MacBook Pro

New job, new setup.

Google provides the option of either a Mac or Thinkpad laptop for all its engineers. Well, although I adore the T41, I wasn’t so enamoured with the T60. Anecdotal reports of weird hardware problems tallied with my own experiences – in short, they just don’t make Thinkpads like they used to. Having heard so many wonderful things about OS X, I reasoned it was time to try something new.

The MacBook Pro is a wonderful thing to behold. Silver and thin, it sports a widescreen display and boots in seconds. The trip-proof magnetic power connector is genius. First impressions are second to none.

However, the problems quickly became apparent:

  • The touchpad is the worst I’ve ever seen. I can’t figure out how to adjust the acceleration and so small movements go unregistered while larger movements fly off into the great beyond. It’s not a case of getting used to touchpads…I’ve been using these things for years and this is the first one that grates.
  • There is no right mouse button.
  • Crucially for me, there is no trackpoint. The trackpoint is absolutely impenetrable for several months, even years. Eventually, however, you subconsciously discard the trackpad and rely on the trackpoint. It’s ergonimically better and far more efficient. You simply cannot go back to RSI-inducing touchpads.
  • Everybody and their dog seems to adore two-finger scrolling but I can’t warm to it all, probably because of the aforementioned fundamental response issue. I miss the “hot zone”-style scrolling of Windows and Linux.
  • Battery life is nothing special, seemingly averaging about 3 and a half hours.
  • Cursor keys are just plain weird. They’re microscopically thin and first experiences with vim and console-based newsreaders are bad: you need alt to make them behave as cursor keys.
  • Ditto for the escape keys, function keys and, crucially, enter key.
  • Caps lock is inexplicably huge.
  • The feel of the keyboard is…average (to say the least).
  • There’s only two USB ports and the right hand-side port is right where you would put your (essential, unfortunately) external mouse.
  • Alt-tab is broken: it switches between applications, not windows. In this age where many of us live in Firefox, this is unacceptable.
  • There is no virtual desktop support built-in. The user interface has all these wonderful 3D concepts built in but makes almost no use of it, as far as I can see.

Well, because of the first three points I have to use an external mouse. In that case, what’s the point of having a laptop? The keyboard problems effectively rule out doing any development on this machine (or remotely, via this machine, i.e. from home). All the other points just make the whole Mac experience a bit of a chore. I love the wireless network support and magic power connector but otherwise I’m extremely underwhelmed. I’d just like to do some work now.

All is forgiven, Thinkpad – if it had the build quality of the T4x series then the T60 would be perfect. As it is, it remains the laptop for me.