by Chris Bertram on July 29, 2006

As some of you may remember, “I blegged”: a while back about getting a new laptop. As a result, I took your advice and got myself a spanking new Intel-based “MacBook”: . So here’s the audit part. Was it a good decision? Yes, I think so. The MacBook looks nice and it plays nice. The keyboard is comfortable, the display is good, and the whole think isn’t too heavy to carry about. On the other hand, I did have a nasty persistent problem when I first got the machine, one that Apple weren’t much use with, and which a large number of new MacBook owners seem to be suffering from. The problem was this: that I’d imagine I had shut down the machine, but I’d actually closed the clamshell before the shutdown process finished. It didn’t just go into benign “sleep” mode when this happened, it “woke up” in its closed state became incredibly hot, fans whirring, refused to shutdown or restart, “kernel panic”, and so on. One one occasion I came downstairs in the morning to find the battery completely depleted from one of these incidents, on another my rucksack was burning hot from the nearly combusting computer inside it. Apple told me to reset the power management, which I did, but that made no difference. What works is to wait until the screen goes black and then a further few seconds. Apple should tell people.

I got used to the Mac way of working pretty fast – though I miss having a 2-button mouse – and, to be honest, there isn’t as much difference as I expected with a PC. Claims made by Mac fans that OSX never crashes proved to be false: it does, sometimes, as do applications which “quit unexpectedly”. I tend to use Firefox as my browser, because I like various plugins such as ConQuery, so that’s pretty much the same. I use gmail for mail, so no difference there. And I started using “TeXshop”: as my LaTeX front end, which is fine but the editor isn’t actually as nifty as WinEdt for the PC is: the solution use “TextMate”: as my editor. I’m still on my 1-month trial, but I’m liking it a lot. It is highly configurable, and I’ve worked out how to integrate it with BibDesk (thereby getting BibTeX integration as nice as it was on WinEdt). You can also do things like write a blog post in Textile (or Markdown) and send it direct from TextMate to your blog. That’s what I’m doing for this post. Nice. Search Wikipedia or Google from within the editor? Or execute a Unix command? No problem. Other software has proved more of a pain. I had to do a PowerPoint presentation and tried the latest ports of OpenOffice and NeoOffice for the Mac. Using them was fine, until I got to the “save as” part … at which point they crashed. Of course if I’d worked out that I already had a trial copy of Keynote on the machine, I could have used that. Stupid me.

What else is have I liked? Well, “Quicksilver”: for one thing. Kieran told me that after I’ve used it for a bit I’d come to think of any computer without it is broken. I’m not quite there yet, but it is a very useful and intuitive way of doing things and the plugin makes accessing my favourite websites a matter of ctrl-space, type a letter or two, return. Uploading to flickr from iPhoto using a Quicksilver plugin proved a little trickier, but I worked it out in the end.

So I’m pretty happy with it. If I were buying a laptop again tomorrow, then I’d buy the same. One thing I haven’t done is subscribe to Apple’s .Mac service. I can’t really see what the benefits would be. But if there’s someone want’s to explain that in comments, please go ahead.



Patrick Nielsen Hayden 07.29.06 at 12:16 pm

“I miss having a 2-button mouse”

Of course, OS X supports two-button mice; just plug one in. The only times I use a Mac without one are actual “lap top” situations, e.g., airline tray tables, or taking notes in an audence.


Brett Bellmore 07.29.06 at 12:56 pm

I nearly turned a Windows laptop into slag that way on a flight to the Philippines; I shut it off, folded it up, and stowed it away, not knowing that there’d been an OS upgrade lurking in the background, that decided this was just the right time to reboot the computer and install.

Pretty scary when you consider the failure modes of some of the new battery chemistries.


jakeb 07.29.06 at 1:10 pm

I know a guy who lost two Macs that way–he thought they were off, put them in his rucksack and headed home, and discovered later that the harddrive had been destroyed by all the jostling.


anand sarwate 07.29.06 at 2:31 pm

I too have a new MacBook, and I think I had that problem of yours as well once.

One thing you get on Macs and don’t get on Windows is BibDesk. It’s also much better than pybliographer (for linux).


Doctor Memory 07.29.06 at 2:48 pm

If you miss the second mouse button but don’t want to have to lug around an external mouse, there’s a utility called SideTrack that will let you designate certain corners of the mousepad as arbitrary keystrokes or mouse buttons — I have the upper-right corner set to act as mouse button #2 when I tap it there.


Barry Freed 07.29.06 at 2:53 pm

I have long found the following sites indispensable (I’m a long-time Mac zealot in good standing)

For anything of the sort you’ve posted about above this is the first place I check. It will almost invariably be covered here with many helpful suggestions along with various users comments.

Less useful than it used to be but still worth checking especially after any major updates.

Good for all sorts of Mac arcana.

And of course there’s always the discussion forums on Apple’s own support site.


Barry Freed 07.29.06 at 2:56 pm

Oh, I forgot to add, versiontracker because there are frequently little freeware progs that will be posted there that deal with such annoying problems.


Barry Freed 07.29.06 at 2:58 pm

My comment above will make more sense once it has been found free of surreptitious goatse links and thence appproved by the moderators


Barry Freed 07.29.06 at 2:59 pm

I mean…..referent…arghhhhhh..


Michael Sullivan 07.29.06 at 3:23 pm

Apple even sells a two button mouse which I prefer greatly to any mouse I’ve ever used on the PC side. It looks like a one button mouse, but it senses which side you click on. One thing I like about it is that clicking right in the center, gives you a regular click, not a right click. On a typical 2 button mouse, it’s a crapshoot, and I got hand strain from keeping my finger off the to left for most clicks. I never used such a thing on my macs because of that.

Now I tried the new mighty mouse at work, and I can’t go back. The other major improvement is that the scroll wheel is tiny (doesn’t get in the way) and is a *trackball*, so you can scroll both directions with it.

Get it. Trust me, it rocks. They now have a wireless version as well, but I haven’t used it so can’t vouch for the wireless part.


alan 07.29.06 at 3:46 pm

It took me a little getting used to, but the right-click emulation on the MacBook trackpad is really pretty slick: Either hold two fingers on the pad and press the button, or (and this one is most cool) just tap two fingers right on the pad for the right-click. And, TextMate: Yes.

I enjoyed .Mac for my two-month trial. It worked really well for me to do the job of syncing ical, addressbook, and mail folders between my iMac and MacBook. Worth $100 a year? I can’t quite get behind that, myself.


sharon 07.29.06 at 4:17 pm

You do know about the ‘two-finger’ settings on the MacBook trackpad, right? (Tap with one finger for left-click, tap with two fingers for right-click. It’s all in system preferences…) As a new switcher from PCs myself, I do miss some little things, like the delete key (and some other single-key shortcuts) and the ‘Alt-‘ menu shortcuts in Windows programs. But I can live with that.

I love Quicksilver. I really do. It’s just awesome.

I suppose the one piece of Windows-only software I’m really missing at the moment is HTML-Kit. I’ve got it installed in Parallels (which works fine for the work-related stuff that I need to do on Windows-only software), but I’d love to have a proper Mac version of that one. I’ve spent a lot of time looking for a replacement but not found anything that does half of what HTML-Kit is capable of. The free ones (eg Smultron) seem to be much more basic.

I’ve not had the shut down problem yet, but thanks for the warning…


Jon H 07.29.06 at 4:17 pm

A way to put the laptop to sleep quickly is to press option-apple-eject.

I always wait for the pulsing sleep light to come on before putting it in my backpack. It’s a bit difficult to tell when the light starts pulsing, denoting sleep, when you’re in a bright room. It would be better if Apple used a colored light to denote that, I think.


Delicious Pundit 07.29.06 at 4:30 pm

I have .Mac, because I have more than one computer and use iCal and stuff, so it’s good to have that data for all my computers. I suppose there are plenty of online programs that do the same, but I like using an organizer that lives on my hard drive. Also, because I frequently collaborate, I like the online Public folder on my iDisk so I don’t have to email big files.

I don’t think it’s worth it if you’re not using more than one computer, however.


gray 07.29.06 at 4:37 pm has a good forum and posts concerning the day to day experiences of using macs. I got quick answers concerning two minor issues with my new Macbook there.

As other posters have noted simply find a two button mouse you like and plug it in.

Many commenters question the value of .Mac. The synchronization is slick but the cost is relatively high. Unless you work between two macs it is probably not worth it.

Keynote has some really nice features and looks better in the end, but it takes longer IMO to put a presentation together than PowerPoint. I’ve had the same difficulty with NeoOffice you mention, I’m hoping the latest version fixes that.

I’m not sure that Camino will work with the plug-ins you require but if they do, look at it because it is generally held to be faster than Firefox and more consistent with the Mac interface.


Maynard Handley 07.29.06 at 9:17 pm

Could I put in a plea that people are computer-sophisticated enough to have a blog ought to be sophisticated enough to understand what “crashing the OS” means.

No-one claims that applications on OS-X won’t crash. How could they make such a claim? The writing of third party apps has nothing to do with Apple. The claim is that the OS itself will not crash, ie, as you stated, a flawed app will kill itself and affect nothing else.

Of course XP is no different in this respect. In both cases, to bring down the OS requires either faulty hardware, faulty 3rd-party drivers, or very special circumstances.

We’re living in 2006. Finally, thank god, both the major OS vendors are aware that they need to offer their customers such fine 1960s technology as memory protection, pre-emption and SMP. Therefore, when people want to rant and rave about how great their OS is compared to the other guy’s, could they please perhaps bring up 21st century issues rather than this same old shit?
Examples of 21st century issues are
* security (Apple is quite a bit ahead),
* network transparent graphics and computing (Apple is way behind, MS is OK, not great, Linux/X-windows is better, still not great) [Yeah, yeah, MacOS X supports X windows — which is absolutely zero help for running what most people think of as Mac apps over a network]
* a slew of issues related to backups (everyone is pathetic on this front)
* virtualization (very much in a state of flux these days, changes day to day).


sara 07.29.06 at 9:25 pm

The heating problem seems to plague Apple’s other notebooks. I have a rather old iBook (2002), but even when it was new, it would tend to heat up in use, and when I’ve been working on manuscripts for several hours, Word would crash with the mysterious “KERN ROOT FAILURE” message in the log. Since most people now accept global warming, I hope that Apple could come up with a way to produce laptops that do not double as space heaters.


Peter Hollo 07.29.06 at 11:55 pm

I think Chris made it fairly clear that he did mean that the OS crashes as well as individual bits of software.
I’ve practically never had a bluescreen in Windows XP for years, and I frequently hibernate for days on end without rebooting. On the other hand, I’ve seen Macs in recording studios hang/crash quite frequently (not just Pro Tools, the whole computer freezing up). So Maynard is right that both the main OSes are pretty stable these days, and Mac-evangelists are well off-target in suggesting that the “blue screen of death” is any kind of issue with Windows boxes these days.

I like the idea of the SideTrack software for emulating a right mouse button, as I still think the single mouse button on MacBooks is a real turn-off. Still, my Del Inspiron 9300 has a lovely keyboard layout, and has mousewheel emulators on its trackpad. Two-button mouses are just passe these days ;) I couldn’t live without my mousewheel…


jonathan 07.30.06 at 12:39 am

The only time I have had OSX crash on my own Mac was when a memory chip failed–and I run NLE video editing and 3D animation programs on it all the time. I HAVE seen an OSX crash while running MOTU’s Digital Performer. I assume it had something to do with a glitch in all the hardware that DP was running at the time (a whole BANK of MIDI sequencers.)


John Faughnan 07.30.06 at 8:40 am

I don’t think anyone would say that OS X applications don’t crash, but that’s not the same as the OS crashing. XP rarely crashes, but it can become unusable. OS X really is significantly more stable.

The failure to sleep on lid closure is a bug in the new machines. My iBook has never failed to sleep on lid closure.


rupes 07.30.06 at 12:14 pm

To add a twist…

My PC suffers a similar problem. (Dell X1 – which I think is actually a rebadged Samsung).

Quite frequently I will open the lid to find it alarmingly hot (or dead battery) with the screen live and an alert saying the cryptic “Insufficient sytem resources exist to execute API” which I have worked out means “I had not gone into stand by when you closed the lid, so I will just sit here sulking & drawing power”


nick s 07.30.06 at 1:42 pm

The problem was this: that I’d imagine I had shut down the machine, but I’d actually closed the clamshell before the shutdown process finished.

That’s a bit of PC-centric behaviour that you’d be better off unlearning. Macs simply don’t need to be shut down unless they tell you they need it, for things like critical upgrades, or unless circumstances dictate it, such as a flight. ‘Sleep’ runs in very low power mode, and Macs do fine on lots of uptime.

The problem with sleep mode mentioned @20 is MacBook specific, and if there’s not a firmware fix, then you ought to call on AppleCare to do something about it.


Jon H 07.30.06 at 7:26 pm

The last time I tried to run Google Earth on my mac book pro, it reliably locked the computer up to the point where I had to hold down the power key to force the power off. (I tried again after the first time it happened, and it happened again.)


Steve 07.30.06 at 11:06 pm

Chris, if you like Quicksilver (which I find indispensible, if only for the “Append To…” action), you may be interested in playing around with some of the other Mac productivity widgets out there. For whatever reason, Macs seem to be a much more hospitable ecosystem for these guys to flourish. QS has two notable shareware rivals (Butler and LaunchBar), there are a billion and one little notetaking apps (Mori, DevonTHINK, Yojimbo, VoodooPad, etc.), there are a billion and three clipboard buffers (my own Jumpcut being my personal preferred one), and so forth. and 43folders seem to be the best resources for the incessant fiddler.


agm 07.31.06 at 2:33 am

Quite easy to reproduce a crash of the OS: just try having OS X do anything with less than a gig of swap. In any case, yes, I quite like the possibility of having all 3 OSes on one system, so I am watching Parallels’ evolution.


Thom Brooks 07.31.06 at 3:38 am

I admit it….I think I’m hopelessly turned off Apple laptops now!


W. Kiernan 07.31.06 at 6:00 pm

My Panasonic Toughbook has a heat sensor built into it and there’s code in the BIOS so that when it is running in an extra-hot environment it slows the processor speed down so it won’t crash. A Toughbook is designed to actually be used out of doors, not just shut down and gingerly carried from one air-conditioned room to another. Once I left it out on my truck hood and came back to find the keyboard brim-full of rain water, turned it over to pour the water out, and kept on computing.

It has a shut-down mode that doesn’t set the box on fire, too. Push the power switch and it writes the contents of RAM to a partition on the disc drive and powers down; then when you want to use it push the power switch again and about twenty seconds later it comes up with all the programs still running just as it was when you shut it down. I reboot maybe once every three months. However if you yank out the PCMCIA wireless network card while it’s hibernating you can get it to blue-screen.


a cornellian 07.31.06 at 9:33 pm

For TeX I love emacs. Nice and simple, has a very nice color scheme and (atleast on both linux and windows) has a nifty “tex now” command. And it’s free.


James 08.02.06 at 6:38 pm

Why would you ever turn your MacBook off? I have a PowerBook that I haven’t turned off in almost three years (aside the the reboots necessary for periodic OS patches). Just close it. It sleeps. No fuss; no muss.

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