Abandoning my Little Black Book

I was really hoping that installing Windows on my sexy black MacBook would be the key to turning me into a Mac user. But as much as I do love it in a lot of ways, I'm afraid it's just not the bridge I was hoping for. Most of the issues I have with it are software related, and will probably be fixed in Leopard. But some are hardware problems, and at least one of them is a deal-breaker.

So, sadly, it looks like I'm going to be selling my Little Black Book (as lovely and wonderful as it is) and replacing it with a Dell M1210. It's definitely not as sexy as the MacBook, but it solves all of the complaints I have with the MacBook and even throws in a few extras, for roughly the same price. Function wins over form. For those of you who are curious about the details behind the decision, read on...


Deal Breaker

  • Incompatibility with Outlook PST files. I asked around, but have yet to find a way to translate email sent from Mac Mail into PST format. I have the last eight years worth of email archived in PST, and if switching to Mac means losing the ability to continue archiving my email, then I'm sorry, there's no coming back from that. I could work around the incoming email, since all of my email is from POP3 accounts. But there's no way I'm going to sacrifice all of my outgoing email.


Hardware Design Problems

  • The MacBook gets hot. I knew this going in, but I was assuming that it was like any other laptop, where it is only the bottom that gets hot, and the keyboard surface stays a reasonable temperature. But even when the MacBook is staying mostly idle it gets warm enough that even putting your hands on it to type you can really feel the heat. I could deal with the bottom being hot, but I don't like having hot hands while typing. [Note: If you live somewhere cold, or have hands that are constantly cold, this could be a good thing for you.]

  • The front edge of the MacBook is sharp. It's not painfully sharp, but when you place your hands on the keyboard to type, your wrists drag across the front edge of the MacBook, which is not rounded or sloped like most laptops. That gets incredibly irritating after a very short while.


Hardware/Boot Camp Problems
  • There is no delete button. There is a button called delete, but it actually works like a backspace instead of as a delete. Which makes it pretty much useless when you're trying to delete emails in Outlook while running Windows or other "true delete" tasks. This could probably be solved with a smarter keyboard driver when the production version of Boot Camp comes out with Leopard, but I'm not willing to wait that long.

  • There are no page up / page down buttons. If you're on the Mac side, there's probably a key combo for doing this, but you can't do it in Windows. Again, this could probably be solved in Leopard with better drivers, but even then it's a pain to have to use a key combo rather than actually having a button. The M1210 has the page up/down buttons right beside the arrow buttons, which is very convenient.

  • You can't right-click without a mouse. I know Boot Camp didn't come out until the MacBook was already finished, but I really don't understand why they don't have an option for using a real right-click. Hopefully they'll realize how big a barrier that is to a lot of Windows users and include this in the next version of the MacBook.

  • The screen resolution is too small. In Windows, there are only four screen resolutions available, and only one of those is in the widescreen format. But it's a very small resolution, which is hard for me to read. So I'm forced to either do a lot of squinting or use a non-widescreen format that makes everything hard to read by stretching it in weird ways. Granted, this is more of a problem for me than it would be for most people since I still haven't accepted that the PRK surgery fucked up my eyes and I really do need to get glasses again. But I really do hope they'll add support for more resolution sizes in the Leopard version of Boot Camp. A widescreen equivalent of 800x600 and 1024x768 should definitely be included, since that's what people are mostly used to using on other Windows machines.

  • The camera and CD/DVD burner don't work in Windows. The CD/DVD players work, but it doesn't have the right drivers to use the camera or to recognize the burners. Again, this is something that will probably be fixed with better Boot Camp drivers in Leopard, but if this is going to be my primary machine, I'm not going to wait that long.


Dell M1210 Extras

  • It has a SD media card drive on the side. My Treo and my digital camera both use SD cards, so that's pretty damn convenient.

  • It has a camera at the top, like the MacBook, but the one of the M1210 can flip around to point away from you, so you can take pictures of something other than yourself. That's handy.

  • It has volume and play/pause/fast forward/rewind buttons on the front, so you don't need to pull up an on-screen menu when watching a movie or listening to music. This will be convenient when I have the laptop at the desk next to me at work.


Of course, neither of these laptops has a docking station. That bugs the living crap out of me. But I guess a small screen size is a higher priority to me than convenience in plugging it in to a KVM switch, or I would have opted for one of the larger Dells, or a sexier-looking Thinkpad.

Now I just need to read the reviews for the M1210, to make sure there aren't any pitfalls I'm not aware of. Then I'll need to find a buyer for both my MacBook (120GB HD / 2GB memory / $2000) and my Mac Mini (80GB HD / 2GB memory / $1000). This winter, if I manage to convince myself to get a big screen TV for the new house, perhaps I'll get one of the low-end Minis to use as a media center. That way I'll be able to experiment with Leopard when it comes out, without relying on it to for my primary machine.

15 Comments:

  1. I actually asked about the MacBook heat issue when I took in Clotho (who is, for the record, an old iBook G4). The sales rep actually said that they’ve been very conscientious about never calling the MacBook, or any of their portable models for that matter, “laptops” partially because of the heat issue.

    What the guy also told me is that on the metal-bodied Macs, the body is actually tied in to the heat sink – it was just never as big a problem until they switched to the Intel architecture which runs so much hotter.

    • “it was just never as big a problem until they switched to the Intel architecture which runs so much hotter.”

      Which is kinda the same thing as saying “it was just never as big a problem until they started using high-speed processors, in line with modern Windows machines”

    • Yeah, that’s one of the reasons I bought a MacBook and didn’t even consider getting a MacBook Pro. The MacBook gets a little warm, but the Pro gets hot, thanks to the metal casing.

      You have to admit, though. Intentionally calling it a notebook instead of a laptop is really just a legalese way of saying “yes, we know our hardware design has a huge flaw, but we’re not going to fix it.” Hopefully they will have found a more elegant way of dealing with the heat issues by the time I need another laptop upgrade, in 2009 or so. Because in almost every other way, I really do love their hardware designs.

  2. The heat doesn’t but me, but as you said, it is good for those of us with cold fingers. :)

    I don’t have the mail problem as I don’t download any of it… ntm most of it isn’t that important anyhow. I’m kind of pathetic about email lately.

    The other problems… I was craving the right click too, but then remember the Ctrl click and I’ve not had any problems using that. It works just the same.

    Instead of page down I’ve been using the two-finger scroll and it has worked marvelously, I’m quite happy with it. Oh, and I’ve got the remote and it rocks for movie watching across the room. :)

    I’m sorry you don’t like the Macs so much… I just can’t imagine dealing with the crap the windows programs gave me again. I’m tickled that all my graphics programs run so well finally. :)

    • Control-click and the two-finger touchpad trick definitely solve the problem on the OS X side. But they don’t work when you’re running Windows. Hopefully they’ll provide smarter drivers with the Leopard version of Bootcamp, so these ever-so-useful features will become ubiquitous.

      And if you think your graphics programs run well now, just wait until Adobe finishes migrating everything to be Intel-compatible. They’re going to fly like the wind on a MacBook a year from now!

    • I know. I’m sorry. I really, really tried. And it’s a great laptop if you’re already a Mac user, or don’t have strong ties to Windows. Everything else I probably could have worked around, or waited for Leopard to fix. But the Mail/PST thing was a deal breaker.

      Thanks so much for helping me try to come over to the Light Side. Maybe we can give it another try next year, when Leopard is out and I need a Mini to use as a media center for the big screen TV I’ll hopefully be able to afford by then. :)

        • No, I didn’t. I sold my copy of Office for Mac, since I was already going to have the Windows version on it. But if I were going to use the OS X side as my primary environment, I’d want to be able to use Mail and all the other Mac-native apps. I seriously doubt MS will be keeping Entourage as up to date as Mail.

          All I really want (and this will need to be solved eventually, or a lot of us Windows-trained folks won’t switch) is an “export to PST” tool buried somewhere in the advanced menu of Mail.

          In almost all ways, Mac seems to be a superior operating system and collection of apps. But the one thing it falls woefully short on is realizing that it needs to make some optional concessions to make certain parts behave more like Windows, if they’re going to win over the growing percentage of the population who really want to switch, but want it to be as painless a switching process as possible.

          Hopefully they will have ironed out most of these issues by the time I need a new laptop again, in 2009 or so. As for a secondary media machine, I’d be all over a version of the Mini that has a built in DVR, giant HD and home entertainment center hookups. :)

    • If you’re already used to Mac or not dead-set tied to using PST backups, it’s still a great laptop. And much sexier/cheaper than most of the PC equivalents, for what you get. It just happened to not meet my neurotic needs. :)

  3. Some points from an unabashed Mac fan

    While many of your points are valid, I have to point out some flaws in your post:

    • Incompatibility with Outlook PST files. It sounds like you don’t want to lose the ability to view your archived messages, which you store in PST files. You’d also like to store new messages in your existing archive. Am I correct? It’s true, there is no native support for opening/viewing/modifying Outlook’s PST files from within Mac’s Mail program, or even the Mac equivalent of Outlook, Microsoft Entourage. However, there are tools that can translate/transfer from one to the other. See O2M for an example. But if all you need to do is transfer messages from Outlook to Mail (or vice-versa), all you need is an IMAP account. Both Outlook and Mail support IMAP, so once you’re connected to the IMAP account (in either app), copying messages is as easy as dragging them from your PST file (when you’re in Outlook) to an IMAP folder on the server, then dragging them from the IMAP folder to a Mac Mail folder (in Mail).

      But what is it you really want to be doing, moving forward? I assume that in an ideal word, you’d want to be able to both access and add new messages to/from your archive from both platforms. Short of placing your entire archive on a server in IMAP format (an interesting thing to ponder), I’m not sure you’re ever going to accomplish this, unless you convert your archive to a format that’s a little more standard than the Microsoft proprietary PST format. This conversion, as I’ve noted, can be done.

    • There is no delete button. That little "fn" key at the bottom left of your keyboard converts the Backspace button (labeled "delete" on the Mac for historical reasons) to Delete.

    • There are no page up / page down buttons. That same magical "fn" key converts up arrow and down arrow to page up and page down, respectively. Additionally, fn-right-arrow is End and fn-left-arrow is Home. I find this much more intuitive than the standard PC laptop practice of putting all these in a tiny row at the top right corner of the keyboard.

    • You can’t right-click without a mouse. I’m pretty sure any 2-button USB mouse attached to your MacBook will function as a 2-button mouse in Windows. Further, the standard Mac way of doing a contextual click (Ctrl-click) works once you install a simple utility in Windows: Apple Mouse Utility. I’m a little skeptical of this utility myself, given that Ctrl-clicking is pretty important in Windows. But it’s worth a shot. (I’ve also hear rumors that you can configure a trackpad-click to be a right-click, but they’re unconfirmed.)

    Ultimately, your decision is up to you. But I thought you should have all the facts, at least. :-)

    -Fred

    • Re: Some points from an unabashed Mac fan

      there are tools that can translate/transfer from one to the other. See O2M (http://www.littlemachines.com/) for an example.
      Yeah, I looked in to that. But the folks at O2M confirmed for me that their solution is one-way only, converting from PST to Mac. It doesn’t go back the other way. Which makes it less than ideal for those who still want to have their options open.

      But if all you need to do is transfer messages from Outlook to Mail (or vice-versa), all you need is an IMAP account. Both Outlook and Mail support IMAP
      I really don’t know that much about IMAP, and I’m not sure if my server supports it. Right now I have a few different POP3 accounts, all of which I import into both Outlook and Mail. So incoming mail isn’t an issue. But outgoing mail send from Mail would be stuck there. How does IMAP differ from POP3? How would it solve this problem?

      But what is it you really want to be doing, moving forward? I assume that in an ideal word, you’d want to be able to both access and add new messages to/from your archive from both platforms.
      Yes. But not necessarily real-time. For example, when I send email through Yahoo, it isn’t automatically added to my PST archives. But every few months I drag my sent email into my inbox, let it get sucked into Outlook through POP3, and add it to my PST archive from there. As long as I have a way of moving my sent mail to the archive every once in a while, I’m happy.

      There is no delete button. That little “fn” key at the bottom left of your keyboard converts the Backspace button (labeled “delete” on the Mac for historical reasons) to Delete.
      Not on Windows it doesn’t. And even if it did, it’s a pain in the ass to have to hit two keys to perform an action you use all the time. This is the kind of thing I hope they will fix in the Leopard version of Bootcamp, making it a user-configurable option as to whether the Delete button works like a delete or a backspace (with the other still being accessible by fn+Delete or some such).

      That same magical “fn” key converts up arrow and down arrow to page up and page down, respectively. Additionally, fn-right-arrow is End and fn-left-arrow is Home.
      Again, not in Windows they don’t. I could live with not having them as separate buttons if I were using OS X as my primary environment. But since my web dev software (and potentially mail client) are in Windows, I’d still be spending enough time on that side of the fence for this to be an annoyance.

      I find this much more intuitive than the standard PC laptop practice of putting all these in a tiny row at the top right corner of the keyboard.
      I would disagree. For me, it is much more convenient to just push one button with your right hand (choosing either the down arrow or page down, depending on what how far you want to go) than having to use both hands just to page down.

      I’m pretty sure any 2-button USB mouse attached to your MacBook will function as a 2-button mouse in Windows.
      Which is why I said you can’t do it “without a mouse.” :) Yeah, plugging in a mouse makes it work fine. But I don’t want to be forced to plug in a bunch of attachments just to use my laptop.

      Further, the standard Mac way of doing a contextual click (Ctrl-click) works once you install a simple utility in Windows
      Good to know. But this is precisely the kind of thing that should automatically be built in to Bootcamp. I don’t have time to scour the web for a third-party solution to every feature that Bootcamp fails to get working. And the average switcher will have even less patience with this than me, I’d wager.

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