The Computer Blog

Sunday, October 26, 2008

For Those Appeasers Accepting Apple’s Dropping Firewire…

Last night, I began the process of upgrading my new MacBook Pro’s “user replaceable” hard drive. I had planned on putting the new hard drive in a Firewire 800 case and then simply cloning the machine’s hard drive over to it, but I had ordered the wrong case (i.e., one that works with PATA, not SATA, drives). Dropping back to punt became the order of the day. I pushed the upgrade forward by using a Firewire 800 external disk to clone the MBP’s hard drive to the external (Maxtor Personal Touch III) drive, and then booting the MBP up on the external drive and using Disk Utility to clone the external drive’s contents onto the internal hard drive. For those in various forums telling everyone to “get over” Apple’s omission of Firewire on the new MacBook, try what I just did using USB 2.0.

And don’t forget I mentioned in the blog before this how Migration Assistant worked over Firewire versus how it worked over Ethernet. The latter is just not mature.

My point is there are LOTS of uses for Firewire when you own a Mac and USB will just never be as good.

Monday, October 20, 2008

First Impressions of the new MacBook Pro

Well, the last thing I thought I would do this weekend was to buy a MacBook Pro; but that’s what I did. After some discussion and hands on time with both the new MacBook’s and MacBook Pro’s, I bought the “entry level” 15” 2.4 GHz MacBook Pro with 2GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive, iSight, a single FW800 port, 2 USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and a mini-Display Port. I wanted to drop to the smaller 13 inch format of the MacBook, but I had to decide between it and Firewire in a notebook that would be used as a desktop replacement. As I had said it might in my last blog, the lack of Firewire in the MacBook did prove to be a deal breaker. While Apple may be happy with forcing me to step up to a MBP, many people won’t and I wouldn’t have done it, Firewire or no, without the hard disk and memory being user replaceable and the 24 inch LCD with iSight becoming available. It was the combination of all those things that convinced me to spend the money. (And now I need a two thousand dollar bailout!)

As always, the packaging was elegant. The first thing I saw after opening the box was the silver rounded rectangle of the notebook, wrapped in clear plastic, with a small black tag bearing silver letters saying “Designed by Apple”. After lifting out the computer, the black tag serves as a pull-tab to lift up a black plastic divider covering the power adapter and a recessed black box containing the user manual and the software DVD’s. The power adapter is the 85 watt version. After plugging it in, I pressed the machine’s power button and the machine booted into a Leopard welcome video welcome typical of Apple’s Macs. Once that was over, I found myself in the system’s Migration Assistant. Using a Belkin Firewire 400/800 cable my wife bought for me at the Apple Store, I connected the MBP to my 24 inch iMac, which I booted into Target Disk mode, and let Migration Assistant pull all my data and applications across. While it took about an hour and a half to get everything, it worked flawlessly. That experience was very different than what I went through using an Ethernet cable transfer between my wife’s new MacBook and her 20 inch aluminum iMac . With 16 minutes to go, the Ethernet Migration Assistant transfer bombed out; and it subsequently took me three tries to get most of her data transferred. The system issued an error message and refused to copy her VMWare Windows XP virtual machine image, something the MBP’s Firewire transfer did without a hitch. (Note: Target Disk Mode DOES exist on the new MBP. If you’re in Target Disk Mode and on battery, a nice little glass will appear at the bottom of the screen and its fullness will correspond to your battery’s charge.)

Once Migration Assistant Completed, the machine stepped through a few more windows before heading to the Desktop which it never reached. It seemed to hang short, so I held down the power button to shut the machine down and then restarted it. It went straight to the Desktop, and all the files I had seen on my iMac’s Desktop were there. One application had lost its bearings with respect to its database, an error easily corrected, and I loaded a few more that had been living on my old MBP.

Using an Apple Mini-Display port to DVI adapter, I hooked the new MBP up to a 20 inch Apple Cinema Display as well as an network drop and a spare power adapter, turned it on, closed its lid, and slid it onto the foot of the display. It came up on the 20 incher as expected. This is my temporary “at home” setup until Apple releases the new 24 inch Cinema displays with iSight next month. Then, the 24 inch display will become my MBP’s main screen when I am home, and the machine’s native 15 inch display the main screen when I am at work or on the road. For my Time Machine backup, I will use the same 500GB Firewire disk my iMac did.

(One note about running this machine with an external display. On this model, Apple moved the optical drive slot to the right, rear side of the machine. That makes it easier to insert/remove optical media when the machine is on your lap. But the notebook’s slender design makes inserting a CD/DVD almost problematic if the notebook is sitting on the foot of the display or beside it on a desk. For this purpose, it would have been better if Apple had left the optical drive in the front.)

The first time I really got to use the machine was at my office. The lighting there is not as ideal as it is at my home; the windows at my office are behind me and the desk the MacBook Pro sits on. Reflection at first was a significant problem, but I managed to mitigate most of it by closing up the window blinds tightly. While that didn’t get rid of the reflections entirely, it and turning the screen brightness all the way up did overwhelm them to the point of making them less than a nuisance. If I hadn’t been able to get the blinds behind me closed, I’d have been in big trouble. A matte screen machine, which is not an option in Apple’s current notebook line-up, would be much better for my office environment.

That said, I otherwise like the glossy screen. However, while attempting to calibrate the screen, I experienced some settings at the extreme ranges that made me wonder about the quality of the LCD’s being used in these machines. The native gamma was off the charts (above the 2.4 range).

I have a MacAlly Bluetooth Mouse I used with my old MBP; and, using Bluetooth, I was able to pair it with the new machine, though it took multiple tries. I have also noticed a bug in the Airport software where the Airport menu icon incorrectly displays Airport status when Airport is on and connected. (It looks like it’s still off.)

The notebook is very quiet. I haven’t noticed any noise at all and the fans have not come on yet during any use. I’m hoping it stays that way after I replace the native hard drive with a new Samsung 500GB hard drive later this week. I ordered it and 4GB worth of memory from Other World Computing and hope to have them both installed in the machine by the end of the week.

The trackpad is very responsive, no matter whether you’re pushing it to click or have it set to detect a finger tap. What’s really cool are the small videos that demonstrate the allowable finger motions when you go to the Trackpad icon within System Preferences. That’s a very nice touch and a great way to demo the capabilities of the device.

The keyboard feels just slightly different than the one on my old MacBook Pro. There’s not quite as much “give” in the keys, but I like that.

As for battery life, I ran the machine for about three hours on the battery alone while working on a Word document and with screen brightness set at “full”.

Overall, I like the new MacBook Pro. It’s a slightly better value than the one it replaced mainly because of its lower cost for equivalent performance, upgradeability, and the ability to hook up to the new displays, something I’ll have to wait to evaluate. I haven’t run any performance benchmarking tests, yet; but I’ll try to make time to do that tonight. All that said, if you have a previous generation MacBook Pro or one even two generations back and you’re happy with it, there is no compelling reason to switch to one of the new machines. Like always, you have to decide what’s best for you and whether spending the money it takes make sense in light of both other Mac and Windows alternatives.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Apple Double-Standard: NO Firewire or Blue-Ray!

In a characteristically terse and dismissive reply to an e-mail lamenting the loss of Firewire, Steve Jobs wrote back that most HD camcorders start around $500. Here’s my open response:

Well, Steve, maybe $500 is a small sum of money to you; but, if you haven’t heard, there is an economic meltdown going on. Hold onto that attitude and you’ll alienate your customer base and drive Apple into the ground.

What’s even worse about it, Steve, is that you either haven’t thought it through or you’re not as smart as you’re made out to be. Have you forgotten that Apple has not equipped its Macs with any kind of Blue-Ray support? What am I supposed to do what that HD video? Burn it to a SD DVD?

As a company, Apple’s looking arrogant. If there’s a faster way to kill sales with your current customer base, I don’t know what it is. Your “switcher” base alone cannot sustain you. You guys have screwed up. You need to either put Firewire back in the MacBook or start putting Blue-Ray support in all your Macs. It’s called putting your money where your mouth is. If you expect us to spend money to upgrade cameras, we expect you to spend money to upgrade the Mac to properly handle them.


P.S. All this totally ignores that most people do not have Blue-Ray DVD players in their homes. SD is here for a while longer.

You also need to offer matte-screen options on all your notebooks.

The Bottom Line seems to be that Apple has stopped listening to its customers. Instead, the company seems to be driving further into a “we know what is best for you” mentality; and I’m sensing it so strongly that even for a guy like me who loves the Apple product line I’m starting to think about returning to the Windows world where I have more choice. I’d really prefer not to go there. To a large degree, whether I choose to or not, is up to you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The BIG Apple Screw-Up: No Firewire in the MacBook is a BIG Deal!

Through the years, Apple has patted itself on the back for removing technology from its computer line it has decided its users no longer need. In this latest evolution of its MacBook line, though there are many things to its credit, Apple has removed Firewire 400 from both the MacBook and MacBook Pro models, restricting its consumer base to the pathetic use of PC-derived USB 2.0. Already this morning, Apple’s discussion boards are full of users crying “foul!”. At first, Apple performed its usual controlling censorship trick by deleting the threads illuminating the users’ dissatisfaction, but they’re back up now to the company’s credit.

I’m here to say I’m one of those crying “FOUL!”.

The inclusion of Firewire in Macs and the beautiful uses you could put it to was one of those things that distinguished the Mac technical experience from that of the world of the PC. PC’s running Windows had no ability to boot off an external disk and run the operating system from boot up, something that could be routinely done on a Mac if a copy of the operating system (and I’m talking OS X, here) was properly installed on the Firewire hard drive. Holding down the Option key allowed you to pick a boot hard disk during the machine’s start sequence. This not only allowed you to use a Firewire hard drive to troubleshoot a system that might not otherwise boot, but you could run disk utilities from the external drive to fix the boot drive. In addition, Apple had used Firewire to enable you to use its Migration Assistant to make transferring files and applications from your old machine to your new one a snap. Now, with the dropping of Firewire, you must use network connections (either wired or wireless) to use Migration Assistant. HELLO, APPLE, THERE ARE STILL PLENTY OF FOLKS WHO DO NOT HAVE A HOME NETWORK!!!! They own a single Mac and now, instead of being able to plug in a cable and transfer data from it themselves, they’ll have to get a friend who does have a network AND understands Macs to help.

You’ve shot yourself in the foot, Apple! At the very least, you’d better issue an update to Migration Assistant that lets it use USB 2.0, or you’re going to lose switchers you could have had!!!

Meanwhile, too, note that if you had hoped to use the smaller format MacBook with its increased horsepower to edit video, you’re either out of luck or going to have spend money on a USB 2.0 to Firewire adapter and hope it works (which it probably won’t since the video application that needs Firewire will still see it as USB)! Otherwise, you’re going to have no way of getting your video onto the new MacBook if you have a decent video camera; Apple must be thinking that consumers primarily use those little dinky half-video, half-still cameras that use USB 2.0 to hook up with a PC. You’re better bet, if you’re using a real video camera, is to step up to a MacBook Pro and use a FW800 to 400 adapter; I’m betting you have better luck with that than you would springing from USB 2.0, and I’m betting that’s what Apple is counting on.

Last night, my wife and I had talked about moving to notebooks only by using a couple of the new MacBooks and the new 24 inch LCD’s. Yes, we have a home network and I can get Migration Assistant to work, so the loss of FW is not as big a deal to us as it might be to other couples. But, for me, personally, the loss of both FW400 as a camera interface AND the loss of Target Disk mode (Target Disk Mode does not exist in the new MacBook Pro, either!) and its ability to allow troubleshooting of a sick Mac as well as make a bootable backup from a healthy one IS a BIG DEAL! My wife may still move to a MacBook only set-up but I don’t feel I can now, even though I’d like to. The new LCD with its iSight camera gave me a reason to switch but the loss of Firewire 400 IS a SHOWSTOPPER!

Guess I’ll take a look at having an Apple Repair Center put a 500GB hard drive in my current 15 inch MacBook Pro and then wait for someone to make an adapter that let’ll me run it with one of the new 24 inch LCD’s. I won’t get the smaller footprint I want when I’m on the move, but at least I won’t lose some of that wonderful functionality I’ve come to associate with using a Mac.