Last week in my article, MacBook Questions from a Windows Heathen, I asked some questions about the new MacBook line of laptops from Apple computing. I have been using Windows computers since the rise of Windows 3.11.

My previous experience with Apple has been limited to the first generation Newton which I loved so much that Apple used a quote of mine in a press conference but without attributing it to me or asking my permission. I had posted on a CompuServe forum explaining why the Newton was “touching the future today.”

I believed in that technology then and the Apple Newton set the stage and started the trend for personalized, portable computing now. I have also used a first generation iPod and I have used iTunes and QuickTime.

I don’t know much about Apple computers so if there are some things in this review you do not understand or that are wrong, please let me know. After using the MacBook for a couple of days, my plan was to make a permanent move away from Windows and become a MacBoy today and forever. I will let you know my decision about moving from Windows to Mac at the conclusion of this article.

One of the great things about the new Intel-powered MacBooks is you can dual boot into Windows and Mac OS X on the same machine so you, in theory anyway, do not have to make a choice of Operating System preference.

MACBOOK
The MacBook is Apple’s newest entry into the laptop market. The MacBook is small and dainty. The lid closes with magnets instead of a latch. The exterior is sleek and clean and feels like giant, well-manicured and polished fingernail. You can purchase a MacBook in black instead of standard white for a premium price of $150.00 USD — but all the accessories are white.

A black MacBook may be a status symbol, but to me it is merely an attempt at a pretend exclusivity that will disappear the moment someone else walks in the room with a black MacBook and that uncomfortable moment when two, identical, black eyes meet, is the same as two women wearing the same one-of-a-kind designer dress at the Academy Awards. Why bother? White is the new Black, anyway.

MacBook

MACBOOK PRO

The MacBook Pro is Apple’s newest laptop powerhouse. If you’re serious at all about computing and you want one Mac laptop to serve all laptops, you want the Pro version of the MacBook because it screams and is durable and, compared to my Toshiba Qosmio with a similar 17-inch screen, the MacBook Pro is half as thin and twice as light.

 MacBook Pro

HEAT
There have been reports of both MacBook versions getting uncomfortably hot. For those of us who have been using high-speed and powerful Windows laptops over the last two years, we wonder why there’s so much fuss in the hardcore Apple community over the heat issues of the new MacBooks.

MacBook:
The MacBook runs warm and, sometimes a little hot. It is never uncomfortable to touch and the machine never stutters or loses focus. Heat is the price you pay for speed. Get used to it!

MacBook Pro:
The MacBook Pro gets a little hotter than the MacBook but not much hotter. You probably wouldn’t really use a 17-inch screen laptop on your lap, but if you do, just make sure you have a lap desk or something else that will give you a hard surface to push away the heat from your lap. The heat issue on the MacBooks is a non-starter because they were designed to work that way. If you really want to bake your cookies while laptop computing, get a Windows laptop, and then you’ll begin to know the real meaning of getting burned.

KEYBOARD
As a writer I live through my keyboard. I use my laptops so much I wear away the letter identifiers on the keys. You can’t beat a ThinkPad keyboard and neither MacBook comes close to giving the same solid, fast, feel of my ThinkPad T43p. The wrist rest area from the front edge of the computer to the bottom of the keys in the first row of the keyboard is important. Smaller is better.

I prefer a small wrist rest because proper typing posture demands the wrists are always higher than the fingers or you begin to tempt carpal tunnel syndrome. Wrist rests make for sloppy computing and a really lousy and non-ergonomic typing experience. My ThinkPad has a
3.75 inch wrist rest and that’s as big as I’d like to go when using a laptop. It also appears the Backspace and Insert keys are missing on MacBooks. I use my Backspace key all day every day and a Delete key is not enough to remedy all the mistakes I make.

I also hate having to the use the Apple key instead of the CTRL key to create key chords. Having both the Apple and CTRL key prove the same function in the Mac OS would do a lot to help Windows users make the switch over to Mac. Why have no dedicated Backspace or Insert key on a Mac but have two Enter keys on the same half of the keyboard instead? I don’t see the logic in the Mac keyboard layout.

MacBook:
When you look at the calculator-like keys on the MacBook you immediately think, I can’t type on that! When you actually use the keyboard you quickly discover the experience is worthwhile and invigorating. The keys are responsive. The keys are quiet. You can type quickly and efficiently. The wrist rest spans
3.75” and the trackpad is quite large.

MacBook Pro:
The keyboard on the MacBook Pro is completely different than the MacBook. The MacBook Pro keyboard lights up in low light conditions and the keys are regularly spaced together unlike the calculator style of the MacBook. The biggest problem I have with the MacBook Pro is its keyboard positioning. The wrist rest is a whopping 5.5 inches and that is huge. The result of the massive wrist rest is the keyboard is far away from your hands and from the trackpad when compared to the MacBook.

Your wrists are put in a really terrible position because you have to stretch your arms out and up, up and away from you. You imitate Superman’s flying position to reach the keys and the fact you can’t really place the MacBook Pro on an angle to bring the keys to you means you are stuck in a high, flat typing position and that plainly results in wrist pain. In order to use the MacBook Pro without killing my wrists I had to place it on a low table. Unless you have a low table on which to use your MacBook Pro, skip the MacBook Pro as a usable and friendly laptop for writing and, believe me, it kills me more to tell you that now than for you to feel it later.

DISPLAY AND FONTS
The display on both MacBooks is outstanding. Zero dead pixels. The colors are rich and deep and the screens are bright. Neither are as bright as my Toshiba Qosmio, but I’m quibbling now. We cannot, however, quibble over the lousy font rendering in Mac OS X and the problem has been researched and reported and it is a deal killer. If you have a Windows machine and haven’t set up ClearType font rendering yet, go and set it up right now! You don’t know what you are missing.

The fonts on both MacBooks are all chalky and fuzzy and you can see screenshots of my fonts with a Windows XP setup using ClearType and my MacBook using OS X and the MacBook Pro looks the same as the MacBook. The difference is even worse in person and I find that by setting Font Smoothing to Light in the OS X system preferences helps a bit but not enough to make a MacBook a replacement for a Windows experience where you have to type all day long and deal with fonts on a screen all day long.

MacBook:

The 13 inch screen is bright and pleasing. Some in the Apple community do not like the glossy screen but I prefer it over a flat screen because you can see the colors rendered much more beautifully and deeper.

MacBook Pro:
The 17 inch screen is also quite lovely. I chose the glossy screen because that’s what I have on my Toshiba Qosmio and the MacBook Pro glossy screen is less glossy than my Toshiba glossy screen but the colors are still vibrant and wholly visible.

PORTS
Both MacBooks are packed with ports but I find it disappointing they are all on the sides of the machines and not in back where they would be out of the way. Both MacBooks use a magnetic connector to power the Books and that’s fun to use. The “MagConnector” is also a genius design intended to protect your investment from landing on the floor after someone trips over the power cord. With the magnetic connectors the tension between the magnets breaks if someone trips and your laptop stays on your lap.

MacBook:
All the ports are on the left side of the machine. If you have to move ports from the back where they are always out of your way putting them on one side is preferable to splitting them between both sides.

MacBook Pro:
The ports are split up and placed on both sides of the machine! That means if you run a high-powered setup like me you’re going to be banging into cord connectors if you use an external mouse. My Logitech Bluetooth mouse works great with both MacBooks but at least on the MacBook I can use it freely on the right side.

On the right side of the MacBook Pro I have to deal with a DVI port, an Ethernet port, two Firewire ports, a USB port and a Security Lock connector! Who designed this? If I loaded up all those ports and locked down my machine, I would not be able to use my mouse at all because the right side mousing area would be taken over by cabling. The port design for the MacBook Pro seems to confirm Apple prefers you use the trackpad and not an external mouse. Rats!

SOFTWARE
We live in a Windows world and I was curious when I dipped into the MacBook universe if I would I be able to replicate my Windows workflow on a MacBook. The answer is: Not really. Windows gives you 100 competing software options for a single task while, in the Apple arena, you are mainly stuck with one software option and one option only. An example of this being stuck is Office 2004 for the Mac. The program is not in the Universal format so it doesn’t run very well on a MacBook with the new Intel processor.

It takes forever to type something because Word is so unresponsive to your keystrokes. If you are a power typist like me you will be unhappy with Word 2004 on the Mac. If you are on an Exchange mail server you will not be enamored with Entourage 2004 because Entourage does not synch your Tasks or your Notes even though it should and even though Outlook 2003 for Windows will — and if you use Groups to respond to different domains you will not get much help from Entourage figuring out how to make it work.

When I queried Mailstreet, my Exchange hosting service, for help in creating a Reply From in Entourage, I was told to Do a Google search because they had no idea how to make it happen. Pitiful. The BlackBerry Desktop Manager only works on Windows and not on the Mac so if you have a BlackBerry, you better find some way to stay with Windows if you want to easily install software or do a BlackBerry system upgrade. I also don’t understand why Mac program windows positions are not remembered by default from session to session. Every time I open Word my writing window gets zapped over to the upper left hand corner of the screen and I have to drag it back to center.

That is annoying after you open the tenth file of the day. I cannot figure out how to insert a Page Break in Word 2004 using a key chord as I can in Windows using CTRL+ENTER. While Spotlight is a wonderful Mac search engine and much better than anything on the Windows platform, I could not determine how to get directories and folders on a Mac to be viewed by Type instead of by Date or by Alphabetical order. Having native PDF and ZIP file support built into Mac OS X is excellent. Quicken 2006 for the Mac is a rotten program compared to its Windows 2005 cousin and after Quicken there is a steep fall off into nothing for usable personal finance programs for the Mac.

NETWORKING
Setting up a MacBook network using an Airport Extreme is simple and delightful. You can share printers and resources without even thinking about it and that is a welcome change from the tangle of Windows networking. A Windows machine can join an Airport network but it will not be able to print as easily as a Mac can even if you use the Bonjour Printer Wizard setup. You will, however, be able to stream iTunes to a Windows machine — and other Macs — if you are on the same network as the machine holding the songs library and that is a terrific experience.

iTunes was meant to run on a Mac. Apple were kind enough to let me re-download my previously lost iTunes library. I pulled down over 1,800 songs and audiobooks in a little under six hours using my MacBook Pro and I am grateful to Apple for being so kind. Getting Janna’s new Nano — now named “The JanNano” — and my new 30 gigabyte Video iPod to synch with iTunes was super easy and watching episodes of The Office on the 2.5 inch Video iPod screen is enjoyable and fabulous even though you think it would be painful. I can also stream those same Office episodes over to my Windows and MacBook machines using iTunes. Slick!

MAC OS X vs. WINDOWS
As a Windows power user, the lack of depth and competition in the Mac software field is displeasing and frustrating because you are immediately tossed into a forgotten, and forlorn, minority of The Misbegotten Mac Loser. Apple could have, and should have, had its own Office-like replacement in the Universal format ready for release the day the first MacBook went on sale.

For Apple to acquiesce its future — and the immediate happiness of its new end users — to what is now an out-of-date Microsoft Office 2004 suite, is incomprehensible. When it comes to movies and Firewire and image manipulation, you cannot beat a MacBook with a Windows machine; but if your Prime Directive is writing stay with Windows and that’s what I’m forced to do now.

Circumstance demands I split the baby I never wished to cleave. Even installing Windows on a MacBook is a cutting of the Gordian Knot that makes more work for those of us caught between the worlds of free creative expression and bundled business needs.

I will be creative on my MacBook Pro as I make digital images and High-Definition video for our online courses in American Sign Language, but I’ll do all my serious business and my financial work and my writing jobs on my ThinkPad T43p and I’m not happy about any of it in this final analysis.

12 Comments

  1. UPDATE:
    I forgot to mention the sound capabilities of both MacBooks.
    The MacBook’s speakers are not strong. You can barely hear what’s playing even in a quiet room.
    The MacBook Pro, on the other hand, has a beautiful set of stereo speakers built into the machine. Crank up iTunes, twist up your System volume and you’re in a concert hall.
    Both MacBooks sound equally sublime when using headphones.
    Neither MacBook sounded very good when hooked into my external Logitech THX speaker system.

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  2. Dave —
    Usually you get ETAs on when the new software will be available. Neither Adobe nor MSFT — the two Big Companies — will even tell you when to expect an Intel Mac Universal Application. I find that curiously odd.
    As far as I can tell the MacBook chalky fonts are the norm. There are lots of complaints about it on the web.

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  3. Under the software section you mention that you are a windows power user, but most of your complaints seem to stem from the fact that you are a Microsoft Power user. The OS X world is more about small vendors making niche applications rather than monolithic software vendors that are more common in the Windows World. For the Crackberry check out this. Another killer app in the area of personal information organization is Yojimbo. For the Exchange hosting interface I suggest using the built-in Tiger Mail application there is an exhange account setup option (google about this).

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  4. Hi Jonathan —
    Yes, the world in which I spin runs on MSFT software.
    Relying on “small vendors” to support OS X is the death knell for Steve Jobs’ hope for getting the Mac platform beyond 10% market share saturation. You need big, popular, publishers porting their applications into the Universal format to gain market share and to convince Windows users there is not only a better world on the Mac, but an equal one as well where you will not wish for or want anything you already have in Windows.
    The BlackBerry program you mention doesn’t install software or allow OS updates or provide access to “Redirctor Settings” like the Windows version of the Desktop Manager. That program only provides a way to synch information between desktop and BlackBerry.
    I looked at Yojimbo but its benefit was not obvious to me. I have concerns about its database use.
    The built in Mail application is pretty awful. Have you used it? It doesn’t not allow easy access to all the things an Exchange mail server offers. I understand there’s a new version of Mail in testing right now. Perhaps that will offer more interoperability with fulfilling all communication and contact needs.

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  5. UPDATE:
    I was able to set up my Folder views much better. In OS X you need to choose “Snap to Grid” to get the icons to automatically fill in the blank spots if you delete something and you need to choose to view files by “Kind” — that’s the Mac term — instead of by “Type” — that’s the Windows term.

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  6. Thanks for your comments, Joe.
    You should read these two articles as well:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2006/07/02/top-ten-reasons-i-hate-my-macbook-pro/
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2006/07/01/top-ten-reasons-i-love-my-macbook-pro/
    Those articles are a little more recent than this one.
    There were font rendering and audio problems the 10.4.7 update fixed so those complaints were valid for a MacBook Pro running 10.4.6.
    You are the first person I know to claim PhotoShop runs “just as fast through Rosetta.”

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  7. Ugh, I came here looking for a solution to the ugly fonts on the macbook and am so disappointed that there is no solution! I recently went to the Apple store to buy a mac book, but I could not get over the ugly fonts. The guy in the store acted like I was very stupid, showing me an uncleartyped Windows, saying he did not say the difference. This is a dealbreaker for me.
    To the people in the comments who report no problems: this is indeed something that is most obvious on TFT or notebook screens.

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