Unpaid Advertising: My MacBook

Great Hardware

I have nothing but praise to lavish on my MacBook for its construction. Made of a solid piece of aluminum, it is the sturdiest object I own. The size of the MacBook is “just right”. It fits well on my lap for couch computing and is large enough to accommodate a useable screen and an adult sized keyboard. The picture above is a self-portrait not so lovingly manipulated with some free open source image editors. Don’t let this picture fool you, the unibody aluminum MacBook is 100% gorgeousness. 

The Macbook just plain feels good. The cooling fan is silent during normal use and very quiet during heavy use. Heat over all is quite low. This is no lap-burner that will give you sweaty palms. 

Macs of late have been criticized for using glossy displays. Back in 2002, I bought a LCD monitor for the sole reason of reducing eye strain due to the brightness and glare of CRTs. The MacBook has a glossy LCD screen, but it is no mirrored hunk of glass. On sunny days I have to keep the screen shaded, but I have not noticed any problems in any other light. Perhaps the LED backlighting is bright enough to overpower reflections. The screen’s resolutions is also just right: enough pixels for 720p HD movies but a low enough resolution to avoid squinting at on-screen text. 

The Nvidia 9400M integrated graphics really pep-up the display. For an integrated chip, the 9400M is more powerful than many discrete cards. Its a real game changer and the reason I bought this MacBook over Apple’s weaker offerings. 

Typing is a pleasure: quiet, smooth, with keys that are well laid out and easy to find by touch. The keyboard sits back from the largest trackpad I have ever seen. My MacBook does not include a backlit keyboard, which is available on the more expensive model. This is a feature that I do not miss, thanks to contrast between the keys and the aluminum shell.

I was never a fan of laptop trackpads because I could never move the cursor from one end of the screen to the other. I also had trouble hitting the buttons. The multi-touch trackpad is a quantum leap in trackpads, and perhaps the most innovating input device since the invention of the mouse over 40 years ago. Tapping twice for “right clicking” and running my fingers around to scroll is so much easier than mousing around that I have packed away my spare mouse possibly forever. 

Great Software

Little did I know that experimenting with Linux was good practice for using the Mac OS. Coincidence? I think not. Both Linux and Mac OS are derived from Unix based systems of old. The user interface for many linux systems also borrow from Mac OS. Frankly, with no disrespect to the hardworking and ingenious Linux community, Mac OS is better. Applications install to the Applications folder and are therefore easier to keep track of. Connecting to other computers and network drives is ten time easier. Mac OS also has smarter user management which for you Linux geeks means no more typing "Sudo" a thousand times just to edit xorg.config and makes a mockery of the thousand times I had to type "sudo" in a Linux terminal. There is no point in comparisons to Microsoft Windows except to point out that after using Linux and Mac OS, Windows just seems wrong.

Most of the great open source software I used with Linux is also on the Mac: OpenOffice.org, Gimp, and Firefox. I was surprised, though, at how much I liked most of the software included with the mac. iWeb is a fantastically web publishing tool that perfectly compromises ease-of-use with features. iPhoto is easier to use than I originally believed. Preview is also more capable than I would have given it credit for (but it still doesn’t replace Irfanview). TimeMachine is just magical in its ease of use. The biggest surprise I found was Safari. With a few free extensions (from pimpmysafari.com) Safari had all the tab saving ad-blocking power of Firefox. I can’t quite put my multi touch finger on it, but Safari just seems better on a Mac than Firefox. 

But the New Macbook Is so Expensive! Or is it?

All-in-all, is the unibody MacBook worth it? Yes. Financially, the MacBook is a good deal. "Wait . . . what?" you say. Just look at this handy table comparing the costs of the MacBook versus Apple's cheapest computer, the Mac Mini. I supplemented the Mac Mini with products from the Apple store necessary to bring the Mac Mini to the feature level of the MacBook.

Looking at this table, the new MacBook is a better deal from Apple than the Mac Mini. The advantages of portability don’t lend themselves to a chart, but ponder this: I created this web page on my couch. Can a desktop do that? 

Consider also the resale value an Apple computer versus its Window's lovin' competitors. A late 2004 Apple iBook G4 originally cost around $1500. Now it might sell for $500 on ebay. The most sought after PC in my experience is the IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad. A Thinkpad t42 that cost $2050 in early 2005 might sell for $300 on ebay. An iBook owner would have $200. Some Macs fetch even better resale values.

And Now the Bad

Some of the software that comes with new Macs are not all they are cracked up to be. iWeb fills a hole in my heart, but programs like iTunes and Safari are free to anyone. iPhoto has lost some luster with Google's release of Picasa for the Mac. Some software, like Garageband, looks cool and would be great if I only I could play a musical instrument. Other software, like iMovie ’08 stink big time. 

Using iMovie ’08 for the first time is like finding a dent in your brand new car

To be blunt, iMovie '08 is a broken program that can no more edit my home movies than change my underwear. My first movie project was editing my wife’s home movies on DVD. iMovie '08, however, won’t even try to import movies from DVDs. I encoded the DVD as a .mp4 files with a handy free application called Handbrake. iMovie '08 would import the .mp4 file but that took about 12 hours. The whole time a bar imperceptibly indicated progress toward making thumbnail pictures for the video. I gave up and hit the (X) button. The video survived, but without thumbnails. Then iMovie '08 crashed. I started up again and selected a portion of the video to crop. iMovie '08 first ran excruciatingly slow before crashing again.  I could have sworn I was computing back in 1992. Then iMovie '08 crashed again.

In disbelief, I searched the internet for a solution. To my surprise, iMovie '08 was derided by many. In fact, the reaction was so poor that Apple now allows owners of iMovie '08 download iMovie '06 for free. In my opinion, Apple should have saved me the download and pre-installed iMovie '06 on my MacBook. Despite being two years older than iMovie ’08, the download actually edits video. Another great free program is Mpeg Streamclip. It can make quick cuts from a movie before iMovie will even load. In my opinion, iMovie '08 can go suck an egg. 

Prospective Mac purchasers, you can look forward to using iMovie '09. Apple announced this upgrade less than a month after I received my MacBook. Apparently this product is like an iMovie '08 that works. Am I hurt and angry that Apple sold me a broken version of iMovie when they planned on coming out with a better version less than a month later. You betcha’. But I am more disturbed that Apple released iMovie '08 in the first place. 

Mobile Me makes me think Apple's engineers had to have the internet explained to them.

Mobile Me works somehow, that's the best I can say about it. The service can sync passwords, bookmarks, calendars, mail, contacts, and files saved on network storage named iDisk. Signing up was easy. Syncing was easy too. MobileMe even imported my contacts from gmail. Mounting the iDisk was easy at home but transferring files is very very slow, like dial-up speeds. Maybe Apple's servers only came with 56K modems. Sometimes Mobile Me does not work so well. The iDisk does not always mount on my work computer and other users complain of outages.

The mobile part of MobileMe is the most lacking. MobileMe has the most barebones website since the original Google search website. It looks slick with smooth shiny buttons, but that’s all it is, buttons. Compare that to the user defined splash pages pages such as iGoogle or Yahoo. Even Microsoft has customizable home pages (that seem like neanderthals in a crowd of homo sapiens). I feel great after syncing my bookmark changes, but then I log onto iGoogle and instantly see my gmail, calendar, RSS feeds, weather, and sticky notes. No syncing is necessary with iGoogle and unlike MobileMe, iGoogle never gives me a bogus error for using the wrong web browser. The real kicker: I can do everything on Mobile Me for free somewhere else. Yet Mobile me does what it advertises, is a one-stop-shop for my syncing needs, and I feel safer having my data backed up on the servers of a solvent company.

In Summary

As a hardware company, I give Apple 5 out of 5 stars. The Mac OS is in my opinion the best on the market. Most of Apple’s software is valuable and makes the MacBook a MacBook. When I combine the failure of iMovie '08 with the buggy and lackluster Mobile Me offering, I must wonder whether Apple is really ready to deliver in this new age of high definition/internet delivered content. Troubling thoughts for a new Mac owner.

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