I have been wanting to write a bit about my experience as a computer scientist who switched to Mac about 2 years ago. I bought a MacBook Pro after talking with a coworker at the INL. As most people, I had a bunch of misconceptions about the Macs shortcomings. Most of all, I knew macs used PowerPCs – and although these seemed like cool chips from a nerd standpoint, I saw no compelling reason to switch. But when Apple released its first iteration of the MacBook Pro, with the Intel Core Duo, I was thouroughly impressed with the whole package. It was attractive – and had a whopping two cores (I am sure when my kids have 64 cores in their laptops two cores will seem a paltry amount). When I ordered one in August, 2006, I watched it ship from China – it felt like I was having a supercomputer delivered to my doorstep. On top of that, I knew it was a good looking, quite laptop – all aesthetical parameters that have meant much more to me as I have grown older (I hate loud fans with a passion).
First some background. I grew up as a nerd. I tackled the most inane nerd tasks at an early age – even doing database applications in middle school (boooring). That said, by the time I had decided to get a Mac I was not the same breed of nerd. Fans drive me crazy – and I don’t care how powerful a computer is, I want it to have a bright screen, be quiet, powerful, and capable. I like programming and Unix, but there are certain tasks, as a long time linux user, that I find repugnant – namely, rebuilding your kernel. That’s a fun excercise once or twice, but when it becomes a useful skill for daily computer use in a particular OS, as it seems to be in Linux, I question whether that OS is ready for mainstream use.
How has the Mac measured up? Truth is, it has meet my high hopes for it. Here’s a list of Pros and Cons:
- It IS Unix. It has the full suite of Unix tools, most of them open source. It uses GCC. It has a great Terminal and comes with Bash. Its POSIX, BSD, and has done everything that I have ever expected a UNIX to do. For many open source apps, if there are slight tweaks that need to be made to the source, one can easily download mac ports, and install apps in much the same way as with apt-get. Bottom line: flawless unix environment.
- It IS beautiful. Or, as steve Jobs would say, “gorgeous.” The keyboard lights up in the dark. The screen is bright – even after 1.8 years. It is about noticeably quieter than most laptops Ive put it next to. The windowing environment makes Microsoft Windows look like a bad dream. Everything scrolls smoothly, looks slick, and works well together.
- It IS capable. Lets face it, its Intel Inside. It uses a standard intel chipset with some Apple BIOS. But while the processor is standard Intel, the layout is definitely Apple – all laid out in the cleanest, cleverst, thinnest package. As for the OS, the kernel OS X sports works wonders. I regularly have a dozen browser windows, the XCode development environment, NeoOffice (Open Office variant for OS X), iTunes, Mail, iPhoto, Gimp, and Final CutExpress all open at once – and it all runs smooth as butter. Whatever they are doing to make it seem so smooth, they have me fooled.
- It IS upgradeable. Even in a laptop! I have doubled the ram, and just yesterday, using no “extra” tools, cloned my harddrive onto a new one that is 3x as big – all went flawlessly (even though I voided the warranty by opening the box myself. Hey, Im not gonna let someone else do it if I can do it myself)
- It IS different. Apple does things differently. They follow an 80% rule – they show the features that 80% of users want. Some people, even Mac Users, have complained, e.g., about the lack of resize handles around all sides of an application window. I simply do not care about that. Some people complain about a lack of games on the Mac. In my opinion, computer games are a total waste of time (though I am sooo grateful to all the parents who buy their goober kids the latest video cards and drive down the price on fast graphics hardware for me to develop cool visualization applications)
- For some reason, in Leopard the Activity Monitor sometimes gets weird shapes drawn in it. I am pretty sure this never happened in Tiger. Weird.
- All people in Apple Stores seem like goobers. I avoid working with them at all costs now.