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The Stench From My Gaping Maw Presents Macbook Pros And Cons

I've had several weeks to enjoy/get used to my MacBook Pro. As I expected, there are things about this experience I enjoyed, and things that make my head explode. Here's a list of the current pros and cons that come to mind.


Power plug. The "mag safe" power plug is really nice. For one, it's a magnetic plug, so you just get the plug near to the MBP and it gets sucked right in. This means the plug is also fairly "trip safe," although I hope to never test that feature. The power connector has a medium-smallish brick in the middle, and the part that goes to the wall may be detached, leaving a square gap in the corner of the brick. Apple includes a two-prong piece that slides into that spot. It's very nice for travel. Well thought out.

Best of both worlds. Really, this is key. I wouldn't be using a Mac if it weren't for the current state of Windows emulation on the Mac. Since this is an Intel-based Mac, both Parallels and Fusion support "virtualization." What this means is a large number of apps and even 3D games will run well. Also, you can set up a dual boot (called "boot camp"). I'm currently running a Windows XP partition, and then I use Parallels from within OS X to boot strap that partition. It was a bit of a pain to set up, and it comes with its share of quirks, but it's actually quite good. Boot Camp could use better utilities from Apple, say for fan control and the like, but I got 4400 '06 3DMarks, which is better than I was getting from my Dell, and can run Half Life 2 at 1920x1200. Games run through Parallels, if they do work, will likely need reduced resolution or graphical features.

Built-in crosshair screen grab. It's an awkward key combination (CMD-CTRL-SHIFT-4) but the net result is you can select any area of the screen and it goes right to clip board. For some reason this makes me giddy. I know Windows has third party screen grabbers, and you can also copy the whole screen and crop it in Paint et al.

Light. Even though this is the 17" with 1920x1200, it's half the weight of my old Dell XPS m170. To me it seems light.

Battery Life. This machine has twice the battery of my old Dell XPS m170, which was crud. Again, to me it seems great. I can get about 3.5 hours out of a charge.

Unix. Built in. Nice. Comes in very handy. Previously I would use CygWin on XP, but that was never as tightly integrated as I'd have liked. Also, I can use my copy of Parallels to set up a virtual linux boot if I wanted to.

Backlit Keyboard. The backlighting comes into play when the room dims, which is a very cool feature, and the lighting does look nice.

Multitouch trackpad. The trackpad can detect two and three finger presses and drags, which leads to some interesting effects. First is the scroll. Use two fingers and drag to scroll in any direction, in any application. I got attached this this very quickly, and like it better than a "middle mouse button drag." Other features, like three-finger swipe and rotate come up infrequently in applications. Zoom in (pinch) and zoom out is usually useful for changing the font size in any app, but comes up infrequently. Control-scroll gives you the Mac equivalent of a full-screen magnifying glass.

Side Connections Only There are no connections on back of this thing. I understand that is a limitation of the form factor, but still, having to plug in an ethernet on the right side gets in the way of, say, using an external mouse.

Limited Tilt Angle. The screen doesn't tilt back far enough for my liking.

Inexplicable crashes and freezes. I've gotten them all. The black screen of death, finder lock up, finder lock up with no ability to get the Quit Application popup, unexpected application quits, and application freezes (particularly in Safari when a page is Javascript heavy). "It just works" my ass. Plus sometimes Parallels "secretly dies," and doesn't shut down properly, which means if you then reboot into XP it won't start up because the app didn't get a chance to undo its Parallels boot strap. Annoying.

Worse software selection. Really, do I have to argue this point with anyone?

The Apple Way. What makes OS X so sweet is how well all the features work together. For the most part. Sure, there are some apps that mess up from time to time, but overall it comes together well. I list this entry as a con, because this integration is only good if you do everything the Apple way. Apple is like a benevolent dictator. Microsoft, on the other hand, is a pushy public servant. Eventually Microsoft will give you what you want, whereas with Apple, eventually you will want what they give.

Fanaticism.Apple fanatics can be more irritating than wearing a used diaper as a helmet. For me, it's a computer. For others, it's a cult. Fanatics may believe they're on the cusp of a revolution, but all that Kool Aid they drank has made them loopy. If Apple was just plain better, why would it still be the underdog? Please don't call me a "switcher." I have no need for your labels, as I already come with a self-identity.

Bad office suite. iWork is really nothing special. It does the basics, everything you need, but it lacks the flair and evolutionary features I would expect from an "alternative suite." On the other hand, the OS X port of Office 2008 is incomplete and sluggish. What the hell were they thinking, omitting VBA? Cross-compatibility is THE selling point here, people. Yes, there's also NeoOffice, but so what? I'm running Office 2007 through Parallels because it's the only way to guarantee I'm seeing what they're seeing.

Flash for OS X is Adobe's ugly step child. What happened to OpenType being cross platform? Open a FLA file created on one platform on the other and you will generally witness baseline shifts of up to 20 pixels. Did no one at Adobe think to even TRY this during testing? Also, the separate window layout is annoying (at least give me the option for MDI), and these subwindows cause problems with the built in OS X tool "Spaces," disappearing on occasion.

Battery is not replaceable. Yeah, watcha gonna do.

Auto-dim Itchy Trigger Finger. When the room lights go dim, you can also have the display dim slightly. This gives me hella eye strain, as just waving your hand near the sensors causes the screen to dim down and up quickly. Luckily you can turn this default behavior off.

No right mouse button. Really? In 2008?? Yes, still no right mouse button. Now with multitouch trackpads you can configure a fat finger (my name for a two-finger click) to kick off an "alternate click." This is ok, but sometimes your fingers are too far apart and you wind up regular clicking instead. Also bothersome is while this feature is available inside Parallels, when you reboot into native XP Apple's boot camp tools don't support this method of right clicking. Instead you need to fat finger hold and then regular click to do a right click. Ridiculous.


Safari. The default browser has some nice features. It's available on Windows. I like how they implemented find in page and the built-in tab management. The ability to resize all TEXTAREAs by dragging the handle is sweet! However, this is still not Firefox, which has better extension and theme management. Firefox also runs Javascript better, despite whatever Apple claims.

iTunes. Well, well, well. My nemesis. It supports cover view, and has great podcast integration. It also is supported by numerous third party applications and will work with your network media server. But it's still iTunes. I prefer WinAmp. Amazon sells unlocked MP3s, which I will favor over the iTunes store time and time again, no matter how hard you make it for me to get my Amazon downloads in there.

More shortcut keys, please! Windows applications generally spoil you with a full load out of shortcut keys. Mac applications are hit and miss. Usually they'll keystroke up the big features, and leave the rest blank. Now, OS X features a centralized shortcut manager which is very nice, so I can't really say this is a problem. But it is certainly easier to use the manufacturer's suggested shortcut installed out of the box, rather than trying to figure out an unused key combination and setting that up yourself.

Dashboard. Interesting concept, but underpowered widgets lose their charm quickly. Also, this is not terribly new. I remember using third party apps back on Windows 98 that did things like this. The Safari widget is outstanding, however, letting you snip a section of a website, and the scrap updates itself whenever you bring up the dashboard by hitting F4.

Dock. Pretty effect, but so what. It takes up a lot of space. Some applications really take advantage of the dock, providing status updates. For instance, Adium shows you if you have new IMs and from whom; Apple Mail shows you the number of new non-junk messages received. The dock shows you both what's open and shortcuts to popular apps you might WANT to open. If the app is open, a dot shows underneath it, otherwise it's just a shortcut. You can manage the short cuts at will, and sometimes by accident you'll drag a shortcut off of the dock, making it disappear. You then have to go digging for the app to put it back on the dock. It's ok.

Hopefully my list of pros and cons has helped you to feel more ambivalent about the Mac or PC debate than ever.


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