Mac Lab Report

Hands On: A New PowerBook with Tiger

- 2005.05.18

I am typing this on a PowerBook G4 purchased with grant funds. This PowerBook replaces a damaged TiBook I've been using for some time.

The TiBook was dropped onto a floor - twice - and as a result it had one hinge broken loose completely (except for a wire or cable leading to the lid), internal breaks in its support frame in seven places, cracks in the upper case where the keyboard and trackpad are in three places (including a nice one right over the SuperDrive), a backlight that would not wake up from sleep every time, a useless trackpad and button, and the usual assortment of scratches and worn out paint areas.

The poor TiBook still booted, though, and with an external mouse I limped along until I was able to get a new PowerBook G4.

The new PowerBook has been reviewed elsewhere, I'm sure, but I just thought I'd share some impressions of it as there are still many TiBook users out there who may be interested in making the switch.

Aluminum PowerBookFirst of all, the PowerBook has a more iBook-like lid hinge, with the descending lid that sits slightly behind the body of the computer when open. This necessitated moving all the ports from the back - sans the annoying little flip-lid to cover them - and here Apple has made some nice choices, including having one USB port on either side. FireWire 800 is included, although I wish I had two FireWire 400 ports so I could connect an iPod and an iSight simultaneously.

The power port is on the side, which I am not sure I like as well, but it has to be somewhere. The drive still has the nice right side front slot-loading design, which I have always liked.

The keyboard has a nice crisp feel. The keyboard seems to be recessed just slightly, perhaps to help prevent screen marks common to TiBooks. The computer feels sturdier as well, and the finish doesn't appear to attract scratches as much.

The speakers are nicer, as well. They are larger in area and sound better than the TiBook's speakers.

This computer runs at 1.5 GHz, compared to my older 1 GHz, and the difference in response is perceptible. Part of this may be due to the Tiger operating system installed on delivery. Tiger makes a bunch of improvements on the last version of Panther, and if you have the hardware to support it, I recommend the upgrade.

A new version of iWork, including an updated Keynote, was included on a 30 day trial. The new version of Keynote solves every major objection I had to the original, including timed transitions sans mouse clicks, better integration with other iApps (really - it's easier to select files than it was because the interface is improved with better organization), and some new transitions to play with.

Tiger's Spotlight is better than Sherlock ever was, but you have to be careful to type quickly or you'll get bogged down in a search of files that start with "an" (there are a lot) vs. the phrase "ancillary data" (there are not nearly as many). Results are automatically sorted by type. The search initiates as soon as you start typing, so type quickly to avoid bogging down.

Also included in Tiger is the new Dashboard utility to run mini-apps called widgets. The widgets do very focused single-purpose functions such as the weather or stickies. There is some sort of malicious exploit connected with Widgets making the rounds on the Net, so maybe you want to leave Dashboard off until Apple updates it. [Editor's note: Apple has just released the OS X 10.4.1 update, which addresses the problem.]

I have to say that it is very handy to just pop up the weather, AirPort base station list, and whatever else I've selected with just the press of the f15 key, which I can find in the dark.

Speaking of the dark, I like the new backlit keyboard controls. I do a lot of work in the dark, being an astronomer, and the ability to see the keyboard - and more importantly, to turn it off on demand - is important. I wish it were backlit in red, though, but you can't have everything.

Obviously there are many many more features than I can cover in a single article. Overall, though, I'm very very pleased with the computer, the OS, and the new versions of iApps.

For the first time in a long time, the upgrade to a new machine has left me with so many new features I haven't had time to try them all yet. I haven't even launched Pages (part of iWork) yet, for example.

Only a few things have broken in the upgrade - nothing really critical. It took me a while to reset a certain FTP connection I used for some reason, but it eventually worked. I had some trouble figuring out how to move over and import my older Mail folders to my new Mail application, but I got that working eventually as well.

Mac OS 9 did not come preinstalled, but it is still available on the installer discs included with the computer. This is the first Mac I've ever owned or used that could not boot into OS 9; that was one of the reasons I got the TiBook.

As it turned out, I rarely needed to boot into OS 9. The last time I did it was some months ago because some old game I had would only run in OS 9, and that seemed to be more a function of my being unwilling to let go of the old OS than my real need for it.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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