A month of not being PC

7 05 2009

It has been about five or six weeks since I went Mac. Due to the completely warped logic of my workplace, I am also now in possession of a company-supplied 15.4-inch MacBook Pro. Comparisons with my 17-inch model have been completely unavoidable.

Unibody MacBook Pro Comparison

The MBP17 is 1.1lbs heavier, 1.1-inch wider, 0.7-inch deeper, and is imperceptibly thicker than the MBP15. Placed a couple of feet apart, from ten feet away you would need to pay careful attention to tell them apart. Dimensionally either MBP compares favorably against most 15.4-inch PC laptops, tho in the past couple of years some PC vendors have realized that size / weight do matter and there are a few that are lighter than the MBP15. Every 17-inch PC laptop is monstrously huge compared to the MBPs.

My justification for spending $350 more on the MBP17 was the non-glossy display and higher resolution. The glossy-ness of the MBP15 is a massive turn-off. As best as I can tell the reflectivity is a problem from every angle and under every lighting condition, from bright-and-sunny to muted-fluorescent to pitch-black. I don’t understand how any human with unimpaired sight could think that glossy displays were a good idea.

On the higher resolution front, it was a waste of money. OS X’s poor support for high-DPI displays is borderline criminal. Forced to chose between having my apps crash constantly or squinting to read everything, I’m going with squinting for now. On the MBP15 nearly everything is sized just about right, no squinting and much less frequent crashing.

When the MBP15 arrived, one of the first things I did was connect them both with a CAT5e cable and fire up the Migration Assistant. All I can say is Wow. The only thing it seemed to have failed to migrate was Safari’s URL auto-completion history. All of my applications, preferences, and data made it over. Even my codecs. And everything just worked. If Microsoft had ever bothered to make it this painless to migrate to a new PC, Dell would have gotten a lot more of my money. I’ve used the migration utility that comes with XP and IMO it is almost completely worthless.

Overall… I’m not entirely thrilled with OS X. With my job there is no avoiding using Windows for certain things, thankfully VMware Fusion makes this relatively painless. iCal isn’t good enough to be called crap. Safari and Firefox crash regularly, especially when logged into a Web/Java-based IP KVM. I’ve had two failures to wake from sleep. Mail is decent enough. Terminal beats the snot out of PuTTY. iTunes sucks much less than on Windows but ain’t saying much.

On the hardware side, with the MBP17 I get jerky video / animation when connected to a 24-inch display (spanned) using either GPU. No problems with smaller displays or connecting the MBP15 to my 24-inch. Having all the ports on the one side gets to be a frickin’ pain once you have more than three or four cables hooked up. And for the love of God, why can’t Apple apply some of their hardware genius to doing something truly useful like adding a second video output or analog 5.1 jacks? I will say that the MBP17’s battery life is amazing — I’ve made it over 6 hours without losing power — and the ease of accessing the MBP15’s hard drive and battery is incredible, you just flip a little lever on the bottom.

In summary… The hardware is quite good but it isn’t “iPhone great.” On the software side I am underwhelmed. OS X application quality seems no better than Windows, and for most of the particular types of applications that I frequently the Windows versions are plainly better. The supposed “greater attention to the details” in OS X applications clearly does not apply to making sure that stuff works with non-default DPI settings, which just plain bothers the hell out of me because I fucking hate having to lean forward or squint.

As tempted as I am to just go back to being perfectly happy with Vista, I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel on OS X. For now I’m going to switch my default browser to Chrome in a VM — it has been my default browser in Windows since the week it was released, my only complaint is that the OS X version is not yet usable — and hunt for an iCal replacement.

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