David Johnstone

Why I bought a Mac

September 27, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I bought my first ever Apple product, a 13” MacBook Air. Before I bought it, I had a desktop running Windows 7 and a tiny little netbook. The desktop is great, but it isn’t exactly portable, while the netbook really only gives a lightweight computing experience. Now that I’m working for myself, I have the freedom to work anywhere I want, but I also need the ability to work wherever I am. Getting a laptop was the obvious solution.

I have been thinking that I might get into iOS app development (for iPhones and iPads) sometime in the near future, and having a Mac of some sort is necessary for this. This was the first major reason I had for why I should get one. I have had vague thoughts for the last five years that, if I was to get a laptop, I would get an Apple, mostly because they’re aesthetically nice, and OS X can’t be too bad. But that’s hardly a compelling reason to spend upwards of $2000 when you’ve just quit your job.

Another major reason for getting one is that Windows and OS X render type different, and since I make websites that use all sorts of fonts, knowing what they look like on different platforms is quite important.

I was initially thinking that a 15” MacBook Pro would be the ideal choice, but I didn’t realise that the Airs were as good as they are. The main attraction of the 15” Pro over the 13” Pro is that it has a higher resolution screen, because the 13” Pro has a really quite low resolution screen (1280×800). But then I noticed the 13” Air and it looked quite nice. It had the same 1440×900 screen as the 15” Pro, and although it wasn’t as powerful, it certainly didn’t look slow on paper.

So then I had two options: the 13” MacBook Air, and the 15” MacBook Pro. The main differences, as far as I was concerned, were:

  • The Pro cost $650 more.
  • The Pro came with a 500GB HDD, while the Air had a 128GB SSD HDD (both of these could be made larger, and I could get an SSD with the Pro if I wanted to pay more).
  • The Pro had a real graphics card.
  • The Pro weighed twice as much and was considerably thicker.

Being cheaper, thinner and lighter, the Air was the obvious choice if I didn’t require the power that the Pro could give me. When I do web development, I only run Vim (my favourite plain text editor — think Notepad, but way more powerful in ways that only a true nerd could care about), and a browser or two with a lot of tabs open, and that hardly requires a beast of a machine. However, I also do plenty of photography and I’m getting into video editing and production, and that’s a world where no computer is good enough. Adobe products can make use of graphics cards, which made the Pro a better choice for that. I ended up deciding that I’ll leave very intensive applications for my desktop. The MacBook Pro would cost a lot to upgrade to be more suitable for video editing anyway — and even 8GB of RAM, which would cost $250 to upgrade to, is hardly enough for some things I do.

The final decision was between the base 13” Air and a more expensive version with a slightly faster processor and a 256GB SSD, twice the size of the base model. I figured the incremental performance increase wouldn’t be that important, but the SSD size upgrade was tempting. However, I decided against it because, provided I don’t store lots of photos and other things long term on it, 128GB should be enough. My main use case — web development — certainly doesn’t require vast amounts of storage space.

Then I started looking at what I could get if I didn’t get an Apple. There are a lot of cheap and powerful Windows machines out there, but they also look cheap. More expensive Windows laptops are better, but my reasons for wanting a Mac in the first place — being able to see what my websites look like on a Mac and iOS development — remained. And I need to mention that I was very impressed with the form-factor the of the Air. It’s so thin and light. And there aren’t any Windows machines that compete with it. In fact, in the week before I bought my Air, Intel announced a $300 million plan to help Windows laptop manufacturers make “ultrabooks”, which is a name they came up for thin and lightweight laptops that are about as powerful as other laptops, which is exactly what the Air is. Basically, Apple is the only company that makes anything like the MacBook Air.

Then I went out and bought one.

It was the first time I’ve ever been into an Apple store, and it was a good experience, even if “Genius Bar” is a silly name. Speaking of silly things people write, some of the text on the Apple site was a bit pretentious. “Connect your Mac to the 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display and gain more than just pixels. Gain possibilities.” was my favourite. Anyway, back to my laptop.

It’s quite nice. It’s so thin and light and beautiful. I’ve never used OS X before, but it too is pleasant to use. I’m a big fan of the trackpad gestures — two fingers to scroll, a three finger swipe to change virtual desktop etc. make life a little be nicer. The biggest issue is that I need to relearn a lot of keyboard shortcuts. Control is now normally command, except when it isn’t. Using the equivalents of control, shift, home, end, backspace, delete and the arrow keys to select and delete text on the Mac has been frustrating at times since I use them so much. That said, option+shift+hyphen to type an em-dash is nicer than alt+0151 (yes, I remember that). Getting used to browsing directory structures has also involved a bit of a learning curve. Is right-clicking on the title bar the only way to go to the parent folder? Still, on the whole, it’s been excellent. (And, to be honest, the most annoying thing about Apple is the fanboys, both the lovers and the haters.)

So, in summary, I now have a 13” MacBook Air and it’s really quite nice and better than the alternatives for me. I wish I could say I wrote this on it while sitting on a beanbag outside, but the powertools the workmen are using outside are loud enough inside.

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