I said I’d never get a Mac.
I swore I’d never get a Mac.
I thought people who had Macs were pretentious. I thought people who had Macs had more money than sense. Linux worked just fine for me and I was also pleased with Windows 7.
That was before I heard about the new ultrabooks that actually came out earlier this year. I seriously looked at them at Best Buy early in June; the Dell XPS ultrabook looked really nice, but I read some hassles about Ubuntu and there was absolutely no guarantee about battery life (they were advertising almost eight hours of battery life under Windows 7). I asked some questions, then wandered over to the Apple desk. I played with both 11″ and 13″ Airs, and was impressed.
(This is long, so we’ll go under a cut.)
I was sick of my netbook being too damn slow and not being able to connect to wifi if it wasn’t right next to the router. My laptop was getting to be long in the tooth and ran too hot when I was playing games. I was going to build my desktop and didn’t want a full-form laptop that was very heavy to take home with me.
I spent a lot of time looking at my options. I, of course, consulted Zareason and System76, but nothing was offered at the size I wanted (11″ or 13″) at the weight I wanted (2-3 lbs), the thickness I wanted (I dunno, an inch or less?), and the battery life I wanted (4.5 hours or more). The Intel ultrabooks looked really awesome, but there was no guarantee that they would work the way I wanted with Ubuntu and retain the battery life advertised on the tags. I was really leaning toward the Dell XPS 13 inch ultrabook. It had an aluminum chassis, a decently sized screen, and what looked to be an awesome keyboard. I didn’t have specs relating to the wireless card brand, so I couldn’t really figure out if it would work out of the box in Ubuntu without a massive undertaking by me. I really didn’t want a project for my mobile computing device, so I decided not to buy just then.
Enter stage left, my trip to Portland, Oregon.
On Friday, we went shopping at the Frontier Mall in downtown Portland. I went to the Apple store in there. I knew I was looking for the upgraded 11″ (4 gb RAM and 128 gb SSD). So, I bought it. And a case. And for about $1200, I had a brand new Air and case. Nice.
What was I going to do with it?
Well, first I was going to get through the Portland airport security (which was no picnic) and then I was going to go set it up. I ended up getting Dropbox installed and downloading my files, Adium, Chrome, and LibreOffice and I was pretty much set.
I’ve been using it for browsing, writing, reading pdfs, portable stuff, IMing, etc. I could see this being a great development machine, especially with the updated RAM and SSD.
What do I absolutely love about this laptop? How about a list:
- Speed. This thing is up and running in about 10 seconds flat. Most of the 10 seconds is due to me typing in my password.
- Weight. This thing is light as a feather. About 2-ish pounds.
- Size. I wasn’t sure about the 11″ screen, but it’s pretty awesome for what I’m using it for, especially since I set up Spaces for 4 desktops.
- Battery life. 4-4.5 hours with wifi on, 6 without. Amazing.
- OSX Lion/Mountain Lion. I like OSX since it’s close to what I expect from using Ubuntu.
- Build. The build quality on this thing is better than my System76 machines and those had amazing build quality. Matter-of-fact, my mom is using my Pangolin Pro as a secondary computer with Kubuntu on it.
- The charger. The way Jobs and Co have designed the mag-safe thing is amazing. Also, the extendable charger. If you need the extra cording, it’s there, but if you don’t, you can easily change it out for a shorter charger. Awesome.
- The keyboard. Solid, comfortable, awesome.
- The touchpad. I love multitouch. Don’t know if I could go back to something else. I also like the way the whole thing clicks when I press on it.
- The App Store. Brilliant and very similar to the Ubuntu repository ecosystem. I love being able to download things from a central location and not worrying about them not being up to date. I have installed some things from outside the app store (Libreoffice, VLC, and Adium) but they seem to integrate with the app store after being installed and will update when you tell all of your software to update. Handy.
What do I not like so much? Not too much:
- OSX. It’s very different from Windows and even Ubuntu somewhat, but it does carry some of the BSD/Unix-like ethos that it was borne out of. I like the way the desktop is laid out as well as the dock idea. I immediately moved the dock to the left so it emulated my Ubuntu desktop and shrunk it down because I didn’t need a huge dock. Some things are wonky though; the logout setup, the Apple menu in the left corner, and the fact that you have to “quit” things instead of “close” them. Drives me nuts when I meant to quit my browser and I see it’s still running but just closed.
- Lack of free programs in the App Store. So many of the apps require me to pay before I can try them out. Under Ubuntu I can install an app and if it doesn’t work for me, I can uninstall it without a problem. I don’t mind paying for applications, but I’d like to be able to try them out first.
- Closed ecosystem. Though I suppose once you get used to the idea of “the Apple way” it makes sense. I don’t think I’ll be trying Ubuntu on this thing; maybe after Apple’s operating system will no longer support my machine.
- The function keys. I’ve not figured out how to get something to register F5 or F6 or whatever; seems like Apple wants you to use what I think the secondary options are as the primary options.
- iChat. I don’t like iChat (now Messages). Doesn’t seem to work for me; I like Adium. We now need Adium to use the messaging menu thing now. I hope it does get support for that.
What have I bought since I bought the machine? Well, I picked up Sparrow for $5 when it was on sale a few weekends ago (best investment ever; I love Sparrow). I also picked up a microblogger app that allows me to post to multiple microblogs. I need to figure out how to get it to work with identica though.
So. There are people out there that would ask “Why would you buy a Mac when you are vocal about open-source software and freedom?”
Well, I’m multifaceted on this issue. Yes, I’ve said before that I’d never use a Mac because they were overpriced and underpowered. I thought they were cultish (and granted, their store is very… I don’t know; unsettling, perhaps, in that regard?). I thought that people who used Macs had more money than sense, and goddamnit, Linux was just fine with me. It “just worked” you see, and I didn’t have to worry about anything. Linux was free and I’d had relatively few issues with it.
“Relatively few” is the appropriate phrase here. When Ubuntu works, it’s an amazing OS, full of freedom and speed, and also penguins. But when it’s not… well… It’s a bundle of pain and terminal commands.
We can file this under “things that bug me about Ubuntu”:
- Wired to wireless interface change drops connection to internet. Just as it sounds; when I unplug the wire from my laptop, I lose my connection completely and have to restart my messaging programs. I also got this behavior with Windows 7 and do currently with my Windows XP machine at work.
- Unity not showing icons in the dock. I think this is Unity more than Linux in general.
- Wireless drivers. ‘Nuff said.
- nVidia issues.
- Intel Ivy Bridge issues (though this is a kernel problem).
- Graphics issues in general.
So. My grievances with Linux in general; they can be boiled down to “graphics issues” and “wireless issues”. Most wired things work out of the box, but if you’re stuck with funky wireless drivers that require the wrapper, things can get hairy. If you’re lucky, you’ve picked up a notebook that works out of the box (which is awesome) but if you’re not, your new wireless device needs to have some setup. This is what I wanted to avoid.
Overall? I love Linux. What’d I really love is for Ubuntu to work out of the box with the Dell XPS ultrabook and retain the 8 hour battery life as well as have awesome range on the wireless card.
Ultimately, I decided on the Air because it was the right form factor and had what I wanted. It was a little more expensive that I wanted, but I was ok with paying for quality. Also, OSX is about as close as we can get to “mainstream Unix” right now that’s not set up for a specific purpose (like CAD or something).
I continue to run Ubuntu as my main OS. Windows houses my games (my “wintendo”), and OSX is for my portable computer. It’s relatively safe from viruses (yes, I know you can get viruses on the Mac; be careful and you don’t have to worry about it) and malware. I don’t like the broadcast thing called AirPlay, but I just disable it and don’t worry about others being able to browse my files.
This is getting really long; my more in-depth review of OSX Mountain Lion will be forthcoming. In it, I’ll detail what I use on this computer, and my more in-depth niggles and irritations. There will never be a perfect OS, unless you could combine the best things out of Ubuntu, OSX and Windows. I doubt that will happen anytime soon.