David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Contemplating My Next Laptop

As a nice, juicy little carrot to inspire me to finish writing MultiReal, I’ve decided that I’m going to finally buy a new laptop once I’m done. So the question is: which one?

My existing Toshiba Satellite 2435-S255 has served me well since 2003, but now it’s showing its age. I banged the left corner at some point, making it difficult to open and close the display. About 33% of the time, the laptop doesn’t wake up from hibernation properly, and I have to shut the whole thing down and reboot (losing whatever I hadn’t previously saved). No matter how careful I’ve been, the keyboard is carpeted with crumbs from a million Starbucks muffins and the screen is a little splotchy. The battery life is down to about 45 minutes — which is generally fine, because I almost always use a power outlet.

So now here’s the big question: should I buy a Windows laptop, a Mac laptop, or a Linux laptop? And what brand?

Here are the primary things I’m looking for:

  • A nice big, clear screen
  • Just enough horsepower to run office applications, but not totally choke when I try to crank up Photoshop
  • Light weight
  • Good battery life
  • If I choose a Windows laptop, it’s got to be Windows Vista and Office 2007 ready, in case I decide to upgrade
  • Cooooool look and feel

As you can see, this doesn’t have to be a real powerhouse of a machine. It’s mainly going to be used for word processing, Net surfing, and the occasional light web programming/Photoshopping. I won’t be playing Quake 4 on it, and I won’t be storing my music collection on it — that’s what the desktop’s for. I do keep multimedia reference materials on my laptop (e.g. Encarta), but nothing that’s gonna really smoke up the microprocessor.

I’m leaning towards sticking with Windows, for all of the standard reasons. It’s familiar and I already own all the software I need to run. You can find Windows laptops all over the price spectrum too, from bargain basement to luxury. And despite what everyone says, Windows XP is quite a stable and secure operating system if you know what you’re doing. (Turn that Remote Registry off, people.)

But I’m certainly open to switching to Mac. I’ve admired many a MacBook Pro from afar, and they definitely meet the coooooolness test. Macs are also reputed to have that “it just works” quality that Windows sometimes has, given the right hardware and phase of the moon.

Yet there are always the standard caveats to switching to Mac: it’s much more expensive, I’ll need to rebuy all of my software, and I simply don’t know all the cool OS tricks like I do with Windows. How do you boot one of those suckers in Safe Mode? Is there such a thing? What’s the keyboard combination to call up the Task Manager (or Mac equivalent) to kill frozen programs? Is my Firefox Google Browser Sync gonna work?

As for Linux, I’ve heard plenty that Ubuntu is a professional-class operating system that rivals Windows or Mac in usability and stability, while eating their lunch in price point and configurability. But the learning curve for switching to Linux is much steeper than switching to Mac, and nobody’s ever convinced me that it’s worth the effort. I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, but I’m skeptical.

Here’s the bottom line, folks: I want to write Geosynchron and thus finish the Jump 225 trilogy as quickly and comfortably as possible, with as few oh-shit-I’ve-lost-two-hours-of-work moments as possible. What’s my best option?

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  1. milieu on December 4, 2006 at 4:43 pm  Chain link

    Here’s one vote for the mac. I’m a long time Windows user and developer. I had an Apple II as a kid, and a Mac SE in college, and then went straight to a 286 with DOS, and I’ve been with Microsoft ever since.

    I bought a MacBook this year, and it is by far the best computer I have ever owned. I friggin’ love the thing, which is a lot more than I can say for my Dell.

    As far as your criteria:
    – My MacBook has a 13″ widescreen, and it is the brightest and sharpest I’ve ever had. They have a glossy finish, but I have never had any problems with reflections. One nice thing about the widescreen is that it’s easy to have a lot of windows open, and behind your current window. If you need bigger, you’ll have to head into the MacBook Pro.
    – Horsepower: Mine is the first generation, with a Intel Core Duo 1.83 ghz. That’s faster than my Dell, and I never have any problems with performance. Photoshop is currently slow on the Intel chips because Adobe hasn’t released a Universal build, but that’s just a matter of time.
    – Lightweight. Not really. It weighs 5 lbs. It definitely feels solid. I will point out that lighter means weaker construction and usually compromises on size and components. I think they did a fine job of compromising for the MacBook.
    – Battery life. I get 5 hours plus.
    – Personally, I think it is very cool looking, and a delight to use.
    – If you need Windows (or any other OS), you can use Boot Camp to dual boot, or Parallels to run a virtual environment.

    Bad things: the MacBook has an integrated video card, so it’s hardly a screaming game machine. People do play games on it, both in OSX and by dual booting into Windows, and they say it does OK.

    As far as price, the MacBook is just over a grand, hardly a fortune for a laptop. The MacBook Pros…a bit more. 😉 I’m not even going to go into the “Macs more expensive” argument. I know everyone’s going to drag out some $299 shitbox to compare it to, so please spare me. I feel I got my money’s worth for the price.

    It took me about a week or so to get used to the mac, and then a couple months to get addicted. Now I get annoyed at my Dell on a daily basis because things just don’t work.

    This November, I tried my hand at some writing in NaNoWriMo. I found the macbook exceedingly easy to just open up and go. Type type type. I’m not messing around with Safe Mode, or frozen programs or Windows Updates.

    I got the macbook to try out a mac because I was curious, and I’m convinced. If you don’t like it, mac retain their value well, and you can easily sell it for not much off what you paid.

  2. tobias on December 5, 2006 at 1:41 am  Chain link

    I think all your other concerns are correct, except price on the mac. I find them competitively priced (basic macbook is just over $1000), but the software switchover is something you’ll need to price in somewhat, although with bootcamp or parellels you can run all your windows software anyway, so it’s not really that big of a deal to try the jump nowadays and slowly switch to all mac over time. Parellels will let you run windows real time on the mac desktop. Do watch out for that integrated videocard, yeah, videogames on the mac are its biggest weakness.

    Hence my xbox 360 :-)

  3. David Louis Edelman on December 5, 2006 at 1:52 am  Chain link

    You guys are making a strong case for the Steve Jobs team. I hadn’t really taken Boot Camp too seriously… now I will.

  4. tobias on December 5, 2006 at 3:47 am  Chain link

    It’s a pascal’s wager thing now that macbooks run both windows and os-x. If you don’t like os-x, just keep windows only on the macbook for the next 2 years and then jump back to the windows world with the next laptop :-)

  5. Brian on December 5, 2006 at 4:53 am  Chain link

    I like my MacBook Pro – a lot. Now, I’m not rich, the Mac is a work computer. The question is would I buy this myself? I’d probably buy – and be happy with a simple MacBook.

    How do you boot one of those suckers in Safe Mode? Is there such a thing?

    I googled ‘boot a mac into safe mode’

    1. Be sure the computer is shut down.
    2. Press the power button.
    3. Immediately after you hear the startup tone, press and hold the Shift key.
    Tip: The Shift key should be held as soon as possible after the startup tone but not before.
    4. Release the Shift key when you see the gray Apple and progress indicator (looks like a spinning gear).

    What’s the keyboard combination to call up the Task Manager (or Mac equivalent) to kill frozen programs?

    Click Apple – Force Quit. This calls up a list of applications – when I’ve done this the ‘stuck’ app was helpfully highlighted. Cmd-Opt-Esc is the keystroke to force quite the current application.

    Or you could get all old-school, open a terminal window, ps to find the PID then kill PID and be done with it.

    Is my Firefox Google Browser Sync gonna work?

    I have no idea – probably.

    Having wrote all of that I don’t really know if a Mac is right for you. It works for me and my job of taking care of a medium sized herd of Windows and Solaris servers. It gets out of the way and lets me work. If I want to get down into the nitty gritty of Unix and mess around, that’s available as well.

    But you don’t have to.

    Think about it like this – Unix was invented at Bell Labs in 1969 – I was two. It’s been reimplented in several flavors since then, one of which was a complete tear-down and rebuild of everything to make it tighter and more secure. Apple took this rebuild, ported it to their hardware, layered a pretty interface that works on top and called it a day.

    Stick with the pretty – it works and best of all it works the way it’s supposed to. If you want to get down and industrial you’ve got that option as well.

  6. Mark Teppo on December 5, 2006 at 11:15 am  Chain link

    I switched to a Mac for my writing machine simply for the ‘get up and go” reason. I still use a Windows box for everything else. I bought a copy of Word for the Mac just so I don’t have to fuss with compatability issues with my files and everything else that I’ve needed (light Photoshoping/web design) I’ve been able to fill with freeware/shareware.

    What pushed me in this direction was the simplicity of the box and the fact that it just works. No fussing; it comes out of sleep in about a half second. I never have to restart it. I sit down, open the lid, and start typing. I’ve never seen a Windows laptop not whine and bitch coming out of sleep mode.

    As far as the learning curve goes, getting a handle on the Mac interface will take you about an hour. More, if you get distracted. Ubuntu will take a little longer, but is still certainly doable. There’s a level of basic organization that all OSes now meet so it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

    The only caveat I’ve got is with OpenOffice. It’d be the word processor of choice if you went Linux (or decided not to buy Word for the Mac). It’s been a version or so since I tried it, but the screen fonts sucked so bad that it was unusable and I’ve not been back since.

  7. Brian on December 5, 2006 at 11:36 am  Chain link

    Re: Open Office. A nice fellow did something (a developer I am not and it’s early) and ported it to Mac such that it does not need X11 to run, and uses the Cocoa bits i.e.it looks and feels like a app written for the Mac – which is really what that branch is, now.

    Google ‘Neooffice’

  8. Stephanie Leary on December 5, 2006 at 11:53 am  Chain link

    Is my Firefox Google Browser Sync gonna work?

    Yes. Most FF plugins and themes are cross-platform.

    Definitely get a Mac. I switched four years ago and I will never, ever buy another Windows-based machine. (Background: I was a Windows tech support monkey in college.) There’s no comparison. That “it just works” quality? No lie.

    I don’t especially like the keyboards and mice that come with Macs, but there’s an easy solution: toss them out and plug in your old ones. I’m addicted to Microsoft’s split keyboards (I’ll admit they make good hardware, just not software!) and it’s a breeze to use; the Windows key maps to the Apple (cmd) key, and F12 becomes the Eject button.

    In addition to Boot Camp, there’s Parallels, which I hear can now run Windows apps as if they’re Mac apps. Looks good; I’m definitely going to have to get a copy for testing web designs in IE (which Microsoft has just made easier).

    For fewer I-just-lost-two-hours-of-work moments, try an app like Scrivener (look for beta 4 in the forum) or one of the many other apps that autosave as you go and have built-in versioning. I’ve recently switched from CopyWrite to Scrivener. It’s a delight.

    The biggest thing for me is that everything looks so much better. Surfing the web is a completely different experience on a Mac.

    Buying Mac versions of all your old software is a pain, no question, but some companies will let you migrate for free — notably Adobe, which is extra-spiffy now that they own Macromedia’s suite. Dreamweaver and Photoshop are too damned expensive to buy twice.

    I’ve never seen a Windows laptop not whine and bitch coming out of sleep mode.

    Me either. The first G4 Powerbook I encountered was in sleep mode, sitting on someone’s desk. The little power indicator light on the back of the screen pulses when it’s asleep. The laptop snores. I was instantly charmed.

  9. David Louis Edelman on December 5, 2006 at 12:11 pm  Chain link

    Wow, Stephanie, I had no idea Adobe let you switch for free. Photoshop and the Dreamweaver suite are the things I dread paying for all over again the most.

    I’ve always found OpenOffice on the PC to be a big joke. I admit I haven’t spent a lot of time with it, but from my limited experience it’s ugly, unstable, and buggy in the extreme. But hey, it’s hard to beat free. If I go the Mac route, I’ll check out Neooffice.

    As for the waking up from sleep thing… yeah, that’s always been a gripe with the Windows boxes. Ten seconds minimum before the hourglass goes away.

  10. weldon on December 5, 2006 at 2:07 pm  Chain link

    I would also suggest a MacBook. Besides Boot Camp, you can also use Parallels to launch a Windows XP virtual machine from inside Mac OS X (no waiting to reboot). It won’t work with 3D apps (games) but will probably work with all your other Windows software that you have purchased.

    I would wait for Macworld San Francisco (Jan 9) to see the new updates and get a handle on when the next version of OS X (Leopard) will be released.

    It will include a feature called Time Machine which will support backup and versioning for all your documents. It seems like this would be a great feature for a writer where you want to be extra careful you don’t lose anything you’ve written. I’m not sure how it will work on a laptop, since the description focuses on using it with external drives to hold the backup copies, but I think it would still be interesting to you.

    When you do get a Mac, post again to ask which apps you should look into. Every Mac board out there has at least one master thread about the best software out there, or the apps that people can’t live without.

  11. Stephanie Leary on December 5, 2006 at 3:02 pm  Chain link

    Re: free switching on Adobe — well, do call up their sales line and check, but that was the case last time I asked. For the last 2 or 3 versions, they’ve shipped both versions on a single DVD, so it’s just a matter of moving your license key over.

    I think Office was the only thing I ended up paying for twice when I switched. I tried OpenOffice a while back and gave up on it pretty quickly. I suppose I should check out the newer versions. The only MS Office app I have trouble with on the Mac, though, is Entourage. It’s a steaming pile of shit, not to put too fine a point on it. I use it at work only because my office’s IT group makes me; otherwise I’d just use Mail or Thunderbird or any of the half-dozen mail apps that do work properly.

    The current version of Word for the Mac lacks the master document feature, for reasons I’ve never been able to determine. I haven’t checked yet to see whether the upcoming version will fix that. I gather not many people use it, but I’ve always thought it was kind of a handy way to link chapter-documents into a single novel-file. It wasn’t an earth-shattering loss, in the end.

  12. David Louis Edelman on December 7, 2006 at 12:19 am  Chain link

    I’ll have you all know that I’m seriously, seriously now considering a MacBook, thanks in large part to the comments here. The one I’m thinking about is the $1,299 middle model with the SuperDrive and the extra RAM.

    But it’ll probably be at least another month before I make my final decision.

  13. Nick Schenk on December 7, 2006 at 7:09 pm  Chain link

    Wide screen. Optivue clearcoat covering for brighter hues. Great performance…

    I do a lot of writing and the screen is bright enough to keep me from getting headaches after long periods of time, regardless of the lighting and ambience in the room.

    I highly suggest the Sony VAIO (Sony has some of the highest ratings for video/graphics quality). The model I’ve used for the past year is the VGN-FS series.

    BestBuy usually carries them.

    Check out the link: http://b2b.sony.com/Solutions/subcategory/notebooks/fe-series-gallery

    I swear ‘by’ this laptop, not ‘at’ it.


    Nick S

  14. Bradford Dunko on December 8, 2006 at 1:37 pm  Chain link

    I have both a MacBook and a Toshiba Tablet (Portege M400) with Windows Vista recently loaded. Even though the battery is not that great unless using the extra battery, I now seem to be favoring the Toshiba with Windows Vista (I have MSDN account and am running Vista Ultimate). The new operating system is much improved over XP and it honeslty challenges the Mac in every way that’s important to me. Security is very solid as well. I’d suggest a new laptop (anything that meets your requirements) with Windows Vista.

  15. Fred on December 13, 2006 at 11:28 pm  Chain link

    Macbook black or pro, i have the black and it would have kicked the ….”butt” of my custom built 2003 windows and my 2005 dell that like to boot at 3:05 in the morning and play the Polyphonic Spree song Light and Day/Reach for the sun By the mac if you like your work, plus switching is easy. i did it

  16. Nick Schenk on February 13, 2007 at 1:05 am  Chain link

    Dude!!! I’m telling you. Sony VAIO VGN series, Dual Core, 2gig ram, DVD burner. Windows Vista Ultimate. This setup rocks!!! Go to your nearest Circuit City or Best Buy. Can’t go wrong with the price, the cool look and feel and of course the best, clearest display in the industry.

  17. David Louis Edelman on February 13, 2007 at 7:43 pm  Chain link

    Funny you should mention the Sony VAIO, Nick… that’s exactly where I’m leaning right now. I’ve decided I want a 17-inch screen, and you have to pay $2700 for that on a Mac. (HP has decent 17-inch laptops for $900. Not as revved up a machine, admittedly, but I can live with that tradeoff.)

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