Sunday, March 16, 2008

Baby's got Mac!!! 
That's right. After years of sniggering at those obnoxious, hipper-than-thou, Air America-listening, latte-swilling, tiny-little-square-frame-glasses wearing Mac-using dweebs, simultaneously questioning their masculinity and their femininity, I went over to the dark side and bought myself a MacBook Pro.


Well, as a WiFi warrior and a frequent Starbucks/Panera/Borders writer, surfer and blogger, I was getting increasingly annoyed with the startup and shutdown times on my windows-based PC. My other workhorse computer was a Compaq, which was replacing a Toshiba (that got stolen), which was replacing a Dell Inspiron that I got in Iraq (sturdy, but ugly and clunky, and has the same operating system challenges as the Compaq.

Anyway, I was becoming aware that with all the extranneous crap that was loading into the RAM every time I turned it on, and then getting dumped everytime I turned it off, I was probably blowing 30 minutes or more in wait times every day.

I could screw with the startup menu and dump programs, but it never fully addressed the problem. Virus scans found viruses, but never seemed to appreciably increase performance. I tried a store bought computer performance registery doctor kind of program (forget which one now) but the software never could make contact with its host, and for some stupid reason, I never could get it fully functional. It helped in the short run, but programs were still getting hung up.

Plus, I was only getting about 90 minutes of battery life out of the Compaq.

So I began to consider switching to the dark side.

As a creative professional (I've been making a living in a strange combination of sales, copywriting, and advertising planning and brokering for the last few years, plus music and National Guard duty), I've been around Macs. And from 2004 to early 2006 an Apple G3 was my primary computer.

I was disappointed with the G3. I lost a lot of work and productivity due to the Whirling Beach Ball of Death, and the necessity of having to physically unplug the thing and reboot entirely. It also didn't display the GUI buttons on Blogger (long time readers will recall a period in 2004-2005 when I didn't hotlink during the week, but just copied and pasted URLs into the text instead. That's because the G3's operating system was choking on Blogger. Also, the G3 choked on any content from the Washington Post, making it almost unreadable.

The Mac Powerbooks looked crappy and cheap to me. I need a fair amount of screen space, because I do a lot of editing and I like to see documents side by side. The Powerbooks were too small and felt cramped. The MacBook Pros spread out a lot more, and look much sturdier. They look elegant, even. But I was more interested in function than looks.

I did buy an iMac for my Mom, who's not computer savvy at all. She just wanted to be able to turn it on, check her email and surf the Web. I got her the Mac, because I didn't want her to have to worry about drivers, viruses, virus scans, etc. She needs a 'fire-and-forget' system. The iMac seemed like the way to go for her.

I didn't pay full price for the Pro. I went through the military discount program Apple has, which takes about 10% of the cost off the top. I'm no Megan McArdle, but I did find myself lusting over the larger screen size. I couldn't justify the cost for the larger screen, though. Those extra two inches would have cost over a thousand dollars. A good metric for a porn star, perhaps, but not a good metric for a copywriter, musician and soldier.

I've been using it now for about 3 weeks. My thoughts:

This thing smokes.

Granted, it's not fair to compare it with the performance of a computer that's a couple of years old and has been on every unsecure network in the world. But it smokes, nevertheless. Full bootup in under 30 seconds, max.

Which means I can hit the power button, reach for the power cord, plug it in, and OS X is ready and waiting by the time I get to emptying the Equal packets into my coffee.

Shut down is in under 10 seconds.

Which means that when it comes time to jettison that coffee, I'm not desperately fighting to control my bladder waiting for 5 minutes for this thing to shut down, nor am I running into six different popup windows saying "The program is not responding."

I HATE those. What's up with that crap?

The bottom line: I just added about a half hour of productive computing time to my day. Maybe more.

Second observation: While I don't have the full Adobe creative suite, with Dreamweaver, photoshop, etc. (I don't do graphics. Not that I'm opposed to doing them. I just haven't invested the time in learning that craft. I'd rather focus on being the best copywriter in the business rather than a mediocre designer), the applications that do come with the package I bought - Numbers (a spreadsheet application), Pages (a series of design templates for newsletters, resumes, proposals, business cards etc.,) are excellent, intuitive, and easy to use.

Not professional quality design tools, by any means. But I can generate a reasonable brochure or catalog for anyone pretty quickly with it. Haven't gotten too deeply into Numbers yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

It's obvious, though, that the Mac folks designed these machines and the operating system with the creative professional in mind. Microsoft couldn't give a rat's ass about the creative professional, which is why creatives don't use them. The PC makers want gamers.

Further, I love the magnetic coupling between the power supply and the computer. Simple, effective, brilliant.

Finally, I'm getting nearly four hours of battery time from this thing. Which doesn't seem like a big deal. But when you're a WiFi warrior it's a huge plus. It means I can compute from whereever I want, and I don't have to worry about whether there is an AC power source available. If the seats near the plugs are taken, it doesn't matter. I have hours of productivity before I even have to worry about it. I can sit in the comfy chairs rather than the Romper Room furniture at the local Starbucks. I can choose a a larger table rather than a tiny one because it's near the outlet. I can sit next to the pretty girl rather than the Ogre.

All in all, a major addition to my lifestyle, and well worth the price I paid for it, in my situation.

Now the downsides and tradeoffs:

- I do miss the right-click feature. Yes, I'm getting better at using the keyboard shortcuts. But would it KILL Apple to figure out how to put a right button on the laptop? I mean, really!

- Apple's Mail program does not seem to get along with gmail. I'm trying to migrate from Hotmail to Gmail, because 3/4ths of what I get on Hotmail now is Spam. And I'd like to use the Apple Mail program. But I just can't get the two to talk to each other. Yes, I googled all the usual solutions.

- The U.S. Army's IT people are idiots when it comes to - well, just about everything. But when it comes to integrating on a Mac, they're hopeless. I owe someone an OER, but the Army Knowledge Online system does not seem to respond well with Macs. And unless you have a PhD in computer science, forget about installing a CAC reader!!! (Don't get me started on the idiots who came up with the CAC transition on AKO! All of them have government jobs, obviously. And they don't give a damn about reservists with real private sector jobs who don't get paid to screw around trying to get their computers to interact with the Army network)

- A lot of video content doesn't play on the Mac out of the box. You'd think a computer known for being media-friendly would figure this out, but they don't. You get a message saying the browser doesn't have the right kind of MIME plug-in, and you get directed to the Microsoft page to download the plug-in.

That makes me want to pull my hair out. If they know exactly where to get the plug-in out of the box, then why don't they install the frigging plug-in to make it work from the get go!?!?!? Well, I'll tell you why, because the plug-in DOESN'T WORK!

It took me about an hour and a half of Googling and trying different fixes.Plug-ins, programs, freeware, you name it. And there are people out there who thought of everything. Well, everything that is, except installing RealPlayer.

Worked like a charm.

So if you get one, don't waste any time. Install RealPlayer the minute you get it.

I have not noticed any appreciable improvement in interactivity with my iPhone yet. But that may happen with future versions of the software. I'm sure Apple will be looking to create a competitive mote, in various ways.

I do miss the ability to send pictures in Yahoo. Well, I don't mind it so much, but my friends would rather see the pics in a viewing window than download them as files that have to be opened separately. That's not a huge deal for me, though. Mostly it's my friends that bitch about that.

Overall, though, my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. If you're not worried about connectivity with poorly-designed intranets, and you aren't highly price-sensitive, I highly recommend making the switch.

Splash, out


Labels: , ,

I'm pretty sure that, on recent Mac laptops, you could do a right-click by resting two fingers on the trackpad (as if you were going to use the two-finger scrolling feature) and clicking the button.
Yeah, I shifted over to the dark side a while back. Buy AppleCare, seriously, especially for a laptop.

Some old advice I put out:
music stuff, low interest
My startup setup
Parallels, Boot Camp, and Fusion all work well for playing like the machine's a PC; hell, Boot Camp boots up *as* a PC if you want your laptop to look fugly!

Drop a note in email any time if I can be of service. I'm not ├╝bergeek but know how to turn the things on and off...
As noted above, you have long-time readers who have been on the 'dark side' for quite awhile. Feel free to email with questions.

As for the right mouse button, in case you haven't already found it, look under the trackpad utility in the system preferences, and you'll see a feature for enabling right clicking by dragging two fingers. I use this all the time, and it works well both in OS X and in XP, which I'm running through Parallels. Haven't tried the GMail connection to Mail, though; can't shed much light on that.

Keep up the good work.
"... (Don't get me started on the idiots who came up with the CAC transition on AKO! All of them have government jobs, obviously. And they don't give a damn about reservists with real private sector jobs who don't get paid to screw around trying to get their computers to interact with the Army network)"

Amen! Amen! Remember Murphy's Law? "When the enemy can't get in, you can't get out." I'm in the IT section for a major Reserve command, and the CAC card issues are killing Reserve Soldiers. The active Army has given insufficient thought for how a Reserve Soldier is to get a CAC card reset. Weekends? Ha! Reserve Soldier lives 200 miles from the Army post? Too bad; just take a day off from your mortgage-paying job and drive 6 hours to get a CAC card reset. The AKO account password reset requires a military computer and you have seven days to get to one. No drill until next month and the drill center is 200 miles away? Sorry. No AKO access for you.
I feel your pain and frustration (literally as it is often directed at me and my personnel).
Obviously, name withheld as I continue to work these issues from the inside....
Or, buy an add-on Logitech 2-button mouse. Our laptops tend to live at home more than on the road, so it isn't a problem finding a place to use a mouse.

I'd skip the Logitech control panel though; the mouse works fine without it, and actually I think it works a bit worse with it.
Perian is what you want for video.
If you click and hold, a context menu (Winders right-click) will appear.

As noted, parallels will allow you to load Windows, but I've had recent experience with VMWare's Fusion product, and it seemed pretty OK.

Virtualbox is an open source alternative, but the Mac OS version is in beta testing at the moment, unfortunately. I've been using VirtualBox under linux and it's been very satisfactory.
Like we used to say in the 80's: Outstanding! Maybe someday the majority of businesses will switch over, too.
Welcome aboard. I see Chap already chimed in, but Lex of NeptunusLex fame is a MacQueer as well. I went MAC about 2 years ago and now own a PowerBook and and iMac - and before I deploy again MacAir is on the list.

As for the right click, yea it took me some time as well. The little "CMD-Flower thingy" before clicking usually gets me what I want, that or the ctrl button. You may also want to get a book or two my wife found very helpful, the "Switching to the Mac" and "The Missing Manual" - they are a bit help.

About 2 months after I bought my PowerBook (first purchase) I also bought AAPL - sold a bit in OCT, but still have some (yikes!) - but still OK in spit of the fall. It will come back, there products are just too good and popular. As a matter of fact, there might be a buy point now......
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