Quarter Life Crisis

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MacBook

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It took longer than expected – but after a deal that made my flatmate stay home while I was at uni and me going shopping for him the MacBook arrived safely at our place. I will spare you the photos of how small its box is and that half of it is empty, containing only the really sleek box with the MacBook. Less packaging is good for the environment and takes less space when you’re moving or stuff is being shipped. Although I suspect, Apple just use it for style.

After getting the Book out of its box, I was amazed by its thinness. Much thinner than the iBook, lovely! Holding it felt pretty much like my old Titanium Powerbook – a round plastic reincarnation, if you wish. Of course I quickly flipped it open – I really loved Apple’s old magnetic latches, but the new, equally magnetic, no-latch approach is as cool if not cooler. And then I glanced at the sparkling screen. Quickly the magnetic power connector was attached as was the external FireWire drive, as I wanted to use the migration assistant. After ‘migrating’, I gave the machine the memory it deserves and then went on playing around a bit a finishing off the migration. But let me take you through this step-by-step… possibly repeating what others said before me and shoving in an iBook comparison or three.

Magnetic Power Connector

There’s one good thing about the new power connector. And that is the fact that it’s plugged into the MacBook on the same side as all the other connectors are. I really like that as with the iBook it used to be a hassle to have wires all around the machine. Now everything is on one side. In addition, thanks to the magnets, the connector is really easy to plug in as it practically guides itself to the right position.

As for the magnetic power connector itself, I don’t like it. Not only does its new plug mean I cannot continue using my ancient oftentimes broken and as many times repaired Yoyo power adaptor which I used to have in my office. I also doubt it actually does its job. Pulling the wire firmly will move the heavy computer without the plug going out of the socket. So what’s the point? I never tripped over my power cable anyway.

Screen

The big issue about the MacBook is its screen. It’s a sparklingly shiny one. And I was very sceptical about that. But apart from the absolute zealots, people seemed to say that the screen’s shinyness is at a reasonable level and I reckoned that even if there are problems because of the shinyness, the extra brightness people said it has in comparison to the iBook’s would just outdo the negative effects of the shinyness. My bottom line being that it’s not a big deal when I find myself unable to use the screen in direct sunlight because of its shinyness if the only difference to the iBook is the reason for me not being able to use it, not the fact that I can’t use it in direct sunlight.

My first day impressions are that yes, there is noticeable reflection from the screen but it’s not a problem when sitting in front of the machine indoors. Seeing the screen at a large angle is a completely different story. It reflects like hell. I don’t mind too much about this. In fact, I imagine quite liking that as I frequently felt uncomfortable when typing e-mails on a train, knowing that the person sitting next to me could just see what I’m typing. I imagine that will be harder to do with the shiny screen.

I’ll keep an eye on the screen’s effects to see how usable it is in different lighting conditions – other rooms, a train, even outdoors. What I’m not entirely happy with is the way the colour changes with the viewing angle. Changing the screen’s inclination by just 10 to 20 degrees will get me from a state where the headings in the boxes in my sidebars are legible as they should be to a state where the contrast between full white and 88% white just vanishes and you can’t read a thing. As you can’t recline the Book’s lid very far, this means that you may end up having a hard time trying to read things on screen while standing, for example.

But otherwise the screen looks good. The colours are crisp and rich. My flatmates loved it, I thought they were a bit too rich perhaps. In a dark room I even want to dim it to half its brightness to avoid being blinded. Something I never did on my PowerBook or iBook before.

Migrating

I first wanted to check whether the machine is running at all. So I started it and the familiar start sound came up. And after a quick view of the Apple logo screen there came the setup assistant. My first aim was to get my data onto the new computer. To simplify that I had cloned my old system to my external drive and attached that to the MacBook via FireWire. No problems with that of course, although I somehow wasn’t sure whether the Migration Assistant would consider this external drive to be like a computer in target mode or not. As you have to manually make a selection for that, there was a short confusion, but after a few clicks and some lengthy wait related to the assistant trying to measure the weight of the folders to be transferred, things looked good.

Well, they looked lengthy to be honest. Two hours for copying my files. Yikes! Luckily programmers are crap at writing code that estimates the length of such an action and everything was done within fifteen to twenty minutes. Most essentially all the extra accounts for friends and such things had been created.

And then the bad thing happened: I was asked for my network details and the computer figured out that I want to use wireless networking. Not bad. I just had to enter the password so I could join our network. Which confused me as I thought the Migration Assistant would handle all that for me. But I entered the password and – bang! – the computer said it didn’t work. So I tried again, and again, and again, and again (very carefully!) and – bang! bang! bang! bang! – it never worked. Thus I started clicking around a bit, going back a step in the Assistant and going forward again until I gave up.

I gave up because I started remembering that I had a similar problem when getting the iBook. But back then the Migration Assistant completely threw up on me, so I wasn’t too worry about that little network details. Indeed, I think I even figured out what the problem is. The geniuses of WEP encryption came up with a way to give us three different ways to enter a password. There seem to be two clear text versions and it’s always unclear to me which one I have to use and why (of course it’s always the one that isn’t Apple’s default selection but the bottom one in the menu). And for some reason MacOS X doesn’t just try out which of the three methods is the appropriate one but you have to select it manually when connecting to an Airport network. There’s a popup menu for that in the normal user interface. But that menu just doesn’t exist in the Setup Assistant. Which sucks.

After giving up I just wanted to skip over the network step of the setup. But that wasn’t possible. Even worse: The button that I had before which took me back to the first step of the network setup (where I could just select ‘no network’) had vanished at this stage. So all I had on screen were buttons that gave error messages. Crap!

Network Setup Assistant Failing

Of course I remembered the invisible Command-Q trick which gets you out of the registration step of the setup. So I tried it here as well, hoping I could equally skip over the network step of the setup. The trick worked. But unfortunately the only options I got were to cancel or to shut down the computer. I went for shutting down which landed me in the Setup Assistant once more… this time offering the Migration Assistant once more and leaving it entirely unclear whether or not the migration I had done ten minutes before had been completed successfully or whether I needed to go into that time consuming process again.

I skipped over this as I was fed up already, I went for ‘no network’ and then the damn ‘assistant’ forced me to set up a user, because whoa! I need a user to log into the machine. When entering my preferred account details I learned that I couldn’t have that account as it’s already present on the system. Aha, so some migration must have worked, but why force me to set up a new user which I’ll have to delete a few minutes later then?

In total the whole setup and migration experience was crappy. Again. I don’t think that a good out-of-the-box-experience should be something that’s only available to new users or trivial situations. And if the ‘Assistants’ can only handle those cases gracefully, I want an obvious way to bail out of that crap right at the beginning.

Hooray for a bad start… but after the restart, all my old accounts were in place with all their respective data. So things worked mostly and just some small failures turned what could have easily been a great experience into a crappy one.

Memory

As is tradition with Apple, the MacBook comes with 512MB of RAM only. An amount deserving a description of abysmal or pitiful. And with Apple’s add-on RAM prices being at their usual fantasy levels (and ordering the computer ‘built-to-order’ apparently being a really bad idea if you value your right of returning the thing in case you don’t like it), I had ordered 2GB of RAM separately. Those went into the machine next. Replacing RAM has never been too much of a problem in the Macs I owned and the MacBook kept up with that. Indeed, I thought that while you need a small screwdriver to remove the metal cover in front of the RAM chips, it’s quite nice in the MacBook.

Not only is that metal sheet made in a way that the screws just stick inside it and won’t fall out once you’ve unscrewed them, there are also little levers to remove the pre-installed RAM chips. That is as easily done as the new chips are inserted. And – as things go with RAM chips – removing or inserting them takes just a little more force than you’re comfortable with. But you better apply it as otherwise you’ll have a rather shocking silence when the machine tries to start up with improperly inserted chips (we once had that with my dad’s Pismo Powerbook… it just looked dead, and a little extra pressure on the chips got it back to life again).

Screw holding the metal bit in front of the RAM

And my additional chips seem to work just fine – now I just have to figure out what to do with the original ones. Why can’t Apple sell the machine without any RAM at a discount?

Airport

I already started seeing this while I was stuck in the Network Assistant. As man and dog say, the MacBook’s Airport reception is much better than the iBooks. Apart from our own network, I could suddenly see two to four other networks. Not bad.

For some reason this rather new computer was immediately due for more than 300MB of updates as all the iApps and iWork demo applications needed some. Odd. Particularly for the iWork stuff which are just demos – demos taking 2GB of my disk space! While the updates were downloading I had the impression that not just the Airport range seemed to be wider, the download speed seemed to be higher or more consistently high than it used to be on the iBook as well. Not a bad thing of course.

More Migration

Next I was in for the rather dull process of migrating more things and spotting the obvious problems of the Intel versus PowerPC situation. My Input Managers needed a good look as needed the APE modules. And so did some old iTunes plugins as well as some other applications. I used the opportunity to just leave the applications behind the features of which I couldn’t even remember. Lets see how long it takes for that to hit me hard.

A number of upgrades had to be made, of course a new TeX installation was due as that isn’t migrated by the Assistant anyway. In total I was quite surprised by the large number of Intel native applications and tools that are available already. Heck, even Wacom managed to get their tablet driver ready by now. Unfortunately, the wonderful Battery Hen Dashboard widget doesn’t seem to work.

More…

coming tomorrow

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

June 13, 2006, 1:26

Tagged as hardware, Mac OS X.

Comments

Comment by d.w.: User icon

Whee, congratulations on the new baby.

I stood in a shop today and tried to talk myself into buying one of these. My employer provides me with a horrible Dell, but it would be nice to have a laptop I could actually be unembarassed to use in public.

in the end, I held off, seeing as we’ll be spending too much money on a vacation coming up soon, so I need to wait. :)

June 13, 2006, 4:46

Comment by Andrew Chambers: User icon

Hi.

With regards to the Battery Hen widget not working - I just read your site and wanted to get this widget :). Anyway I edited the widget slightly to get it to work on a Macbook or Macbook Pro.

I have outlined the modifications you need to make here:

http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=587887&tstart=0

Enjoy your battery hen! And don’t select the “caged” option - buy free range!

August 5, 2006, 14:14

Comment by ssp: User icon

Yeah, the widget just seems to have a problem recognising that it works.

I had just replaced the ‘I don’t work’ graphic by a transparent one, but the solution you give seems to be the better one. Thanks!

August 6, 2006, 19:16

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