What I don’t like about Apple MacBooks…

Interestingly, you’ll find quite a few “10 reasons why I dislike my MacBook Pro” posts on the internet, but you won’t find blog posts titled “10 things that I hate about my HP Elitebook xyz” . While that’s pretty amusing, it’s about time to add my own reasoning. Also, I need to find out why people love their MacBooks so much.

I am actually not in the position to write a blog post on hardware I do not own or use, but I am surrounded by geeks and nerds that use MacBooks and Win/Linux notebooks and I have recently become a) frustrated by using Win7 and b) been lulled by the “I-want-a-Mac” advertisment that I feel an urge to note down any reasonable arguments before I switch to the evil side. I know that it will happen one day because I had said the same about the iPhone for different reasons and then eventually started using an iPhone (because Nokia couldn’t deliver!). I also believe that the purchase of an Apple iPad or a similar tablet computer is more attractive right now than a new (full) computer.

Three important points, though, that I would like to note down first:

a) Most MacBook (Pro) users I know are nice people who like getting things done. Most of them are from the software side, while I am a hardware guy. They are also the ones who are often looking for that special button and/or cable they need to connect their MB to a beamer.

b) Most MacBook (Pro) users I know have based their purchase of a MacBook (Pro) instead of a Windows or GNU/Linux machine on the fact that the most often and visible alternative are cheap consumer notebooks. To them, it seems, all they are comparing MacBooks with are these cheap plastic machines that tend to brake easily and only have an expected life span of three years. However, there also is a business range with a life expentancy of ~ 5 years available. IBM/Lenovo ThinkPads, better Dells or the HP (Elitebook) 25xx, 69xx or 8xxx range are such business computers. My HP Elitebook 6930p has a very durable body that can easily compete with any MacBook. You won’t find most of these machines in your normal computer store, though, at least not in Europe. But there are Apple stores with often competent staff.

c) Most MacBook (Pro) users I know love their MacBooks and would probably buy them again.

Having said that, there also are a lot of things I like about MacBooks: battery runtime, illuminated keyboard (else only available on Dells), smaller power supply & MagSafe (but also a thick power cord, sigh), reduction of the user interface to a necessary minimum, emphasis on haptic and the fact that the OS can be optimised for a standarized hardware. I’ve also experienced an increase in productivity on a Mac Book, but had the same impression with a Gnome desktop in Ubuntu, so I’d only blame this on the user interface of the OS.

So what do I dislike?

availability and placment of USB ports
You’ll only find three USB ports on the 17″ MacBook Pros, the 13″ & 15″ versions only come with two USB ports. MacBook? Also only two ports. And they are all placed on the left side, which means you’ll have to pass the cable behind the computer if you’re using an external mouse. One on each side would be better, imo.
Apple will probably argue that the MacBooks were designed to be used without an external mouse.

glossy display & opening angle
The glossy display is only good because of its brightness / illumination and the low power LEDs. I also dislike that the display doesn’t open up to 180° like it does on business HPs or IBMs.

Most ppl love the (chiclet) keyboard on MacBooks, but it is far away from being ergonomic. CK just told me about the Repetitive Strain Injury Syndrome he’s suffering from since using his MacBook(s). I also hear ppl complaining about missing keys, or key combinations they’ll have to press to achieve the same, but I think the (huge) touchpad and multitouch functionality replaced a lot of this.

no 3G/umts module
An internal 3G/UMTS module isn’t available for MacBooks, probably because of design reasons (where do you put the SIM? where will the antennas be located? how will they compete for the best position next to the display with the WiFi antennas? etc.). On both my computers (HP Elitebook & Asus eee netbook) I have such internal modems. I also don’t understand this policy because I think there are more conference / mobile people using MacBooks than Windows ppl. From my experience, most Windows users stay at home! :-)

Oh boy, MacBooks become pretty hot. I also don’t know where the vent intake and output is on MB(P)s – behind the hinge and via the keyboard? – but nevertheless: this could and should be better, especially with an integrated battery (batteries hate heat, no matter what Apple tells you).

docking station
There is no official docking station available for MacBook Pros. Yes, there is this one, but I prefer to use the screen on the notebook as a 2nd screen (multi monitor setup). My setup here is this way: 22″ TFT display to the left, on the right side the HP Elitebook notebook on a docking station with an extended screen in Windows and Linux. Plus: the docking station on my HP lifts the notebook from the table, so there’s enough space for fresh air. Sadly, you won’t have this on a MacBook.

I understand that Apple would probably argue to buy another desktop Mac, like the iMac or the Mac mini to use at home and to make use of the (much better than on Windows) file exchange. Yes?

no vga-out
Yes, there are better alternatives, but the missing vga-out port actually means you’ll need to carry extra adapters (and buy them extra).

MacBooks are expensive. Yes, my Elitebook 6930p also sells for 1490,- EUR, but I got it as a demo machine for half the price (749,- EUR) and I wouldn’t have bought it for a higher price. I think most Apple products are still too expensive, especially all these extra gadgets that you are supposed to buy.

I think the real difference between MacBooks and most Windows notebooks is the user experience – which seems to be a bit more special and also fascinating with MacBooks. This obviously is related to the operating system – I’ve just read a blog post where someone bought a MBP and installed Windows7 on it and never touched OSX (which is rather stupid, imo). The limitation of available software compared to Windows and Ubuntu: I think this actually is a big plus for MacBooks because you’re more productive when the choice is limited to a few good (really good) tools like Keynote or video editing software. I miss these on my Win/Linux machine.

With my experience that a) the internal 3G modem on my HP will work in a MS-Windows environment only (due to a dynamic firmware), and that b) neither Windows nor Ubuntu are really optimized for my notebook either, I could fall for a MacBook primarily because of the (seemingly) better interaction between software and hardware. All other arguments like a better build quality or working hibernation & standby modes (modi?) are not that important to me because I’ve seen that my HP can compete here.

So here’s my question: is it true that MacBooks are just so much better? If yes, why? And are you (MacBook users) more productive with it?

You know I wouldn’t asks these questions, but if MacBooks and OSX are just as dead simple as the interface on the iPhone, then there’s a very valid reason to switch from my current setup to a MacBook in future.

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention malware vulnerability of Mac OSX as a positive or negative argument because I believe that there’s a lot of malware (of any kind) out there that will affect both Windows and Mac machines. And while it’s more likely to infect an unprotected Win machine with malware via a shared USB memory key (especially in Africa where a lot of ppl don’t stick to data discipline), there seems to be more important and imo also much more serious issues like theft identity via Firesheep & other similar tools coming up these days. That – in my opinion – is malware which won’t care about operating systems. The real danger with this malware – I think – is that most users aren’t prepared and believe that their system is proteced or unvulnerable (because it’s a MacBook and “there are no viruses” and so on…). None of these processes are as transparent as they should be to the user, and will probably never be.

3 comments » Write a comment

  1. Interesting post. Which OS are you running on your HP Elitebook 6930p?

    When I got my MacBook Pro the difference between OS X and Windows XP was amazing. Everything just worked. It connected to the wireless without a fuss. It connected to the USB modem without a fuss. It dealt with pictures video without a fuss. It connected to servers in a multitude of ways without a fuss. It was also pretty fast and very “cool”. Then my MBP was stolen. I got a HP Pavillion which came with Windows Vista and in less than 24 hours Vista was gone replaced by Ubuntu.
    The positive thing that came out of getting my MBP stolen was I embraced Linux, specifically Ubuntu and again many things just worked – and seem to be getting better with each release.
    What I miss is the photo organizing software, such as Adobe Lightroom and an Office Suite (Open Office is not as powerful as MS Office IMO).
    If Windows would install a properly terminal where I could SSH into my servers without having to learn how to tango and juggle at the same time it would be wonderful.
    Many many times I have planned to replace my MBP or even buy an iMac but each time I stop and look at the cost and ask myself if it is really worth it. Without a doubt if I had a loose USD 5000 that I had to spend on comp gear it would most probably be Apple stuff. But since I live in the real world with competing interests for my money I haven’t yet!

  2. Thx for your feedback, Daudi. I am using Win7 & Linux Mint on my 6930p. Battery runtime is an issue though within Linux. I feel/think that Win7 is slightly more optimised when it comes to energy consumption.

    It’s also interesting that you miss the better software on OSX and not so much the better hardware. Now about that Pavillion: pole sana! The other day I bought an HP nc6400 for a colleague in Nairobi – used, from eBay, EUR 200 with UK keyboard. The only thing it lacks is a really good OS.