Wednesday, 10 August 2005

Powerbook day 5

(Originally posted 20050810)

So it has been 5 days with this nice little bit of hardware and I am liking it greatly. It occurs to me though, that my blogs do not reflect this. I am more likely to point out its shortcomings and difficulties than all the things I love about it. So I thought I'd spend this blog writing about it. I'll try to gloss over the stuff that most other people rave about and focus on what is special about it to me as a full-time developer.

Ok, the usual stuff people rave about:
  1. Beautiful, well thought out design
  2. It Just Works!
  3. Consistent UI
  4. Sleeps and recovers in less than 4 seconds
  5. High quality hardware

The other stuff that makes me use it as my primary workstation, despite its currently lower performance:

1. Power users welcome

While Apple may have been one of the first to properly implement a GUI and has one of the slickest interfaces around, the mouse is almost totally optional! People like me who like to work primarily through the keyboard interface can actually navigate around purely with the keyboard, using the mouse very rarely. For me, this is a significant speed increase as keyboard shortcuts are far faster than using the mouse. Additionally, because the key bindings are very similar to emacs (my main development environment), everything is comfortable and familiar.

One other cool thing about emacs key bindings is the very limited hand movement. You can reach just about all the keys without moving your hand more than a centimeter from standard rest position. You do not even have to move your hands the ~10 cm required to hit the arrow keys (3-4 cm on a laptop), thereby not disrupting your typing speed. Yes, I am anal about these things. But it does make a serious productivity difference to me.

2. *nix base

While the flashy GUI protects new users from having to deal with the guts and internals of the OS, you can still pop open the hood as necessary. Fire up the terminal program and you can see which processes are the memory/cpu hogs, what crazy programs are running riot, etc. You can fire up your trusty shell scripts to perform routine tasks, run all the *nix applications which we know and love, etc. Get down to the OS level and figure out exactly why that peripheral is not working, if you can.

Granted, this is no different from any *nix environment, but it is a *nix environment with few of the warts. In many ways, it feels like a *nix desktop done _right_.

3. It Just Works!

Ok, so I ran out of other points. But this is a point I cannot emphasize enough. Almost everything works without problems, in exactly the way you would expect it to in a perfect world. One click/keypress often produces the results you are looking for. Things run effortlessly. You waste so little fighting the GUI/OS and so much time just being productive. All the little annoyances that bugged you, be they in the Linux, BSD or Windows world, seem to be magically gone here. No need to spend days or weeks tweaking/configuring it.

Ultimately, the powerbook and osx is what I consider the ultimate combination - the simplicity that Windows promised, the power and security of *nix, all combined in one very well designed package. It is a testament to what attention to detail and usability can do. The hardware, while of high quality, is commodity. Any other company can manufacture materials of comparable quality. However, no one can put it together, hardware and software, the way Apple has done with their computers or iPod.

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