BJK Research

Episode 4: Can a PC Guy Become a Mac Guy?

Previous Episodes: 123

I've been a Mac guy for about two week now, including a road trip. It's time to start doing some reviews of the Macbook.

Without a doubt, using a Mac is different than using a PC. Since I'm going to be using both Macs and PCs, I'm going to have to be bilingual. That's actually a skill I haven't mastered in the real world. I took three years of high school French, but with almost no real reason to use it, I've forgotten all but some guidebook phrases. (Actually, the choice of French rather than Spanish was a bad demographic forecast by me back in the early 70's. There's a lot more call for Spanish these days.) My goal is to be able to think like a Mac guy when using the MacBook, and think like a PC guy when using the desktop.

What I don't want to do is continue some sort of translation process. This translation process is what I still do when I use the metric system. Living in the US, and not being a scientist, I don't have many reasons to work in the metric, or International, system. One of the few times I do is when I work on my car. If I'm looking at a bolt, and trying to decide what size socket to use, I find myself thinking "Hmm, that looks like a half-inch bolt; since there's roughly 25 millimeters to an inch, this must be a 12mm or 13 mm socket." I have to make that intermediate step -- I haven't yet gotten the knack of looking at something and saying "That's 12 millimeters" or "That's a centimeter". If I hear a temperature forecast of 20 degrees Celsius, I think "20 is equal to 68 -- it's gonna be nice!" I don't think "20 Celsius - it's gonna be nice!"

I don't want to be doing that with the Mac -- thinking "Hmm, here's how I'd do that in XP; this is the equivalent in OS X; so that's what I'll do." So far, it seems to be working. After I got over the initial confusion of no longer having a Start button, I learned to use Finder and the Dock. As soon as I learned that the F12 key popped up the Dashboard, I was off searching for widgets.

Continued below

 

Rather than just doing some random observations, it may be better to impose some structure to these reviews. This article will be about the hardware. After this, there will be a review of OS X 10.4, and then a review of the iLife programs.

The MacBook is small and light, exactly what I was looking for, not only for road trips, but also for carrying around the house and flopping in front of the TV. It is three pounds lighter than my old laptop computer; that's the equivalent of three cans of soup that aren't in my briefcase; there's even more weight savings, since the charger is also lighter than my old charger. It was a difference well-appreciated on my first road trip with the Mac.

While it is small, there's enough of a wrist rest that typing is comfortable. I wasn't going to spend an extra $200 to get the black model, so I'll let you know if I run into the discoloration problem that the white models are prone to. The keyboard has a slightly different feel than my desktop keyboard, but there hasn't been any problems touch-typing. There are a few differences to get used to. There's a Delete key, but no backspace key, which I mentioned earlier. The built-in touchpad only has one button - if you want to do a right click, you have to remember to hold down the Control key. Also, after years and years of doing a Ctrl-C or Ctrl-V for copying and pasting, I know have to remember to use that Apple-squiggly key instead.

The one-button touchpad isn't a problem when I'm using the MacBook on a desk. I have a generic Windows three-button USB mouse with a scrollwheel which works the same as it does in Windows, even the scroll wheel. The only problem came when I tried to start GarageBand, the sound-editing program, while the mouse was plugged in. I fell into a loop getting an error message about a bad MIDI driver. Although I could dismiss the error message, I couldn't get GarageBand to either start or stop, and the error message kept on coming back. Luckily, I had already learned about the Activity Monitor, the equivalent of the Task List in Windows, so I knew how to kill off GarageBand. GarageBand works fine without the mouse. (That's also the only crash or lock-up that I've had yet.)

So far, I'm getting over three hours on a battery charge, although I haven't really tried to measure battery life when watching a DVD. The computer also goes into and out of sleep quickly, which can help with power conservation. The power cord is nicely designed. The connection to the laptop itself is magnetic, and should break off before someone trips over the power cord and drags the computer off the desk. The power cord is also two piece. A two-prong plug folds out of the power-brick (which is really closer in size to a fat deck of cards) if you don't have a long distance to the power outlet. If you have a longer distance, you can pull the plug off the brick, and attach a second, longer cord that has a three-prong plug. The computer runs a little hot, but not as hot as many laptops I've used. The fan rarely comes on.

The screen, with its high-def aspect ratio, also makes for some adjustment. There's a lot more width than I'm used to, so I'm learning to re-arrange my normal window layout to take advantage of it. It made sense to me to move the Dock over to the side to gain some vertical screen space. I wonder why that isn't the default spot for the Dock to begin with? The screen is also very bright - in fact, any time I take my picture with the built-in camera, I end up with the screen reflection in my glasses. The MacBook comes with an integrated graphics card and shared video memory, so I eventually want to try it with some graphics-intensive programs to see how it performs. For now, under regular use, I haven't run into any performance issues. Of course, I also splurged on 2 GB of RAM, which is going to help the performance.

There are two USB ports and a Firewire port, lined up on the side along with the Ethernet port and the power connection. One thing it doesn't have is a VGA port. Instead, it has a mini-DVI port. If you are taking your MacBook to a conference and plan on connecting it to a projector to run a slideshow, you'll probably need to be prepared with a mini-DVI to VGA adapter. (Apple sells them.) At the conference I just attended, I didn't need to hook up to a projector, but I asked the hotel's AV guy if he could have helped me out if needed. His reply was that while he probably could have found something that worked, it wouldn't be the kind of equipment to ask for at the last minute.

The next episode in "Can A PC Guy Become a Mac Guy?" will be a review of Mac OS X 10.4. In this case, it will be OS X 10.4.9, the upgrade that just came out. If you are new to this series, you can go back and read Episodes 1, 2, and 3.

 

Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4

 

 

 

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