cyberspacial musings
bits about the real and virtual worlds

16 Aug

Bring on the Macs …

I recently acquired a Mac PowerBook G4 for software development and I have to report that I’m really enjoying the system. As a software developer, I’ve been pleased to have a real development environment — one that works like Un*x — real make files, a full set of typical Un*x tools, and forward slashes. It’s also pleasant to be able to buy a computer system where I don’t have to pay separately for the development environment. It’s all free — just download from the Apple website.

Apple supplies an integrated development environment called Project Builder which is an adequate editor and visual debugger. But underneath that is gcc, so most of what you shake out on a Mac should port well to any other Un*x or Linux system.

My biggest disappointment in the system is the display. I decided to get the 15-inch model. The 17-inch was just too ugly and large to seriously consider carrying around and the 12-inch just didn’t have the resolution. The 15-inch display, while very bright and pleasant looking, is only 1280 x 854. So that means that the display on the Mac is less than that of my IBM ThinkPad, whose 14-inch display has a resolution of 1400 x 1050. I’m also not that happy with the keyboard, which feels a little mushy and small compared to the ThinkPad. But that’s understandable — no one makes keyboards as good as IBM does.

Operationally, I’ve toned down some of the cutesy stuff like bouncing icons and the like. I’m having trouble with the touchpad mouse, but that’s just because I’m used to the IBM eraser cap mouse. I guess I also miss the right mouse button. The PowerBook ships with a single button mouse, traditional for Apple, but “control-mouse click” is usually mapped to the right mouse button on other external pointing devices like the Logitech trackball I use when I’m at my desk.

I’ve been using Safari instead of Internet Explorer and the built-in Mail program. Both work well and in some ways Safari is a better browser than IE. However, I have found a couple of web sites where it fails, most notably with a firewall product that I use.

One of my colleagues made a comparison of Apple to Bang and Olafsen which is pretty fair. Apple’s emphasis on cool design sometimes overtakes the real needs of a machine like this. For example, there is enough real estate in this laptop to put more keys on the keyboard. The display could have a higher resolution. There could be a second mouse button. But that’s not typical Apple — they’d rather have perfectly clean lines instead of more functionality.

But overall, I’m pretty happy with this. There’s nothing like opening up a terminal window and getting a real command shell, not that piece of garbage that opens up on Windows. There’s a good chance that this system will become my primary laptop.

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