Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Macbook Air / Mac OS X rant

When Apple presented their new MacBook line yesterday (the retina display is not only amazing, but very necessary to make other people (Lenovo, I mean YOU) stop putting crappy 1368x768 displays in premium laptops), I remembered that I wanted to write about my experience with Apple hardware.

 A couple of months ago I got a Macbook Air. Everybody was super happy with them and they looked like "user friendly Unix" systems, so I got one off ebay for a great price. Since it wasn't recently, I will just copypaste my list-review from an email I sent to a friend. Plesae note that this was November 2011, it might have changed now. I no longer have the laptop so I couldn't re-test the stuff.

- I love the design and weight. It is thin and looks even thinner.
- The battery time is decent (11" model).
- The screen is OK, 1368x768 for 11" is acceptable. Glossy screens are not my thing, though, I use the laptop mainly to work / browse, not watch movies in dark rooms.
- The sound is surprisingly good. I must say I was impressed how loud and clear it was.
- Air intake through keyboard is a quite nice solution, in general, allows to use the laptop on soft surfaces like beds/sofas. Sometimes I leave my laptop closed while number-crunching / compiling at night, the MacBook wouldn't be able to do that.
- Safari: no unified URL/Search box. Hello? Welcome to 2011! On top of that, no option to activate search keys (g X to look for X on google, a X to look for X on amazon, etc) by default, only with some (obscure extensions).
- There is NO DELETE KEY! WTF!?!
- I like very much the option to "pin app to desktop" and swipe between them with 3 fingers. I dislike that they cannot be rearraged by drag and drop... or any other manner, AFAIK.
- Incredibly difficult to remap the keyboard (I HATE the german QWERTZ). Xmodmap file exists, gets ignored. KeyBindings4Mac works but it's very cumbersome to use and needs to do funky kernel shenanigans to work. DoubleCommand doesn't work well, needs to be unisntalled from command line. User friendly, was it? Maybe to look at facebook, not advanced stuff.
 - Firefox (my browser of chioce) isn't integrated at all. Camino is outdated. Safai sucks (see first point). The most decent brower is Opera, but still far from perfect. No easy way to install Chromium (gave up after 10 min). User friendly? Not even for facebook browsing, in the end :/
- There is no 3rd button. No way to open a link in a new tab using one hand/touchpad only. ThinkPad's physical 3rd button is a killer feature for web browsing, opening/closing tabs with one click.
- No Home/End keys. No PgUp/PgDown keys. In the german layout, no bracket/curly braces keys!!! After trial and error I found the brackets at AltGr+5/6 and curly braces at AltGr+parentheses. It must be a NIGHTMARE to write C code with this. And the keyboard in general is unimpressive at best. But then again, I am used to a ThinkPad keyboard, so I might be spoiled/biased.
- Very unclear CMD / Ctrl usage. Specially on the console. Ctrl+D doesn't close terminal, splits it instead (!). Usualy CMD is used instead of PC's Ctrl but not always.
- Lack of Yakuake. For me Yakuake is THE killer application, period. I would need a whole post just to praise all its features. I will just say is hands down my favorite and most useful app. Nothing else even comes close (tilda, guake, etc on linux included). TotalTerminal is a sorry imitation.
- X11 programs are confusing. Similar to the CMD / Ctrl problem.
- I am not used to apps staying in memory after last window is gone. I guess this is a getting-used-to-it thing, I can see how other people might like it.
- I like the File Vault idea, making whole disk encryption easy to use. However it end up being much more difficult in the end. My story: the first thing I did when I got the computer is to reinstall Mac OS X to wipe any data / software present on it. Since I was at it, I activated FileVault at install time. Result: the system failed to boot. So I tried to reinstall. Result the system failed to reinstall. WHAT? Yes, everytime I got a very funny message: There was a problem installing “Mac OS X”. Try Reinstalling. Oh really? WHAT DO YOU THINK I AM DOING??? After a lot of googling I found the solution: Hold down CMD-OPTION-P-R keys and turn the machine on. Yes, if you count it you will see that you need to press not one and not two but FIVE keys at the same time. That's user friendly!! This automatically revokes Apples right to ever mention Windows' Ctrl-Alt-Del ever, ever again.
- ITunes... well, just install VLC and you'll be al right.

In short:
  • Great hardware, except...
  • ... terrible, experience-ruining keyboard.
  • Nice and user friendly...
  • ... if all you want to do is check facebook.
I just felt that the old joke is completely accurate:

Mac Airlines
All the stewards, captains, baggage handlers, and ticket agents look and act exactly the same. Every time you ask questions about details, you are gently but firmly told that you don't need to know, don't want to know, and everything will be done for you without your ever having to know, so just shut up.

OSX Air:
You enter a white terminal, and all you can see is a woman sitting in the corner behind a white desk, you walk up to get your ticket. She smiles and says "Welcome to OS X Air, please allow us to take your picture", at which point a camera in the wall you didn't notice before takes your picture. "Thank you, here is your ticket" You are handed a minimalistic ticket with your picture at the top, it already has all of your information. A door opens to your right and you walk through. You enter a wide open space with one seat in the middle, you sit, listen to music and watch movies until the end of the flight. You never see any of the other passengers. You land, get off, and you say to yourself "wow, that was really nice, but I feel like something was missing"

Veredict: I would recommend a MacBook for my mother. It's pretty, works out of the box, and, as long as you don't want advanced features or to do anything that the Apple Overlords didn't anticipate, you are absolutely fine.
I would NOT recommend it to anybody that has been using a ThinkPad or Linux for a while. The keyboard and lack of options will drive you crazy.

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