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.

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  1. As you approach Mac OS, I have been moving away to Linux, helped considerably by your tutorials over the years, so thanks.

    Mac software I actually miss includes Eastgate Systems’ Tinderbox, and Paparazzi (which can save a bitmap of a whole Web page, the bitmap being as long or wide as you want it to be, thousands of pixels if needed).

    Apart from that, there is no big hole in my computing needs. Good luck.

  2. Just pointing out since I hadn’t see you mention it, there is tons of open source software available through repos like macports and fink. I’ve even installed several gnome applications (require X11, but you can still have them).

  3. Thanks, cyberdork33. I’ve spent a bit of time exploring Macports and Fink, but it just doesn’t have the seamlessness of a regular Linux installation for repositories. And X11 just does not integrate well with OS X (GIMP is very difficult to use on Mac, so I’ve settled for Seashore, which is less fully featured).

  4. A question & a comment:

    Overheating: How old is this machine, and has it always done this?

    Simple USB drive renaming: You can do this now in Ubuntu Lucid. System > Administration > Disk Utility

  5. Overheating: 2 1/2 years old and has always been that way.

    Simple USB drive renaming: F2 would be a lot simpler. You don’t have to launch a separate application to rename drives in OS X.

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