Deciphering
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I Got the Black One

Mon 12 February 2007

As I predicted, I purchased the black MacBook.

After every other laptop I've purchased, I experienced some form of buyer's remorse.  In this case, I didn't.  The overall experience has been positive.  I really don't have time to do a complete review (especially after spending all that time trying to remember how the heck bluetooth modems work - ugh!), but I'll offer the highlights, from an outline I was working on to do a fuller review:
  • It's very fast.  It runs the unit tests even faster than my work machine, a beefy Opteron.
  • More than any other Apple computer or appliance I've owned, its design is a work of art.  There are no special function keys (unless you count "eject"), no latches, no status indicator lights, clips or plug covers or anything.  The only moving parts are the keys and the disc drive.  It's also almost completely silent.  This can be slightly creepy: there's hard disk light, no sound from the disk, no network activity light, no external indicators to show that the machine is doing something.  I might have to get some blinkenlights panel applets just to make myself feel comfortable!
    • MagSafe is a really, really good idea.  It's not just about not knocking your laptop off of the table - it makes every other laptop plug you've ever used feel like utter crap.  The Vaio still holds a strong second in my book, because it allows for a fair amount of play on the plug before anything starts to bend or break, but... this is really in a class by itself.
  • The keyboard is delicious.  For some reason I had the impression that macbook keyboards were bad, probably because of the silly placement of the 'ctrl' key if you don't re-map it.
    • Old school powerbook/linux and powerbook/emacs people, you'll know what I mean when I say this: capslock-as-ctrl doesn't stick.  In either OS.
  • It works well with Ubuntu, with a few minor caveats:
    • The bad news:
      • The 'fn' key is in software, which means I don't get pgup/pgdn/home/end or volume control keys in linux.  Also, the 'fn' key shows up in 'showkey' but not in 'xev' - it's not accessible to X for some reason. I don't know why this is, but it isn't really enough of an annoyance for me to bother with fixing yet.
      • Suspend has some issues around restoring the display properly when waking up.  I really don't care, so I'm unlikely to figure out how to fix this - I prefer the machine to hibernate when I close the lid anyway.
    • In general, however, lots of things worked out of the box or with minimal tweaking in linux:
    • sound
    • video (with accelerated 3D)
    • bluetooth
    • USB
    • firewire
    • wired ethernet
    • hibernate
    • CD/DVD burning
    • 3-button mouse emulation (using right-apple and enter keys as middle and right click)
The real litmus test for this laptop was that, immediately after purchasing it, I ended up having to drive all over Quincy for some reason, while also trying to catch up on several days of work.  The laptop performed like a charm; I connected to seven or eight different wifi networks, wrote several hundred lines of code, hibernated and resumed half a dozen times, sometimes just snapping it shut and tossing it in my bag without worrying about heat issues (the vents are along the top of this machine, where the bag is open, instead of along the side where they'll be instantly blocked).

This experience was actually quite pleasant, devoid of the usual "new laptop that doesn't quite have all the drivers installed" experiences I've come to expect.  Edgy can take some of the credit for this, of course, but the macbook itself is fast, light, comfortable to use, and has good battery life.