I haven’t always been Apple’s friend in this space, but this is just a note to say that my current MacBook Pro is by a wide margin my best computer ever. Also, tugboat pictures.

Why share? · I’ve made intense professional use of computers for three decades plus. I’m a connoisseur, if anyone is. If a computer makes me happy, it’s gonna make you happy. Everyone should share their expertise.

Vintage Tugboat cockpit

Why tugboats? · Because we went to the Vancouver Tugboat Festival and I’m looking for an excuse to run pix and otherwise this is going to be a dreary wall of text. Tugboats are great!


Why Mac? · I’ve often looked enviously at the Linux meatgrinders you can put together with hardware from Lenovo or whoever; more horsepower for less money, and it’s all Free Software. But the Mac has two killer features that I can’t get along without: Adobe Lightroom and the Apple store.

Lightroom is obvious —  pictures shot in ultra-high contrast direct seaside sunlight need Lightroom love before they appear here — but let me tell you about the Apple store. What happened was, the Mac frapped out with the weirdest symptom: Plugged into the Dell 4K via HDMI, it run happily. Standalone, it crashed instantly and colorfully.

Looking up at a tugboat bridge

This happened Friday morning. The next Tuesday afternoon I was taking off to do a couple of fairly substantial speeches in Denmark. So I dropped everything and hit the nearest mall’s Apple Store …kill me now, it’s iPhone 6 release day… Lines of joyless buyers-to-be snaked out the door. I bulled my way to the front and was a little bit rude and pushy to a Genius; I felt bad because the poor dude was stressed out. They didn’t have any Mac types there but he got online and found me an appointment at another mall for 12:45 the next day.

The rest was easy. The second guy listened to the symptoms, said “your video board is frapped but I have to run this test anyhow to prove it” which it did and they took the computer and said no problem about the Tuesday flight.

An hour after I got home I got a call from someone at the Apple store. “Um… your computer has this beautiful decal on it. Unfortunately, to do this repair, we’re going to have to remove it.” I was baffled as to why, but needed the computer more than the decoration, so OK. When I picked it up he said “we accidentally damaged one of the little wires while replacing the video, so we had to give you a new display.” In fact, when I got home, I noticed a few subtle little changes, and I’m betting they took my SSD and put it in a whole new computer. Whatever.

Hose tip on a tugboat

Guess what part of a tugboat this is.

What’s good? · The screen is huge (I run at full max-rez) and without visible pixels, the memory vast, the keyboard excellent, the CPU plenty fast, and everything Just Works.

Plus, compared to back when I got started on Mac, the open-source ecosystem is so much nicer. It used to be a day or two of work to get my blog-publishing machinery running on a new Mac. These days, it all comes in via brew or CPAN or vendor-supplied DMGs and takes maybe an hour, and remarkably little swearing.

What’s not to like? · The price; a maxed-out MacBook Pro is pushing $3.5K.

Also, it’s bigger and heavier than an Air. But really, not too bad; still lighter, I think, than the mainstream Macs I used to carry a few years back. And I guess the battery life isn’t Air-class either, but I’ve never found the need to run unplugged for more than two or three hours at a time.

Like all recent Apple laptops, its style is satin-bland. There hasn’t been an interesting-looking MacBook since they phased out the black model.

Finally, you’re not gonna get much use out of it in economy class.

What I worry about · Apple will eventually decide that nobody should be able to run software on Macs that doesn’t come from their App store.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: EricH (Sep 27 2014, at 08:15)

I went a similar route -- Thinkpads with Linux for a long time, then I got tired of wifi, video, sound, etc not working. Bought a MacBook Pro (about half the price of yours) last year. I use it every day; it's the best laptop I've ever owned.


From: bil (Sep 27 2014, at 08:27)

"Ap­ple will even­tu­al­ly de­cide that no­body should be able to run soft­ware on Macs that doesn’t come from their App store."

I don't think you have to worry about that until after they decide to take away sudo and terminal access. (;


From: d.w. (Sep 27 2014, at 08:39)

I've never had any problem justifying the higher price, considering my laptop us the primary engine of my work life. Amortizing it over 2-3 years, quibbling over even a $1000 price difference seems silly.


From: Charles Engelke (Sep 27 2014, at 08:55)

I think their weak point is the keyboard. The flat keys just don't work well for precision typing, and I really missed dedicated home, end, page up, and page down keys. I wish Lenovo would bring back the old ThinkPad keyboards, but even their current ones are a lot better than on the Mac.


From: Eli (Sep 27 2014, at 11:49)

I recently was issued a MacBook Pro for a new job and ... it's been a rough adjustment for me, coming from a Linux desktop as my primary workstation. (I have had an Air for a couple years because I got sick of dealing with Linux laptop drama, but I've never used seriously it for work, only browsing and watching Netflix).

There are a lot of little things to quibble over, many of which are just a matter of what you're used to (e.g., the subtle but irritating differences between the GNU and BSD versions of little things like xargs), but IMO there are two main substantial areas where the Mac is objectively worse as a platform for software work:

- Package management. Homebrew is a whole lot better than nothing, and a whole lot less than a real, integrated, system-wide package manager. (I've been using Arch for a couple years now and its package management Just Works; literally almost every file on my box outside /home, /var, and /tmp belongs to a package; compiling anything from source or using a proprietary installer is is maybe a once-a-year occurrence, if that.) Meanwhile on my Mac I have somehow ended up with two different versions of Emacs and nothing that I've found can tell me who or what installed the older one, or how I can uninstall it.

- No choice of window manager. The Mac OS window manager has some nice features, but I have spent essentially all of my adult life in a tiling, tabbing, focus-follows-mouse window manager, and I have got every little thing nailed down precisely to my liking, and every keybinding permanently burned into my muscle memory. My configuration file is nearly old enough to vote. I certainly don't expect Apple to ever ship or support a window manager like this, but it would be awfully nice if they would let me install one from somebody else. After living in the tiling/tabbing world for a while, dealing with windows that overlap and that you have to drag around and resize all the time feels like slogging through quicksand.


From: David Smith (Sep 27 2014, at 12:46)

I've had a slightly different experience. I bought my 2011 13" MBP for the solid hardware and have tolerated the software ever since.

Were I a photo nerd I might feel differently, but a browser and emacs are pretty much where I live, so a whole lot of OS-X is just annoyance.

OTOH, the hardware is hard to beat. I miss the ThinkPad keyboard, and when it's time to replace the battery it will be more trouble that it has to be, but that rock solid aluminum shell makes me smile.

BTW, I bought the economy version and upgraded RAM and added a SSD for a total of about $200.


From: Ryan (Sep 28 2014, at 08:43)

great post! thanks for writing it up.

i felt the same way about macs when i had to switch a couple years ago. i'd been on goobuntu on a thinkpad forever, and i loved it. fast forward a couple years and a bunch of UI tweaks (http://snarfed.org/2013-03-02_mac_os_x), and i'm happy with my MBP.

more importantly though, i share your worry about the app store: https://snarfed.org/2013-02-17_do_you_have_permission_to_use_your_computer


From: Arthur (Sep 28 2014, at 09:36)


Try Amethyst


Tiling window placement for OS X. xmonad it's not, but it can be customised a lot.


From: Dewald Reynecke (Sep 29 2014, at 02:53)

I say more tugboat pictures please!

I was forced to switch to Mac at the start of OSX when I still worked in the graphic design space. Now I have to use Windows, Linux and Mac daily and really appreciate the Mac's ability to just get out of the way and let me finish the work. It's a (beautiful, sleek) tool, nothing more and nothing less – as it should be.

Currently using a maxed out Mac Mini and eyeing the 3.5k Macbook Pro as a replacement. Previous Macbooks have always delighted and I look forward to the better performance and battery life you now get.


From: Scott Johnson (Oct 01 2014, at 18:53)

What kind of Apple store doesn't have Mac types there? Sheesh!


author · Dad · software · colophon · rights

September 27, 2014
· Technology (90 fragments)
· · Mac OS X (118 more)

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