So, there are new MacBooks and many people are unhappy. Tl;dr: Apple thinks thin-and-light is more important than well-equipped-and-powerful.

I griped on Twitter and got a storm of responses, mostly on the subject of other ways I might be able to get what I want from a computer.

Sidebar 1 · First off: Apple may well be right. Over the past couple of decades, the vast majority of their product launches have hit the sweet spot, turning out to be what people needed even if that’s what they didn’t think they wanted.

Sidebar 2 · At work, I use a Mac and it suits me just fine. I run IntelliJ and Emacs and lotsa shells and office-y stuff, and I use a meaty Linux box for building and testing embryonic AWS services.

As long as it’s got a built-in Retina screen and support for a big honking outboard monitor and keeps the IDE snappy, I’m good.

Also, I note that IBM is getting good mileage by dealing Macs out to employees, so I suspect that Apple laptops have a bright future as office computers.

But my concern right now is about my personal computer.

What I Want · In a personal computer, I mean.

MacOS · It’s a mature, smooth, slick, powerful GUI that I have entirely mastered and would hate to leave behind. Also, for a power user, the integration between GUI and command-line is wonderful; I positively glow when I blast a “find | xargs” shell incantation’s output into pbcopy.

Massive power · I want a meat-grinder CPU to make photo-editing, and my occasional forays into video, fast. I want a modern video card so game-playing is cool when I feel like it. I want ludicrously excessive amounts of memory. I want a keyboard with high-quality mechanical keys that don’t get in my way when I’m going 100WPM. I want lots of connectors so I can plug in my current USB drives and mouse and keyboard. I want a PS Card reader because I shoot RAW so my photo files are huge and they ingest faster from a card. And also because I’m disorganized and lose dongles.

Oh, and I want a big fantastically high-res beautifully color-managed screen. I mention this separately because it seems like the only area where I’m at one with Apple.

Unix · By which I mean Linux I guess. I need a real shell (liking zsh these days), and apt-get or brew or equivalent, and Emacs, and I need to run Apache httpd so I can stage the page you’re now reading on my lap.

Lightroom · A photog’s gotta choose his ecosystem, and for better or for worse I’m on Adobe’s. I still like Lightroom, and the integration between the Android and OS X versions through their cloud is just bewitching.

A pony · By which I mean a donkey. I’ve always had a soft spot for donkeys.

Um, I don’t seem to have mentioned “thin and light”. I guess I’d be happy with “not much heavier than the 2013 15" Retina MBP I’m typing this on”. Thin? Meh.

Infrastructure · My next computer needs on OS: MacOS, Windows, or Linux. Then I might need to run stuff that’s foreign to that operating system, and the options there are a VM (probably VirtualBox?) or a cloud-box. If I’m gonna do a cloud-box it probably makes sense to package it up on my personal computer with Docker or whatever.

Windows? · This would have been inconceivable at one time, but I observe that the screens of Windows boxes no longer hurt my eyes, and while I’m a direct Microsoft competitor at work, they no longer seem to have the stench of evil.

MacOS? Nope.

Massive power? No problemo, and for a lot less than the equivalent Mac. I look at some of the gaming laptops and drool.

Unix? Well, maybe, I hear good things about Win10’s Linux subsystem, and it deserves a try. Also, I could run Ubuntu in a virt or cloud-box. Could I really get httpd and MySQL going?

Lightroom? Yep.

MacOS · Am I willing to overpay Apple for hardware if they sell hardware I want to buy? Sure thing.

MacOS? Yep.

Massive power? Not an Apple focus any more, it seems. Don’t see a workaround.

Unix? Close enough for me.

Lightroom? Hunky dory, but faster would be nice.

Linux · I do worry: Will I be able to plug in an outboard screen and have it Just Work? And will there will be modern eye-friendly fonts? TBD.

MacOS? Sigh.

Massive power? In spades.

Unix? D’oh.

Lightroom? In a Windows virt, right? Which means I have to pay for Windows, too. And I’d need to be really sure I got acceptable performance.

Take-away · My best bet is to buy a future Mac that’s aimed at people like me. Which requires that Apple wants to build one; they don’t at the moment, but maybe they will again before this box I’m typing on runs out of gas.

But some of the combos above don’t sound terrible.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: eerie quark doll (Oct 29 2016, at 20:30)

Door 4: installing MacOS onto a repurposed latest greatest laptop (presumably shipping with Windows) - the Hackintosh route. ( http://www.hackintosh.com/ )

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From: The Lunatic (Oct 29 2016, at 20:52)

You might consider investigating Hackintoshable hardware that meets your needs.

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From: Charlie (Oct 29 2016, at 22:16)

I'd like to know where the linux world is at now with things like external displays and fonts. If the gui works well, to a level reasonably comparable to MacOS and Windows (unlike the last time I tried, years ago), that would be enough for me to try linux for my primary laptop/desktop again.

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From: LP (Oct 29 2016, at 23:23)

You say Microsoft is not evil anymore, but let me remind you that Windows 10 is officially a spyware (you have to dig deep into the settings to adjust the privacy settings and you have to touch several settings, all scattered throughout a confusing tree of options; miss one setting and your OS becomes a keylogger, sending everything you type to Microsoft - not sure if over HTTPS or not). And let's not forget the updates: you will not be able to choose what you want installed: Microsoft gets to decide and who's to say that your fine tuned settings will stay the same? Remember the Get Windows 10 nagware? They abused the language and then twisted the meaning of closing a window to make the software do whatever they wanted,not what the user wanted (http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-36367221). Microsoft is still a bad choice, I think.

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From: Janne (Oct 29 2016, at 23:32)

For what it's worth, I run Ubuntu, usually on Thinkpads, and I haven't had any trouble with external monitors or things like that for years now. I plug stuff in and it works.

The one caveat is for brand-spanking-new hardware; if you get a new laptop with a new generation Intel stuff right around release, you're likely to run into issues. Give things a few months to settle (developers to fix compatibility issues) and things are generally fine.

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From: katox (Oct 30 2016, at 02:47)

For macOS users decent fonts usually mean exactly like on a Mac. This is probably unachievable but the font rendering is pretty good on stock ubuntu if you add a few fonts by Google and remove ancient X ones.

I actually prefer those in both Linux and Windows because they are not blurry on a lower dpi big screen.

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From: Nik Pinski (Oct 30 2016, at 03:30)

One aspect that I have not seen any "Macbook alternatives" posts touch upon is battery and power management.

I had a top of the line Dell laptop at my last job before Amazon and within a year it:

* Could just barely last through a 60 minute meeting unplugged

* Would die over a weekend while in hibernation mode.

Now, of course, I just swapped in a new battery, and was back to normal, but the whole experience (coming on gradually over the course of a year) just repeated again with the next battery.

Oh and even with new batteries, it took it more than a minute to start up after sleep. (This is circa 2012, Windows7, perhaps Windows 10 is better at this)

I did not mind it at the time - I was a dedicated anti-Apple snob, and didn't know any better. It wasn't until I started at Amazon in a temporary office and had deal with VPN lag in my IDE that I switched to a Mac, and never looked back.

I love being able to travel, forgetting my charging cable, and still have it last a full work day. I love that I don't have to keep it open when I walk between meetings because there will be no delay when I reopen it on the other side.

I need a Thinkpad/Surface Pro/Dell comparison guide that incorporates these considerations - written by someone that also uses a Macbook pro and understands the significance.

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From: Rui Carmo (Oct 30 2016, at 05:42)

I've started hedging my bets and gave Elementary OS (essentially Ubuntu with a simple, decent GUI) a spin yesterday on my battered Chromebook.

(Screenshots on my blog, top post)

It handles external displays just fine, I tweaked the font stack using Infinality (a no-brainer install) and have most of my development stuff onboard already (Android Studio won't make it because of very low RAM, but editors and Docker and whatnot work). No idea about how it would look on 4K displays, which is the one UX risk here.

I can see myself getting a desktop i5/i7 and running it, which makes for a decent plan B in case Apple fouls up their desktop line.

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From: Gord Wait (Oct 30 2016, at 06:42)

How will Emacs work without the escape key?

Aside from that, a nice docking bay with all the "missing" ports, monitor passthru and with charging built in is an obvious product..

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From: Gavin B. (Oct 30 2016, at 07:09)

Bash shell on Windows 10 is still half-baked:

Take explorer to the /u/home and right cclick to create a new folder,

You still can't it as a directory from bash.

Meh.

--

Plus, nice opinion piece from Chris Hofmann about Apple losing the plot with not only anorexic MacBooks

http://www.howtogeek.com/273733/the-biggest-design-mistakes-apple-has-made-in-the-past-two-years/

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From: Sebastian (Oct 30 2016, at 08:28)

Hey Tim,

do you have a write-up about your 'meaty Lin­ux box for build­ing'?

Cheers

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From: Paul Guinnessy (Oct 30 2016, at 08:44)

I suspect that these new macbooks are the interim solution. i.e. They got fed up waiting for Intel to bring out the next standard of chip set (which is expected for March) and released it anyway.

Hence I would not be surprised if the machines are quickly revised.

Paul

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From: Mathew E (Oct 30 2016, at 09:09)

You might check out the System76 series... seems to be some decent level of success getting them to run Hackintosh, and otherwise they have some pretty mind blowing specs. (I've no affiliation with them)

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From: Peter Chastain (Oct 30 2016, at 09:16)

If you decide to investigate the hackintosh route you might want to check out https://www.tonymacx86.com/buyersguide/october/2016

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From: Matěj Cepl (Oct 30 2016, at 10:41)

Yes, I have been working for Red Hat for the last ten years this month, so I guess I am bit on the extreme side, but I don't see anything missing on the Linux side. Of course, I have a nice big monitor connected and automagically recognized to my notebook. Fonts are IMHO matter of taste, but there are zillions of them available (and of course, a TrueType font is same everywhere). I don't see any problem, but perhaps I just got used to it.

Of course, proprietary applications (Lightroom in this case) are always the biggest problem. VM is one way, support in Wine seems to be a bit checkered (https://appdb.winehq.org/objectManager.php?sClass=application&iId=5839). Always, the best way is to use native applications ... so for example, there are people writing a Lightroom equivalent, Darktable, http://www.darktable.org/ . Perhaps, it would work for you?

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From: Michael Geary (Oct 30 2016, at 10:57)

@Gavin: The Linux Subsystem for Windows is a public beta that didn't have all the intended features in the initial release.

Regarding accessing the Linux filesystem from Windows, that has already been implemented. It's not in the stable Windows release channel yet, but I believe it is available in one of the Insider channels and will make its way to the Stable channel soon.

Microsoft published an article about this a few weeks ago. I can't seem to find it right now, but it was pretty interesting, detailing some of the issues they had to work through to make it happen. (If anyone has a link to the article, please post it!)

The Linux Subsystem is under very active development and I expect to see many ongoing improvements.

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From: John Cowan (Oct 30 2016, at 11:17)

My concerns are different from yours, because I didn't ride the boom to fame and fortune. Also, I strongly dislike the Mac GUI on aesthetic grounds. So I buy (and request from my employers) Windows systems well below the current top of the line, and install Cygwin on them. So far I prefer it to Ubuntu on Windows because of its superior integration: you can construct pipelines containing both native Windows and Cygwin utilities, which is not possible in UoW. The only interoperation you get is that UoW mounts the Windows file system (but not vice versa) and they share the TCP and UDP socket spaces.

Still, it's nice to know that if I want to run a Linux-specific GUI program, I can run it in UoW using Cygwin/X. So far that hasn't come up, though.

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From: Kevin Burton (Oct 30 2016, at 13:07)

I've migrated back to Ubuntu on a desktop and I'm pretty happy.

It's INSANELY powerful. It's like using god's computer.

8 cores.. 4Ghz... 64GB of RAM ... I can easily add 256GB of RAM but right now I'm fine with it.

Ubuntu isn't perfect. The only thing I really miss though is Skim but Kindle now works in the browser and this solved 95% of what I need.

Skype doesn't work well but I use it on my phone now and I'm fine.

No video editing which means I can't really vlog but I'm going to use my GF's mac for that.. (so kind of a hack on that last point).

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From: Anthony Coates (Oct 31 2016, at 10:52)

Corel Aftershot Pro still supports Linux as well as Mac & Windows. It's what I use rather than Lightroom. Worth a look.

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From: Timo Geusch (Nov 01 2016, at 08:13)

I've been slowly switching back to a Windows-based desktop from my old Mac Pro, mainly because I refuse to pay the exorbitant premium for the dustbin Mac Pro with outdated hardware and no cat-proof extensibility options.

I do most of my development in VMs anyway if I don't ssh into a remote server for it, and pretty much any version of Windows I've got flying around my home office does a decent enough job to serve as a VM host. My quad core i5 is powerful enough to run a couple of VMs as long as they're not running at full load, but if I do more distributed systems work I probably want a few more cores. Plus there is always the option of running Linux as the main host system and VMing Windows, but that doesn't work so well if you want to play the odd game.

The main reason I still keep my Mac around is that I have a couple of pieces of software on it that I'm either too lazy to migrate (DaVinci Resolve) or aren't available for Windows yet (Affinity Photo). I expect that to change as I turn on my Mac less and less...

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From: Darrin Ward (Nov 07 2016, at 05:07)

After about a decade with Mac / OS X, a few years ago I switched back to Windows. It was a great decision.

The reason: I "benched" OS X against Windows 7 (via. bootcamp) all on the very same Mac computer. Windows not only "felt" MUCH snappier, but I was able to empirically measure that improvement in various ways.

I spend a TON of time with *NIX command lines, e.g. managing live production Web servers, firewalls, DB's, etc. Using VirtualBox with my choice of distro satisfies all of the needs I have ever had in this regard (haven't tried the Win 10 Linux subsystem).

My laptop of choice was the Dell XPS 9550 (4k "retina" screen, i7-6700hq, 16GB, 1TBSSD, backlit keyboard,etc). As far as lightroom goes... I'm not a graphics person but it uses the Nvidia 960m chip, which as far as I've heard blows the Radeon chips that Apple use out of the water. I even know graphic designers that moved back to Windows for this very reason, which is strange because I thought this was one of Mac's strong points!?

Windows 10 not only looks better but it also seems to have improved my workflow. It's a fantastic advancement over Windows 7, both in terms of usability and system reliability. I pretty much skipped over Windows 8.

Anyway, food for thought. I better get back to work before this turns into a book he he. Have a great day.

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From: Kemn (Nov 11 2016, at 06:41)

I gave up after this last Mac event.

I bought a Mac Mini for all my "desktop" work at home, and bought a gaming PC for everything else. I have a KVM switch and flip back and forth, and so far, everything seems hunky-dory. I've got a nice Das Keyboard, so it works well on both sides, and gives me all the clicky goodness I need.

I don't have to skip games that are Windows only anymore, and my steam library seemed to get bigger overnight...

Granted, I can't do heavy lifting on the mini, but for daily tasks, it works fine...

I'm kinda unhappy that only the macbooks got updates...if there had been an updated mini with Iris Pro, or even a decent second GPU, I'd have been all over it, and tossed the windows box...

Or, heaven forbid, a new tower MacPro with a good gaming GPU...

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From: Norman Walsh (Nov 22 2016, at 06:25)

I switched off the Mac a few years ago. I wanted more memory. Ubuntu on my Thinkpad with 32G of memory is mostly very nice. It drives two displays at home and rarely gives me trouble connecting to projectors and things on the road. It has *gasp* a swappable battery, so I have a couple. Battery life is a few hours with each, a full day maybe just (easily if I bought another battery). But I'm rarely away from power for that long.

Had I realized before purchase that it draws too many amps to plug into older airplane power sockets, I might have chosen differently. It's ok on (some) new planes, but the old ones just turn themselves right off. That's a real drag.

I might have switched back for a decently powerful MacBook Pro, but I don't think the recently announced ones are going to lure me.

Anyway. I'm also a Lightroom user and the point I wanted to mention is that VMs don't provide hardware accelerated graphics. There are Photoshop features that simply will not work unless I dig out my old 17" MacBook Pro. I don't think anything in Lightroom requires H/W acceleration (at least, I don't recall any dialog boxes to that effect), but it's probably not as fast.

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From: Hervé S. (Nov 27 2016, at 11:33)

I see some already proposed System76, which is slightly over the current mac specs (and available only in the US).

Like Syst76 but in Germany, and sending worldwide, you have Tuxedo Computers, shipping with Linux preinstalled, and vastly over spec vs Apple (you can get the latest Kaby Lake processors, 32Gb RAM, and various To SSDs (up to three at a time in a laptop)...

http://www.tuxedocomputers.com/Linux-Hardware/Linux-Notebooks/15-6-Zoll.geek

Personally that's what I'll replace my macbookpro with.

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From: lc (Jan 05 2017, at 01:26)

My photographer friend runs Lightroom 5.2 in Wine on Ubuntu. It works fine, apparantly, although file dialogs use some ugly windows look instead of native.

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October 29, 2016
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