Tag Archives: Hardware

5 Months-ish with the MacBook Pro

It’s been just about 5 months now that I’ve been  using the MacBook Pro as my work computer.  It’s not my primary computer at home, but when I don’t feel like being tied to my desk or I am away from home, it is my computer.  I am quite familiar with it, though not an Apple expert, by any means.

I have gotten used to everything as best I can and there are still a few things that annoy me – some related to Apple, some not.  I’ll start with the stuff that’s related to Apple.

First, I should preface this with the fact that I use an external keyboard at work.  It’s easier on the hands and I have the full number pad.  I don’t like the command+c and command+v  key combinations for copy/paste.  It’s a much more cramped position than CTRL+C and CTRL+V in Windows, though I am glad there is a key combo for that, I use it all the time.   The other issue I have is with deleting files.  Everything goes to the trash can automatically, which is nice because I can recover stuff from network and removable drives without having it automatically delete and gone forever.  However, I can’t delete a file using the “forward” delete key.  I have to use the “backspace” delete key.  That’s just weird and confusing.

This one is something I’ve complained about many times before and the comments left were “Expose rocks, it’s so much better than Alt-Tab”.  Wrong… well, at least in my case.  I Alt-Tab quite a bit.  I use it to get between programs and windows.  I still am not 100% used to Command-Tabbing to the program and then Command-Tilda-ing to the window.  That’s not intuitive and not easy.  Expose is cool and all, but I have to grab the mouse, drag it to the hot corner, and then drag it to the window I want, and if I’m not on the correct virtual desktop (yes I use Spaces), then I still need to Command-Tab.  Perhaps I should stop using Spaces?  I don’t think so.

The last thing that annoys me is the lack of a “Start Menu” (I know the Start Menu is something that Windows haters love to hate).  The thing I like about the Start Menu is easy access to all my applications without having to open Finder, choose Applications and then go to the one I want.  With the Start Menu, it’s all in a nice easy menu.  Personally, I think Applications should be a sub-menu of the Apple menu.  I like the Dock, it’s nice and easy to access all my more frequently used applications.  I generally use Spotlight to find the applications I don’t use as frequently, but sometimes I like to look through the whole list of them.  For some reason, I remember this being part of MacOS at some point (might have been pre-OS X).

Print Screen… Why the heck is there no Print Screen button on the keyboard?  Instead, there are some crazy key combinations that do, admittedly, perform some nice functions (taking a snapshot of an active window or the menu bar or something like that, or taking a snippet of a window, or doing the whole damn screen).  But when I want to quickly take a screenshot, I have to remember what those keys are (and I don’t, so I have Apple’s OS X keyboard shortcut page bookmarked).

Now onto the non-Apple stuff…

Entourage… The new version (2008) is better than the previous.  It looks better and fits in better.  That’s all fine and well, but it’s still not Outlook.  I know it was never meant to be Outlook, but I don’t understand why.  So if someone from Microsoft or who knows someone (or knows someone who knows someone who knows someone) at Microsoft, find out for me.  It’s really annoying and really pointless.  Just face the facts… not everyone is or has the option of using Windows, yet they are in an Exchange shop (like me).  I do like everything else in the new Office 2008, but Entourage still annoys me.  The biggest issue I have with it is that it will not sync my distribution lists on Exchange with Entourage, but it did grab all my other contacts from Exchange.  I had to sit and re-build all the distribution lists I had because of that.  The next version of Office for MacOS should have Outlook, not Entourage (which is really some crazy combination of Outlook and Outlook Express).  Still somewhat on the topic of Entourage is My Day.  I was originally under the impression that it was part of Entourage, yet it runs as it’s own application.  That surprised me the first time I ran it.  I do use it and refer to it often, but it should be part of Entourage, like the “To-Do” panel in Outlook 2007.

Firefox… I’m still on Firefox 2, mainly because I am not willing to play with beta software.  I know Firefox 3 should fix some of my issues, but I doubt it’ll fix all of them.  My biggest issue is the looks.  It looks like a Windows app.  That’s going to be fixed.  That’s good.  I don’t know why it wasn’t originally themed to look like an OS X app to begin with.  I hate that it doesn’t use the Apple widgets.  That should also be fixed.  My next biggest issue is that I use Firefox in it’s own virtual Desktop to avoid clutter.  When I Command-Tab to it or click on it’s Dock icon, it brings me to Firefox, but doesn’t give the window focus.  That’s stupid and really annoying.  Every other app I use works normally with that.  I have gotten used to having to click on an app before I can click a link or something, but when I click on an app’s icon or Command-Tab to it, it should have focus, that’s why I did that to begin with.  Finally, the Home and End keys do not work in web forms in Firefox (like the one I’m using to write this).  Instead, I have to hit Command-Left or Right Arrow, and even that doesn’t work all the time depending on the page.

So those are all my issues so far… now here’s what I like.  The keyboards (external and laptop) are really nice, though I wish the external one had extra plastic as I find myself leaning and accidentally pressing the Control key.  They have nice feedback and have a great feel to them.  I have finally gotten used to the ambient light sensor and I love it.  The battery life is awesome.  The wireless easily (more easily than Windows) connects to the enterprise Wi-Fi connection at work.  Fast user switching is nice and slick (I like the box rotating and wish that’s how Spaces worked).

However, I still stand by my notion that this is neither better nor worse than Windows.  They are both simply different tools to perform the same tasks.  If I knew nothing about computers, maybe the Apple would be more intuitive, but I know plenty of people who switched from Windows and had a very hard time figuring out the Apple way (one with an iMac even said that she needed an external optical drive, not realizing it was a slot fed drive on the side of the thing).

Someday, I’ll switch my primary home PC to Ubuntu Linux and I’ll write a review on that.  That will be a big project, though, and I am not sure when I’ll have the time for it (I need first backup Susan’s data onto my computer, reformat hers for XP Pro, then backup my computer to hers, and do the switch… hers needs to be done first so that she’s not without a computer).

A week with Apple

I’ve now been using the Apple for a whole week. I’ve spent as little time on my Windows box at home as possible (basically I’ve only been using it first thing in the morning and last thing before bed because it’s always on and I have to pack my laptop for work). I’ve been trying to get used to the Apple as much as possible and have found it to be a great little computer. There are still some nuances that I will have a hard time getting use to.

I mentioned before that I use Alt-Tab in Windows a lot. It’s great because it rotates through all the open windows. The Command (the key with the apple on it) Tab on the Apple only switches between open applications. I learned yesterday that you can switch between open windows within an application by hitting Alt-Tilda. However, that application has to be the active one in order to use that feature. It’s quite annoying. I would prefer to just “Alt-Tab” between windows.

Another thing about this particular laptop (and probably all 15″ MacBook Pros) that I find annoying is the ambient light sensor. While I like the feature as it saves my eyes and battery life, it also has an annoying habit of adjusting the brightness on the fly. It’s very sensitive. I noticed that there’s a sensor in each speaker that both have to adjust together to work. I noticed this by putting my hands on one speaker and see nothing happen (tried with the other speaker as well). I got it to work by covering both speakers, which are located on either side of the keyboard. The sensor is nice except that being on either side of the keyboard, it notices shadows from my hands when using the keyboard and dims and brightens while I’m typing (it’s done it about 10-15 times now while writing this). I imagine that’s just the way it is and not something that can be fixed (it’s not annoying enough to have me send the thing back to Apple).

I started using Spaces. I love it (though I have used virtual desktops in the past both in various window managers and desktop environments in Linux and with certain NVidia drivers in Windows. The nice thing about Spaces is that it makes it easy to assign certain programs to certain virtual desktops. It keeps my space less cluttered. The only thing I have an issue with is when switching to Firefox from another application using the Dock (I keep Firefox open all the time), it switches to the proper desktop, but does not switch focus to the active Firefox window (though it does make Firefox the active Application in the menu bar). It works properly for all other applications, just not Firefox. I’m hoping that either 10.5.1 or Firefox 2.0.0.10 (or 2.0.1 or whatever is the next version of Firefox) fixes this little bug.

The only other issue I have with OS X is that when a window is not active, I can’t click on something in that window and both have that action happen and the window become active. For example, in Windows, I can click on a link in a Firefox window that’s not active and have that link open along with Firefox becoming the active window. Here I have to click once to bring Firefox to focus and a second time to click the link.

So once again, it sounds like I hate this computer. That is not the truth at all. I really like it, but there are some things that will take a lot of getting used to.

A Couple Days with the Apple

I’ve now had the Apple for a couple days. While I am still not used to certain things, here are some thoughts that I’ve had while using it, along with a major frustration.

I really like the computer. The keyboard on the laptop has a really nice feel to it. The keys are like a rubbery feel instead of hard plastic like most laptops. However, for whatever reason, Apple decided to make the touchpad “wide screen”, meaning it’s the same scale as the wide screen monitor. While it might sound nice to have so you can go over the whole screen without picking up your finger, the balls of my hands hit it periodically when I’m typing, clicking me to another window. While there is a setting to prevent false taps, it doesn’t work very well. It’s not that much of an issue, but I do prefer the smaller square touchpads of PC laptops. The trackpad does have a nice feature with gestures. 2-finger scrolling scrolls windows and 2 finger tapping brings up the “right-click” context menu. I love that feature, especially with the lack of a right mouse button.

I really like the ambient light sensor. My HP had one and it worked great. This one also adjusts the brightness of the backlit keyboard, which is pretty cool.

The best part of the laptop is the battery. It has a power meter on it so you can tell how much juice it has when the computer is off (or even when the battery is taken out of the computer). The battery life on this is killer. The first day I had it, I used it for about 4-5 hours, which includes installing Leopard. It didn’t even have a full charge. The magsafe charger adapter is a nice touch. I thought it’d be flimsy and fall out easily, but it’s nice an strong.

The optical drive leaves something to be desired. I feel like I’m going to scratch the discs I stick in it because it’s a tight fit. I also don’t like how I have to shove it just about all the way in before it’ll grab and pull it the rest of the way. It’s really noisy as well (most optical drives make noise, but this is particularly noisy when it’s reading a disc for the first time and when it sucks it in and ejects it).

The keyboard, aside from feeling nice, has some things missing, like a forward delete key (the opposite of backspace, which is what the delete key does), regular sized arrow keys (these are tiny), and a home and end key. What I don’t get is why there are 2 enter keys, one where it should be and one where the right option key should be located.

I had some issues with Parallels causing my keyboard not to work, but after installing the Parallels tools on the Vista VM, it seems to have stopped (that was fixed when I wrote the first paragraph).

Overall, I like using OS X, and I like the way this computer was built. I’ve basically stopped using my XP machine at home in place of this one so I can get used to it. There are some things that bug me, like tabbing in Firefox and having it skip over drop down menus and check boxes. Apparently, that’s a Leopard/Firefox thing and not a real issue though. We’ll see how it goes. I wish MS would release a compatibility update for Office 2004 so I can open all the newly created Office 2007 documents without using Parallels, but such is life. I’ll write more as time goes on…

Got an Apple today

My MacBook Pro came in today (through work).  I’ll be writing about my experience making the switch and turning to the dark side as I get farther into it.  I will say this, however.  I feel very vulnerable.  It’s going to be a bit of a learning experience for me as I re-learn how to do things on a computer.  It came in this afternoon, so I didn’t get a whole lot of time to install stuff.  I did a clean install of Leopard (it came with Tiger installed, but had a Leopard DVD in the box).  I got Firefox and Adium installed and messed around the System Preferences.  I’ll play more tomorrow getting it on Active Directory and getting Office 2004 installed and Entourage configured to use my Exchange account.  Hopefully, I’ll also be able to get Adobe CS3 installed along with Parallels to run Vista.  It’s currently charging as I let the battery die.  I will say that the battery is one hearty battery.  It took a good 3-4 hours of use before it would die and that included the Leopard install.  It didn’t even have a full charge when I got it (though it was close).  More to come…

Sony Announces New, Cheaper PS3… but they still don’t get it

Sony announced a new model of the Playstation 3 today that will be cheaper.  They recently reduced the price of the model with an 80 GB hard drive to $499 from $599, basically eliminating the 60 GB model which cost $499.  The new model will have a 40 GB hard drive and sell for $399.  The big difference, though, is that the new model will not be backwards compatible with Playstation 2 games.  Sony’s reasoning is that there will be an extensive line of games for the PS3.

While Sony is trying to boost their sales with cheaper models, they just aren’t getting it and will not overcome or come close to the sales of Nintendo’s Wii or Microsoft’s Xbox 360.  If they were planning on releasing a model to sell for $399, they should have just lowered the price of the 60 GB model rather than introduce something completely new that’s “broken” out of the box.  The price difference between a 40 GB and a 60 GB hard drive is negligible in this case and the backwards compatibility is based mainly on software, which they already have written.  So why break it?  If someone wants a new Playstation and wants the ability to play both PS2 and PS3 games, they would either need to purchase the more expensive model of the PS3 or own both a PS3 and a PS2.  I just don’t see the point in selling this new model when they already had the 60 GB model that could do everything the 80 GB could for $100 less.

I have been boycotting Sony products for some time now because of the copy protection on their CD’s that installed a rootkit on your computer when you tried to play it.  Now I am continuing the boycott simply because Sony is just making stupid decisions and obviously doesn’t like their customers.

Tech Support “Professionals” Over-charging and Mis-diagnosing

I recently came across a “sting” piece from the CBC about the various computer repair people over-charging and giving wrong diagnoses of the issues with computers.  While I don’t necessarily agree with using a sting operation to determine just how bad the problem is (they could’ve just gotten the worst techs the various companies have), this isn’t the first time I’ve seen something like this.

Slashdot has some good discussion and some of the comments to the original story are pretty good.  Here’s my take on the issue:

When I was growing up, computers were an investment.  If you have one, you were lucky.  They have grown to be a more necessary part of our daily lives and, as such, we rely on them and their ability to store and preserve our data.  In some cases, they have become so prevalent that for people with enough disposable income, computers are just a commodity.  If one breaks, you buy a new one without worrying about fixing the other one.  I see that regularly at work.  It’s very unfortunate.  Computer viruses are usually pretty easy to clean and prevent.  I like to think of computers as a car.  Most people don’t think twice about performing regular preventative maintenance on their cars.  Oil gets changed every 3,000 miles or every 3 months, whichever comes first.  The minute something sounds funny or starts acting weird, the car is taken to a mechanic to look at.  Diagnosis fees are normal for your car, but people expect them to be free for computers.

Computer technicians can’t tell exactly what is wrong with the computer or what the solution might be simply by looking at the computer.  That’s just not how it works.  It’s very similar to auto mechanics.  They aren’t able to tell what’s wrong with your car simply by hearing a sound or by you trying to tell them what it sounds like.  They might have an idea, but it could be a number of things.  The same goes for computers.  That being said, computer technicians should be trained to diagnose problems correctly.  You wouldn’t trust just any guy that calls himself a car guy with your car.  Most people bring them to certified mechanics.  Unfortunately, while there are professional certifications for certain aspects of computer support, there’s no good measure of how good a tech is.  If he can memorize things and take a test well, he gets certified.  There’s no hands on aspect to it.

The video from the CBC shows several techs completely failing to properly diagnose the issue.  In fact, many of them seem to just be going through the motions and then taking a completely wild guess at what’s wrong.  I take offense to what most of them did, being a computer technician myself.  One of them went so far as to tell the woman her hard drive was dead and she’d have to take it to a special data recovery place for about $2,000, but then he started copying her data to his laptop without a problem (and without asking permission).  I’d say that’s a pretty bad mis-diagnosis if you ask me.  I also find it extremely unprofessional the way he left the data on his laptop saying “I’ll delete it later”.  Under no circumstances should a tech be copying anyone’s data to their own device unless specifically asked by the client to backup their data.

The moral of the story is if you are looking for computer tech support, get referrals from friends.  Chances are, the local hole in the wall independent computer store knows more than the big box, make as much money as we can place.  The local stores are all about customer retention.  The big boxes are about the bottom line.  It shouldn’t be hard to figure out which one will offer you the best service for the best price.

The one other thing I want to point out is buying hardware from the techs.  If you have something wrong with your car and need a part installed, that part is going to cost more coming from the mechanic than if you went out to buy it on your own.  The same holds true for a computer technician.  If they give you the parts, you’re probably going to pay more (after all, they do have to acquire them somehow, whether it’s keeping a stock, going out and buying them for you, or ordering them online for you).  Their determination that the techs were giving them ridiculous prices for the parts is just wrong.  First of all, the parts bought at a big box store are going to cost more than buying them online anyways.  Then there’s the markup for buying the part from the tech.  For example, the battery in my car died.  I considered going to an auto parts store to buy a new one myself.  However, it was about 8:00 pm on a dark cold January night.  I decided to just let AAA come and install the battery.  They came and the batter cost about $30 more than if I had bought it myself, but I didn’t have to leave the comfort of my home and install the battery in the below freezing weather.

So I guess the real moral of the story is that while some of what those techs did was unprofessional, the sting operation on them didn’t prove much more than the fact that there are some bad apples out there.

My Thoughts on Apple Written Much Better than I could Write

Sorry for the long title, but I recently came across a post on Boing Boing Gadgets that discussed exactly how I feel about Apple, and why anyone who read my previous posts about Apple shouldn’t consider me an Apple-hater.

iPhone & iPod: contain or disengage?

That’s the direct link to the blog in question. It’s a long read, but well worth it for anyone who cares about Apple, technology, or portable music and movies. It’s exactly how I feel, but put to much better words that I could have ever written myself. The gist of it is that Apple needs to quit the anti-consumer crap or else they’ll lose their consumers. They can only go so far on the people who blindly follow their every move before those people lose the blinders and realize that Apple is screwing them over big time, which is what Apple has started to do, though it first started with the iPod/iTunes thing when they first released the iPod. I won’t call it anti-competitive behavior, though some of it is. I’ll call it anti-consumer behavior.

The long version of this is the following… Things like locking out third party apps from the iPhone and iPod Touch (though you can write them if you’re close to Apple) are what I’m talking about here. Preventing people from playing DRM’d (but something other than FairPlay, such as PlaysForSure) music and movie files on the iPods. Preventing people from playing FairPlay songs on other portable devices. It sounds like I hate Apple whenever I complain about their products and the tight grasp they hold over all of it, but the fact remains that I want to like their products. I think the iPod is a cool looking device and the iPod Touch is a great device (though I will never buy an iPhone because I wouldn’t be able to dial with one hand while not looking at it because I can’t actually feel the “buttons”). I think MacOS X is a kick ass operating system and their computers have a great design. I don’t like that you can’t replace the battery in the iPods or iPhone yourself, that it has to be done by an authorized technician. I don’t like that MacOS X will not run natively on hardware that was not approved by Apple. I don’t like that Apple hardware is so closed. You buy an Apple computer and it’s a very closed proprietary system even though the operating system was based off one of the most open operating systems in existence. While it’s nice that if something goes wrong with the computer, it’s either really easy to fix or you know it has to go back to Apple. But that’s the problem, it has to go back to Apple. There’s no real customization. For all the proprietary crap in Windows, it’s a more open system. It runs on all sorts of different pieces of hardware (so long as it’s all x86 architecture). It allows all sorts of different drivers and software. With Apple computers, it’s Apple’s hardware and software or nothing.

And the biggest thing that I don’t like about Apple is that they’ve seemed to have left their computer division in the dust. They’re ignoring the people who kept them from folding… the people who religiously bought Apple computers regardless of how bad they sucked. They’ve become a gadget company.

So for all you people who have read my blog and though of me as an Apple Hater, that’s just not true. I want to love them, but I can’t because of the company. Steve Jobs is great at marketing, but he’s arrogant and soon enough that arrogance will catch up with him.   Apple has become just like Microsoft, the company everyone loves to hate.  They’re in it for the money and nothing else.  They just don’t care about their consumers, and why should they when their consumers swoon over everything that comes out of Steve Jobs’s mouth?  So again, it’s not Apple that I hate, it’s the uninformed consumer who thinks Apple is and never will be (or never could be) an evil corporation like Microsoft.