paulmck (paulmck) wrote,
paulmck
paulmck

The Old Man and His Macbook

I received a MacBook at the same time I received the smartphone. This was not my first encounter with a Mac, in fact, I long ago had the privilege of trying out a Lisa. I occasionally made use of the original Macintosh (perhaps most notably to prepare a resume when applying for a job at Sequent), and even briefly owned an iMac, purchased to run some educational software for my children. But that iMac was my last close contact with the Macintosh line, some 20 years before the MacBook: Since then, I have used Windows and more recently, Linux.

So how does the MacBook compare? Let's start with some positives:

  • Small and light package, especially when compared to my rcutorture-capable ThinkPad. On the other hand, the MacBook would not be particularly useful for running rcutorture.
  • Much of the familiar UNIX userspace is right at my fingertips.
  • The GUI remembers which windows were on the external display, and restores them when plugged back into that display.
  • Automatically powers off when not in use, but resumes where you left off.
  • Most (maybe all) applications resume where they left off after rebooting for an upgrade, which was an extremely pleasant surprise.
  • Wireless works seamlessly.


There are of course some annoyances:

  • My typing speed and accuracy took a serious hit. Upon closer inspection, this turned out to be due to the keyboard being smaller than standard. I have no idea why this “interesting” design choice was made, given that there appears to be ample room for full-sized keys. Where possible, I connect a full-sized keyboard, thus restoring full-speed typing.
  • I detest trackpads, but that is the only built-in mouse available, which defeats my usual strategy of disabling them. As with the keyboard, where possible I connect a full-sized mouse. In pleasing contrast to the earlier Macs, this MacBook understands that a mouse can have more than one button.
  • I found myself detesting the MacBook trackpad even more than usual, in part because brushing up against it can result in obnoxious pop-up windows offering to sell me songs and other products related to RCU. I disabled this advertising “feature” only to find that it was now putting up obnoxious pop-up windows offering to look up RCU-related words in the dictionary. In both cases, these pop-up windows grab focus, which makes them especially unfriendly to touch-typists. Again, the solution is to attach a full-sized keyboard and standard mouse. Perhaps my next trip will motivate me to disable this misfeature, but who knows what other misfeature lies hidden behind it?
  • Connectivity. You want to connect to video? A memory stick? Ethernet? You will need a special adapter.
  • Command key instead of control key for cut-and-paste. Nor can I reasonably remap the keys, at least not if I want to continue using control-C to interrupt unruly UNIX-style applications. On the other hand, I freely admit that Linux's rather anarchic approach to paste buffers is at best an acquired taste.
  • The control key appears only on the left-hand side of the keyboard, which is also unfriendly to touch-typists.
  • Multiple workspaces are a bit spooky. They sometimes change order, or maybe I am accidentally hitting some key combination that moves them. Thankfully, it is very easy to move them where you want them: Control-uparrow, then drag and drop with the mouse.
  • I tried porting perfbook, but TexLive took forever to install. I ran out of patience long before it ran out of whatever it was downloading.


Overall impression? It is yet another laptop, with its own advantages, quirks, odd corners, and downsides. I can see how people who grew up on Macbook and who use nothing else could grow to love it passionately. But switching back and forth between MacBook and Linux is a bit jarring, though of course MacBook and Linux have much more in common than did the five different systems I switched back and forth between in the late 1970s.

My current plan is to stick with it for a year (nine months left!), and decide where to go from there. I might continue sticking with it, or I might try moving to Linux. We will see!
Tags: advice, confessions, macbook
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