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Petri Wessman's weblog

Considering Apple

I’m thinking of buying a 13” Macbook Pro.

For some, that might be an easy decision, but for me it’s something I’ve needed to ponder on for quite a while. First off, I’m definitely not an Apple fanboy; while I admire their hardware, and hear that their software is at least decent, I have little love for the company. Steve Jobs was an asshole who gets way more credit than he deserves (and Woz much less), and the company’s long-time efforts in restricting what customers can do with their machines pisses me off. Now, to some, their “computer as home appliance” line works, and that’s fine. But let’s just say that I’m not quite in their target market segment.

A “proper” laptop has been on my radar for years now. I’ve happily used Windows netbooks, and have been surprised at how useful they are despite their limitations. Currently our netbook is de facto Janka’s default home machine, and I’m using Janka’s old “leftover” Dell on which I’ve installed Gentoo Linux. It works decently enough, but it’s huge and heavy, no way I want to take it along with me anywhere or even move it around the house. With the kids in our life, I’ve discovered that a laptop is excellent because it allows me to do computer stuff and still be in the living room keeping my eye on the kids. Nowadays, I use my real desktop machine only for games and photo editing, tasks which require a large screen and lots of horsepower. A laptop on which I could also do real work (i.e. light photo editing, programming and such) would be useful, but so far I haven’t gotten one. Part of the reason is pure finances: I don’t want to buy a luxury item like that on credit, and up to now finances have been a bit stretched. Things are somewhat better now.

So, now I can actually get a proper laptop with some decent tech. If I dislike Apple as a company, why am I seriously considering giving them my money? In the end, it comes down to operating system.

Now, with simple tasks like web browsing, reading email and such, OS really doesn’t matter. I’m quite happy with Windows (8) on my desktop, even though Windows is a piece of crap as an OS, since all I need it to do there is help me launch Adobe Lightroom or some game. It does that just fine. Same goes for netbooks, Windows works fine for normal lightweight stuff. But when I start to do “real” work, OS suddenly becomes very important.

I’m an old-school Unix guy, and my preferred environment is still the Unix shell command line. Sure, I use GUIs, but the main workspace is still a terminal window or five. At that point, “under the hood” so to speak, OS starts to matter. A lot. So my choice of laptop is much dictated by which OS I want. The reasonable options are Windows, Linux or OS X.

First off I can write off Windows. As noted, I consider it to be a piece of crap as an OS. Sure, the latest incarnations are very stable, and have decent GUIs.. but it’s still lipstick on a pig. The Windows command line is a joke, and the OS internals are an ugly jungle of old needed-for-compatibility junk. Ugh. No thanks.

So it comes down to Linux or OSX. There things are more difficult. I use Linux at home and at work, and am very comfortable with it. OS X I have only very, very cursory experience with (I set up my mom’s new Macbook Pro some time back), so Linux would be a natural choice… but I think not, in this case. First off, Linux tends to be fiddly, especially on laptops, and while I have no trouble with tweaking stuff on desktops, on a laptop I have less patience for it and want things to Just Work. Also, I’m not happy with the current state of Linux desktops: KDE is an archaic bloated monster, Gnome 3 (which I currently prefer) is being taken in weird and not-very-good directions by Ubuntu, and the other options are still a bit rough, especially for laptop use. As noted, on a laptop I want everything to work flawlessly (especially power-related stuff) and to have the OS make full use of all hardware. While that is possible with Linux, it’s a bit of a crapshoot and I’m not feeling like it right now. Been there, seen that.

To be honest, one big motive is also curiosity. I know as much Windows as I want to know, and know Linux (and many other older Unix variants) quite well. OS X, the third major player in the current OS landscape, is currently mostly unknown to me. I know that it’s originally based on (BSD) Unix, and that lots of people are happy using it for development. Oh, I’m sure it has quirks, some of them possibly nasty, but I think it might be something I can work with. And in any case, I think it would be an useful platform to learn.

So, OS X it is, after quite a bit of pondering. Of course, that narrows down hardware choices drastically, and things come down to a choice between the Air and the Pro. At first I was thinking about the Air, but later switched to Pro, since portability isn’t the primary concern (the thing needs to be portable, but I’m not going to be lugging it around on a daily basis). It also helped that I saw my mom’s Pro, and could verify that yes, the “retina” screen is very nice.

In the end, the 13” form factor seems to make the most sense to me, but the meager base SSD space has been giving me pause; I’d want 256G and a machine with that used to cost around 1750e. Ugh. Now, with yesterday’s Apple announcement, all the Pro prices dropped and the machines got more power along with new-generation hardware, so a 2.4GHz/8G/256G Pro now “only” costs about 1550e. Still a lot of cash, but 200e less than before. So that’s it, as far as I’m concerned, right now I’m still waiting for some real reviews to make sure there aren’t any glitches with the new hardware and OS version, but after that I guess I’m going shopping. Wheee. :)

So that’s how I decided on an Apple laptop, despite not having huge amounts of love for the company. If I actually get the machine, I may post some “Unix guy trying to learn OS X” stuff later. We’ll see.

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