Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.
The MacBook arrived today. I’m tapping out this blog post on it right now, in fact.
I have to give credit to Apple, they certainly know how to handle product presentation. White isn’t my first color choice, but though it pervades everything from the packaging to the laptop itself, it gives the product a very sharp, clean, almost futuristic appearance. The laptop was wrapped in a protective sleeve and laid out in a nest of Styrofoam eggshells, and the extra parts and little bundle of manuals and CD’s were waiting patiently beneath it.
When you open a new Dell or Lenovo, meanwhile, you get some cardboard boxes and plastic bags. The accessories rattle around the box and you end up with six pounds of inserts littering the floor when you’re done unpacking everything.
Those are little things, certainly, but they show Apple’s at least trying to provide a little bang for the buck. And it’s pretty cool they included a nice cleaning cloth with it, because the glossy chassis is prone to fingerprints.
The drooling didn’t last long. I’m a function over form guy so I pulled her out and opened her up. I was surprised, at first, by the lack of a latch. Instead, Apple’s got a nifty magnet that holds the lid shut. Nothing to protrude and snag or break, and no puzzle to figure out. It complements the magnetic power connection, which I think is nothing short of brilliant. In fact, the power supply magnet already came in handy twice: first the Squirt stepped on it while climbing on me on the couch, and then I turned to one side and the cord snagged on a table corner. A regular connector would probably have survived the latter, but the former may well have resulted in my ordering a new power supply.
Three things surprised me when I opened the lid: the buttons, the lid hinges, and the touchpad. The buttons are larger and spaced farther apart than I expected for a 13″ laptop, and they’re very comfortable and easy to type on. The lack of extraneous media controls was also nice, as I never use any of that crap anyway. I was still leery of the single mouse button at this point, but I felt the huge trackpad would come in handy. I find it kind of amusing the enter key is labeled both “enter” and “return”; it makes me want to hunt for the “any” key. I see there’s also a nice “alt” label on the option key for us PC folk, and then of course there’s the squiggly box thing us PC folk tend to sneer at. The light on the caps lock key is a nice touch, though I just now realized there’s no num lock or faux number pad. I can’t imagine I’ll miss it as I never used it anyway, but it’s suddenly weird not seeing it there. I don’t see other PC standbys like scroll lock, print sreen, or pause/break, either. I never use scroll lock and print screen and pause/break are once in a blue moon, so I guess it makes sense for Apple to ditch the clutter. Finally, the hinge mount gives the user an extra inch or so of distance from the screen, making me feel at least a little less like I’m sitting too close to the screen. It also frees up some chassis real estate for the power button, which in turn probably gives the user a little more room for the touchpad and on the palm rests.
This is the entry-level MacBook, though we did get it bumped up to 2GB of RAM. However, even at entry level it’s got the built-in iSight camera, 2 USB ports, a Firewire port, an Ethernet port, a VGA output (albeit with a proprietary Mac connector — our rep tossed in an adapter), headphone and (I assume) line-in jacks, wireless, and Bluetooth. I’ve got the DVD player/CD burner combo, and it’s the Apple self-loading style rather than the pop-out drawer you get on PC laptops. And, of course, I can’t forget the light-up Apple on the lid. All told, I have to agree with John and others that for the specs and hardware it’s at least comparable to most PC laptops at the same price. I do wonder if the lack of a PC card slot will be a problem for some users, but it won’t be for me.
Time to take a look at the real guts, OS X. The rep gave me the option of Tiger (10.4) or Leopard (10.5), and I told him I want the latest and greatest. Leopard started with a welcome movie and then started asking me the standard account-setup questions. The first notable point here was it used the iSight camera to take a picture of me for my account button. Little more than glitz, of course, but kind of cool. The Midget and I mugged for it together, and I later saw that same picture/avatar appear in Mail and iChat.
The second notable point was the wireless setup. My WAP at work filters by MAC address, and there’s no sign of the MAC address on the laptop itself (most manufacturers put it on the bottom). Apple ditched all of the extraneous labels you find beneath a PC laptop, thus leaving me on my own. My options were to select another network (like Ethernet or Bluetooth) or tell it I don’t connect to a network. I selected the no network option so I can see how tough it would be to get this sucker online later.
Moments later I was up and running. First task? The wireless. I found a wireless icon on the desktop, and it showed me it had found my WAP. Another click into Advanced and voilá, there was my MAC address. I half wondered if “AirPort Address” actually referred to my access point, but I guess Apple calls both the cards and the access points AirPort devices. No big deal, because the moment I keyed it into my WAP I was surfing the Net in Safari.
I watched a few YouTube videos and found I had Flash support out of the box, no plug-ins required. I also had PDF support. Sound is decent, but hey, it’s a 13″ laptop. I still can’t find the speakers, but it almost sounds like they’re behind the display. The remote control for Front Row (think Media Center, Windows people) works like a champ and Front Row itself is easy to get around in. I’ll probably put it through its paces at another time. I then surfed to Apple Trailers and watched a couple. 1080p videos were bigger than my screen, but let me tell you, 720p on this baby was nothing short of gorgeous. I aimed the screen at the Wife across the room, and she was similarly impressed by its clarity. It also played the HD video and the audio with no sign of chop. Similarly impressive was the machine claims it will get over four hours out of the battery. I’ll test that another time, but if it’s true I’m going to need to change my pants.
While Safari is kind of cool, I did find out the hard way that it doesn’t cooperate with WordPress, which powers my blog. A little digging and I found out I was screwed because Safari uses the Gecko rendering engine rather than the Mozilla or even IE engines. No matter, I wanted Firefox so I could continue using Foxmarks if nothing else.
Getting up to that point was where I did my initial wrestling with the differences between Macs and PC’s. The delete key debate question did prove invalid, but I do see a few other areas of adjustment. And I best start by saying none of these are showstoppers, they’re just the Mac way of doing things.
First, copying and pasting are accomplished with Command-C and Command-V, respectively. I found this out by browsing the Edit menu and looking at the shortcut keys. Here’s where I missed having a right mouse button, and I’ll probably fix it with a three-button USB mouse. Yes, I realize I can also copy with Control-Click, but if I’m going to be clicking an extra button I may as well use Command-C. I’ll further admit I’m spoiled by Linux’s automatic copying of highlighted text to the clipboard. Highlighting and then middle clicking just plain rocks.
Second we have the menu and window placement. In the Windows world, almost every app runs in its own window and gets its own menu. In the Mac world, the menu across the top of the screen changes to become the menu for whatever app you’re actively using. This is not a problem. What I do miss already is a taskbar, or at least an easy way to access running apps. Yes, I realize this is what Expose is for, and it is very pretty, but it’d be able to get a listing via the mouse. I’d even be happy if it was in a stack like the Documents and Downloads buttons on the Dock (and if there’s a way to accomplish this, do feel free to leave me a comment). I’m going to have to get used to this quick, because chasing windows around was a pain.
Next we have the Dock itself. I don’t really have a comment here, other than I guess it’s pretty snazzy. It’s just a different way of doing things, and I don’t feel I have a preference for it over a Start button setup. I played with it in the System Preferences and whipped it into what I suppose is a reasonably functional shape.
Which leads me to System Preferences, which is the same as the Control Panel for Windows folks. Easy to browse and navigate, with all that you need right there. Much better than Microsoft’s goofy category view, and a hair more straightforward even than the classic view.
This is also where I tweaked mouse behavior. Out of the box, I couldn’t tap the touchpad to click icons or buttons or sweep a finger across it to scroll within windows. That became the first thing I had to fix after the networking. There wasn’t much I could do about the single button, but I did discover I could scroll both horizontally and vertically simply by using two fingers to do the sweep.
I may have to tweak the touchpad’s sensitivity a bit, but I’m impressed by two-finger scrolling. In Windows, maybe you get scroll space along the side and/or bottom of the touchpad. In Linux, it will reserve the side and/or bottom of the touchpad for scroll space even if the hardware wasn’t set up for it. This can become a nuisance because they both often misinterpret what you’re trying to do when your finger accidentally strays into these spaces, and you also get accidental clicks rather than scrolls. The Mac is not prone to this because it knows you’ve got two fingers on the pad and that you intend to scroll, not click. I also didn’t have the problem where the mouse stops on videos (or worse, Flash-based banner ads); it scrolled right on through them, even if I started right on top of them. Kudos, Apple!
I set up a Mail account and connected it to my server at work. This was a fairly straightforward process, and I was presented with my email from work. It dutifully downloaded my Inbox first, then politely went about downloading the rest of my mail in the background so I could get to work right away. Rockin’.
After that I set up iChat. Very straightforward, nothing remarkable. I opened the Address Book, iCal, iPhoto, and iMovie, but I didn’t play with them much. I’ll have to play with them another day, and I especially want to get my hands dirty with iPhoto.
The last thing I tackled, and the last thing I’ll cover in this post, is software installation. I downloaded Thunderbird to manage my home email and to see how it would look on a Mac, and I also snagged Firefox and a FTP/SCP client called Cyberduck. All three came in the .dmg disk image format. There was just one problem with that:
I had no idea how to handle the damned things.
I haven’t felt this helpless behind a keyboard in years. I expected the system would lead me through the install process when I clicked the files, but not so. Instead I got a window with a big application icon in it. I clicked the little oval in the upper right corner of the window border and got a bigger window with some folders and such on the left. I soon figured out I was inside the .dmg file, but still wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing with them.
Obviously this was just a fundamental lack of understanding of the Mac world, so I hit Mozilla’s site. Unfortunately they offered no hints. Then I hit Cyberduck’s site, thinking they’d have an install guide. Nope. Google came to the rescue. After a few searches, I learned I needed to copy the big icon — which was the application itself — to the Applications folder. I did so and then had a working program.
Advantage one of doing it this way? No registry.
Let me say that again: no expletive deleted registry! In fact, no extra files, period. Nice. It’s tough to gauge it against Windows because I can install exe’s in my sleep, but I suppose a newcomer with a little guidance may find it more convenient because they can drop it wherever they want rather than blindly accepting Windows defaults.
On the downside, I think I prefer Synaptic. You don’t have to surf anywhere to find an app, it takes care of all the installation for you and you return to the same place for updates. It’s also more intuitive to click “Add/Remove Software” and get a full software catalog than to download a file that you first have to find on the system and then have to open and copy its contents to somewhere else. Cyberduck threw me a little because it had several files and olders within the image, not just the application, and I’m going to have to learn to manage the Dock before it gets too bloated with installed applications.
As I said above, none of these are showstoppers, they’re just a matter of learning. I only mention them as comparisons to the PC world and so you can point and laugh at the dummy with the shiny white laptop.
I’ll continue to fiddle around and I will soon attempt some work-related tasks for both the day job and the writing. OpenOffice.org is definitely in my future (or at least NeoOffice, anyway), I’ll be installing some printers, connecting to Active Directory, and of course I’ll fiddle with the iLife apps and the Unix guts of the system.
In the end, I like this sucker. I can’t say I want to run out and by my own, but I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from purchasing one. In fact, I feel more confident than ever in saying a person can sit down in front of any machine and quickly become productive. I’ve spent more time writing up this post and watching videos than I have trying to figure out how to do something. If you can surf with IE or Firefox, you can surf with Safari. If you can set up mail accounts in Outlook Express or Thunderbird, you can set up Mail. And finally, even if the controls throw you for a loop, you’ll get used to them in no time.
It will be fun to find out if the users I support feel the same way.
About Mike Oliveri
Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. His Bram Stoker Award-winning first novel, Deadliest of the Species, was just reprinted by Evileye Books.