By Chris Ward, CTO, LogicsOne
It was early February and I was quite excited because it was finally time for me to get a new laptop. We had recently enacted our Bring Your Own Device "BYOD" policy so I had a decision to make regarding what type of machine I wanted to carry around for the next 3 years of my life. I've been in consulting my entire professional career and always had a laptop given to me by the internal IT group of whatever company I had worked for, albeit with a little personal input on the matter. So, for the past 16 years, I had carried a Compaq or HP laptop of some flavor in my bag. Normally, I would always try to get the most bad ass machine I could, which in the land of HP meant a mobile workstation and they were always great. Fast, multi-core processors, lots of memory, lots of disk space, great video card, and great screen with high resolution. The downside for me, however, was constant neck pain after lugging around 8-10 lb. laptops over my shoulder for a decade and a half. So, I decided this time was going to be different.
In my job roles over the past two to three years, I have not been as hands on in the field doing actual implementations and such so no longer truly need the horsepower to run multiple virtual machines, have serial cables to connect to routers/switches, or have a myriad of tools at my beck and call. No, now that I am a 'suit' I need something that is lightweight and very portable as I tend to find myself on planes, trains, and automobiles quite often. So, I decided to go with the sexy choice and started looking at MacBooks. I was very skeptical of moving to a Mac platform from an application and productivity perspective but, at the same time, I wanted to learn more about OS X and its BSD/Linux underpinnings so I decided to take the plunge. The following is an editorial of my personal experience in making this transition.
I picked out a nifty new 13" Retina display MacBook pro vs. an Air due to the faster i7 processor and the Retina display (yes, I am still a nerd at heart so I do still care). I was disappointed to discover that with the 13" Pro you could not get more than 8GB of RAM and also that the memory is literally soldered to the system board so there is no upgrading. Ok, well as I stated earlier, I no longer need to run 5 virtual machines at once so I'll live. I really wanted a lot of drive capacity and performance because I am an impatient guy who does still travel with every OS service pack dating back to Netware 4.11, Windows 2000, and ESX 2.5 (because hey, you never know when you'll need that stuff right?) and a lot of ripped DVDs to make those 6 hour flights between coasts a little more bearable. Well, the 512GB SSD option for said MacBook Pro was a pretty penny, but I found a 3rd party one online for a few hundred bucks less and figured, no problem, I'll upgrade it myself. So, a few days later, the shiny new Mac and separate SSD show up. Now, here is where the fun really begins…
So, I know what you're thinking…. Is this CTO guy really a big enough dumbass to buy a standard SSD to put into a MacBook? Well, no, I was fully aware of the proprietary form factor of the SSD drives in the Retina MacBooks and did get the correct one and, yes, I know the legacy of Mr. Jobs still remains and he doesn't want me jacking around with the inside of his precious work of art. So, anyone ever heard of a Pentalobe screwdriver bit? No? Well, me neither. This is what you need to get the bottom cover off the MacBook in order to swap the SSD. I went to my local Home Depot, Lowes, etc. looking for such a bit but no luck. I then went to my trusty local Mac retail store (Not an Apple store, but the local mom and pop joint), and while they did have one, it was with their technician and they were not willing to let me borrow it for an hour. At this point, I was starting to become a bit agitated (again, impatient) but sucked it up and found what I needed online and ordered the magical Pentalobe screwdriver set ($15) plus overnight shipping ($10 - again, impatient). It arrived the next day and I was off to the races.
If you have not personally seen the inside of one of these MacBooks, the area where this special SSD goes is EXACTLY the same form factor as a standard 2.5" laptop drive. However, this special SSD that is just a circuit board has to go into a special case with a special internal connector which connects to a standard SATA cable, but the cable connects to the side of the enclosure vs. the back as a standard SATA SSD. Wow, someone went through a crap-load of trouble to design a very proprietary solution which was absolutely unnecessary. Note to Apple, I hope you are enjoying the margin you are making on this stuff! In any case, I digress, so I got the new drive installed and was now ready to rock.
I got all of the key software I would need ready to go (Office 2011 for Mac, Firefox, Adobe stuff, VIEW and Citrix clients, VLC (gotta watch those movies), Skype, etc. and got them all setup. And, just in case, I did install VMware Fusion and had a Windows 7 VM on the off chance I would need it for something. Now, keep in mind that my ultimate goal here with the Mac was to go native. If I had to constantly be in a Windows VM to do my job then what the F would be the point of using a Mac in the first place right? Well, the first thing I quickly discovered is that Outlook 2011 is a piece of crap compared to Outlook 2010 or 2013 for Windows. There is no home style screen where I can see my mail, tasks, and calendar in a single place. There is no native ActiveSync but rather some ancient sync engine that has more conflicts than a schizophrenic sociopath. Trying to use group calendaring to see where my team was and what they were up to caused issues because I had to have so many calendars open at the same time (mind you I did this with zero issue in Outlook 2010/2013). Basically, I was back to using Outlook XP. So, I thought, well, I want to go native so I'll go native and use the built in Mail and Calendar stuff from Apple. While there were some things that got a little better, it still paled in comparison when compared to the experience with full Outlook on a PC. Then, I got to looking at some of the key reports I use regularly via Excel.
Ok, so there is no ODBC driver that comes out of the box with Excel/Office for Mac. Oh, but you can buy one from a couple of 3rd parties and Microsoft is happy to point you in the right direction. Personally, I wouldn’t care if they sold it for a penny, I still wouldn't buy it. Are you kidding me? I can't update a spreadsheet via an ODBC connection to a backend database? I'm pretty sure I could do that with Lotus123 on Windows 3.1, give me a break! So, it was off to the Windows 7 VM for Excel tasks. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of my headaches…
I immediately found problems with certain web sites that I use on a regular basis due to the Retina display and the way it scales resolution. What I didn't understand about Retina up front (and should have researched it more) was that while the advertised resolution is pretty stunning, the way it actually works is to show you a lower resolution desktop but cram a lot more pixels into a smaller screen area. The result is admittedly incredibly readable text and super sharp images. The downside is applications and web apps that are not written to be aware of Retina can have issues with this scaling process. I also have an issue with the way Apple just assumes the driver of the machine is an idiot. Example, in the display properties you cannot really select a true desired resolution for the built in display. You have 4 options such as 'Larger Text', 'Best for Retina', and 'More Space'. Really?? Just please give me the damn list of supported resolutions so I can choose what I want. I think by this point, you can probably tell where this story is going, and, given this is a blog entry vs. a novel I won't go deeper into my issues except to regurgitate something I once heard from a friend that certainly rings true in my opinion…
“Using a Mac is like driving tricycle whereas using a PC is like driving a Ducati. The tricycle is extremely low risk and will most likely get you to where you want to go eventually. The Ducati, in the hands of an inexperienced driver (Mac User) can be quite deadly however in the hands of a trained professional it can do very amazing things.”
Admittedly, I do believe Microsoft is as much at fault here as Apple as it was the core Microsoft apps that were the bane of my existence throughout this experience. So, I now have a HP 9470m business class ultra book on order. It is the same weight and size as the MacBook, has the same or better battery life, requires zero dongles as VGA and gig copper port are built in, has a solid screen resolution of 1400x900, can be upgraded to support 16GB of RAM and can hold both a standards based mSATA SSD plus a traditional 2.5" SSD or magnetic drive (no F'd up screwdriver required), and has docking capability. Oh, and did I mention it's half the price of Mac?