktops
Software for having virtual desktops to more efficiently get an overview of what you’re doing.
MacTheRipper
Easy as pie to rip complete DVDs.
Smultron
A text/code editor that’s very nice and easy to use.
Mozilla Firefox
Best web browser there is.
Transmission
Great light-weight BitTorrent client (if you know of any Windows equivalent, please let me know).
Parallels Desktop for Mac
Best way to run Windows, or any operating system, on a Mac.

Other alternatives can be found in the very handy Open Source Mac collection or in the How Does Open Source Software Stack Up on the Mac? article.

Running Windows on a Mac

As you all probably know by now, running Windows on a Mac became reality. There are a few options out there, but I choose to use Parallels Desktop for Mac. For me, it’s working amazingly well and fast and I’d recommend it to anyone trying to do this (I will write a little more about Parallels in the near future. I hope.).

A picture of Paralles Desktop for Mac running Windows

Other options are:

The Apple experience

I just have to say this: Apple seems to be a toy company. Given the experience I’ve had since I ordered my Mac, it has been crystal clear that they’re not ready to play with the big boys and reach a mass corporate market.

First I wanted to place my order online through my company and get an invoice sent. After some talking with the support they told me that you had to buy for a huge amount of money to be allowed to do that. My alternatives were through credit card (not interesting since I wouldn’t want to pay the money in the interim period till I got them back from my employer) or making an advance payment to their bank account. Listen; I work for a company with 600+ employees; we don’t make advance payments, we turn to the company that can treat us business-like and professionally.

This led to that I had to go into a local store in Stockholm to order it. The person that helped looked and behaved just a little too much like Tom Arnold for me to feel comfortable (I actually think he also had a Hawaii shirt to go with it too, but my memory might fail me on this). When I said what I wanted the started to place the order, and seemed genuinely confused when I wanted to tailor it to my needs with more RAM memory, the hard drive with the higher rpm etc (it should be mentioned that I later found out that this one of the managers and owners of the company…).

He gave me a order number and told me that I could follow the order online on their web site, and most likely Apple’s web site as well (although he wasn’t sure about Apple’s). Naturally, neither worked. After repeatedly calling them I eventually got to talk to one employee that told me that it wasn’t possible, that it was only their internal order number…

Anyway, after the order had been submitted it took about seven weeks to get it. I don’t care if was a new model; if Dell, HP or any other would’ve done this, the customer would’ve just cancelled the order and turned to another provider.

When I had used the computer for a couple of weeks I got more and more worried about the heat and from reading reports online that this was from a hardware flaw. I returned it to the store for them to attend to the issue and give me back a functioning computer. Now it took five weeks for them to get the new part, install it and test it. When I got home and tested it it got almost, if not completely, as warm as before. Now I’ve given up on that, there’s no way I’m giving them another chance now.

Is it overpriced?

Basically, yes. If you only look at the processor, amount of RAM and hard drive, at least in Sweden you can get a matching PC laptop for 2/3 of the price of the MacBook Pro. What has to be added to this, though, is that you get the fantastic unmatched hardware and OS X with it, so in the end, it’s all about your priorities.

Luckily, given the deal with my manager, I ended up paying just a little more than 1/4 of the retail price, so for me it was naturally a find (I’m not gloating; just be happy for me, alright? :-)).

Would I recommend getting a MacBook Pro?

Given that you can pay the steep price: definitely. It’s a great machine, best I ever had, and you can also run about any operating system you desire on it.

 

Finishing words

I’ve probably missed, or left out, tons of information that I initially wanted to share. However, I do hope that you found this article helpful (hell, if you made it here, you’ve got stamina!).

Are you a Windows user thinking of making the switch? Or maybe a Mac user that learned something from this, or disagree with my conclusions, or (please say it is so) have the solution to the problems I’ve described above? Let me know!

Posted in Apple/Mac,Reviews/tests,Technology |

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