Saturday Jan 12, 2008

A new laptop for 2008

    I was pleasantly surprised by what I'm calling a Christmas present from work, when I came back from winter break. Sun always has the week between Christmas and New Years as paid time off called Winter Break, and since it doesn't come out of my vacation time, I find it rather handy. And this year, 3 days into the new year, I got a call from the mailroom saying I had a laptop come in. Cool. I was expecting one, as my Toshiba Tecra M2 was getting a bit long in the tooth, was older than the 3 year depreciation schedule, and was having a few problems. Mid December, my new boss let me know that our group had determined how they were going to handle laptop updates, and that I could choose between a Tecra M9 or a MacBook Pro.

    Easy decision for me, since I had been lusting after a MacBook Pro for most of the year, as there had been a rumor in the spring about a large lease plan of MacBooks for the group I was in then, and when that didn't pan out, there was talk of a buy-what-you-want-and-we'll-reimburse-you-some-of-the-cost program in the works, which kept me dreaming of going out and buying a MacBook. The BWYWAWRYSOTC plan did come to fruition before I changed roles, but I felt it put too much risk on the employee for my taste, even with the lure of choice in hardware and ownership of it. Having let my boss know I wanted the MacBook Pro, I tried to let it slip from my mind, as I expected it to take a while to actually get processed and materialize.

    When it arrived last week, I was a bit surprised by the timing, and chomping at the bit to play with my new toy. I've seen them in other people's hands, and checked them out at the Apple store in NYC, even got teased by one over Christmas that my father-in-law bought and asked me to help get the speech recognition working better. My recommendation for him, after sounding silly repeatedly asking the computer what time it was, is to get an external mic, as the internal one is on the left under the speaker grill, and in his setup, using a beautiful, big Apple Cinema screen, the internal mic is just in probably the worst position.

    After the obligatory 1st time configuration sequence, I was up and running quickly, and really didn't need much to be productive. Of course, I started to tailor it to my preferences, downloading apps, etc., but that's mostly because I'm a stubborn old yankee who doesn't change his ways easily. :-) I'm sure this will be the first of several blogs on my new MacBook, so I'll try to keep this from being too long a post. Some things that are different are well done and make you think they should be more broadly adopted, but do still take getting used to. For instance, I'm used to scroll bars in Windows and Linux having little arrows for adjusting the scroll bar, and the up arrow is at the top end of the scroll bar frame and the down arrow is at the bottom. Under Mac OS X, both button are at the button, making it much more efficient to adjust, as you don't have to keep moving from end to end. Of course I still start to go to the top to adjust a scroll bar up before I remember it is right next to the down button I was just using. Old dogs, eh.

    I'm still exploring, so I'm sure there is functionality I haven't fully discovered yet. I'm really liking the widget capability. This allows you to pop up over the screen an overlay of handy little apps for doing a wide variety of things, like a calculator, clock, weather, network status, reading book, sticky notes, periodic table, dictionary, games, etc. It pops up quickly, for handy access, and I've always liked this kind of functionality in every gadget I use. Ask me how many hacks and DAs I have on my Palm T3 sometime. :-)

    There is plenty of commentary on how easy it is to use OS X, and how things just work, but until you actually use it you don't fully realize how nice and relaxing that is. I'm a geek, and I'm used to having to push and prod things to work, and more pushing and prodding to get them to work well. My experience so far with OS X has been a breath of fresh air, with out the extra effort to get everything to 'just get along'. I had been unsure about the Dashboard, from my limited encounters with OS X previously, and while I'm not convinced yet that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread, it works well, is easy to understand, and doesn't get in the way.

    I've got all my connectivity set up, with IM, Twitter, IRC keeping me in touch with folks. It was pretty durned easy to get my RAZR V3xx working via bluetooth. It synced with the address book with no trouble at all, and once I dug up the dial up details, getting a bluetooth connection for Internet connectivity was sweet. I don't even have to take my RAZR out of it's belt case to connect to the net and surf. I can even browse the files on my RAZR via Bluetooth, pulling down pics or adding MP3s. I've got Bluetooth working with my Palm T3 as well, sending files over to the T3 easily, although I don't have sending files from the T3 to the MacBook working yet, but what I have working was easier and more than I had working with Windows. I've discovered that holding down the ctrl key when using the single mouse button on the MacBook gives me right-click functionality. And I accidently discovered that ctrl-applekey-powerbutton forces the MacBook to reboot. Oooops. Turns out there is an odd looking character used in the menu hot key sequences, and I wasn't sure what key it represented, so rather than RTFM, I went exploring. Serves me right.

    OK, this is getting long, so I'll wrap by saying I love my MacBook Pro. It is a beautiful machine, incredibly engineered, and extremely easy to use right from the start. I didn't really have any concerns with my old Tecra M2, but after using this MacBook for a few days, when I went back to the M2 to offload files, it suddenly seemed antiquated, like it was from a long ago SteamPunk era. It'll still make a workable backup and OK demo machine for those times when more than 1 machine is required. Next for my MacBook Pro is comparing Parallels and VMware Fusion for Windows and Solaris on my MacBook. But that will be another post.

A place where Perley Mears sounds off on topics relevant to his work at Oracle.


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