The long and short of using a MacBook Pro

I was recently approached by a good colleague who was seriously entertaining buying his first MacBook Pro. He wanted the “inside scoop” on whether it worked well and was going to be worth the potential issues in dealing with gaps he might encounter with fellow developers that used Windows or Linux.

Short answer: YES!

Long answer: I’m glad you asked. My answer was lengthy, because I wanted to capture the essence of value I have felt in the past 2 1/2 years as well as the challenges I have encountered. Enjoy!

I have a 13-inch macbook pro, with a 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM and OSX 10.6.8. It’s great. Indeed, it’s not a money waster. Some things I don’t mind paying cheap money for, like clothes, basic groceries, and other stuff. Computers I use everyday is NOT one of them. Some of the software listed below is commercial, but worth it, and not outrageously priced.

Key software I use:

  • LibreOffice
  • Chrome, and Firefox when a page doesn’t work in Chrome
  • Skype
  • VMware Fusion with Windows and Linux VMs, for when I can’t find a suitable mac alternate
  • Audacity for podcast mixing
  • Audio Hijack Pro for podcast recording
  • Dropbox
  • Crashplan
  • iWork & iLife, provides handy dvd/video/movie/etc. tools
  • TextMate & gedit as prospective text editors
  • STS
  • Apple distribution of Java 6 (works fine for me)
  • Jing for capturing screenshots
  • KisMAC to analyze surrounding wireless networks for channel data, so I could set my router to a different channel
  • OmniDiskSweeper to scan for data when my harddrive gets full
  • NeatWorks, for managing scanned receipts and documents at work and my personal business

For other open source tools, I use “homebrew” (http://mxcl.github.com/homebrew/), which provides me mysql and postgresql, along with most other GNU/open source command line tools I need.
Conveniences:

  • I have learned some handy shortcuts, like Cmd-Spacebar opens Spotlight, allowing me to find apps by entering their name, kind of like the HUD Ubuntu has now. Cmd-Tab lets me jump between apps. Cmd-Shift-{ and Cmd-Shift-} lets me rotate between tabs in my browser or in the Terminal app. That alone makes my efficiency excellent.
  • The macbook pro has superior power management. When it drains too low, it doesn’t shutdown. It automatically hibernates. Power it back up, and in a couple minutes, you are back to the screen lock with your apps in the same place you left them, not booting like in Windows. I close it all the time, and resume later on, like after lunch. I use Network Connect for VPN access, and it even handles short, 1-hour breaks like that without a hitch.
  • I have gotten the hang of one finger left clicking, two finger right clicking. Three and four fingers does something else, but I can never remember. Two finger swiping scrolls whatever widget you are hovering over, which I really like. Almost iPhone-like in convenience.

Some issues: 

  • Need an older java like Java 5? Well, you’ll have a real issue with that. It’s easier to spin up a virtual linux machine and install Java 5 than find one for the mac. If it not making this clear, it’s flat out impossible to install Java 5 on the mac.
  • I haven’t gotten into Java 7 yet, because frankly, I still marginally work on a project that partially has to support Java 5. If people are reporting issues with Java 7 on the Mac, I’m not aware of them.
  • It will take some time to rewire your fingers to use the Cmd key instead of the Ctrl key. If you install some GUI app built from open source, like gedit, you can’t expect hot keys to work exactly as they did in Windows. They might, but who knows?
  • I was nervous switching to the mac, and being on the hook to close any gaps between myself and others that use Windows. But it really wasn’t that hard. It turned out that the advantages I picked up were great. By using platform neutral stuff like LibreOffice, and the rest of technology being heavily browser-based, it turns out things are easier than ever to use your platform of choice compared to 20 years ago. But…there is an MS Office for Mac if you really want it. I don’t have it, thought others have recommended it. 
  • I don’t do slide shows often, but when I do, I prefer to use prezi.com. It’s really more fun than boring slides. Kind of destroys the whole Powerpoint/Keynote debate by picking a superior form of presentation.
  • I have Snow Leopard installed. I’m not really interested in upgrading to Lion or Mountain Lion, because I’ve heard about issues. I could probably adapt. But you will probably have no choice if it’s a new machine. I’m sure you can handle the UI tweaks they made.

Desires:

  • My current laptop is over 2 years old. It is dual cored, 64-bit. I could really use a quad core for the amount of work I do, especially when it comes to running virtual machines. Allocated a couple CPU cores to a second VM without crippling the host system would be quite handy. And more RAM!!! But that’s kind of a given, right?
Well, that about sums things up.

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