The MacBook Pro’s not so bad...

Two years after moaning about my MacBook Pro I figure it’s time for an update:

It’s not so bad…

Thanks to various blog comments I managed to solve most of the niggles I had with the laptop:

muted the startup sound

This was pretty straight forward: download StartupSound.prefPane and choose the appropriate settings (I ticked the “Mute” box next to “Startup Volume” which seems to work fine.)

reconfigured keyboard layout using Ukulele

(definitely a personal preference) I configured a keyboard layout to match UK PC keyboards: backtick (`) to the left of 1, hash# and tilde~ next to return, at@ and double-quote” reversed (double-quote via Shift+2) and finally (I think) putting backslash and pipe| to the left of Z) If you want it, you can download my British PC keyboard layout (if I remember right, you have to move the file into /System/Library/Keyboard Layouts/ and may need to restart before you can choose it in System Preferences / International / Input Menu - and if you want a decent icon you’ll need the flag icon to bung in the Keyboard Layouts folder too.)

There is still one rather annoying aspect of the keyboard layout: it changes back to a Mac layout whenever I use Opera and tab into a password field - god knows what that’s all about!? I’ve got used to it now though and can quickly change back with Apple+Space

Better sleep & hibernate

Apple must have distributed a software update including fixes so waking up from sleep became a lot faster and more reliable. I’ve been months without shutting my Mac down, though I’ve recently changed my power settings so it goes into stand-by if I close the lid while plugged in, but goes into deep sleep if I close the lid while running off battery. What I’d really like is a way to say “go into stand-by for 15 minutes, then go into deep-sleep” - I think that’d be better when you’re running of battery and carting your computer from room to room - but want it to go into deep-sleep if you hit the motorway for 2 hours.

Region-free DVD

Hackers are great. About 8 months on from writing my bitch-post someone pointed out some a forum thread pointing to new firmware. Upgrading the firmware and installing Region X means I can actually view DVDs I paid for… (Is that a “w00t!” I hear at the back?)

It’s nice to have been pointed to solutions by readers, but there were a couple of physical issues readers couldn’t fix: the position of the drive slot, and the crappy return key.

( I realise I’m only one of a million voices shouting in the wind, but) Apple have redesigned the new MacBook Pros to put the DVD slot where it should be (on the side) and they’ve added an option to let you specify a US keyboard when you order a Mac online (giving chunky Return and Shift keys, and proper labelling to say META, ALT and OPTION)

I need to test-drive the new chicklet keyboard before deciding whether I’d be happy using a new MacBook Pro, but with the US keyboard layout and another region-free DVD hack, I think I’d quite happily upgrade. Of course Apple have made some changes that put me off too:

  1. you have to pay more for a matte display (it used to be the other way round: glossy screens cost more, but designers prefer matte displays for better colour accuracy, so Apple made the most common and desirable option the one that costs a premium. That’s business!)
  2. unremovable battery. On some days that doesn’t sound so bad: the pro (long battery life) outweighs the con (high one-off replacement cost after 3-4 years.) But… I’ve been through the experience of defective batteries: my original MBP battery got burning hot and buckled over the course of a few months. I’d hate to think what would happen if the battery was wrapped around the PCB and pushing against all edges of a one-piece case.
  3. non-upgradeable memory. Well, kinda. This is a consequence of a non-removable battery - the option to upgrade from 4 to 8GB looks like it has to be done at the point of ordering, and for a hefty charge. Then again… 4GB of memory ought to be just fine, and (if it really comes down to it) I’m sure there’ll be a 32-step upgrade guide to replace the memory modules as soon as a memory supplier begins to sell them.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with my MacBook Pro these days. I get on better with OS X then Windows for a couple of reasons. I prefer Apple subtle nudge reminding you there’s a monthly / bi-monthly software update ready to install - compare that to Microsoft’s randomly timed “I’m gonna restart your computer in 5 minutes” auto-upgrade annoyance (and yes, I’m well aware of ”net stop wuauserv” to stop the nagging - I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to type that in.) Plus, the BSD / *nix nature of OS X allows me to setup a development environment that behaves much closer to our live CentOS servers than Cygwin on Windows does.

I bought a Mac Mini last summer while rumours of a new revision were reaching fever pitch - I’m glad I didn’t wait. The Mini’s been an absolute pleasure - running damn-near silently and without issues. But that’s wandering off track.

I do have a new hate though: Sky HD. Compared to my recently deceased TiVo, SkyHD is one of the most incompetent PVRs I’ve ever had the displeasure of using. The only reason I haven’t cancelled my Sky subscription completely is because (as far as I know) there’s no other way to get Sky 1 - and I do like Lost, 24, Battlestar Gallactica and all the big American productions that come to Sky first…

And now I’m really off track. Sky HD’s a gripe for another day…