Takin’ A Bite Out of the Apple: The Little Things

As much as an earlier blog of mine, bestowed praise upon the MacBook Pro, I will admit to a few annoyances with the laptop. Annoyances I do not think I will be able to get over, no matter how long I keep the MBP.

For years, when I would buy a new laptop, I would get one with a 17 inch screen, as I found this an ideal size for a laptop. My first foray into an Apple laptop is a 13 inch MacBook Pro. The difference 4 inches can make on a viewing area is incredible. I find myself having to increase the viewing size of some web pages, emails, or even when using Excel. I am ever so grateful I didn’t go with my first instinct to get an 11 inch MBP. I think if I had gotten one that small, I would have tossed it out the window, within hours of bringing it home.

The problem with the screen size, is not so much with web sites; but rather when working in Word or Excel. I have to increase my viewing size in Word to 125%, just so I can read what I’m typing. When I had a larger screen in Excel, I would often lower the viewing percentage, normally to 85%, so having to dramatically increase it, is a new phenomenon for me. Almost every email I receive, I am increasing the viewing size. Excel, I have found that viewing at 150% gives me the right viewing size. However, this is not something I can blame on Apple or anyone else for that matter. The screen size was my choosing and I will live it, because the only alternative would be to replace it with a MBP with a larger screen and I’m not ready to do that after 6 weeks. I could buy a monitor; but I don’t think I could justify the cost for the amount of time I would use it.

My biggest displeasure with the MBP, is the keyboard. It might be the worst keyboard I have ever had the misfortune to use. I find it stiff and not very conducive to touch typing. When I say touch-typing, I mean I type about 90 words a minute with an error rate of 6 words. The touch-typing numbers are from when I was using a Windows-based laptop. I am still doing around 90 words a minute; but I my error rate has almost doubled, if not tripled. The problem I am having, is that I find I have to really push down on the keys to get them to register. The longer, I have to spend holding a key down, the slower I type. I often find plenty of red squiggly lines in my paragraphs, because letters didn’t get touched long enough. Before moving to Apple, most of my errors were spelling mistakes, reversed letters, misspelled words; but now on top of those errors, I am getting the missing letter typo as well. In fact, while typing this paragraph, I have had to re-type certain words because for it wasn’t picked up when I was typing. What I should have done is just left the paragraph as it was with the missing letter errors for everyone to see and just corrected my spelling errors.

I really ca not hide my utter disappointment in the keyboard. In the past, when I was looking for a new laptop, the first thing I did was test the keyboard and often would pass on a laptop, simply because I did not like the feel of the keyboard. The problem with an Apple laptop, is I can configure or at least select my screen size, amount of RAM, HD size,  and a few other bells and whistles, there is no choice in keyboards. I found all the keyboards as being the same, across the different models. I could use a Bluetooth keyboard and I think it is a great keyboard, that I use it from time to time with my iPad; but I don’t want to have to lug around a laptop and a keyboard with me.

I would have preferred if Mountain Lion would allow me to show known file extensions by default, and not hiding them when I save a file. I like to see my “pdf”, “doc”, “xls”, “txt” at the end of files. I should not have to uncheck the “Hide file extension” box each time I save a file. I have selected the option in settings to show file extensions; but then it shows me alllllll the file extensions and for lack of a better word, uglies up Launchpad. I don’t need to see after every application “.app” in Launchpad.

I have tried over the past few weeks to give the Mail application a chance; but I think it might be the biggest piece of doggie excrement ever pre-installed on a system. If I could go more than one day without it asking me for a password to either send or receive an email, I would take back all I just said about it. I just tried to send an email via Gmail and received a pop-up asking me to enter my password. Really? All of a sudden after all these weeks of using it to send email, I have to enter my Gmail password again? So, I did a little test. I closed the application, re-launched it, hit send on my email again, and without even blinking an eye my mail was sent. Uhhhhhh, WTF????!!! I’m sorry; but I really don’t know how else to express my dismay over this application. I would use Thunderbird, if I could get it to show up in the Notification Center; but as I can’t, I suck it up with Mail.

Some of my complaints are minor faults; but are faults none the less. The file extension request is an esthetic thing  and more a user preference than anything else, so I can ignore that annoyance. The size of the monitor, could be solved by buying a bigger laptop, so that one is on me; but the other two problems I have, come directly from Apple and its design team. I’m not sure if others have had the same complaints as I do with regards to the keyboard; but the typing experience on an MBP keyboard is horrid. As for Mail asking for your account password almost daily I know is a common problem, as I have read in plenty of forums people complaining about this problem and have done so for a few years already.

For a company that wants to make sure the user has the best experience possible, I would think someone would have found a way to fix the Mail problem years ago and would have done something about the keyboard issue. However, one thing I have learned from reading in the forums is that Apple will fix your minor problems; but when it comes to OS issues, they are very slow to react, if they react at all.

The Good, The Bad, and The Getting There

Well, it’s been a little over a week I have been a proud Mac user. Well, I don’t know about proud, because of some of the things I have to search for answers to, are things I can do blindfolded, with one hand tied behind my back, dangling 50 feet in the air if I was on a Windows machine. I feel as if I’m learning to use a computer all over again.

I have finally begun to master the gigantic Macbook Pro trackpad and no longer move the cursor by mistake while I’m typing. I’ve learned that instead of holding my hands straight in front of the keyboard, I have to type on the computer at an angle. The right hand is at about 5 o’clock and the left is at about 7 o’clock. I wish there was a quick way of turning off the trackpad for those times I don’t need it, when it becomes more of a hindrance than anything else.

Although I find the trackpad to be on the large side, I do see the benefits of such a large pad. It allows for many more movements to be configured on to it, for performing routine tasks. I have configured the trackpad for pretty much all my swiping needs. Well, I’ve configured it as much as I’m allowed to by Apple. I must tip my hat to Apple for the little videos that go with each type of trackpad configuration. I thought it was ingenious to show people exactly how to move, rather than describing how to move.

I’m still moving between desktops when all I want to do is move one word to the right or left. This might be my biggest frustration to date. Sometimes I even look down at the keyboard before doing the move one word left or right and there is a part of me saying don’t touch the “control” key; but there is 20 odd years of experience over-riding that urge and when I tap the “CTRL” key, I curse myself for having not listened to my little voice.

I still miss some of the applications I used under Windows. I’m still surprised, there are so many applications not available to Mac users. Even though I have been able to find some, for the most part the ones I really want are not available. I don’t think it is a problem with the App Store, as the small programs I have downloaded did not come from the App Store. I find Microsoft Office for Mac  similar to the Windows version; but with some of the best parts taken out of it. I sometimes think I’m using MS Office lite. I tried to use Open Office; but I can sum it up in three words, I hated it.

I absolutely love the batter life on a MacBook Pro. Over the course of the Xmas holidays I spent more time with it unplugged than plugged in. I could not believe how long I could go between charges. I also like that I can lie in bed and have the backlit keyboard. My fiancée can sleep and I can see what I am typing and don’t have to peck and poke at keys in the dark, hoping I hit the right one. I don’t understand why more laptop makers did not do this. It seems like such a brilliant idea. However, I’m not a fan of the keyboard itself. I do a lot of touch typing and I am very particular about my keyboards. Whenever I would go laptop shopping, the first thing I would test, was the feel of the keyboard. The problem with Macs, is that all the keyboards are the same. I could go with a wireless Bluetooth keyboard because I do like the feel of that keyboard; but that seems kind of silly.

I’m still amazed how easy it is to install applications downloaded outside the App Store. There’s no next, click here, click there, click on that, no click for me puppet, click for me. Just drag and drop into Applications. Could anything be simpler? Never mind I had to confirm with two people how to delete an application on a Mac. I thought the first guy was pulling my leg, until I asked my brother how to uninstall something and he told me just drag it to the trash. Wow, wow, wow. WOW!!!

There are a couple of features I’m still not sure exactly what they are for. For example, what is the point of Launchpad? Any application you may want to run can easily be launched using Spotlight. I know what Dashboard is for; but it seems like a waste being its own page. It would be better if the widgets could go directly on the desktop.

If I had to rate my experience after one week, I think I would give it an 8 out of 10. The two lost points are because sometimes I feel Apple wants me to do things their way. Apple limits customization to changing the desktop background only. Points are also lost because of frustration learning to things the Apple way. I know these frustrations in time will give diminish; but for now they are present and accounted for on an almost daily basis.

Goin’ Mac & Maybe Never Goin’ Back

I have used a desktop/laptop with an OS made by Microsoft since I can remember. Whether it was MS-DOS or the last one I used, Windows 7, I have stuck with Microsoft through thick and thin. Even when one of the laptops I bought came with Vista and there was no way to retrograde it to Windows XP. Until about a year ago, I bashed everything and anything that was Apple. In my mind, I would prefer to have no computer, no mp3 player, or any other electronic gadget if it was made by Apple. My first computer was a 486 with MS-DOS 6.22 and a Windows 3.1 overlay. My first mp3 player was a Zune. My first smartphone was a Samsung Galaxy S1. In short, if it didn’t come from Apple, I had no problem buying it. Critics be damned.

Macintosh Classic

Macintosh Classic

Before anyone starts to think, I am some kind of nut case Microsoft fanboy. My disdain for Apple began years earlier, long before anyone ever coined the term fanboy about a product. One of my first jobs was working for the City of Montreal. The person in charge of  I.T. services was a devout Apple user and thought anything from Microsoft was pure evil. I was forced to work on a Macintosh Classic. It had a screen, that was grey and white, it was slow, it was ugly, the keyboard sounding like a horse galloping.

Hmmmm.......

Hmmmm…….

Out of the blue, it would also give me error message I could barely understand, in the forms of little bombs. I could be typing, staring at the screen, or just thinking evil thoughts about the vile machine and a bomb would appear. Why was I cursed to work on this machine? All my friends were using Windows and never seemed to have problems. How could this tech geek not see the light? Didn’t he know Apple products were expensive, no one was making software for it, at least not any that most people used. I swore to myself right then and there I would never have anything to do with Apple.

Twenty odd years ago I may have been against Apple; but with age comes wisdom and the willingness to try something new. Although I swore against Apple, I did buy an iPad 2 about a year ago. When I bought the iPad, I was traveling a lot between Canada and Europe. I would always bring my trusty laptop with me; but it was big, heavy, and most of all loud. When I say loud, I mean vacuum cleaner loud. The tablet market was really starting to come around, so in my opinion, this would be the perfect compromise. It would allow me to stay connected to everyone and everything; but without all that weight. I had my decision down to an iPad 2 and a Samsung Galaxy Tab. I went to the store to try the Galaxy; but the salesperson told me there were none in stock.. In my disappointment, I wandered over to the Apple section of the store. As I was examining the iPads, the salesperson I had spoken to earlier, came over to tell me they had just received an order of Galaxy Tabs.  I walked over with anticipation to test drive a tablet, I was 99.9% sure I was going to buy. Well, the first app I tapped on, crashed. I figured that was a one-time thing, so I tried again, and the app crashed. I figured, all right, I’d reboot. Hey, I come from a Windows world and that is the solution offered 95.96% of the time. Well, low and behold I tapped on the same app for a third time and it still crashed. All of a sudden, like an epiphany, I knew I would be buying an iPad. Thus the seed of looking more closely at Apple’s line of products was planted.

That planted seed has now grown into a tree, which has me preparing to radically change my whole ecosystem of gadgets. What started with an iPad a little over a year ago, now includes a MacBook Pro. In a couple of months when my contract is up, I will be replacing my Samsung Galaxy S1 with some iteration of the iPhone 5.

Why did I have the change in thinking towards Apple? I could have very easily decided to buy a Windows-based system, get a Microsoft smartphone, and maybe change my iPad for a Microsoft Surface, thus staying with what I knew. There are two reasons I am making the switch. I am at a unique point, where I can and need to replace all my daily tech gadgets within a very short period and thus standardize my experience. The second reason I’m making the switch, comes down to economics. I have gone through three laptops in the past 8 years. The costs of these laptops were less than what I would have paid for one from Apple. However, in the time that I have changed my laptop for a variety of reasons, my brother has used the same one. His only expense since his initial purchase was to add some more RAM. Friends of mine, who own Macs, have told me similar stories. Although I may have saved money in the short-term, I have spent far more in the long-term.

Out of the box, the MacBook experience is excellent. I can understand why people praise how simple Apple products are to use. Within 5 minutes of having turned on the machine, I was up and running.  Everything I would basically need was ready and waiting for me. There were a few applications I wanted to download and install; but after about 30 minutes I was basically set up.

Now that I have the machine up and running, I am faced with learning a radically new OS. From the limited experience I have had so far, using my new laptop, may take longer than expected. While the journey may be long and arduous, I think it will be worth it. At worst, I’m used to changing my computer every few years.