Mac Musings

First Impressions of a MacBook Pro

Daniel Knight - 2007.06.21, updated 2007.06.27

Thanks to the kind folks at TechRestore, I'm using the finest notebook computer I've ever put hands to. It's a refurbished 15" MacBook Pro, the 2.16 GHz Core 2 model, and it didn't take but a moment to fall in love with it.

My PowerBook G4

My first and only new Mac 'Book prior to this was the original 15" PowerBook G4 running at 400 MHz. I acquired it in January 2001, its first month to market, and upgraded it several times over the years - from 128 MB to 256 MB of RAM, and eventually to 768 MB. From a 10 GB hard drive to 20 GB and later to 40 GB.

It was a remarkably swift machine when running Mac OS 9.1, and it was my primary computer for several years. AirPort range was not the best, so I used a third-party WiFi card for better reach. The 1152 x 768 display was big enough for my needs - just. And I didn't need to burn CDs, so the DVD-ROM drive wasn't a drawback.

I began my transition to OS X in January 2002, starting with a 10.0.3 installer and immediately running the 10.1 update. Then I used Software Update to reach 10.1.2. At the time I was dependent on some classic apps that ran a lot better when the PowerBook was booted into OS 9.2 than 10.1.

Over the years, things got better. Mac OS X 10.2 made Classic Mode much more palatable, and over time I reached the point where I only had a single classic Mac app that I depended on.

Today, running OS X 10.4.9 (I'll probably update to 10.4.10 later today) on a fast Power Mac G4, I still depend on Claris Home Page to write and edit articles for Low End Mac and my other websites. It's a remarkably useful, friendly program that's rather dated, forcing me to use other tools such as Nvu, SeaMonkey, and TextWrangler for part of my work flow.

It's also the biggest obstacle to my using an Intel-based Mac full time.

The MacBook Pro

I'd seen the MacBook Pro at the Apple Store and CompUSA, and I was impressed at the way it looked. Much more elegant and far less angular than the titanium PowerBook G4. It looked quite a bit bigger than my 15" PowerBook when I took it out of the box and opened it up; I somehow couldn't believe that this wasn't the 17" model until I checked "About This Mac".

The brushed aluminum is gorgeous, much nicer than painted titanium, and the rounded edges make it a pleasure to hold. The wider trackpad is wonderful, and the backlit keyboard is a treat in low light, although it's way too bright in the dark. You can adjust this using the F9 (backlight off), F10 (dimmer), and F11 (brighter) keys, but only when the backlight would activate based on light level. (You can manually adjust it using Lab Tick by Alexander Repty, a freeware program that lets you set the keyboard illumination to any level you desire regardless of ambient light.)

What's really stunning about the 15" MacBook Pro is the display. At 15.4", it's only a fraction of an inch wider than the one on my late, lamented 15.2" PowerBook G4, but it's wider and displays a lot more. We're comparing the old 1152 x 768 display with a 1.5:1 aspect ratio to the new 1440 x 900 display with a 1.6:1 aspect ratio. It seems positively huge! (For the record, I chose the matte display. It's what I'm used to. Maybe next time I'll be ready to go glossy.)

I really like the MagSafe connector, and I appreciate the way Apple has put the "sleep" light in the latch release. My only hardware complaint is that button; it seems to need to be pushed in a lot further than the one on my PowerBook, farther than should be necessary. But I like the way the lid springs up a bit as it's released. Classy.

Using the MacBook Pro is a revelation. Apple made it very easy for me to import all of my settings from the external hard drive I use with my Power Mac G4. The setup program even used the built-in iSight webcam to take my picture for my user account - clever! And almost everything I have just ran.

No Classic Mode

Almost, as in "not Claris Home Page". The one classic app I depend on because I have never been able to find a suitable replacement for it.

I believe HTML software should work like word processing software - it should let you concentrate on writing and designing, keeping the details hidden away until you need to fiddle with the underlying code. On top of that, it should produce good HTML, code that supports standards and works across browsers. It shouldn't litter your code with unwanted breaks between paragraphs or myriad style sheets, as programs such as iWeb do.

In addition to being more-or-less a WYSIWYG HTML editor, Home Page has an upload manager smart enough to only upload changed pages. I've come to depend on that.

Home Page is ten years old, and I haven't found an alternative I can live with. Many of the low-end programs either aren't WYSIWYG or can't open my existing HTML files. Many of the high-end programs go way beyond my needs to simply write, edit text, and insert images. Some of the programs do their best to keep you from accessing the HTML files they create.

Things have changed a lot in ten years. HTML 4 came out. PNG files came to the Web. Flash became a big deal. Cascading Style Sheets changed the way we set fonts and sizes and colors. And Home Page doesn't support any of that.

To make the transition to the MacBook Pro, I'll need to get an emulator up and running. My first thought was SheepShaver, as it emulates the PowerPC. Drawbacks are that it needs a ROM file and only supports up to Mac OS 9.0.4. I'm not sure I have an OS 9.0 CD, nor have I taken the time to find an OS 8.5 or 8.6 install CD from which I could copy the ROM image.

The other option is Mini vMac, which I've already used to emulate a Mac Plus. Not quite what I need, as the Mac Plus didn't display color.

A third alternative, which I've never tried, is Basilisk II, which can emulate a 68030-based Mac and has 256 color support.

One thing I have been able to do is use the free version of LogMeIn to connect to my Power Mac G4 from the MacBook Pro. This lets me remotely control the Power Mac - and open, edit, create, save, and upload files. It's not especially fast, as my WiFi router is 802.11g, but it works. And I could potentially log into my Power Mac from anywhere I have an Internet connection.

Emulation will be nicer, but it's going to be some time before I have the time to experiment with that.

My First Macintel Experience

Other than that, I am overwhelmingly pleased with the MacBook Pro experience. All my other software just works, and everything runs more smoothly than on my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4.

The screen isn't as tall as my 19" Dell LCD, but I really like the extra width of the 1440 x 900 display vs. the 1280 x 1024 on my desktop setup. For the way I work, I'll take 1440 x 900 any day.

I love being able to sit down in the living room with the TV on and work on the MacBook Pro. So does my fiancé, who otherwise uses a 1.25 GHz eMac. And the backlit keyboard is wonderful in the evening. In fact, it has me musing one for my Power Mac.

All in all, it's been a very positive experience. If you're not wed to one or more classic Mac apps and still using PowerPC-based hardware, you'll find Macintel performance a treat. And in terms of look and feel, the 15" MacBook Pro is something else.