The Macbook Pro Dead Video Card Saga

Back story
Those of you who have been following my blog know I recently switched my primary computer from a Ubuntu netbook to a Mac OS X laptop. I still have the Ubuntu netbook and use it from time to time (mainly to take out with me when I do laundry), but my wife’s old Macbook Pro is my main computer now.

About Apple Hardware
We bought this computer back in January 2008, less than 2.5 years ago. At the time, it was US$2000, quite a significant purchase price for a computer. Given some people’s much-vaunted claims about Apple computers’ “superior hardware,” the real truth is that Apple uses generic components. Nvidia graphics card. Fujitsu SATA hard drive. We’ve upgraded the RAM on two Apple laptops using generic RAM from NewEgg (much cheaper than the Apple Store RAM), and it works just as well as the Apple RAM. There is nothing special about the Apple internal hardware. The external hardware is a work of art—well-constructed and pleasant to look at. But an Nvidia card in an Apple laptop is about the same as an Nvidia card in a Windows or Linux laptop.

Graphics Card Failure
So last week, I was in the middle of using this laptop when the screen started rapidly flickering white like a strobe light while the mouse turned into the rainbow circle of death (also known as the beachball). I could move the mouse, but I couldn’t click on anything. Eventually, the only way I could get it to stop was a forced shutdown. After I rebooted, everything seemed fine for an hour or so. Then I got the crazy flickering again. I did a forced shutdown. This time, though, when I rebooted, I got a failure message saying that I had to reboot. I wasn’t happy about this. In between various successful reboots, failures, and flickerings, I did Google searches and tried every suggestion I could find. I reset the PRAM. I took out the RAM and put it back in. I tried using the laptop without the battery. I tried using a lower screen resolution. Nothing worked. After a certain point, the display just totally died. No flickering. Nothing. Dead.

At that point, both my wife and I had considered the laptop gone. $2000 down the drain, and after only two years and a bit. It was past the manufacturer’s warranty, and we didn’t have Apple Care (as a matter of policy, we do not buy service plans, because they are generally a waste of money, and if we added up all the money we would have wasted on all those service plans, we could easily just purchase a new whatever-electronics-device-is-broken). I decided, since we gave up on it anyway to do just a little bit more Google searching, and I came across this Apple support article: MacBook Pro: Distorted video or no video issues, which says:

In July 2008, NVIDIA publicly acknowledged a higher than normal failure rate for some of their graphics processors due to a packaging defect. At that same time, NVIDIA assured Apple that Mac computers with these graphics processors were not affected. However, after an Apple-led investigation, Apple has determined that some MacBook Pro computers with the NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics processor may be affected. If the NVIDIA graphics processor in your MacBook Pro has failed, or fails within three years of the original date of purchase, a repair will be done free of charge, even if your MacBook Pro is out of warranty.

I wasn’t too hopeful Apple would honor this, but I figured I had nothing to lose. It was a dead laptop. If Apple wouldn’t honor this article, I would still have a dead laptop. If they would honor it, though, I would have a resurrected laptop.

The Genius Bar
I went to the Apple website, created an Apple ID account, made an appointment at the Genius Bar for a couple of days later. Then my wife and I went to the Apple Store at the appointed time. I was perfectly ready to be condescended to. I was perfectly ready for them to treat me like an idiot. Fortunately, no such thing happened. The “genius” (I forget her name) was friendly and simply asked me what was wrong. I explained that the graphics card was dead because of this problem (I handed her a printout of that support article) and that I had already tried resetting the PRAM and was pretty confident it was the graphics card, since the laptop still made the bootup noise and the Caps Lock light could turn on and off. She seemed to believe me but just wanted to run one quick test. She plugged in a firewire external hard drive into the computer and booted up the laptop while holding down the S key, explaining to me that she was just running a graphics card test on it. She then plugged the external hard drive into another computer, opened up a log file, and confirmed that the graphics card was indeed dead. She asked if I had Apple Care. I explained nervously that I didn’t need it (according to the article, I shouldn’t). She said she knew I didn’t but just wanted to know if I had it. Odd.

So she printed up a work order for $0.00, and I signed it. She said the part wasn’t in but would be in a few business days, and that the store would call me when the repair was done. That was Saturday.

Today, the store called and said the laptop was fixed. I picked it up. Painless process. It’s working fine now. That’s how customer service should be. I had a very pleasant experience with the Apple Store Genius Bar. I don’t know if they’re actually geniuses, but they sure are friendly. That said, I am disappointed that Apple appears to blame Nvidia for providing a bad video card, and then when Apple replaces the dead video card, guess what they replace it with—exactly the same video card. So the offending graphics card is the Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT. And after the Macbook Pro was fixed, the new graphics card is also the Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out if you replace a faulty model with the same model, it’s likely to be faulty again. Hopefully, we can get at least another two years out of this thing…


The Oppression Olympics

Welcome to the Oppression Olympics!

Here are some of the events you can watch, courtesy of the Google search engine:
Which Is Worse? Racism, or Sexism, or Asking Which Is Worse?
Sexism Is Worse Than Racism
Do victims of racism or sexism suffer more?

I don’t get why people get in stupid debates about whether racism or sexism is “worse” and whether black men face more obstacles than white women face. It’s silly. I’ve created a very simple illustration to show why it’s silly to entertain such a line of inquiry.

Take a look at this square. Let’s say that being closer to the top of the square means… better, whatever that is (more opportunities, less hate, more money—however you define “better”). Let’s also say that being closer to the bottom of the square means… worse, however you define “worse.”

So how would you then describe the situation of the dark-green stars in relation to the light-green circles? Is one simply in a better situation than the other? I don’t think so, since even such a relatively simplistic illustration shows more complexity than the “sexism is worse” or the “racism is worse” crowd would have you believe. I don’t get why people who have presumably taken geometry in secondary and/or primary school can get into such linear ways of thinking (“I’m ahead, you’re behind” or “You’re ahead, I’m behind”).


Taking a spouse’s surname should still be a choice

I’m usually quite entertained by The Marriage Ref. I like that they seem to take both serious and ridiculous marital squabbles and make them fun, also rewarding all couples with a paid-for second honeymoon. The most recent episode made me quite angry, though—first for constantly reinforcing the idea that in het marriages the husband always wants sex and the wife doesn’t, except when the husband buys her something (i.e., marriage as long-term, monogamous prostitution); and second for unanimously insisting Erica Cobb take her husband’s last name. For a moment, the host actually sided with Erica but then was booed by the audience and the other panelists and then succumbed to the pressure and ended up siding with the husband.

Look, I get “choice feminism.” If a woman wants to take her husband’s last name, cool. If she wants to wear make-up and high heels and be a stay-at-home mom, also cool. All cool if that’s what she wants to do. But if her husband is pressuring her to do those things against her will and then Hollywood strangers are also pressuring her to do those things against her will, that is not cool. No husband has the right in this day and age to demand his wife take his surname. If it’s so damn important both people have the same last name so that the (future) kids will all have the same last name, the husband can change his name to his wife’s surname.

What decade are we living in? The 1950s? Very disheartening…


Privacy on the Internet Still Doesn’t Exist

Two years ago, I posted Privacy on the internet doesn’t exist. Well, it still doesn’t. I’m not saying you should go out of your way to disseminate your personal information to the general public, nor am I saying that paying attention to privacy settings in various online services is an exercise in futility. What I am saying, though, is that the idea that you can use the internet and be totally off the radar from governments and corporations is delusional.

Google and Facebook have certainly had their screw-ups when it comes to user privacy. But you have to realize we live in an increasingly networked and digitally stored world. You do not have control over everything about you. If you use the library, the government can find out what books you read and how long you read them for. If you even just look at an item on Amazon, Amazon keeps track of what you’ve looked at. If you encrypt your emails you send out, even if you run your own mail server locked in a bullet-proof vault, the people who receive those emails may forward them on unencrypted or may have weak passwords that get guessed by cracking programs or people who then read your private emails. If you don’t have a Facebook account, your friends who do will still post pictures of you and comment about what you all did last night. If you own a credit card or have a bank account, your information is stored somewhere or even multiple places in a networked computer system. All it takes is one unscrupulous or stupid employee to allow someone else access to your information, and it’s out there.

Are you using a proxy? How do you know you can trust the proxy with your information any more than you can your ISP? If you don’t trust Google’s privacy policy, why should you believe Scroogle’s?

I really am sick and tired of tinfoil hats (especially on Linux forums) pretending they have some magic bullet of privacy just because they use ixquick instead of Google to do searches. Unless you live in a cave, have no bank account, do no business, never see people, don’t have a phone, don’t pay taxes, and never use a networked computer, your imagined total privacy simply does not exist.

Do I care that Google knows who my friends are and how often I call them? Not really. Before I had an Android phone, I used a Virgin Mobile phone. Guess what! Virgin Mobile and Sprint (whose network Virgin borrows) knew who my friends were and how often I called them. Do I care that Google knows what I’m searching for? Not really. I’m not searching for anything that anyone else isn’t searching for. You can tell because they now try to guess what you’re searching for, and it’s usually what you are searching for, even if you’ve never searched for that before. Do you think if Britney Spears does something crazy that you’re the only one searching for “Britney Spears [something crazy]”?

And also, do you think if the government suspects you’re a terrorist that they really won’t just tap your phones and stalk you (I believe it’s called surveillance) anyway? Don’t you think the hospital, when served with a subpoena, will hand over your medical records? Don’t you think the store you shop at will hand over its security camera footage of you shopping there and what you bought? Please, just put the tinfoil hats away. Use common sense, and that goes both ways. You can hide most things from the general public, but if the corporations and governments want your information, they will get it. That doesn’t mean you have to make it easy for people to find information about you, but it does mean you can’t pretend your information is impossible to find.


New Blog Theme!

My wife has been kind enough to create a new blog theme for me. Structurally, it’s not that different from the old theme, but it’s got a great new background and coloring, in line with the title of the blog. Enjoy!


Proofreading in journalism

I’ve heard a lot of people (including Eric Schmidt) blasting bloggers in favor of real journalism. I have to say I disagree. Sure, there are garbage blogs out there, but a lot of the highest quality reading material I see out there—and yes, in fact, journalism, too—is in blogs. I’ve seen some terrible reporting in legitimate news outlets:
Tech “journalism” strikes again: of course Apple will recommend antivirus eventually
Tech “journalism” hits new low at PC World
Bad Journalism

Well, here is The San Francisco Chronicle, apparently with its copy editor on vacation:

Click for larger image
I’ve underlined the grammar and spelling errors. Atrocious. And, yeah, if you’re quoting someone who has made a grammatical error, you use [sic] so we know the person you quoted messed up and that you didn’t mess up.


Using a Mac full-time: the good, the bad, and the pretty

I think most new Mac users come straight from Windows. I’m now using my wife’s old Macbook Pro as my main computer (pretty much as a desktop, since the battery life is abysmal), and my Ubuntu netbook (for portability). Here are some good and bad experiences I’ve had.

First, the good:

  • Audio simplicity. I can use Skype without worrying it won’t work with my PulseAudio config or having to recompile Alsa. I can get playback in MuseScore without having to deal with Jack (which I know nothing about).
  • Instantaneous wireless resume. With Ubuntu, I went back and forth between a few seconds after resume from sleep to get wireless up again all the way to a minute and a half, depending on the release (Jaunty was the worst, sometimes taking up to two minutes). I tried WICD. No better performance there. I resorted to all sorts of weird tweaks. At least resume was a bit quicker in Karmic. Even in Lucid beta 2, if you look at /usr/lib/pm-utils/sleep.d/55NetworkManager, you’ll see a comment in the top of the config file that says Make NetworkManager smarter about how to handle sleep/resume If we are sleep for less time than it takes for TCP to rest a connection, and we are assigned the same IP on resume, we should not break established connections. Apple can do this, and it is rather nifty. That comment’s been there at least since Jaunty. Don’t know if it was there in Intrepid or Hardy as well.
  • Magnetic power cord. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m a total klutz and have killed more than one power cord by tripping on it. It’s good to have that peace of mind with the magnetic power cord that just gets yanked out.
  • Sound quality. The speakers are great on the Macbook Pro. Nothing tinny like what I’ve experienced in other computers.
  • Smooth animation. Yes, Compiz has a lot of fancy effects, but there’s always something a little jerky or pixelated about everything “cool” I’ve seen in Linux.
  • Netflix streaming. It’s much better on a Mac than it is on PS3 or Wii. And it is, of course, just non-existent on Linux. Even though Macs can’t run all the software Windows can, it does seem to get more third-party support for consumer commercial stuff than Linux does.
  • Simple extended monitor. Haven’t done it recently, but this is my wife’s old Mac, so I have in the past, and it’s pretty simple to do extended desktop with an external monitor. Linux is getting there, but not quite.
  • Photo and music management. I know a lot of Linux users dig their Amarok or Exaile or whatnot. I’ve always, even back in my Windows-using days, liked iTunes. And since it supports drag and drop to USB devices, I can even use it with my Sandisk player. iPhoto is like a slightly more polished version of F-Spot (which I liked in Ubuntu).
  • Multi-touch touchpad. I use an HP laptop at work (with Windows) and have an HP Mini at home (with Ubuntu), and I don’t dig the one-finger scrolling on the side of the trackpad. Two-finger scrolling is great.
  • Simple USB drive renaming. You’d think it wouldn’t get much simpler than launching up GParted and changing the label on the drive and hitting Apply. It’s a lot easier on OS X, though. Just hit Enter to rename, type the new name, and hit Enter again. No separate program to launch.

Now, the bad:

  • Rainbow circle of death. This Macbook Pro has an over 2 GHz processor and 4 GB of RAM. There’s no reason I should ever be getting any kind of freeze-ups unless I’m running something from Adobe Creative Suite. But, no, even with just Finder, Firefox, and Thunderbird running, I can sometimes get the rainbow circle of death. xkill would be handy here, but Option-Cmd-Escape works, too.
  • Reboots for most updates. I’m used to needing a reboot for only kernel upgrades. I don’t know why Apple does this, but even for simple application updates, it wants to reboot the system.
  • Thunderbird ugly. I still prefer Thunderbird to Mail, but it’s not looking good on Mac, and the Thunderbird downloadable themes are not that great either.
  • Spaces not working correctly. I’m glad Apple decided to put workspaces on Mac OS X, considering Linux distros have had these for quite some time. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite get it to work the way I wanted to. For a while, I could, but suddenly my keyboard shortcuts for switching workspaces just weren’t working. I think there are too many keyboard shortcut conflicts in OS X. I just gave up.
  • Hard drive icon always jutting out. I’m on a widescreen laptop, so my most valuable screen real estate is vertical. On a laptop, though, all screen space matters. So I moved the Dock to the right. But I want to have the hard drive icon line up with the Dock. Instead, it juts out a bit, no matter what settings I use for the grid, font, or icon size. I can live with it, but that’s annoying. I did find a neat trick online to get the Dock to go to the corner of the screen instead of floating in the middle, so the trash can is now in the lower-right corner. That’s nice.
  • Application and window management. I just don’t get the application not quitting when the window closes. So if I’m using the terminal and type exit, that means I’m done. And if it’s the last terminal window, I don’t see why I should have to hit Cmd-Q to quit fully. More importantly, I like being able to hit Cmd-Tab (or Control-Tab) to switch between open windows. If I have multiple windows open in one application, I don’t want to have to worry about first switching to that application (Cmd-Tab) and then switching to that particular window (Cmd-`). That’s too much fine-tuned control, and the Cmd-` keyboard shortcut just isn’t easy for my fingers to position themselves for.
  • Overheating. You can fry an egg on this laptop after ten minutes of use. It gets really hot. Now I know why my wife got a cooling pad for this. Fortunately, her new Macbook Pro seems to run a lot more coolly.
  • F keys messed up. F9 is supposed to be for Exposé, but now it’s apparently for dimming the backlighting on the keyboard. As far as I can tell, you can either have all the F keys turn into normal F keys, in which case Expose´ will work again for F9 but none of the volume and brightness keys will work, or you can keep the brightness and volume keys working and have F9 be for dimming the backlighting on the keyboard. Either way, you’ll have to resort to using Fn-F9 at one point to get the functionality you want.

So, yeah, some gains and some new niggles to deal with. I have Ubuntu Lucid installed in VirtualBox right now, so I’ll be playing around with that too, and I’ll probably install that on my netbook after official release so I can get updated screenshots for my tutorials.


Misogyny hits the cinema

After not seeing a movie in the theater in what felt like forever (my wife and I are movie buffs), we finally saw two in one weekend—The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Hot Tub Time Machine. Both movies surprised me. The former surprised me with how serious, disturbing, and graphic it was. I knew it was a murder mystery, but I was thinking more Jane Marple. I guess in this age of Saw and Hostel, that was a bad assumption on my part. The latter surprised me for just being a terrible movie. It had gotten a lot of good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.

I also had no idea how much misogyny was in both films. Later, I learned the original Swedish title for the book Dragon Tattoo was based on literally translates to men who hate women. And, after watching the movie (which I hear is pretty accurate to the book, except for leaving out whole plotlines that wouldn’t fit in a 2 1/2–hour time frame), I think that’s a far more fitting title. I guess the big difference between Tattoo and Hot Tub (apart from one being good, the other bad; and one being serious and the other intended to be funny) is that Tattoo makes it clear that misogyny is a bad thing. Hot Tub, on the other hand, celebrates it. Even though Tattoo is a bit too graphic in its depiction of rape and violence, it sends a clear message of “Men who hate women are bad people and should be punished.”

Hot Tub also sends a clear message—women are there to satisfy men sexually and… pretty much nothing else. In one scene, two men make bets with each other involving both money and sexual flavors. If one man wins, he says the other man’s wife needs to give him a blowjob. If the other man wins, he says the other man needs to give the other man’s male friend a blowjob. The wife says nothing. All she does is lick her lollipop suggestively. The male friend, however, protests furiously that he doesn’t like having his dick gambled with. So her mouth is okay to gamble with without consulting her… his dick, not so much? And, worse yet, the Black friend (whom we initially think is one of three best buddies, but it later turns out only the two White friends are best friends with each other…?) gets constantly ridiculed for hyphenating his name, as if that emasculates him. The only way to set it “right” is for him to keep his name. I’d love to see one of these raunch comedies make fun of woman for taking her husband’s name and then having everything be “right” when she goes back to her maiden name or, better yet, he takes her surname.


xScope web browser for Android

As a follow-up to What’s the best Android web browser? I posted last month, I think I have discovered the hands-down best web browser for Android, at least for the way I browse the web on my MyTouch 3G phone. I am not going to post screenshots for it, because I am too lazy to and because, frankly, it’s kind of an ugly browser (yes, even with the different themes you can use on it).

I should start off by saying that even though this is the best browser to use once you’ve learned how to use it, it is not the easier browser to learn to use. This browser is not intuitive in any way. You will have to read the manual to get the most of your browsing experience. So if you’re the type who usually sees “Find out more about how to use X application” and think “I can skip that. I’ll figure it out on my own,” I would ask that you actually give the tutorial a shot this time.

xScope Advantages

  • The first thing that’s great about xScope is that it’s fast. Pages load quickly. They seem to load at a speed a little faster than Steel and a little slower than Opera Mini.
  • In other browsers you have to either choose to have it in fullscreen or choose to show the notification bar. I like to have the browser generally fullscreen but also have the option to quickly check the time (the clock is on the notification bar). xScope is great this way, because it starts off fullscreen, but you can press the Menu button and select to have it temporarily windowed. It’ll stay windowed until you choose to make it fullscreen again or until you restart the browser.
  • My passwords and cookies are actually remembered. With some other browsers, despite what I indicated in my settings, I had trouble getting the passwords remembered or the website cookies to stay. With xScope, that’s not an issue.
  • The browser really is designed with a touchscreen in mind. You can swipe up the address bar if it’s getting in the way, or swipe it down. You can swipe across the toolbar to display the off-screen icons. You can tap once and then quickly tap again and hold and rock your finger back and forth to zoom in and out. After trying double-taps, pinch-to-zoom, and zoom buttons in other browsers, I’m convinced this is actually the best way to do zooming, and, more importantly, it allows me to avoid ever accidentally zooming in or out of a webpage.
  • When you click the Back button to go back a page, that page you were previously on loads instantaneously. There is no waiting for the page to reload (hey, default Browser, that’s what a cache is supposed to be for!).

Tab Management
xScope deals with tabs in an elegant and easy-to-use way. First of all, in terms of design, the tabs themselves are big enough to be usable and touchable, but they also don’t take up too much screen real estate.

To open a link in a new background tab (very important, even if you are on a 3G or wireless connection), just press and hold down the link for a second. If you have only one or two tabs already open, you’ll see the link open as a third tab in the background. If you already have three or more tabs open, you’ll see a very quick notification message saying that the tab successfully opened. I like this way of doing things instead of having the tabs crowd each other and get continually smaller… or to get no acknowledgement at all that the tab opened.

To close a tab you’re already focused on, you can just tap the tab itself (don’t need to aim for an X close button). You can also, if the tab you’re looking at has no previous history, just press the Back button to close that focused tab.

To switch between open tabs, you can swipe left or right very quickly and forcefully. This kind of switching wraps around as well (so if you’re on the right-most tab and swipe hard right, you’ll get to the left-most tab). This is very important for reading Google News, because the Google mobile site doesn’t allow you to open links in background tabs, so you’ll get a foreground-loaded tab, and while it’s loading, you can quickly swipe right to get back to the Google News website and browse for other stories to read.

xScope Disadvantages
Well, apart from the fact that its interface is ugly, there are a few other minor issues:

  • xScope Lite (the cost-free version) is fully functional as far as I’m concerned. It lacks a few features the paid version has that I consider bloat, but instead of hiding those features, the features are included in the menus… you just get a message to get the paid version if you try to select those menu items. I’d prefer they were hidden, but of course I’m not actually paying any money yet for this great app, so I can’t complain about a tiny bit of nagware.
  • Even though xScope is speedy to load up and speedy to use, it’s sometimes very slow to exit. If I exit out of it, I’ll sometimes get half a second of a black screen before my home screen loads up. Not a dealbreaker by any means but just a little lack of polish.
  • As I mentioned before, it’s not intuitive. I have found it easier to use now that I’ve learned it, but the learning curve is definitely there.
  • There’s no way to turn off images. It is pretty fast already even with images, but the ability to disable image loading would be nice to have, especially if I’m in an area that has poor coverage.
  • There seems to be a limit on the number of bookmarks you can have accessible in the start-up page. Odd. I don’t have that many bookmarks myself, but still…

That’s it. Some people may say other browsers have more features, but there is a certain point at which too many features just leaves the browser feeling crowded (try out Dolphin if you don’t believe me). Speed and proper tab management are what matter most to me on a smartphone browser, especially since I am often on a slower connection than I would normally be if I had a wireless broadband connection. Hurray for xScope!


Made the move to Mac

As a follow-up to Why I might switch to Mac from Ubuntu, I did actually get a Mac… or, more precisely, my wife got a new Mac, and I inherited her old one.

Unfortunately, it seemed some of the commenters on that entry brought their own agendas and grudges without actually reading what I wrote. I have tried other distros, many of them, in fact—probably at least 20 distros over the past five years. You can read about some of my more recent failed attempts at trying non-Ubuntu distros. Two of my reasons for switching had nothing to do with Ubuntu specifically—that there were hardware regressions in the Linux kernel (and bugs in other upstream packages), and that the whole approach of the operating system development being wholly independent of the hardware development is a flawed approach if you want to increase adoption (which, incidentally, Ubuntu is trying to do, and not all Linux distros are).

To those who claim Macs “just work,” I have to disagree. For more details, read Macs are just computers, not magic and Macs are computers, not magic (part 2).

In terms of what happened in getting the new Mac, it’s been an interesting mix of positives and negatives (Can you believe it? Macs are not the holy grail, nor are they the devil incarnate).

The Apple Store
One of the nice things about the Apple store is that there are a lot of display models of various Apple products you can try out. So my wife and I got to spend considerable time playing around with the new Macbook Pro before we decided on purchasing it. More importantly, the sales staff appear to be trained on finding the right balance between being unavailable and being oversolicitous. A few annoying things about the sales staff, though:

  • They assume you know nothing about Macs, even if you are a long-time Mac owner (as my wife is).
  • They aren’t overly pushy, but they do try to upsell you (AppleCare, training programs, iWork, etc.).
  • They take every opportunity to bash so-called “PCs” in side comments (and by PC, they mean Windows PCs, because, as we all know, Macs aren’t personal computers, and Linux just doesn’t exist, nor does FreeBSD). Want to know where the stereotype of Mac users as being snobby zealots comes from? It comes from the Apple store employees (and from the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials). I like Mac and Linux and Windows. Is that a crime to like all three?

The Migration Experience
At home with the new Mac, we used the Migration Assistant to move my wife’s files, settings, and applications over to the new computer. I don’t know who at Apple is in charge of the Migration Assistant, but that person needs to be replaced. First, it prompts you to make the transfer via firewire. The new Macbook Pro doesn’t come with a firewire cable, though. We had an old firewire cable from an external hard drive, but apparently that’s the wrong kind. We tried to do the transfer via ethernet. We soon realized that was a mistake, as the transfer was going to take three hours. Unfortunately, Migration Assistant is set up so that you can’t do anything else on the computer while the migration is happening, and the time remaining arbitrarily goes up, stands still, or randomly drops. At one point, it said it was going to take four hours. So we canceled it by killing the Migration Assistant on the source Macbook Pro and then forcing a shutdown on the destination Macbook Pro. Then we did the Migration Assistant again but this time with just the settings and applications (not the files). The files we copied over manually from an external hard drive backup afterwards (during that copy, my wife could actually use her new computer).

Apart from the Migration Assistant process being godawful, the migration result itself is pretty good. The setup was exactly the way she had it on her old computer. Wireless keys remembered. Dock configured in the exact same way. Mail with all IMAP accounts set up. Wallpaper the same. It was an exact replica of her account on the old Mac. All the programs worked, including CS3 (I thought maybe that might need a new activation key or something).

Unfortunately, one thing that didn’t work (and this points to a major usability issue with Mac OS X, which is being able to resize windows from only one corner) was her window setting with iTunes. See, her old Macbook Pro was 15″ and this new one was 13″, so the iTunes window extended beyond what the screen could display. We couldn’t figure out how to drag the window past the universal toolbar (I thought maybe there might be an equivalent to Alt-mouse-drag in Linux, but couldn’t find one). Clicking the + button (which usually zooms in other applications) just toggled between full iTunes and the iTunes mini player. Finally, I did a Google search and found that you could go to window > zoom in the toolbar menu to get it to zoom (since the + button in iTunes acts in a way inconsistent with other OS X applications). Solved that. Annoying to have to solve.

Meanwhile, I was tailoring my wife’s old computer to suit my needs. I deleted all her design and font programs (she’s the graphic designer; I’m not). I got rid of Mail, Safari, and iCal. Put on Firefox, Chrome, Thunderbird, Transmission, and some other programs I found at Open Source Mac. I love the smooth animation (when importing photos in iPhoto, when switching applications) that I just never could get in Ubuntu, even with Compiz. I don’t like that I can’t toggle hidden files with Control-H (or even Cmd-H). I don’t like that Finder is an always-on application (meaning, when I’m switching applications with Cmd-Tab, I want to switch between only actual applications, and not the file browser if no file browser window is open). I had to install a third-party application to turn off the annoying boot-up noise.

Really, though, the main draws for me to my wife’s old laptop are not any OS X–specific features per se. What I like most are

  • The magnetic power cord, because I am a klutz and actually broke my HP Mini power cord recently.
  • The larger hard drive. Since the HP Mini was my main computer, it was kind of tough to deal with having only a 16 GB SSD, and the upgrade options for a 1.8″ 5mm PATA Zif hard drive aren’t wonderful.
  • The ability to do Netflix streaming (the PS3 fake-Bluray experience isn’t as good as the web browser experience). I guess you could argue that’s OS X–specific, in the sense that Netflix supports Mac OS X and doesn’t support Linux. It has nothing to do with the usability of the operating system design.

Unlike most Linux users, I have always been a fan of iTunes. I’ve used Foobar, WinAmp, Songbird, Exaile, Rhythmbox, AmaroK, JuK, Banshee, and all the rest. I still think iTunes is the best. But I’m going to keep buying songs through Amazon’s MP3 store, since I want to be able to easily port the music to my Sansa Clip or to Ubuntu, should I decide later to set up a dual-boot. I’m also going to be sticking with Android, even after my phone becomes “obsolete” (obsolescence is subjective, I guess). I do like the iPhone, but it’s a bit too restrictive. I like the xScope web browser, and I don’t see any free web browsers in the iTunes app store like it. I like having a rooted device without worrying that updates will constantly break my installation. I like being able to send certain contacts straight to voicemail. I like the Google Voice app (which Apple has rejected for the iPhone).

In Conclusion
Yes, I will continue to update my Ubuntu documentation on Psychocats. Don’t worry. I plan to have Ubuntu in VirtualBox on Mac OS X. I also still have my HP Mini around with Ubuntu on it. My wife and I don’t travel often, but when we do, a 10″ netbook is far more convenient to travel with than a 15″ laptop. So even though Mac OS X is now my main OS, I will continue to document and test Ubuntu. And, mpt, I don’t know if you got my email, but I would be interesting in helping the Ubuntu experience design team if that offer is still good.