Why I hate Macs

2008-Aug

Shit the webcam broke. I'll just send it in to get it fixed

Work has "blessed" me with the opportunity of switching from my perfectly-fine WinXP Pro PC laptop (1GB RAM, 2Ghz Intel Core2 CPU) to an obviously more powerful MacBookPro 17", 2GB RAM, 2.2GHz Intel Core Duo (with a Parallels virtual machine running WinXP Pro). I had hated Macs before but never really used one seriously, so I took upon myself the challenge of formulating a proper opinion on using Macs, based on hands-on experience.

Meet the hardware - the MacBook Pro

  • If you get a MacBook Pro, you'll have to connect an external mouse and keyboard, or live with the following limitations:
    1. the clicker bar under the touchpad really does have only one type of click. While Apple has released in 2005 a 2-button mouse, on which Engadget comments "Apple is going to reverse literally decades of stubbornness with a two-button mouse", they still decided to take the control away from the user, with a justification along the lines of "Apple is always concerned with creating a user experience that is as intuitive as possible. Giving the average person a right mouse button is like giving a bald man a comb."1
    2. The delete key does backspace. To get "delete", press Fn + delete.
    3. There are no dedicated Home/End/PageUp/PageDown keys. You'll have to use Fn+arrows.
    4. There is no Insert key at all.
    5. There is no keypad, and the keyboard is crammed. In the same form factor, other manufacturers (HP, Fujitsu) have placed a comfortable full-size keyboard.
  • There is no docking port so that you could simply plug your laptop into a docking station and have every connected device work. However, if you get a USB hub, you'll only have to connect the power cable, the Ethernet cable, the DVI cable and the USB hub.
  • There is no SD/CF card slot. In the world of digital photography, and with Mac OS X having a super-duper-easy-to-use (or so they say, I haven't touched it) iPhoto application, this decision is quite bizarre.
  • There are only 2 USB ports, which would get maxed out by the mouse and keyboard. Keep in mind that this is a large, 17"-screen, laptop.
  • The mouse acceleration is SO different from the one in Windows, that it drives many users nuts. Quick fix (may or may not work for your mouse; it works with Microsoft IntelliEye, but not so well with the Logitech G7 laser mouse): iMouseFix
  • On the plus side:
    1. The screen rocks
    2. The optical drive is a CD/DVD writer
    3. The keyboard can be illuminated. If this turns out to be annoying, you can disable it by pressing F8.
    4. There's an integrated webcam at the top of the lid

The are solutions to the problems above, but the idea is that out of the box, Apple cripples your ability to control the laptop.

The operating system - Mac OS 10.4

The general impression compared to Windows XP is much less control, and reduced customizability. I already mentioned the impossibility of changing the mouse acceleration rate. In general, go to the Control Panel of both OSes, and see how many customization options you have for peripherals like the mouse or the keyboard, about which users are most idiosyncratic (vertical keyboards anyone?).

Another telltale sign of Mac OS being designed for amateur users: you can't tab among the controls in a dialog box. If you're used to keep moving your hands from the keyboard to the mouse in order to click things on the screen - no problem. I prefer to work more ergonomically and faster by pressing Tab a few times, or a shortcut key, to reach a button I want to activate. But nope, Tab doesn't work. And the shortcut keys are not indicated in any way (Windows underlines them - for example, press Ctrl+Esc and notice the underlining of specific letters in the Start Menu).

Marketing tidbits

  • http://www.apple.com/getamac/ is clearly targeted at users who really don't care about what's behind the applications they run. While this may be fine for my grandma, I prefer a good balance between control of the operating system, customizability and ease of use.
  • Mac fanboys reach levels of cultism: "Man Happier About Switch to Mac than Conversion to Christianity"
  • the ubiquitous wireless connection capability is called "AirPort". Why? No idea. Nowhere in the help can you find "wireless" or "wifi". To a user coming from the normal computing word, "AirPort" is an annoying, gratuitous terminology gimmick. To Apple, it's a marketing maneuver designed to promote their wireless router, called guess what? Apple AirPort Extreme. But hey, it worked. A Google search for airport yields the router as the first result.

Conclusion (only partly in jest)

I think I know why people end up liking Macs. Because there are a LOT of problems when you first hit a Mac, but then they get solved! By Mac experts! Or by yourself! And they you're left with little bundles of joys because YOU got those problems solved. "see, it wasn't that hard". NOW it works! Mac OS is just like religion: makes you feel like shit, then offers salvation. "Yay, I got the right click to work by tapping with two fingers! Macs are awesome, see, they DO have right-click, you naysaying heathen"! Unsurprisingly, this matches Steve Jobs' cultist management.

While someone's who's never been exposed to decent PC laptops running Windows or Linux may like the Mac, or even accept it for the niche usage they want out of it, I reject it both for practical and philosophical reasons. After a week of tinkering with it, I only reached about 60% of the productivity I have on Windows. And I don't want to condone a company takes control away from the user and encourages (or even forces) dependence on proprietary technology to avoid competition (see the iPod/iTunes case).

As for the argument that the Mac has beneath a real UNIX operating system: sure it does. I don't need it though - I have a real Ubuntu server and a RHEL machine, and I'm way faster developing on Windows anyway (see my upcoming post on http://www.catalyzed.org/ about developing with Perl on Windows).

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