Monday, March 29, 2010

Dear Apple:

I just switched from a Windows laptop to a Macintosh laptop (15" MacBook Pro) at work, and I have a few complaints.

You know how Apple partisans like to tell you how much easier and more intuitive the Macintosh UI is than Windows? Maybe that was true 20 years ago - though my 1980s and 90s encounters with the Mac confused me more than DOS or Windows - but not any more. It turns out that a computer is a computer; there are some differences between the two interfaces, but they seem to have been converging over the years. I'm not having any significant issues in switching over, though I really wish I could figure out the keyboard combo that would italicize or boldface text. And that menu bar at the top with the menus for only one application visible at a time? I prefer the Windows way, where there ISN'T a fixed menu bar. It's convenient to have the stuff that's in the lower right of the Windows interface up on top, though.

But it's the physical stuff that right now is making me want to have a talk with Steve Jobs. You see, Apple doesn't believe in docking stations. They don't make docks for their laptops and I'm told the third-party docks can break the machines - not good.

But here's what that means for people who use a laptop as their primary computer, which is the story for most people where I work.

First of all, I've got a goddamn pile of cables snaking around my desk. Coming out of the left side of the computer: power cable, Ethernet cable, monitor cable, mouse cable, headphones cable. On the right side of the computer, a Kensington cable lock.

Technically, I could work without most of these. I don't listen to music all the time. The Mac will run on battery power for maybe three hours, meaning maybe 50% longer than the Lenovo ThinkPad I abandoned the other week. The Mac has a fan, but it's rarely on, and I bet that's why it has such good battery life. We have wireless everywhere at work, so I don't really have to have the Ethernet cable, but it is faster, a lot faster, than wireless. If you really love the Mac touchpad - which is programmable and nicely designed - you might not need the mouse. Depending on your eyes, you might be able to live with the screen on the laptop instead of the 24" monitor sitting in front of me.

But I can't. I have terrible eyes and an unusually strong prescription for progressive lenses. The glasses are not set up for use with a laptop. It would destroy my neck to rely on the laptop screen for more than a couple of hours a day. Ergonomically, I find the mouse (and preferably a larger keyboard than the Mac has) to work better for me than the touchpad.

And that cable lock? Because of the location of its keyhole, it gets in the way of using a mouse and it gets in the way of sliding CDs in and out of the oh-so-beautifully-integrated CD/DVD player.

Last complaint: the Lenovo case was made out of plastic, and the edge where you wrists would be was rounded and sloped slightly, but the Mac's edges are aluminum and make nice sharp right angles that dig into my wrists. I'm not sure there's an ergonomic way around this other than using an external keyboard, giving me MORE crap on the desk.

For crying out loud. So much for the belief that Apple is so careful and thoughtful about design issues.


Anonymous said...

Why are you telling us this, sounds like something you should tell Apple. I have a MBP and am completetly happy with it. Plus, it sounds like you have allot of problems yourself and are wishing Mac had built the thing specifically for your needs. Maybe it would be best that you switch back, us Mac users won't mind. Plus, I get tired of all the whiny cry sacking myself.

Unknown said...

Seems like you have a problem working with laptops in general.

Why not use your laptop as a mobile desktop computer?:

• buy a nice cheap acrylic stand to keep the laptop elevated and cool (~$30 at Amazon).
• plug your MacBook Pro into a nice 24" flat panel monitor. Dell sells some decent ones for ~$250.
• get an Apple USB keyboard, and plug it into that Dell monitor.
• add a bluetooth mouse (any, but I'm partial to the Magic Mouse, which works fine in Windows 7 via VMWare Fusion).

Total time to plug in everything: about 30 seconds. I use this set-up at work and at home, as it allows me to keep all of my files in ONE location... and I've got two screens to drag around palettes, etc.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Dear Anon: because this is my blog and I write whatever I would like here. No, I am not wishing Apple had built the MBP "specifically for me." Do you think I am the only person on earth with bad eyesight? Or the only person who wants both to lock the laptop down AND have ready access to the CD drive?

bukweet, yeah, I am a laptop hater. My Lenovo was docked at work and I used an external keyboard. I am still using an external monitor with the Mac, if that wasn't clear. Yeah, I plan to get an external Mac keyboard, too. My home desktop machine is an elderly Dell and I don't keep personal files on the Mac, which is for work only.

Dave Swan said...

Over time you might prefer the fixed menu bar at the top. It has the advantage of muscle memory. Your hand will always know where the menu bar is. Try an experiment: On a Windows machine, display a window. Now close your eyes and move the mouse cursor to the menu bar on a window's menu. Difficult to find with your eyes closed, isn't it? Now close your eyes and try to move the mouse cursor to the fixed menu bar on a Mac. Easier to find, right? Of course, no one uses a computer with their eyes closed, but over time little things like this make it easier to navigate the UI. The Mac OS utilizes the four corners of the display for similar muscle memory reasons.

Anonymous said...

"I'm told the third-party docks can break the machines - not good." Ummmm.... Lisa? "Not good" is your source of information. I'm a pro Mac user, from 'waaaay back. Never heard of a dock damaging a Mac laptop! Both BookEndz and Dock-a-Mac make docks that should suit your needs.

Millions of Mac users are working just fine with the universal menu-bar. In my years of teaching digital editing, my first (and most onerous) task was deprogramming the Windows users. Once you embrace the Mac way, your computing life will become much easier...

Larry said...

I know this isn't the gist of your article, but I can help you with bold and italics. Bold is command B, Italics is command I, and I will even throw in a free one. Underline is command U. These have been consistent since 1984.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Larry - doesn't work in Blogger. ;-) I'll file a bug.

Dave, yeah, it's just a matter of getting used to the UI.

Anon, my company's support group has tested the available docks and does not recommend them. That is good enough for me.

Anonymous said...

Hold down the control key and scroll up with two fingers on the track pad. It will increase the size of the type on your screen.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I'm aware of the many ways to increase the type size. That is NOT the issue I'm commenting on: I do not have difficulty reading standard type sizes (8 pt and up).

I have a general problem working at laptops (and thus use an external monitor at work) because the central portion of my glasses are what I need to look through for computer work, and it is bad for my neck to tilt my head down for extended periods. I can't just look down through the lower edge of my glasses (i.e. move my eyes but not my head).

Lisa Hirsch said...

Huh, well, never mind. Command-i, etc. does work. I tried it earlier and have no idea why it seemed NOT to work.

Anonymous said...

I gave up on any notion that the Mac interface was user-friendly the first time I found that the "eject disc" commend was the same as the "delete file" command. Remember that these were the days of 3 1/2 inch floppies, and unlike CD-ROMs, they could easily be erased. I never ejected a disc without a sense of panic that I was deleting every file on it.

And after all the hype from hardware and software companies of every kind about personalization for every need, and their concern for what people want (and you're a person), to have your complaints dismissed on the accusation that you want a computer designed exclusively for you really is the insult de grĂ¢ce.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I'm assuming Anonymous is not a representative of Apple, and of course I have no idea what Apple would say to my complaints. Probably the phrase "whiny cry sacking" wouldn't appear in their response. (What is "whiny cry sacking," anyway? Any relation to ashes and sackcloth?)

Anonymous said...

It usually takes a month or two to adapt. This is not because there is anything wrong with the Mac; Apple was first and got to patent the Macintosh's "look and feel."

Microsoft had to come up with an alternative. Mac users say that the Apple version is more intuitive, but you have already been trained to do it Microsoft's way. Many people just plug along and it just clicks. Then, they like the Mac better. But, some people never get it, so they go back to Windows.

Given the condition of your eyes, a 27 inch iMac might be better for you. Does your work require the mobility? I suspect that part of your irritation was that you were not given a choice.

Lou Wheeler

Lisa Hirsch said...

Yes, my work requires mobility, and desktop machines aren't the norm where I work except for Linux workstations. At least in engineering, where everyone has a laptop and many or most engineers also have a Linux box.

My 24" external monitor takes care of the eye and neck issues, and as it happens, it was my choice to switch to the Mac.

Anonymous said...

ThinkPads are about the best machines out there for docking, and Apple isn't. Its a hardware issue, not a Mac vs. Windows issue. Had you bought a Sony VAIO PC that doesn't dock the complaints would be the same.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Please re-read. This is a work machine provided by my employer. I didn't buy it.

Here's the difference between Apple and Sony: Sony doesn't brag left and right about its design acumen, nor does it have a legion of defenders who react to any negative comments, nor does it have a decades-long reputation for excellent design.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Sony is known for their attitude of superiority to competitors, and yes Sony does have fans that will defend them to the death, and finally yes Sony does have a decades-long reputation for excellent design. In fact, it is well known that Steve Jobs is a huge fan of Sony and some of Apple's designs are inspired by them. He often, in his presentations, relates a product Apple is introducing to something similar that Sony has done in the past.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I presume Sony just gets a lot less front-page press than Apple over their superior attitude, fans, and reputation for excellent design. FWIW, of the three pieces of Sony electronic gear I have had in my house, the CD player is going strong after 16 years, but the other two pieces of equipment were crap to the point that I'll never buy Sony again.