Friday, May 27, 2011

MacBook Air and MacOSX : likes and dislikes

A few days into using my 13" Macbook Air and Mac OSX, these are my likes and dislikes. Note that I am coming from Ubuntu Linux (and I have definitely not given up on that for my lab computers, even run it in virtual box on this air) so that is what I am comparing the MBA/OSX experience to.


1) Spotlight. I love the ability to quickly search through all digital assets: documents, pictures, music, email, contacts, and calendar. This is simply amazing, I cannot imagine how I ever lived without it. It does require you to use the OSX way, though, e.g. commit to The Tools: use native OSX apps and store stuff locally or at least register cloud services with them. I've set up an rsync job to synchronize my documents with my lab computers.

2) Weight/screen size. My previous laptop had similar weight to this machine (EeePC), but this MBA is so much more powerful, and has a much larger screen (13" vs. 10")

3) Solid state hard drive. It is so fast and makes no noise, it's got no moving parts after all. I was worried that I wouldn't be comfortable with only 128Gb of space (my EeePC has 160Gb and that was getting tight), but it turns out so far that it is more then enough. I don't know if I'll be comfortable on a data diet in the long run, but - frankly - I only need my documents to Get Stuff Done.

4) Instant on. Closing the lid puts the machine to sleep and it wakes up in a few seconds. This is probably so fast because of the solid state drive, but it is a major convenience. On the EeePC, I would often not put the device to sleep because I anticipated using it later on, but then I would worry about the battery life. Now, I just close the lid, knowing that my battery life will be fine and the machine will be there for me to work with when I open the lid.

5) Gmail and Exchange integration. All calendars, email, contacts are synced, nice!

6) Python and Perl are installed out of the box

7) The Terminal. It's there, 'nough said.

8) X server. Love being able to ssh -X $host and run X apps from other machines.


1) No package manager. Like I said, I am coming from Ubuntu, and it is so nice to be able to manage/download/uninstall all applications through one interface. This also pulls in updates and security fixes. You really can't beat that. Maybe the App store can solve that. On that note:

2) Shareware, it's the 90s all over again. I find it hard to find good tools written by passionate people that do not charge a few bucks here and there. It is probably me being spoiled with such awesome open source (and free) tools in Ubuntu that puts me in this place, and it is definitely a Dutch thing (being 'cheap'), but I've gotten so used to it! Macports might fit the bill though ...

3) Keyboard shortcuts. I've gotten used to my keystrokes and have a hard time getting used to new ones, or they don't exist. For instance: where is the shortcut to 'go to next unread mail'? Yes ... I think There's A Script For That. 

Things I did for a smooth transition, aka The Cloud is Your Friend:

1) Use Gmail/IMAP for mail, continuous and cross platform access to your mail. Yes ... I have a fetchmail job running on my linux box to keep my own copies of mail in case Gmail pulls a PSN, or an Amazon EC, pick your "Cloud Goes Down - Where's My Data" disaster story.

2) Use LastPass for password storing and management, using PIE = 'Pre Internet Encryption' (Security Now is your friend)

3) Use Zotero for managing references

4) Rsync for everything else

5) Hamachi (now owned by logmein) for managing your own private network with NAT traversal. Keep pinging those peers, though.

The Future/Things I Haven't Done Yet

1) I hope to explore AppleScript a little in the future, it seems to be a great tool to customize and automate frequently used tasks

2) I haven't written anything in Latex yet, but TexMaker seems to be able to cope with what I've written so far.

3) RSS reader. I use LifeRea on my Ubuntu machines and keep it running. I rely heavily on search folders to make sure that I pick up things relevant to my field (keywords : graphene, nanotube, DNA, nanopore) sooner rather then later. This is a great tool, and I haven't had a chance to explore alternatives yet. No, Google Reader is not good enough, no search folder, which, if you think of it, is rather ironic for the #1 leader in ... wait for it ... search!