I am a fan of Leo Laporte and his numerous podcasts, but sometimes he just seems to blow hot and cold on a subject.
This weekend Leo was bashing Snow Leopard basically saying the features should have been released as point releases to Leopard instead of charging $29 for Snow Leopard. Of course previously Leo well aware that this OS was mainly a under the hood upgrade seemed to be excited about it and you have to wonder why he seemed so upset about it on TWIT and his talk show. None of the facts about Snow Leopard changed.
Mainly though his new opposition is not very well thought out. For example Snow Leopard drops PowerPC support and this is certainly the direction Apple needed to move in. Since they went with Intel they have been having to maintain support for two processors which both causes code bloat and is a time drag. With roughly only ten percent of Mac users still using PowerPC based systems it is also a timely thing to do and of course Leopard is still a great OS for those users. It just would not be possible to stop PowerPC support as a point release in Leopard. Besides being a major change it would certainly alienate PowerPC users in Leopard. This is rather a major point for a otherwise knowledgeable tech pundit to make.
There are some other behind the scenes changes that breaks support with programs. While compatibility with programs is pretty good, there is certainly a number of programs that don’t currently work with Snow Leopard. Rolling these changes into a point release in Leopard would have been a major disaster. Right now people can wait to upgrade to Snow Leopard at a point of time they are comfortable doing so and the programs they use fully working. This is certainly not the case with point releases for the most part.
As to Leo saying that Snow Leopard should at least have been free considering that on the surface it does not have a bunch of new features is another point I would disagree on. Snow Leopard has been in development for almost two years and while it has a small number of new features a lot of code has been rewritten from Carbon to Cocoa including the Finder which has been totally rewritten. These changes themselves will increase system response and performance. Some of the major additions such as Grand Central and OpenCL are things that will pay off in the future as software developers take advantage of them. No doubt in the future we will see things like iLife and iWork taking advantage of both of these new features. There are many little touches made in the OS also. As an application developer I think it would be silly for a company to spend this much time improving an OS and then charge nothing for the release. It would be one thing if Apple had charged their normal price for an OS version change, but certainly $29 is not unreasonable and of course Apple really never over-hyped the changes in Snow Leopard in the first place. QuickTime X has been totally revamped and now includes features that you had to buy with a Pro version (no Pro version this time at all.) Additionally Quicktime X supports http streaming over any server which certainly is much more cost effective and does not require a specific protocol. Whether http streaming will take off is another thing, but it is certainly a useful feature.
So I believe Leo to be wrong on both points and calling for this to be just a point release really is not defensible.
I have always been a reluctant laptop user and always more of a desktop kind of guy. Sure laptops can be quite useful for there portability, but they always feel like so much compromise when using them. Over the years I have used multiple laptops associated with work and pretty much always attached external keyboards and mice to them. The interface to use them is what really gets in the way and you kind of defeat the portability purpose when you have to carry external peripherals to go with them. Some time back I had a Dell Duo-Core machine with a good amount of memory and a 17″ screen, but I just hated typing with it and using the trackpad and trackpad button was always a chore. It just never melted into the interface background. My wife’s 17″ inch HP laptop is much the same and the trackpad would drive me to frustration in short time as the cursor would seem to go pretty much willy-nilly. The actually processing of laptops have though quite advanced over the years and there is much less compromise in this area.
Having given my Dell laptop to my daughter a year ago I have been without a laptop and would just resort to using my wife’s when I needed one. But using that HP trackpad has me offering it up in short order. So last week while at the Navy Exchange I decided to look at getting one of the new Mac laptops. I had originally planned on getting a middle-0f-the-line MacBook. I was trying to exercise the virtue of prudence by thinking that all I needed was a MacBook and not a Mac Book Pro. Though I have to admit that just adding Pro to the model name made it more desirable for me. But I was all set to go with the MacBook, the only problem was is that they had it sitting right next to the 15″ MacBook Pro. This is where all of the rationalizing started to kick in. First I noticed that the MacBook Pro and the MacBook I had wanted had less than a $400 price difference. Plus a 15″ screen suits my tastes much better than as 13″ one. So the rationalizations continued as I thought “hey I plan to keep this machine for several years so why not get the one which has Firewire and and Expresscard/34 slot which the Mac Pro does not. Throw in the fact that it has two (count em two) video cards the $400 price difference quickly becomes moot or so I justified. The one nice thing about being able to shop in a Navy Exchange is that the prices are slightly lower than in an Apple Store and it is tax free.
Now onto the review.
The Mac laptop line now uses the aluminum unibody enclosure (except the white MacBook). This gives the laptop a real solid feeling while at the same time being quite thin. The magnetic latch is an improvement over previous MBPs. Since it was carved out of a solid block of aluminum the solid feeling is more than skin deep. The LED-backlit widescreen display is really quite beautiful and the colors quite vibrant. The glossy screen can be disconcerting at first, but I had already grown use to a glossy screen on an iMac and so now don’t even think of it and in fact now prefer it. When it comes to aesthetics it is hard to surpass Apple. The machine looks more like a piece of art with the metal body, black keys, and glowing white Apple log. But the reason to have a computer it to be able to do something with it.
The true test for me was usability when it came o the the keyboard and trackpad. I must admit to being rather shocked at how fast I was able to use the keyboard and to type at normal speed. I have used plenty of laptops with full sized keyboards, but they just never felt right. For me the MPB keyboard is just about perfect, though this is quite a subjective area. What blew me away was the trackpad. Apple has gone to a larger trackpad with no buttons where the whole trackpad is a button that you can click. This is a trackpad that I was able to use immediately with hardly any learning curve at all. Now I realize Steve Jobs mission to remove every possible button to excess and when it came to Apple mice I always considered this a fault. This no button trackpad is simplicity itself, but actually usable. I can scroll by using two fingers anywhere on the trackpad. I can right click by pressing down with two fingers (or clicking in a selected bottom corner). Then there are the variety of other multitouch gestures to zoom, rotate, bring up expose, etc. I love this trackpad so much that I actually want a keyboard with a trackpad for my desktop machine. While if they had such a keyboard I would still use the regular mouse, I would also use the trackpad a lot. I tried out the beta version of Firefox 3.1 which supports multitouch and it really was a great way to browse. I had been a been a reluctant laptop user, but the MPB is really a joy to use. Plus the fact that the keyboard is backlit is quite a plus in many situations.
The hardware inside includes and Intel Core 2 Duo running at 2.4 ghz with a 1066MHz frontside bus. 2GB of DDR3 SDRAM memory which Apple says is expandable to 4, but some have gotten 6GB to work fine (though others with problems). A 250GB hard drive along with a NVIDIA GeForce 9400M and a 9600M GT with 256 MB. The dual video chips are pretty cool since if you are running on battery you can switch to the less capable card to preserve battery life. Though it is quite annoying that to switch video chips you have to go to the preference panel to do so and then log out and back in. This should be made much easier and hopefully software can address this in the future. The MPB is also available with a 2.8 GHZ chip, but I did not see the price tradeoff/benifit as worth it. Other standards include 802.11n draft specification, Bluetooth, and Gigabyte Ethernet, but this is pretty standard for modern laptops. A bottom cover allows you to easily access the battery swap out the hard drive or add memory. This is an improvement over previous generations of the MBP where changing the hard drive took much more disassembling and was not for the casual user.
As with previous Intel Mac laptops the MagSafe power port is use. The power connector uses a magnet and quickly attaches to the side of the laptop. I have already found this to be a great feature since it easily disconnects if you trip over the cord and it won’t bring the laptop down crashing along with the cord. Plus there is just the juvenile fun of connecting it and having the magnets pull it together. One nice bit of design is that the power brick end of the power has a couple of ways of connecting to electrical power. The little white brick itself has 2 prongs that pop out to plug in. You can pop this off of the power brick and connect a longer 3 pronged cord to use instead. I found this invaluable to use in a hotel room to be able to connect up farther away. Nice bit of design for portability and having the ability to add an extension.
One real surprise was the sound quality. On either side of the keyboard are speakers with hundreds of tiny drilled holes for the grill. Best sound I have ever heard come natively out of a laptop. Though as you would expect there is not much bass sound. The new 17″ MBP is probably even better since they have allowed even more space for the speakers.
So the hardware is quite capable and previously PC Magazine had rated the last generation MBP as the fastest Vista machine available. No doubt the latest MBP would also make quite a capable Vista machine, but I wanted a Mac laptop primarily to run OSX in the first place. When my wife and I would go traveling and we would take a Windows laptop I felt like I had lost so much capability. There are so many Mac programs I have grown to love that just don’t have a Windows counterpart or an inadequate one. I am not a MS Windows hater, it is just that I actually enjoy using OSX and the Mac shareware community turns out some really amazing software. I find this laptop to be speedier and more responsive than my iMac which also had a 2.44 GHZ core duo. So I definately do not feel like I have lost power when using this machine. Though I will probably add more memory later just so that I can run VMWare Fusion and Windows 7 or Ubuntu when I need to as a Virtual Machine. The MacBook Pro can easily be a desktop replacement machine.
Since I started using this machine I have been using Spaces a lot more. Spaces is a virtual window program that is part of OSX Leopard and really makes handling multiple windows a snap. I don’t use Spaces on my main machine simply because 3 monitors provide quite enough screen real estate. But for a laptop Spaces is quite excellent. I setup programs to always run in a certain space so I always know what Space a loaded program is in and makes switching between windows quite easily.
Now I come to the part of the review where I come out of Apple fanboy mode into a more critical mode. When it comes to ports Apple seems to be always looking for the next best thing, unfortunately they do it before anybody else heads that way. To hook up an external monitor you need to use the Mini DisplayPort. Yes Apple could not even use the fairly small DisplayPort connector that is slowly being adopted, they had to make it smaller. While Apple has said they will license this smaller port for free to other manufacturers it has quite a long ways to go before it will be supported by monitor manufacturers. To add insult to injury Apple does not include a Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter which you have to buy separately. I guess they want to encourage you to buy a $799 24 ” Apple Cinema Display that supports Mini DisplayPort (along with pretty much acting as a dock ). This annoys me even though I am unlikely to hook up an external monitor to the laptop anyway since I have the Mac Pro desktop. The machine also has only 2 USB ports which is less than most Windows laptops you will find out there. The fact that there is only 1 Firewire 800/400 port doesn’t bother me though and the number of USB ports is not a concern for me either. Right now I can only foresee using USB for a backup hard drive and a thumbdrive anyway. Apple goes quite minimal on ports, but considering just how thin the MPB is it is amazing how much they do manage to get what they have in.
When I had previously gotten an iMac it came with an Apple remote which I came to use quite often. So does the MPB come with one? Why of course not. After forking over the money for a MBP in the first place you have to buy a $19 Apple remote separately. Apple does this sort stuff all the time. The iPod use to come with a dock and a little powerbrick to charge the iPod using a regular socket. With each generation of iPod you got less and less external peripherals which of course are sold separately. Come on Apple what does the Apple remote cost to make – 2 or 3 bucks? Or how about a year of MobileMe with the purchase of a new Mac or at least at a discounted price? How about iWork with a Pro machine. Apple at times wants to nickel and dime you to death after you have already put out some serious cash for a Mac. Though on the bright side OSX with iLife really provides a lot of capability and software that you would have to pay extra for in the Windows world. Not only that you don’t get all the crapware that comes with almost all Windows machines.
So I am quite happy with the Mac Book Pro and find it the first laptop that I can really enjoy and most of all can use constantly without feeling the laptop compromise.
A couple of days after I bought this machine Apple announced at Macworld the new 17″ Macbook Pro. At close to $900 dollars more than I paid for the MPB I bought, I am not feeling any buyers remorse. Plus I think the 15 inch is just the right size for both portability and still having sufficient screen real estate. The 17″ does come with slightly faster CPUs and can handle 8 GB of ram. The new technology battery is suppose to get 7 to 8 hours of battery life (whatever that is in the real world), though it is not user replaceable. I must admit that the 17″ MBP is a pretty serious machine for those who need the size and it is pretty amazing that is is only 6.6 pounds which is only 1.1 pound more than the 15″ model.
There are a number of text expanding utilities available in OSX such as TextExpander that let you define keywords that are automatically expanded after you type them so that repetitive phrases can be rapidly entered. While TextExpander has lots of options it costs $29.95.
I really don’t like to pay that much for a utility and so was happy to come across a utility that does text expansion and is free. Kissphrase is a preference pane and as the name implies it really does “Keep it simple stupid.” No fancy features you just enter your keywords and their matching phrases and when you enter the keyword it automatically expands after you also enter a space, tab, return, etc.
One caveat is that it does not seem to work if the very first thing you enter at the beginning of a line or text box is a keyword. But as long as you have any characters (including a space) preceding the keyword the phrase expands just fine.
This is great for those often used phrases and for snippets of text such as URLs or HTML tags.
Update: I found Kissphrase too buggy. I later went ahead and bought TextExpander when it was on sale along with 1Password. I have found TextExpander to work perfectly and to be quite the timesaver. Once I setup the shortcuts to use I found that I used them often. Especially great for working with html code and TextExpander includes a bunch of default shortcurts for html code. The annoying thing is that when I go to work with a Windows machine I so miss having TextExpander available.
There are so many things that I have learned to love about OSX and have had a very pleasurable experience doing so. Though one thing drives me crazy. While OSX has native support of Multiple Monitors and has some features that Windows doesn’t have in this regard – there are some abilities that are totally lacking.
One thing is that many dialog boxes don’t come up in the screen you are working on. They normally come up in the monitor designated as your primary screen. I have found that I will click on something and wait for a dialog box, not realizing that it has come up in the other screen. In Windows almost always dialog boxes will come up in the same screen as the application you are current using. There is no way that I know of to change this behavior. I did end up moving my menu bar and dock over to my main monitor to rectify part of this, but it is still annoying.
The other problem is that the menu bar when used with multiple monitors is a pain. If you are using an application on a monitor without the menu bar, you have to mouse over to the other monitor to use it. This is totally inconvenient, especially if you are doing a lot of menu bar interactions. Luckily in this case their is a program called DejaMenu that allows you to have a popup attached to a keyboard shortcut appear. This popup contains all of the menu items displayed as a contextual menu. This program is useful even if you don’t have multiple monitors.
I would have thought that OSX having such a large community of artists and others that take advantage of multiple monitors would have come up with some simple fixes for these problems. In my research I came across many others who were griping about the same thing.
It seems to me that it would be nice even if they simply allowed you to mirror your menu bar and dock for each monitor. Even better would be docks you could customize for each monitor. That plus fixing where dialog boxes appear would make everything much better.
Multiple monitors is not something just for geeks either. Where I work they have long gone to multiple monitors for pretty much every employee. There have been some studies showing just how much more productive people are when using them and my own experience would agree.
When I installed Leopard I did a clean install. After install I noticed that I no longer had some apps such as Garage Band, iPhoto, etc. Looking on the web I found that they are part of iLife. I knew that the iWork apps installed on my iMac were just a trail version and I made the mistake of assuming that the iLife apps were the same.
Recently on some blog post I noticed that it referred to iPhoto as being free and then it finally dawned on me was that I just needed to reinstall these apps from my Tiger install disks that came with the machine by simply selecting the Bundled Apps to install.
Well I guess I would have felt more stupid if I had ordered iLife.
The above is Fr. Roderick comparing a clean install of Leopard to going to confession. Appropriate since I also went for a clean install. Even though my iMac was only three weeks old and one of the other install methods would probably have been just fine – I always prefer a fresh install and then adding backed up data. Maybe it is lessons learned from Windows that make me prefer this, though some did get an Apple blue screen of death using the other methods.
This was certainly an easy install that went rather quickly. One of the easier installs that I have done and I have done hundreds of installs over the years at home and at work. Windows Vista install process is much improved with limited reboots, but Leopards was even simpler. The only thing disconcerting for me was when the screen would just go blank during the install which was only a power saving mode – this freaked me out at first since during a windows install this would be a bad sign. After installing I then backed up my OSX Leopard setup disk. I had never backed up anything to a dual layer DVD disk before and was quite pleased it took on the first take considering that this media is much pricier.
After a day of playing with it I am quite pleased. With Windows you come to expect more features at the cost of decreased performance and the need to update your hardware. With Leopard everything is noticeably faster (especially Spotlight) and response time is really snappy.
It is the visual interface of Leopard that has drawn the most criticism from users. A lot of this is of course quite subjective and what will please one person will annoy another. I don’t mind the new 3D looking dock with its reflection and glowing blue dot to indicate a program is loaded. Maybe this is because I am a new user and not as staid in my ways when it comes to OSX. For me it doesn’t get in the way.
The new stacks feature is interesting, but I think it is poorly implemented. I don’t keep large amounts of files in a single folder and keep my data and programs categorized in subfolders so the fan option works for me just fine. What I find annoying is that the icon used on the dock is the icon of the first item found and there is no easy way to set this folder icon to one of your choosing. I think it would have made more sense to put the “Show in Finder” button as the first option instead of the last. You can set the default view, but you have to wonder why they didn’t allow the use of the previous behavior as an option.
The translucent menu bar is another item that has gotten much criticism. I don’t think it is as bad as some critics have described is as a menu smear, but it would have made so much sense for the user to be able to set how translucent it is or to make it totally opaque. I tried one of the software solutions to make it opaque, but it didn’t work for me. I ended up adding a 22pixel white strip to the top of the background graphic I used. This fixes the strip, but the pull down menus still have the same problem.
One last criticism of interface changes. The new folder icons look like they had to budget color. The blue color of the folders themselves is just fine, but it is more difficult to discern what the folder represents from the faded blue icon in their center. It is like the folder icon went through too many washing cycles and has come to look like somebodies favorite pair of faded blue jeans.
You have to wonder how much input people had during the beta process? This couldn’t have exactly blindsided them considering how some of this has been panned by prominent reviewers. At least they could have easily included options to modify these behaviors or to be able to choose a different icon set.
Spaces is a very nice implementation of virtual windows. I have used virtual windows over the years and never found a implementation that I would keep using. This being built into the OS makes it very functional and I am quite impressed by the speed of it’s operation. I am not sure if I will use it on a consistent basis considering that I use multiple monitors, but I think that I am more likely to since it also works quite well with multiple monitors. You can access spaces via the dock, keyboard shortcuts, and the menubar. Spaces could though use some more enhancements, such as the ability to customize each space by having its own dock and its own background graphic.
One of the new abilities I like most is how it works so much better on a network. I often go back and forth between my Windows folders and my OSX ones and Tiger was not the speediest in doing so. Shared folders are so much easier to get to and especially to browse to. Before clicking on an icon would send you into spinning rainbow limbo for quite a while just to get to the next level within a workgroup. Now it works just like you are accessing a local drive.
I find that I like the Coverflow option in finder much better than I expected to. I don’t use it in iTunes because for me with a large CD collection it is not a very efficient way to find an album. But for browsing files it is really quite useful and fast in showing you a good idea of what a specific file contains. The same goes for quick look which also lets you browse, play, and read through a file without every having to open up a parent application to do so. Even better though coverflow is one of four file view options so you can just choose the view you want depending on your needs. OSX could do a little more with this philosophy especially for visual interface elements.
What will be interesting to see is the third party apps that will be developed using all of the new underlying capabilities of Leopard. There was a lot more done under the hood then meets the eye and obviously a lot of optimization was done on existing code to make it more efficient. This is a great time for PC users to start using Macs. Now I am not a Vista hater and like many of the new capabilities of Vista over XP, but it certainly doesn’t have as coherent an experience as Leopard does. Many things in Vista seemed glued on instead of fitting in with the whole. Though I would love to see OSX to get the flexibility of Vista’s file and folder dialog boxes that contain the full capability of the Finder window.
I haven’t played with Time Machine yet though it is quite interesting that Apple can design a backup feature that you are actually eager to try. Though it does make you wonder if there will be any system paradoxes if you delete your grandfathers file.
Time will tell just how bug free Leopard is and of course there have already been a patch. But my limited experience has been very good.
I am still waiting for my copy of Leopard that I had pre-ordered to arrive. It shipped on the day Leopard came out and was slated to be here by Oct 30. When it comes to Trick or Treat today – I got no treat.
What is really annoying is that they gave me a tracking number for USPS that is not a real tracking number. They shipped Standard-Residential so I assume this was a tracking free method in the first place. But Standard-Residential is not a USPS category, so I have no idea what that is suppose to mean other than just plain ground shipping. Apple’s help says this can be three to seven business days after they ship and I am starting to wonder if they used Pony Express.
Oh well. After reading scores of articles and listening to countless Mac podcasts on Leopard it really tests your patience to have something your pre-ordered take so long – though many who pre-ordered it received it on the same day it came out.
One of the reasons I recently bought an iMac earlier this month was that I had read that Leopard would be released on Oct 26th and would be eligible for a free upgrade to it. If you bought a Mac after Oct 1st of this year you could request a copy a Leopard and only pay the shipping fee. So I did this from the online Apple store last week.
I find it annoying thought that Apple waited till today to ship it and thus I will have to wait till probably Wednesday to get it. I can’t see a good reason why they had to actually wait for today for those who ordered by preorder to ship it. Shipping it earlier this week would have been much more sensible, though I would guess that they wanted to make sure that no one received it before the official date. Though considering the post office this seemed not very likely in most cases. It would have been nice to have Leopard up and running for the weekend so that I would have had plenty of time to explore it more fully.