No Gorram MacKool-Aid, Yet

The Great Mac Experiment has begun.

Yes, the ToT, longtime critic of Apple and Steve Jobs, bought a Macbook. My current and past feelings on Apple and Steve Jobs are as such: Apple is like communist China. It only cares about selling you one thing: more hardware. Everything else is subservient to that. They think you are brainless consumers who get sucked in by shiny objects and a proletarian propaganda campaign really only aimed at tech elites. In return for your money, they constantly screw you by obsoleting the hardware as fast as possible (Apple II to Mac, iPod batteries, PowerPC to Intel chips), and pulling the rug out from under you on software (backward compatibility?).

Apple proclaims that Windows is a patronizing, confusing leviathon when the Mac world is the very insular one (proprietary software only available on proprietary hardware) and much more tightly controlled by Jobs and company. Windows lets everyone play, which is why it's such a mess at times. Microsoft even uses Apple hardware to demo Windows Vista. Apple is operating a sandbox with high walls and it doesn't peek out much.

Windows is America, Apple is China.

Exhibit 1: The cool Apple guy in the cool Apple store couldn't really say much about Windows vs Mac because he had no experience with Windows. Exhibit 2: The 'Switch' ads which have been deftly criticized for highlighting relatively minor Windows flaws and non-issues. Apple's over-inflated propaganda machine doesn't seem to have taken the time to get familiar with the competition. This is kind of evident in the touting of cool interface features which are... also in Windows. See where the China metaphor comes in handy?

So why did I go Mac for the new laptop? Because it was one of the best laptops out there according to level-headed PC experts. Because a preponderance of techy, geeky guys have recently Switched and had good experiences. It wasn't even massively overpriced compared to buying the same set of specs for a Windows laptop. The bottom line reason though was that it was the only laptop that, after a whole lot of research, left me wanting it. Apple does have a sense of playfulness and geek cool that makes their MacBook compelling.

[But I'm not going to game with it. Microsoft is still tops in my book when it comes to video game platforms, whether it be the Xbox or an XP box. Nope, I'm just doing boring productivity stuff like the Secret Project and blogging, surfing, etc.]

This will be an experiment. With Mac OS X, with Apple hardware, with the Mac software. The ToT will give an objective and reasonable assessment of how well this goes. There will be no downing of Apple Kool-Aid: I am immune. Remember, I used Apple II and Macintosh exclusively in high school and college.

The Experiment so far:

The Good.
  • Yes, it worked right out of the box.
  • The unit itself is just cool looking as hell.
  • Magnets, magnets, magnets. Thought you couldn't have magnets near a hard drive and a monitor? Think again. Magnetic latch for the LCD screen, magnetic power connector for the AC adapter. For anyone who's ever broken the flimsy latch on a laptop, you know what I mean.
  • The user interface is well designed, but unfamiliar. The emphasis is clearly on geek-cool rather than intuitive user-friendliness.
  • I'm really digging the Menu bar on the top of the screen which changes when the active program changes, so you don't have to use a menu inside each window. There's lots of neat little things like that in OS X. A casual computer user may not notice this stuff though.
  • The bundled software is not irritating come-ons (AOL - I hate you) but full-fledged programs you can't get elsewhere. Garageband may be the biggest timesuck on the entire machine. Widgets are very useful. Gotta avoid it and stick to the Secret Project.
  • Gives me wireless capabilities I didn't have before.
  • Heat issues were not as bad as I feared and this 5 pounder is nice and portable.
  • The screen is to die for, although the widescreen aspect is something to get used to when looking at text documents.

The Bad.
  • Apple has gone on for decades that they have the most user-friendly interface. This was true back in DOS days. But Ubuntu, again a free Linux distribution, allows you to pick one of three desktop interfaces and allows you to run 4 copies of your desktop at once. Think about it - one desktop for surfing, another for word processing, another for a spreadsheet or coding, etc. each with a thumbnail of all four on the bottom of the screen. And Windows has become the QWERTY of interfaces (GUI in techgeek speak) which means that people have voted with their feet on the most user-friendly interface for the masses.
  • I've never felt the urge to get a book (or even wonder if there's been a book written) that explains for experienced computer users how to get around in the interface. And this no-textbook needed approach has gotten me through learning these OS interfaces from scratch:
    1. proto-DOS
    2. DOS
    3. Apple II
    4. Macintosh
    5. Windows 3.1
    6. Windows 95
    7. Windows 98
    8. Windows ME
    9. Windows 2000
    10. Windows XP
    11. Ubuntu 5.10
    12. Ubuntu 6.06.
But I bought the MacBook on Tuesday and had David Pogue's door-stopping "Mac OS X: The Missing Manual" checked out of the library on Wednesday. Partly this is because there's lots of cool hacks that Unixy OS X can handle (got a book on industrial OS X hacks too), partly it's because I don't know how to install more cool widgets or navigate the folders. Maybe none of the other OS were worth investigating.
  • It wasn't as simple to use as Windows when I installed my first program. The free, open-source OpenOffice suite for OS X requires a Unix program to run in that also causes a Unix terminal window, with command line, to open each time. The only way to get rid of it is to type Unix gibberish in the command line. Is this Apple's fault? Not really, but there are a whole bunch of software issues like this with OS X. One is because it IS Unix. Ubuntu requires some command line work too, the difference being it doesn't pretend to be easier than Windows to use and bends over backwards to give you the gibberish you need to paste in to the command line. But Ubuntu came with OpenOffice pre-installed and it doesn't need a separate program to run in.
  • Apple has a stick up their butt about other people's software. Their iWorks word processor Pages has a limited set of document formats and doesn't support .odt, which is becoming one of the big doc formats around the world. Like a lot of Mac software, Pages seems to only acknowledge MS Office formats, which Apple in general is shilling way too much for. Apple's line: Hate MS Windows! Love MS Office! doesn't make much sense. Especially when it rejected a .doc I tried to import from OpenOffice.
  • Another problem is software selection now that they've switched from PowerPC CPUs to Intel CPUs. All you PowerPC people are watching the sun go down on your hardware AND software. And us Intel Mac users don't have all the software that you guys have. We have to use messy emulation programs or hope the developers reunite to reissue your old programs - which you have to pay for again if you 'switched' to Intel. And this is the computer for the rest of us? My Windows 95 games still work in XP. That's 11 years of backward compatibility. Not a big problem for me given that NeoOffice and OpenOffice and some other programs allow work to continue on the Secret Project.

The Unknowns.
  • Haven't hooked up any devices other than, you guessed it, my trusty Logitech Trackball, which works fine.
  • Also haven't tried a lot of the bundled software.
  • The Unix nature of OS X lets you hack the heck out of the Mac and that might allow me to do some neat stuff.
Finally, here I debut the Applesauce Meter, a metric for judging how much of the Apple hype is water and how much is apple. Before the MacBook went Intel, the Meter stood at 90% water, 10% apple. Now, I'd say it's 80/20. If it drops to 20% water, then you can safely call the ToT 'a Mac guy'. The only way that happens is if Apple earns it.

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