MacBook Pro

So I guess I am now officially a Mac user, seeing how I own a brand spanking new 13″ Macbook Pro. This of course does not mean I am not a Windows or Linux user anymore. I’m just a firm believer that you can use more than one operating system at the time. This is the twenty first century, and most of us own more than one computer, and there is no reason to put the same OS on every single one. But, to some people OS is like a religion – they pick one, and stick with it for life. Me? I’m platform agnostic – I like to play with all of them. Why not?

You see, I realized that I don’t actually own a portable, handy personal laptop. My work computer is a big, and clunky 17 inch monstrosity, that is essentially a desktop replacement. 90% of time it is actually tethered to a 23″ monitor, an ergonomic split keyboard. Whenever I use it like a laptop, I realize that there is a thin film on dust on the built-in keyboard because it never sees any use. The thing is just too big and too heavy to be handy. Plus it is a work machine. So I decided to get myself something small, and portable that I could carry around or use wherever.

One thing I knew I did not want on my laptop was Windows. You see, to me the primary function of windows is providing a platform for video games. This is really what Windows is good at. But I probably won’t be using a laptop for heavy gaming, because… Well, why would I do that if I have perfectly good desktop that can still run most games on high settings. Not only that but Windows it takes forever to boot, eternity to shut down, and picks up viral infections as if they were going out of style. I know it’s quirks, and I’m so fed up with the maintenance of the OS that I actually wrote, and continuously update an application designed to ease the day-to-day grind.

I didn’t really want Linux on it either because I did enough laptop based Ubuntu/Debian installations to realize that they rarely work 100% correctly without some tinkering. Wifi and Bluetooth support tend to be flaky unless you happen to have the right hardware. Sleep mode and hibernation is usually hit or miss. That said, the support is leaps and bounds beyond what it was back when I started messing around with Linux. Often you get lucky and absolutely everything works out of the box, and sleep/hibernation support is flawless. Hell, I use it on my work laptop and it runs perfectly. So I’m not saying Linux is not suited to run on laptops. It’s just that just like Windows is for gaming, Linux shines on the server side of things.

OSX on the other hand seems like a good candidate for a laptop OS because it combines the best of both worlds. Underneath the hood, it is a full blown unix system. Most the apps and scripts I use on Linux will work on it as well. But unlike Linux, it has a very polished UI that just works. So I can have the power and stability of Unix system, and state of the art GUI that Microsoft has been trying to imitate since Vista.

Few months ago, someone gave me an old eMac to play with, and I liked it. I have since then retired the bulky CRT into the attic because it was taking up an obscene amount of space, and making incredible amount of noise (I forgot how much the CRT’s buzz). But I got a glimpse of how the OS works, and I was fairly impressed with the ease of use and the work flow. So when it came to shopping for a laptop I decided to spend some extra cash, and buy a MacBook.

I must say that Apple’s laziness tax is quite ridiculous. Having your system shipped with 8GB instead of 4 will cost you $200 in the apple store. But if you are not lazy and are willing to do a little bit of work, you can get that same memory from for about $80. You just have to install it yourself.

Other than that, I guess I can kinda see why they charge you an arm and a leg for the system. I’ve been kicking around Dell laptops for most of my career, and the MacBook Pro quality is noticeably above and beyond even the high end models. I mean, they were both probably assembled in the same province somewhere in China, but the difference is visible. The machine is just slick, solid and well put together.

I usually can’t stand touchpads, but the one on MacBook Pro is huge and surprisingly un-horrible due to it’s multi-touch functionality. Two finger scrolling is definitely superior to the edge scrolling offered by traditional touch pads and I was pleased to find that the pinch gesture does invoke zoom function in most applications, just how you would expect. The back-lit keyboard is actually pretty comfortable, though I still instinctively hit Fn instead of Cmd (as if it was the Ctrl button) and look for the Home and End buttons which just don’t exist. I guess this is just a matter of getting used to this layout, and memorizing some of these.

Putting a magnet in the AC plug is actually an absolutely brilliant move and I have no clue why Dell and other PC manufacturers have not ripped that off yet. Maybe it’s patented or something – these days you can patent everything so I wouldn’t be surprised.

My eMac was running Tiger, while the MacBook Pro came preloaded with Snow Leopard. At a glance, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two. The OSX UI is fairly consistent across versions, though I do appreciate some of the new features such as the Stacks in dock, or the virtual desktops (aka Spaces, which for some odd reason are disabled by default).

I probably could have waited a month or two and buy a system preloaded with Lion, but perhaps it is not a bad thing that I didn’t. Apparently Lion will be sold excursively through the App Store and there will be no disks included with the systems. This sort of worries me. One has to wonder what Apple expects the users to do when their drive fails, or if they for some reason decide to to a clean install. Is it going to be possible to do this without a disk? I’m sort of happy that I have a Snow Leopard CD. Even if I get Lion at some point, I will still be able to easily rebuild the system from scratch using Snow Leopard and just run an upgrade via App Store.

I know that bunch of you guys use macs, so I’m asking for n00b advice here. Are there any must-have apps that I should install immediately? Are there some useful/awesome features that I might not be aware of? Let me know in the comments.

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9 Responses to MacBook Pro

  1. Naum UNITED STATES Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    Must-have apps?

    I dunno, I spend most of my time in Terminal, Chrome (or Chromium) Browser, MacVim (or TextMate)…

    Some other apps…

    BetterTouchTool — gestures on steroids, might be only powerful for magic mouse, extend the gesture capabilities…

    Cyberduck — (S)?FTP utility, though I accomplish most of this from CLI

    Echofon — native Twitter client

    Handbrake — for DVD ripping

    Skim — superior PDF reader

    Skitch — screenshot sharing utility

    Finally, all the F/OSS applications that run on all platforms — Audacity, Gimp, Inkscape — make certain you install Developer Tools (provided free, but not installed by default, if you do not have disk still, you can DL from Apple site — oh, and if you want to run a package manager (similar to apt-get or whatever it’s called on Ubuntu these days), I am using “homebrew” now (used to be MacPorts and before, Fink) — useful for keeping ImageMagick, Node.js, CoffeeScript, MongoDB, CouchDB, Lisp implementations, etc.… up to date…

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  2. Jojo Dancer UNITED STATES Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    I’m in the same boat as you (Sysadmin w/ some dev chops, Windows desktop, OSX laptop, Windows/Linux servers), and got an OSX laptop for very similar reasons.

    Some handy things for the small screen:
    – Spaces & Expose (these are built in, note that these are being merged together in Lion). Once you get used to the trackpad, I recommend using hot corners to activate these.
    – RightZoom ( – full screen your apps

    For Unix tools, Macports and Homebrew has already been mentioned.

    App launchers – Quicksilver, Alfred, and Launchy. I’ve been using Alfred

    Other utilities – Microsoft Remote Desktop client, The Unarchiver, Perian (Quicktime codecs), muCommander, iTerm 2, JollysFastVNC

    For text editors, Fraise or Text Wrangler are good free replacements for Textedit.

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  3. Tino UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    But, but, but… one mouse button?! :D

    When it comes to software; way back I disliked mac os for the lack of configurability. In recent times I came across OSX, and had to find a way to change the font size in the menu bar, as it was used in a media center / conference room setup, with a high res TV controlled by people from a distance. It could not be done. I kid you not. That experience alone told me that unix-based or not, mac os has a long way to go before I will be comfortable with it.

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  4. road UNITED STATES Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    I also came to Macs fairly recently after living with Windows/Linux for 2 decades. One tip that was absolutely huge for me was go to the Keyboard settings in ‘System Preferences’ and go to the ‘Keyboard Shortcuts’ tab. Then enable ‘Full Keyboard Access’ for ‘All Controls’. This will let you use the keyboard to navigate ALL dialog boxes (e.g. Save? Yes/No, etc) which is killer if you don’t like using the mouse.

    Now, if I could only figure out keyboard shortcuts for obscure menu items… In Windows it’s so easy to navigate menus using the keyboard (Alt-F, S for save, etc) but there doesn’t seem to be a good way to do this on Macs. Anyone got a solution for this? 

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  5. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I love OSX and the multitouch trackpad on my MacBook to bits but one thing that still peeves me is that macs still don’t have middle clicking support. Middle clicking is an essential firefox button! Straightforward way to open links in a new tab and kill tabs. Does it kill Apple engineers to allow 3-finger clicks to resemble a middle click?

    Luckily, there’s MiddleClick for that!

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Mac OS Terminalist says:

    @ Naum:

    Is echofon better than the official client? I’m sort of used to that one since it is almost identical to the iPhone client.

    @ Jojo Dancer:

    Heh, I checked out the RightZoom site, and I noticed that the first 4 items listed on the first page were keyloggers for windows. These guys know hot to inspire trust in end users. :)

    @ Tino:

    For what it’s worth, if you connect a mouse to it right clicking works just fine. Even the funky, multi-touch apple mouse is a two buttoner these days. :)

    Oh, and I remember your story from last time. Didn’t you read that Steve Jobs must approve all font size changes first? :P

    Speaking of fonts – I actually had to download a font in order to make ಠ_ಠ appear correctly in Chrome and Safari. I am dissapoint that Macs don’t come reddit ready out of the box.

    @ road:

    Oh, good tip! I’m surprised that there is no “expand menu” item equivalent to Alt on windows.

    @ Mart:

    Granted, most laptops I have used did not have a middle click support either. Command clicking works fine in Chrome, it’s just a two hand gesture.

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  7. ovIm Google Chrome Windows says:

    A small hint from my side would be the website hXXp://osx[dot]iusethis[dot]com/. They offer a showcase of new and popular software for the mac.
    As for me, I usually just install macports and my most common used unix tools from there. As for OSX Applications, I need GVim, Evernote, iWork and Adium.

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  8. burn UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    To enable the right mouse button just go into the system settings, mouse, and enable it. No big deal. Or two-finger tap the trackpad. Either way, Macs do support right-clicking from the trackpad.

    No Home and End buttons drive me CRAZY. Especially when I’m SSH’d into a Linux box. I’m a huge keyboard shortcut junkie so not having Shift-Insert takes a lot of getting used to.

    Also, it seems that the Cmd button is used haphazardly. In Windows, you know that the Win key is for OS-related functions only. Win-R, Win-E, Win-Space, Win-ESC, etc. However, in OSX the Cmd key is also used for application shortcuts. It’s very frustrating. BTW, my absolute favorite OSX keyboard shortcut is Cmd-Space to open Spotlight. I’m a minimalist so I keep my dock clean and hidden. It’s basically only used as a system tray. To open an app I just Cmd-Space and start typing it’s name. It’s faster than using the mouse to open it from the dock.

    Another HUGE frustration is no option to cut directories. You have to drag them to a folder, wait for it to expand, drag it to a subfolder, wait for it to expand, etc, etc. Which reminds me … Finder is just horrible. There are a lot of things Apple got right with OSX but there are some very fundamental things they completely missed.

    As far as applications, Caffeine is one of my favorites. It’s like the Dell power utility but, being that it’s on a Mac, it’s much simpler. You click the menu bar application and it prevents the system from going to sleep. Be careful, though, as it will also prevent the system from sleeping when you close the lid (but only sometimes … just enough to piss you off :))

    Growl is also pretty nifty, though I’m sure you probably already have it.

    TextWrangler is also a pretty decent text editor.

    The tip for full keyboard access is awesome! I’m turning that on right now. I really dislike having to stop my workflow just to grab the mouse to click on a button when both Windows and Linux lets me tap the spacebar.

    One thing Macs will force you to do is slow down. For example, there is no holding the arrow keys down to move forward in a text editor (or am I imagining that? I don’t have my MBP near me at the moment to double-check that … maybe it’s just the stupid text editor I use!). The same goes with trying to maximize a window. That concept is completely lost on Mac users. Every forum post you see is “You’re retarded for trying to maximize a window. You Windows guys are all the same!” :). So instead, you have to move the window to the top left of the screen, then drag the bottom right corner (because you can only resize a window using the bottom right corner). Ridiculous! ;)

    Another thing is that, while my MBP has been my favorite laptop design to date (it’s the perfect size and doesn’t weigh anything), the case is extremely vulnerable to scratching. Why does Apple give us these beautiful machines that are so delicate?

    All in all, OSX or Linux would suite me just fine. Each has it’s on perks. I happily go for my MBP and have highly recommended it to two friends recently that needed new computers.

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