Wednesday, January 16, 2008

No More MacBook?

At the risk of contradicting my last post, "Thinking of a MacBook", I'm leaning towards getting another PC-based notebook. I recently visited a local computer store that carries a Apple-based line of products, and had the opportunity to see and briefly use a MacBook Pro that was on display. I wasn't that impressed.

Too big, too pricey

The first thing that caught my eye was how BIG it looked. I realize that it's probably not any larger than any other laptop with a 17" screen, but the appearance is hard to forget. I think the relatively small keyboard surrounded by all that empty space contributed to the sense. (After becoming accustomed to developing under 1600x1200 resolution, getting a 17" screen that supports 1920x1200 resolution is definitely my plan.)

Compared to similarly-configured PC hardware, the MacBook would cost over $500 more. (CPU, Ram, video card, LCD display, hard drive, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth all being practically identical.)

What I don't really need

While I really liked the slot-loading optical drive ("SuperDrive"), it really doesn't offer any additional functionality. (Update: One reason to avoid the slot-loading optical drive: Slashdot | Environmental DVD Wrecks Apple Drives.) The integrated webcam, combined optical audio input and output, and Apple Remote are also worth a few points, but can all be easily replaced by their USB or wireless counterparts.

Firewire 800 is a unique upgrade on the MacBook, but with as few peripherals that require or would make use of the additional bandwidth, an Express Card adapter could always be used. The DVI video output was also a consideration, as many laptops still seem to be limited to an analog-limited VGA output. However, most of the PC laptops I'm looking at offer something comparable, such as a DVI output through the use of a docking station, or by skipping DVI and supplying a smaller HDMI output (which can be converted to DVI).

What's missing

Beyond the features offered that I don't consider that important, there are a number of features that I consider important that are missing.

Even though the MacBook has a DVI video output, it lacks a S-Video output, useful for displaying video content on TVs and other displays that don't another computer-compatible input.

Disagree with me all you want, but I think the (lack of) mouse options (briefly discussed in my last post) are the most disappointing. No pointing stick, and only one mouse button. Apple already conceded that multi-button mouse is significant by releasing their Mighty Mouse. Too bad they aren't including this same concept on their MacBooks. Also, with my luck combined with Apple's practice of not releasing any of their future plans, this would be fixed with a new product release only a few weeks after I would purchase.

The lack of a fingerprint reader and any sort of a docking station (beyond using a USB hub) also cause the MacBook to loose a few points. Bluetooth support also seems to be a bit limited compared to other notebooks I've been looking at. The MacBook Pro specs only state a specification level of 2.0, while others already support 2.1.

Software concerns

While Boot Camp and virtualization software are great strides towards supporting Windows, both options are still short of perfect. (The above mouse issue is especially apparent under Windows).

While I'd like to at least try running an alternative OS to Windows, I think I'd be much more inclined to try to switch to a Linux distribution before Mac OS. Ubuntu Linux would probably be my first choice. I really don't see any limitations that would be faced by choosing Linux over Mac OS, other than Apple's software offerings that are designed for Mac OS only.

Apple's own support of Mac OS shows some disappointments. Apple has some high claims about their high level of support for Java. Unfortunately, the current version of Java never even seems to be available for Mac OS! As a software developer currently focused on Java, this is a serious issue for me. John O'Conner, one of Sun's engineers, posted a blog entry on this back in November 2006: "Java SE 6 on Mac OS X". While I can't find a link to support this, it seems that Apple has chosen to to support Java on Mac OS themselves, while Sun releases JREs for pretty much every other platform. Whatever the reasons, the sad fact remains: Java 6 was originally released and available to most other operating systems on December 11, 2006. Java 7 is scheduled to be released sometime this year. There is still no official release of Java 6 for any Mac OS version.

Update: I found a few additional links with some information about Apple's support of Java on Mac OS (though still nothing really official):

The search continues...

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