Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Switch to the mac. First 24 hours

As the title suggests I got a Mac. It is a mid range Macbook (2.4 core 2 duo, 2GB RAM, 160GB HD, dvd burner). First I'll explain more about laptop itself then give first impressions on Mac OS X Leopard.

Macbook hardware

Even though I prefer black notebooks, white macbook does have something distinct which potential buyers surely appreciate. The glossy casing and display are eye catching as is somewhat unusual keyboard. While the bottom part of the laptop is sturdy and well built, I cannot say the same for the upper part containing the display. There is a great flex (more than a few millimeters) of the display case when subjected to torsion. You can easily see how the lcd panel is bending under force. When you press the closed lid from the top there is very little flexing which is much more realistic and important test though. But in any case, I've seen many laptops who don't have this kind of problem or have the reverse problem. But in my opinion, I don't think that torsion flexing of the display is that great of the problem. I was wandering if the logo glows when the mac is on, and to answer it, yes it does glow.

I have a bit of mixed feelings about the display itself. Even though this is a TN display it just doesn't leave a good impression. Color at maximum brightness look a bit overexposed in a way or washed out. This doesn't have anything with LED/CFL difference. I'm even more surprised by slightly mediocre colors and contrast because the screen does have a glossy glass panel which by many accounts (mine too) does give the screen a better picture. But don't despair, the screen is not that bad though. One slight problem with the display is the relatively low resolution of 1280 x 800. True, this is standard resolution for the display of this size, but combining this resolution with Mac OS X, there is a tendency to have a cluttered desktop. One thing to note that viewing angles are not that good too. There is a great vertical color shift, but not that much when viewing from the sides. I had Dell inspiron 9400 (17'', ips screen, 1920x1200) and the difference is night and day. True, these computers are totally different class, but I did expect a bit more from Apple.

The lid is made in standard "macbook style" but there are positive and negative sides to it. First the positive. Cooling of the laptop is nicely done by this trick. I'm not really certain by now where does cool air enter and where does the hot air exit but there are two side wents and one central. I'll explain with the pictures so I'll not waste any words here. The negative part is that you can open the screen just to some angle. And that angle is not that great though. If you have macbook on your lap and your legs are a bit pointed upward you'll have a hard time adjusting your display.

Temperature of the laptop is not that great actually. I've read some reports about macbook fried eggs etc but in my case this is very far from reality. The reality is that the macbook comes just moderately warm (not hot), and that in my opinion is acceptable. Of course it would be even more better that there is no heat at all, but this result is good enough. Fan is most of the time very silent, and you can actually hear processor working louder than the fan. To hear any of this you have to press your ear to the case, so this laptop really is silent and that is great thing for any user. I did hear fan ramp up the speed once, it was probably because of some program using 100% processor time. But I had to restart OS X because of some installation anyway. I'll keep a close eye, or should I say ear on the fan situation in future. But so far, it is doing great.

Hard disk is not slow as I thought it could be. I actually found it to be very fast for general tasks. I have no tests to show you, but don't even ask, I won't be bothered because as I said, the disk is acceptable for what this laptop is made for. This is only supplemented by 2GB of RAM. People who bitch and moan about hard drive speed should invest more into their RAM. Much more concerned about drive speed is the sound the drive is producing. Or lack of it. Maybe I'm a bit old fashioned but I do like when I can hear drive working or there is a very small LED for signalization. But thinking now about it, I do feel that most of the time that sound or blinking LED is just there to unnecessary grab your attention. So I'll reserve my judgment on this issue.

Battery life so far is excellent. Even though this computer is new so the battery is not yet completely "formed" (I'll say thats 1/4 of capacity) I can get at 5 hours of writing at minimal brightness (if you have good eyes this isn't a problem at all). I'll try other brightness settings and report back. I usually see people doing wild stuff to test the battery, but I can only accept very few of them. I do not accept tests where they run down battery as fast as they can. That just shows nothing really. Or when they "test" the battery by doing some other weird stuff. I prefer tests when testers actually want to conserve battery time as much as they can. That is a good indicator how much you can get from the laptop. I don't care if you can watch a 2h movie on your laptop or write for 2:15. I want to see how much you can get just by writing and conserving the battery. To cut this rant short, I'm very impressed by the battery so far.

The keyboard as unusally looking but typing on it is as any other laptop keyboard. Buttons look strange just because they are not built like pyramids. They don't have large base and smaller top, but this keys have same base and same top. That is why the keyboard looks a bit strange. In my opinion it is a bit better than the average keyboard. And that is saying a lot because cheap laptops can have horrible keyboards. The keyboard is not cramp which is a good thing but I do have some issues with function/modifier keys but I'll talk about that later. The croatian layout is a bit awkward so the enter key is a bit of the wrong shape as you can see on the comparative pictures. Hand rest plastic is coarse and almost have a thinkpad quality to it. One thing I do not like much is the sharp edge just at your wrists. This could be a problem to people who use macbook at the place which is a bit elevated.

Trackpad is large as you can see on the pictures but I'm not really satisfied by it. Aside from missing a button, it just feels a bit odd. Top speed is fine but when you need a precision, there just isn't much of it. I do admit I need to get used to it then I'll report back.


I'm a first time Mac user so don't mind if I compare some software (OS X) elements/features with windows xp.

Boot time is great. I haven't measured it yet but I'll do it sometime. I do not consider boot time much of an issue here because many people say that you can put your macbook to sleep most of the time. We'll see how this fares in the future.

I'm not really sure how to approach my description of the OS X. I can understand that there are many differences between os x and windows os. I don't mind that at all. But at the same time I must point out some problems I had with adjusting to os x and the "mac way" to do things. I don't mind learning anything new so here it goes.

Lets start with the desktop first. Dock is a new thing for me and it acts as a start menu and taskbar. I'm still trying to decide which one is better though. Or at least strengths and weaknesses of each. Dock is just to big by default so I had tone it down a little. One more problem is the inability to automatically maximize the window of a program. Example: when you open firefox (yes, it
is better than safari, there is no question about it), it is automatically sized so firefox windows is little larger than a iphone screen. This is a slight exaggeration but not too far from truth. The only way to get around this limitation is to manually resize the window to as much as full screen you can get. But then the dock gets in the way, so I've put it on auto hide. It is not as responsive as windows taskbar but it is good enough. One just needs a big resolution to get acceptable window sizes. Unfortunately as I said before, macbook doesn't have this resolution so you have to have to make do with less. One thing I find badly designed is the case when you shut down the application by clicking on its red x button and miraculously the application actually stays active. I don't understand it though. Why is this a feature? If I wanted to close Word, I want it to be closed. No, I'm not going to write a single document until the next restart. Somebody might say that this is feature but it just clearly isn't. Windows can reopen Word in a matter of second if you have large enough RAM (as this computer has). So there is no need to have all the applications open.

There were a lot of discussions around crowd on how macs are more mouse oriented and windows are more keyboard oriented. Now, as I see it, it is the other way around. I was simply astonished when I saw that there are so many special key shortcuts just for desktop. I'll try to summarize my knowledge about windows and the difference I saw.

In windows there are 3 modifier keys. Ctrl,alt, and start/windows button. Key shortcuts in windows are generally used for applications, not much for general desktop control.

  1. Ctrl shortcuts are shortcuts for inside applications.
  2. Alt shortcuts are slow shortcuts for menus i.e. alt+f-s
  3. Start/windows key shortcuts are desktop shortcuts (show desktop/minimize windows, run windows explorer, there aren't many of them).
Note 1: Many shortcuts are the same between applications so they are easy to learn.

I was kinda surprised when I saw that so many of them in the System Preferences sub window. All of them are for desktop control and I'll learn them all in time. I'm still learning how to effectively use the desktop as I could in windows, but I'll get there sometime I hope. One problem I seem to have is that there is a bit of inconsistency between application shortcuts. Another problem is that many of the shortcuts employ pressing at least 2 modifier keys (say control+command+some_other_key). I can even manage that though. I did switch functionality command and control key just to be more windows like. And as the main modifier key is command on mac systems, I do prefer it to push it with my pinky than with thumb.

Lets talk about applications now. All of the applications you get with this macbook are simple but not basic (or is it another way around?). What I mean to say is that all the applications are simple to use and do stuff. I'll write more about them a bit later. Info from the future: don't like finder much.

I got Office:Mac 2008 (standard version) with this and I was a little puzzled with the gui. Coming from a user of office 2007 for windows, this is saying much. Some of the menu is on the upper part of the screen, some of it is floating left or right of the document. I was at first puzzled why they did it that way, but I figured it made for the smaller screens so you can use more vertical space for the document and the other space is used for the floating toolbox. On pictures you'll see what I mean. I haven't used office programs much at the time of the writing but updates will soon to follow.

I almost forgot about some things which are noticeable so I'll just write them down quickly and not in some special order.

Font smoothing is not as good as cleartype for windows (even though I don't use it on my desktop screens (22in and 17in) because it looks horrible, but on the 17in screen of the dell laptop looks absolutely fantastic). Characters just look a bit blotchy, and as you can see from the pictures not all that perfect. But, they are better than non aliased fonts any time.

Widgets are somewhat cool, but we'll see how useful are they in the future. Expose is good too, but I haven't used it that much because I command-tab most of the time. And as I can see, it is more suited for mouse oriented users.

Keyboard layout almost gave me a headache. I got this macbook with "croatian" layout and all would be fine and well (aside from z-y shift and oddly shaped enter key) until I tried to enter "@" symbol. I did look at the those keyboard layouts and whatnot but the only way was to change layout to US, shift-2, change layout to Croatian. But I said to myself, this is so stupid I won't put up with this shit. I mean, apple is in Croatia for at least 10 years. I just cannot fathom how they screwed this up with keyboard layout. So internet ahoy and found my solution in Ukelele. Thank goodness the program was free and good. Even though it was a bit confusing for a mac first timer to get what should I do, I finally managed to get optimal croatian keyboard layout. I would be mad as a balloon if I couldn't solve that problem.

Integrated speakers are good actually. Not something extraordinary but good nevertheless. Web camera is fine too.

Too bad that mini-dvi to dvi adapter isn't included in the box.

Front row is ok, and inclusion of a remote is a nice touch. Too bad that macbook can't be turned off by remote too.

Spotlight is ok, but not that much better than windows/msn desktop search. I know people were praising it like a second coming but I'll try it out more in the coming days.

So, enough for today.

Update 2: Too lazy to add another images. Tough luck.

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