Tag Archive for laptops

The Advantage in Being Proprietary

My Apple rep, Joe, was in my office as I was packing up at the end of the day. I leaned over to my MacBook, clicked the Apple icon, and clicked Shut Down.

“Did you just shut down your MacBook?” Joe asked. He gave me the same look one might give someone who had just shoved a live viper down the front of their pants.

It dawned on me in that instant how PC laptops had reinforced bad habits. There was no reason to shut down the MacBook because I was going to open it right back up when I got home in ten minutes. Joe had taken his laptop out twice during his visit, and each time opened and closed it without a hitch. I’ve opened and closed m MacBook several times, also without a hitch. In fact, I haven’t shut down the MacBook since, and it’s been eight days.

You can’t get that with Windows or Linux.

Linux has the uptime, but sleep and hibernation are iffy at best. I never got it to run on my old Dell with a few different Linux distros, and I eventually gave up on trying.

On Windows, you may get that kind of uptime out of a server, but on a workstation chances are you’ll have needed to reboot for one reason or another. Sleep and hibernation are at least supported, but when it does work it takes some time to shift into sleep mode and then to wake up again, and even then you may experience problems. For example, we have two shiny new Lenovo ThinkPads at the school, and when they come out of suspend mode they lose their keyboard (it’s especially problematic on a docking station). I have another Dell at work that’s only a few years old, and its suspend gives me fits at times as well. On a Windows machine, don’t even think about interrupting the suspend/wakeup process, because you’ll have problems. Close the lid on accident, realize you forgot something, and open it up again, and you pretty much freeze up the whole system. My wife’s uncle bought a brand new Dell XPS laptop and it took him three power-down and -up cycles before he finally got Windows to work again. Finally, even when it does cooperate, you’re looking at (I’m guesstimating based on previous experience) between 10 and 20 seconds before the system is actually usable.

On this MacBook, meanwhile, opening and closing the lid has been flawless, and damn near instantaneous. Close the lid and it’s suspended. Open it and it’s up and running in about a second. Count the time it takes to reassociate with a wireless network and you’re looking at 2-3 seconds, tops. But that’s okay, because you can start fiddling with apps. I had to write an email this morning, so I sat down and opened the lid. By the time my finger hit the touchpad, the MacBook was ready for me.

I wondered how that could be. Are Apple developers just that much better than Windows or Linux developers, or is there some advantage they have? It occurred to me that being proprietary may be all the advantage they need.

Whether you’re talking Windows or Linux, there are a plethora of machines they can be installed on with a wide-ranging set of features and hardware, each of which require their own drivers. It’s further compounded by the manufacturers handling different features in different ways.

In the Windows world, we have a closed-closed relationship. The hardware manufacturers are all protecting their hardware and software, and Windows is protecting their operating system. Windows only shares the Application Programmer’s Interface (API) with the hardware people, essentially telling them “this is how you talk to Windows.” If there are bugs and problems, it’s on the hardware manufacturer to figure it out, and the end users have to sit and hope the two sides can work things out.

In the Linux world, we have a closed-open relationship. Few hardware manufacturers are writing Linux drivers, but the Linux programmers have the advantage of full access to the Linux kernel and its drivers. They have a better chance of figuring things out, but the user still either has to code up a solution himself or hope a geek out there has the same problems and publishes a driver. The good news is this has drastically improved over the past few years with more companies like Canonical getting into the game, and partnerships between companies like Canonical and Dell are a big help, but there’s still a little ways to go.

The Apple guys, meanwhile, know exactly what the hardware is going to be. Their engineers and programmers all talk to one another and share information, so by the time the end user gets his hands on the product, everything Just Works. (Generally. I realize Macs are not 100% bulletproof.)

The advantage goes to Apple. By the same token, this is probably why the Xbox works so much better than Windows, despite their both being Microsoft products. The Xbox crew knows exactly what’s in the hardware and how to talk to it, so the Xbox operating system is rock solid. (Again, generally speaking.)

Which leads to the next problem: cost. I think I’ll save that rant for another post, though.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Where Are the Vista Apologists?


Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

I’ve become more and more impressed with the MacBook I’ve been evaluating. Between reader comments and the things an Apple rep has showed me, I’m starting to really see the appeal of OS X.

The much-touted ease of use is really there. With no more instruction than “click here and here,” my son has fallen in love with PhotoBooth. The picture above is one of many he took while playing around, and he often asks me if he can play with the MacBook. I’m looking forward to showing him the Comic Life demo I downloaded.

I’ll be talking more about my MacBook experiences in the future, but for now I have to wonder, where are the Vista apologists?

I write a single post about my Mac experiences, and I’m swamped with comments and traffic spikes. There was no zealotry, just helpful advice and encouraging words. Meanwhile I’ve slagged Windows, especially Vista, several times, and there’s hardly a peep from my readership.

I’m on an email list for Illinois technology educators that has hundreds of members, and there’s a lot of talk about Vista headaches ranging from poor printer and hardware support to it being a massive resource hog. There are a few people who claim to like it, but they’re more interested in some of the administrative or security tools than anything a user might get excited about. Or, if they do like Vista in general, they have either turned off several features or they just accept the system’s quirks.

I read a column recently (I wish I could find it) that made a great point: Mac users love their systems. Windows users, meanwhile, just grit their teeth and reboot. This is why guys like John Roling, a former Windows power user, suddenly become Mac enthusiasts. This is why guys like me start exploring other options like Linux, and are willing to at least entertain the notion of purchasing a Mac.

This is why Dell and IBM are forced to offer XP as an option on their systems, and Vista was only installed on 39% of all PCs sold last year. This is why Best Buy is doubling the number of stores stocking Mac products this month.

The only thing the Windows, Mac and Linux camps can agree on is DRM and proprietary multimedia formats suck.

In the meantime, I ask again, where are the Vista apologists? If you’re out there, speak up!

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Dvorak Missing the Point?

Cranky tech pundit John C. Dvorak recently wrote a PC Magazine column slamming the One Laptop per Child project. Dvorak knows his stuff, and he makes some good points about these children being exposed to all the garbage on the Internet. However, I think he may have missed the point with his “let them eat cake” comment.

On the surface, it does seem to make more sense to send more rice and food to these people. But that doesn’t solve the larger problem, does it? These people will become dependent upon those shipments. If Dvorak’s going to toss out quotables, I’ll toss one back: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” That’s the real goal of the OLPC project: to enable these children to learn.

60 Minutes ran a segment on OLPC and the man behind it, Nicholas Negroponte. The guy didn’t conjure this idea up out of nowhere, he was actually out in the field in a poor village with no electricity or running water. His group installed generators, a satellite dish with Internet access, and a set of laptops and turned them over to the school to see what would happen.

The kids took them home and taught their families how to use them. They told their friends all about them, and the next year the school enrollment increased dramatically. If that trend continues, does it really matter what the laptops can or can’t do? Just by showing up they’re getting kids in the door.

I’d have to call that successful by any standard.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Gimme 13 Inches

Size Comparison

Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

If nothing else, this MacBook experiment is making me fall in love with 13″ notebooks.

I’ve been lugging a 15″ Dell Inspiron 8000 around for six years now, and it’s somewhat of a beast. It’s unwieldy in the lap because most of its weight pitches toward the back and ends up right over my knees. It’s not a big deal on the sofa, but it can get tricky in the car. It’s also a hair too big for an airline tray, and if the person in front of me reclines more than an inch, I may as well just pack it up.

At work I inherited the Dell M60 in the picture above. It’s a 15″ widescreen and is about the same weight as my 8000. It’s even more awkward due to its wider profile. In fact, it barely fits in the side-loading compartment in my backpack.

My philosophy in the past has been better a big screen if it’s going to see a lot of use. I don’t know what the future will bring for a laptop, and in the unlikely event it becomes a desktop replacement the bigger screen will be handy for photo editing. Over time I started to wish my 15’s were a bit more portable. I dock at work, and at home the laptop spends 99% of the time doing email, web surfing, and writing. Even pumped up to a high rez, on-screen text is still perfectly readable because the screen is less than an arm’s length away.

Unfortunately I don’t have the luxury to buy a 13″ laptop just to see what I think of it. Tinkering at the store isn’t enough, and the stores don’t look kindly upon returns. If I buy a laptop, it’s going to see several years of use whether I like it or not.

Enter the MacBook. As you can see in the picture, the 13″ Mac is quite a bit smaller than the Dell it’s sitting on top of. It’s also thinner and significantly lighter; I can carry it around open and in one hand with little difficulty. It fits nicely in my lap, and I’m still having no trouble at all on the keyboard. The on-screen differences are negligible thanks to the high rez and the widescreen aspect ratio.

So what’s my point? I’m glad you asked. You can probably tell I’m making a personal evaluation out of this as well as a professional one. The Mac OS has me interested enough to at least consider it, and sometime next year I’ll be in the market for a new personal laptop. In the coming weeks, then, I’ll probably start looking at the hardware offerings from PC notebook manufacturers and weigh the pros and cons as best I can.

One thing’s for sure, though: it’s going to be painful going back to my Inspiron 8000, no matter what OS is loaded on it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.