Is the Macbook all it’s cracked up to be?

macbook pro
macbook pro

I have just bought myself a Macbook Pro with 250gb hard disk and 4 gig of RAM!!! It cost me £ 1150 from Dixons. Yehhaaaa!.

I have complained about Microsoft Windows since Windows 3.1 but seen it improve gradually though to my mind not enough. So I took the plunge and bought a Mac. Was it worth it? Read on.

I’ve worked with computers since before the PC. My first machine was a Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) System 10 when I was at school in 1974 and this ran an Operating System  called TOPS-20. My first job in IT was in 1978 working on a PDP11 running an Operating System called RSTS/E. Since then I’ve worked on, VMS, Pic, MPE, CICS, Unix of many flavours, Linux, Amiga OS, Windows blah blah and a variety of other obscure ones.

When Dos & Windows came along I was sort of annoyed that all the gains that had been made with mini computer OSs like VMS or Unix did not exist in Windows. I’m told that the mainframe guys thought the same when the mini computer came along. But OK, gradually Windows got a scheduler, Windows started multi tasking, Windows got a better interface.

But I was always annoyed that my Commodore Amiga with 512K of RAM could switch tasks in an instant at the touch of a key while Windows has to jerk me around and freeze the screen. Even now with vast amounts of processing power and RAM windows still seems to have problems prioritising tasks so that the user is not brought to a halt. I’m speaking of Windows up to XP. All I’ve heard about Vista is bad and I have no experience of Windows 7.

So I bought myself a Mac. A Unix variant under the bonnet and a slick interface. It sounds perfect.

Well to start with the packaging was great as it was simple and limited. The physical design of the silver macbook is of course beautiful. Again simplicity and utility. Apple have always been famous for this and they have excelled themselves this time.

Switching on and starting up must have been easy because I cannot remember much about it. It asked me a few questions and I think I set up a user and that was it. I’d played with one in a shop and, come on, it’s just another OS, so it was easy enough to find my way around. I found the touch pad a little odd to start with but I’m getting used to it and I think I will learn to prefer it though a mouse is still preferable for some work such as image manipulation. The magnetic power connector is fantastic and saves a lot of fiddling around.

I downloaded Open Office and found that software installation was much more straightforward and quicker than most Windows apps. I like the way I can download an app and run it without installing it. I like the way that when I upgraded to Snow Leopard it asked me a couple of questions and then said that it was going to do it and it would take some time. I was then free to leave it going without worrying that it was ask some dumb question. When I came back it was done.
I downloaded an app to synch my mac with my Nokia N95 and without much optimism I installed it and ran it. It installed extremely easily and was very simple to synch with the N95. Within minutes it was done.

I like the dock or task bar or whatever it’s called. You may, by now, have noticed that I am not an Apple techy. I am not sure of all the terminology but that is a very key point. Having worked with numerous systems for year and learned the technobabble of our industry I now what something that just works. When I switch my TV on I don’t want to have to learn a lot of twaddle to make it work. When I pick up my phone I don’t want to read the manual. And when I want to browse the web or write a letter I don’t want to have to take an MCSE. The mac achieves this objective. The top level is simplicity. To someone used to Windows, like myself, it may even seem a little limited but I am learning that all the functionality is still there, it is just packaged more slickly.
I have dropped down to the shell a couple of times for a look around but not stayed there long. This machine is for writing and Internet work. It’s like a pen in the hands of an author. I might get more into the technical side later but for now I just want to us it.

The Finder is the mac version of Windows explorer and, though initially sceptical, I think it is growing on me.

The battery life is excellent and Apple have done a very good job of the look and feel, both physical, visual and ergonomic. For example the SD card slots seems tightly bound to the case so that when inserting a card it fits firmly.

The screen is excellent. I opened an image I’d taken at night and on the mac it had enough light to look reasonable. I printed it on a good quality Epsom Stylus Pro 4000 and the image was pretty much as on the screen. I opened the same image on my PC and the image was much too dark. I increased the brightness of the image and printed it on the same printer and the result was too washed out. The conclusion is that the mac displays a more realistic impression of the image than the PC.

There are downsides.

Though the keyboard feels and looks beautiful it is has a slightly different layout. Like a US keyboard on a PC the @ and the “ are in different places. It has function keys but these perform different functions. I miss being able to hit F2 to edit a spreadsheet cell. On the Mac the F2 brings up a nifty Clock, calender, calculator, weather screen.

Minidisplay to VGA
Minidisplay to VGA

The mac has a mini display port for connecting an external screen. I had to purchase a mini display to VGA adapter for the extortionate price of £20 only to discover that, though this has a reasonably thin cable, it is only 3 inches long meaning that the slick, simplicity of the macbook is compromised by a bloody great VGA adapter sticking out of the side.

One thing I find strange is that there appears to be no ability to blow up a window to maximum size with a click of a widget. A widget exists but this only blows it up to the largest size it has been set at. To get it to take up the whole screen you have to move and drag it around with the mouse or touch pad. I find this very frustrating as it is something one often needs to do and I see no reason why this facility does not exist.

In summary, I am pleased that I bought the mac but sometimes find myself frustrated. I think this is because I have become so trained on the Windows platform. As I use a PC at work I wonder whether I will always find myself hitting the wrong function keys inadvertently as I switch back and forth but I don’t think so. I think I will gradually get used to two systems.

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