Hexmen

I hate my Macbook Pro

Don’t misunderstand me: I like OS X, I like the build-quality, and I like the look But there are some things I just can’t stand and they’re ruining the whole experience for me:

  1. anti-social speakers (delayed headphone detection)
  2. poorly-positioned DVD-drive (and it’s region-locked!)
  3. badly laid-out keyboard (particularly the European models)

Headphones

My last laptop was a Thinkpad, with a physical volume control; this made it easy to check the volume was off and avoid annoying fellow train-passengers when booting-up the beast.

In contrast, there’s no volume-control on the ‘Pro. The volume-level is set using function keys when the machine is already powered-on. Fortunately, it remembers the volume-level between reboots. Unfortunately, it also remembers whether you had headphones plugged in. This is what’s really annoying.

When you turn on the ‘Pro, it likes to shout about it: making a long bonggggg noise. If you had headphones plugged-in the last time you turned off the laptop, it doesn’t make a sound. But if you didn’t: well, it doesn’t matter whether you plug-in headphones before powering-on or not, the ‘Pro will use it’s internal speakers to make the bonggg noise… That’s really annoying in so many circumstances (libraries, trains, planes, quiet offices…)

DVD drive

There are two things wrong with the DVD drive in my ‘Pro. Firstly, it’s a region-locked POS with no multi-region hacks available. Secondly, it’s in a really stupid position. Picture the scene: there I am, crammed in my train seat; I’ve just retrieved and unwrapped a new DVD from my bag, and I’ve got easy access to pop the DVD in the side of the laptop. But no… that’s not where the DVD drive is; it’s in the front. There I am, stuck between Joe Random and the window, and I’m writhing about with my 17” laptop trying to find the right angle to slide the DVD down my gut and into the Macbook’s annoying rubber slot. It’s annoying, and unnecessary.

There’s a reason every other laptop has the DVD drive in the side: it’s accessible. Apple are supposed to be good at this stuff; it’s supposed to be their strong-point. They’ve obviously forgotten.

European Keyboard

This just kills me: I’d always avoided Apple computers with their one-button-mouse-freak operating system. Then OS X came out, and everything changed.

As a developer, all I do all day long is think and type. That’s it, that’s all I do. Think, and type. Think, and type.

I need to concentrate: anything distracting or frustrating can break my concentration and stop me working. This is my main gripe with the Macbook Pro: it has the most annoying keyboard I have ever used.

I’m a ‘switcher’, trying the Mac after ten years using PCs. I don’t want to decode cryptographic symbols on my keyboard, and I don’t want to hunt for essential keys. Why did you hide the hash-key Apple? It’s nowhere to be seen! (UK keyboards don’t have # printed on the ‘3’ key like US keyboards; in fact, they don’t have it printed on the keyboard anywhere. The manual is CD-insert thin, and omits any useful keyboard information, leaving the user to search the Internet for the mystical ‘Alt + 3’ keyboard shortcut. In the age of HTML, why would anyone do something so stupid? On a unix-based operating system, why would you be so stupid? For god’s sake: the Apple home page uses the ’#’ symbol 59 times - try writing that when you’ve no idea where the bloody hash-key is!

Then there’s the cursor keys, stick-thin and dual-function, with labelling that’s inconsistent with the rest of the keyboard. There are lots of keys to perform special functions: screen brightness, volume control, number lock etc. In every case, the special-function is labelled on the left, and the normal function is labelled on the right. In every case, except the cursor keys. The labels on the cursor keys aren’t left/right aligned; they’re centrally aligned. And the special-function isn’t always on the left: the ‘home’ key breaks the rule - putting the special-function (home) on the right. The home-key should have it’s arrow right-aligned pointing left, and ‘home’ should be left-aligned on the key. It may not look perfect, but at least it’s consistent: without consistency you lose the only visual-cue that tells you that to go ‘home’ you have to press ‘fn’. Not ‘shift’, not ‘alt’ or ‘option’, not ‘meta’ ‘command’ or ‘apple’; and not ‘ctrl’. You need to press the function-key (fn), and only the function-key.

And how about the Mac’s option and command keys? How do you recognize them? They’d be the keys labelled ‘option’ and ‘command’ wouldn’t they? Don’t be silly. Why does Apple label UK keyboards with icons while US keyboards are labelled with words? Why does a US keyboard have a second enter-key labelled ‘enter’, while UK keyboard are labelled with a sideways ‘next track’ icon? Even the help pages for Apple’s keyboard shortcuts use words. What use are meaningless icons? (Come to think of it, what use is a second enter-key?)

rotated-L shaped return-key European Macbook Pro

Photo: Sonic Julez

Finally, we get to the most annoying key; the key that stops me using my ‘Pro for any real work: the return key. I use the return key a lot when programming. Much more than when writing - writing only needs a return-press at the end of a paragraph; but programming: that needs a return-press at the end of every line. And a ‘line’ often contains nothing more than a single curly-bracket. So, the return-key is important to me. If it’s badly shaped or awkward to press, it becomes frustrating, breaks my concentration, and stops me working.

brick-shaped return-key US Macbook Pro

Photo: Justin Roselt

So why did Apple give burger-fingered Americans a brick-like return-key, and lumber the Europeans with a Tetris-block from Soviet Russia? Look at the surrounding keys; they’re the same on US and UK keyboards, just placed differently. Why would Apple do that? I find the return-key to be the measliest stupidest most loathsome key I have ever had the misfortune of using. I’ve tried to get used to it, but I simply can’t. “Plug in another keyboard” you say… Reasonable advice if I used my laptop on a desk. But if I wanted to work at a desk, I’d have bought a Mac mini and saved myself a thousand pounds (~$2000.) No… I bought a laptop to use on my lap, and I use the built-in keyboard. I’ve learnt my lesson: if the keyboard’s wrong, there is no alternative - you have to buy a different laptop.

Dear Apple:

Please make these fixes to your Macbook Pros:

  • when headphones are plugged in: don’t make a noise
  • move the DVD drive to the side: so it’s accessible with the laptop on our lap
  • use an unlockable DVD-drive (you may not be able to supply multi-region or region-free drives,; but you can use drives with the capability to be unlocked)
  • use English on English keyboards
  • change the shape of the return key

I’m not buying another ‘Pro until they do.

Update: Following up leads from the comments, I’m happy to recommend a few pieces of software:

StartupSound.prefPane

Allows you to set the volume level (or mute) the startup-sound

Deep Sleep

(So far) more reliable than standard sleep, and doesn’t use any battery power while sleeping. Basically, the equivalent of ‘Hibernate’ on a PC

Just as I was about to try remapping my keyboard with Ukelele, I noticed the International option in System Preferences… Choosing the “U.S.” option in “Input Menu” and selecting “Use one input source in all documents” I now have Shift-3 producing a ’#’ character instead of a ’£‘. My at-symbol (@) and double-quote (”) are still reversed (compared to PC), but I can live with that for now…