Life with the Macbook

Yesterday, Simon, my son, took his first real look at my Macbook Pro. He stared at it for a few moments, and said “where are the mouse buttons?”.

That was the point at which it struck me that the world is pretty much conditioned to doing things “The Microsoft Way”, and that Apple is a really excellent example of showing that not only are there alternatives, but some of them are actually better.

GUI Pains

I have to admit that initially, getting used to “The Apple” way was not totally without pain. Fortunately, I had two things to help me, one is the Unix command line which I am really more familiar with than than anything else, and a three button wireless mouse which I plugged into the Macbook, and which I used for a few days while getting used to the Apple way and getting the Macbook set up to my liking. With OS X being Unix based, the command line is there f you want it, and plugging in my mouse to a USB port just worked.

The trackpad (and no buttons) took a bit of getting used to. Out of the box, it is a little too much like the old square Mac with its single button mouse for my liking. There is a large trackpad, which you can press down on to click.

If you feel the need for alternate mouse button functions, its back to the old Mac way of holding down keyboard buttons to generate a right or middle button click.

However, a quick look at the settings for the trackpad revealed that in OS X on the Macbook Pro there are other much more friendly and usable options just sitting there waiting to be turned on.

Now a quick touch with one finger is a click. A quick touch with two fingers is a right-click. Drag two up or down the trackpad to scroll (scroll-wheel), or a three finger swipe left or right moves you back or forward a page.

Who needs a multi-button mouse?

In fact, going back to my multi-button mouse on my Windows desktop now begins to feel downright clunky.

Its very different from The Microsoft Way, but once you get used to it, the interface is incredibly well designed. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise after the iPod, iPhone and iPad which show how apparently minimal interfaces can be thoughtfully used to provide a surprisingly easy to use and powerful interface.

Virtualization Pains

As part of my job I quite often need to load random software and set up systems for demo, development of testing purposes. Of course, different software needs different operating systems, and besides, I don’t want that stuff cluttering up my machine, so the simple answer is to use “Virtual Machines”. These are programs which run which basically emulates a bare machine, onto which you can load different operating systems.

I started off by using a virtualization system called VirtualBox. This was an open source project, which was run by Sun Microsystems. I never had much luck with it, and with Sun having been taken over by Oracle, I had even more doubts (Oracle and Open Source just don’t belong in the same sentence). I was assured that it was now much better and just worked.

I grabbed a copy, loaded it, created a virtual machine and loaded Linux (Ubuntu) into that virtual machine.

Miserable failure.

It took 2 hours to load, and once loaded ran so slowly that it couldn’t even keep the cursor following the mouse. A bit of Googling revealed that it had a problem running on the latest Macbook Pro (like mine). Big problem … it had a bug report open with a “critical” tag attached, so it should be fixed very quickly.

No. It wasn’t. Still isn’t.

Eventually I gave in and loaded an evaluation copy of a commercial virtualization system from VMWare. Of course, it worked perfectly. Since it was not horribly expensive and they had a 25% off deal going, I bought a license.

My Linux system loaded in about 5 minutes and ran perfectly.

Then I actually started looking at the documentation. The documentation described the process to move a complete Windows system from an old machine into a virtual machine. Now I wasn’t thinking of creating a Windows virtual machine, because to do that I would have to buy a copy of Windows, and it is decidedly not cheap. But, if I could move the one I already have…

A few hours later I booted up the contents of my old (Windows) laptop on the Mac, running in a window. Everything works, and it runs faster than it ever did on the old laptop.

This means I have Microsoft Office 2010 available on my laptop. I would rather not, that evil thing that replaces the old menu system is just the inverse of what I was talking about above. Yes, its different, but even after getting used to it its still a step backwards and more complex to use, as well as taking up a huge chunk of my screen. Unfortunately, people I work for use it, and since it seems incapable of creating standard output that other word processing systems can display correctly for anything but the most trivial case, its something I have to use.