Mac Conversion: A progress report and some backsliding

The Spousal Unit always wonders why I upgrade my computer and operating system as frequently as I do. The fact is I think the world has enjoyed a pretty long run with Windows XP, wasn’t it out in 2001? She doesn’t sympathize with my explanation that sometimes I just get to the point that I’m tired of solving old problems, and I would just as soon solve new ones.

I bought a Macbook back in November. I was just coming off a bad experience with Microsoft Windows Vista. Partly I needed a new laptop…my Dell Inspiron keyboard was terrible, even after two replacements. So even thought the Inspiron is as great laptop, it was essentially useless for actual work, like word-processing. It was also heavy, but considering it could be a replacement for a desktop machine, I was willing to live with the weight.

So, an update on the Macbook, and my (non)-conversion to all things Mac.
The hardware is terrific. Even thought Apple upgraded the processor speed and hard drive capacity shortly after I bought mine, both have been more than adequate. What is really nice is that the weight is about half of the Inspiron. I can keep this machine in a LL Bean Sportsman Briefcase, along with the essential accessories and a leather-bound pad for note-taking. It has an excellent and usable keyboard. It has a track pad which mimics a single-button mouse. This is still a pain for us two-button mouse users, but it something you can live with if you want to go naked, or you can buy a Microsoft two-button notebook mouse to carry in the briefcase.

The Macbook plays nicely with external non-Apple peripherals. When you aren’t traveling, you can plug it into one of those Dell 19″ monitors from Staplesand work at 1440×900 resolution. If put the notebook to sleep, and then attach the external mouse, keyboard and monitor, you can restart it with the lid closed. Not as convenient as a docking station, which might be something to try next.

I’ve got the Macbook printing to an HP OfficeJet Pro K5400 ink-jet printer. Two of these printers have been working reliably and well for the past eighteen months under what I would call light duty. The printer has a USB interface. If you need to plug this in with a USB keyboard and USB mouse, then you need an external USB hub. I note that the docking station advertises five USB connections, which is another reason to consider it. Right now I’m using $14.95 keyboard from Logitech as the external keyboard. It is a little scary to realize that this dirt-cheap keyboard is superior to that of the Dell laptop keyboard.

Having all this paraphernalia connected to the Macbook detracts considerably from its sleek and smooth look. The Macbook is considerably more attractive running alone on a battery, connected wireless to the unseen network cloud. I’ve gotten well over three hours on the battery when running wirelessly which is fine. With the wireless connection enabled, the machine will sniff out the strongest local network connection and walk you through the connection process. If you have done this once already, the connection will be automatic the next time. It works fine on the university’s VPN with the addition of the Cisco VPN client which requires manually logging on.

Mac heads rave about the Mac software and operating system. I think the OS is fine. I don’t care really for the “Finder”, but that is partly because I haven’t really transitioned comfortably from the Windows “Explorer”. But I really like that fact that the OS on the Macbook is the same as the OS on all other Macs, and that it is available in one version only. It is an operating system instead of a demanding lifestyle. Apple doesn’t try to bludgeon its competition or its customers with its operating system. Really, can you imagine the Apple OS getting the same kind of treatment and publicity that Vista has gotten in the past two years? Upgrades and patches are a fraction of what comes out for Windows every week.

As for the backsliding, well, I installed Vista using the Parallels software. I did this strictly so that I could run OneNote, the one essential Microsoft program that doesn’t seem to have a Mac equivalent. Except for the onerous secondary startup process of booting Vista within Parallels and then starting OneNote, this seems to work fine. In fact, the Macbook would really make an ideal Windows laptop.

Other Mac Software

Safari is much maligned in the blogosphere, and it has crashed several times. I installed Firefox as an antidote, but it crashed even more, so I’m sticking with Safari on the Mac side of the house at the moment. IMail doesn’t really compete with Outlook, and I’ve had trouble trying to duplicate the series of folders that I have in Outlook with rules that automatically move new messages into specific folders. The calendar and address book have separate interfaces, and I guess I prefer how Outlook integrates all these into a single (albeit bloated) application.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that I’m really attached to this notebook. It is a fine combination of price and functionality with a sleek and comfortable design. I’m not sure if I would recommend it for an office, but for an individual’s private machine it is ideal. With the addition of some inexpensive peripherals, it doubles nicely as a desktop machine as well.

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