I love powerbooks

powerbookI’ve been running Linux in various forms for the past six years at work and at home. I’ve only ever bothered to use Windows as a toy operating system, for games and digital photo printing, because it’s stability makes it next to useless in my work environment. But I’ve always been bothered by how difficult it is to set up some things in Linux, usually because of lame driver support from hardware manufacturers. So I’ve always wished for something that combines the openness of Linux with the ease of use of Windows, but nothing like that was available. When Mac OS X first came out I was interested, even though I’d always seen Macs as being easy to use but impossible to fiddle with it looked like Apple was on the right path. But Macs are expensive, and I wasn’t going to shell out R19,000 on a lemon. So when Paul Graham wrote his article Return of the Mac I finally decided to take the plunge and convinced my company to buy a 1.67GHz 15″ Powerbook with a 1GB ram upgrade for me. I figured that if hardcore Python hackers were beginning to move to Macs then it must have reached a level where I could do my work at a level of productivity I’m used to. Then it took two months for it to arrive, which made me pretty nervous because I’m used to getting hardware in a day or two. Why do companies always advertise stuff when they have no stock?! But I finally received it last Monday, with the added bonus of coming installed with the latest incarnation of Mac OS X, Tiger. It’s pretty difficult to explain in words how slick the interface is, you just have to use it for a week and be completely blown away to know why there are so many people who advocate Mac OS X. Everything just fits together perfectly and is brilliantly designed. I’ve been using a Mecer 3GHz notebook with 1GB of ram for the past two years, and have been pretty happy with it. But it’s really a desktop replacement, because the battery life is pathetic and it weighs a ton, and “sleep” doesn’t work so well in older versions of Linux. I’m a keyboard junkie, and in Linux I run a minimalist desktop customized so much that no one else could use my notebook, but it made me unbelievably productive. Switching desktops, minimising windows, shading windows, opening up terminals and often used documents, etc. was all accomplished with two key combinations. Unfortunately the Mac forces me to use the mouse more often, but Expose, Quicksilver, and Spotlight make up for the speed I lose by using the mouse to move windows around and minimising/maximising.Here are a few of those moments when I was thinking “This rocks!”

  • Plugged in in my desktop 19″ LCD monitor and the desktop is automatically extended over both screens, and both screens use their top resolutions.
  • I hate notebook trackpads, but the powerbook’s is brilliant. One mouse button actually makes it easier to use, you just have to remember to hold down ctrl to right click. And scrolling by dragging two fingers around works a lot better than having a rocker switch that often disrupts your work by forcing you to look away from the screen to find it.
  • Spotlight: Pressing command-space and typing in a document name and it pops up in the list along with related stuff. Beats hunting stuff down in Finder/Explorer or the console.
  • Expose: Press F9 to see all open windows zoomed out so they fit on the screen, and it’s instantaneous even under heavy load. F10 to see all of an applications windows. F11 to see the desktop, and F12 to see the dashboard.
  • Dashboard: See the weather, calendar, control iTunes, and lookup stuff in the built-in Oxford dictionary. Without starting up any programs, you just press F12 to see the overlayed dashboard, and press it again to hide it.
  • Drag a DivX avi into iDvd, burn it to disc, and play it in my dvd player.
  • Drag a few sound loops onto the track layout in Garageband and have something that doesn’t sound too bad, without bothering to read the manual.
  • All the development and database software I use on Linux works on Mac OS X using Fink and Darwinports.
  • I can open a console and have all my usual geeky tools like bash, vim, grep, sed, ssh, etc. available by default.
  • The inbuilt sound card actually produces respectable bass through earbud headphones.
  • It starts up in a minute or two.
  • Close the lid and it goes to sleep in two seconds, open it and it’s awake and ready to go in two seconds.
  • The battery lasts three to four hours under a respectable workload.
  • It’s just so damn pretty inside and out.

The only thing I’m unhappy with is the inconsistent behaviour of the home and end keys. Using ctrl-right and ctrl-left is fine, but that’s been hardwired into my brain to mean “jump back/forward a word”. And I need to get to the beginning or end of a line far more often than I need to go to the end of a document, so why make me press two keys instead of one? Seems like backwards compatibility for its own sake rather than ease of use.And under WindowMaker on Linux I could press the windows key and use left click anywhere in a window to move it or right click to resize the window. Is this possible in Mac OS X?

2005.05.16