MacBook and Me

And now, a break from our regularly scheduled emo session…

Until the last two weeks, I had never owned anything other than a PC. The idea of paying more than a thousand dollars for a computer seemed galling, especially coming from a lower-middle class background. PCs were cheap, customizable, and the norm. I had desktops in high school and college, upgrading them myself* through parts purchased from Fry’s Electronics, eBay vendors, and other similarly disreputable places. I’ve owned three laptops through college and graduate school – two Dells and an Asus – spending progressively less on each (~$350 on the last), and having perfectly good experiences with each.

*…so Asian.

I never considered making the switch, despite a positive experience with my iPhone (gifted by a generous sister). I was comfortable in my PC ways. Brief interactions with Macs had left me befuddled: so many unfamiliar icons, so many unknown shortcuts. Besides, I found the Apple culture obnoxious. It seemed to have this manufactured aura of independence, of creativity. That people would line up overnight to shell out hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars for its every product made me uncomfortable. I’m hardly anti-consumerist, but it was just one more cult-like trait about this particular company.

Unfair generalizations aside, the biggest deterrent against my purchasing a Mac these last 15 years remained the price tag. MacBooks were not on my radar as recently as two months ago, when the increasing struggles of my three-year-old Dell Inspiron 1121 pushed me to map out a timeline for my next ultraportable. Then that changed. I was informed last month by my work that I had access to a not insignificant pool of research funds. My ultraportable purchase suddenly became imminent. And with a final push coming from a friend/Mac cheerleader, I committed to an 11” MacBook Air.

I’ve had my MacBook for about two weeks now. I know some of my impressions are based simply on its newness. By virtue of its specs alone, it outpaces the performance of my last laptop by quite a bit: HD movie trailers no longer lag ever so slightly, iTunes doesn’t struggle to load at all (when it’s not crashing altogether), and everything – from keyboard touches to mouse clicks to page refreshes – is that much more responsive. I’ll try to set all that aside for the moment. Eight years late to the Mac party, this is my review.

Physically, the MacBook Air is strong, sturdy. Because of the aluminum, it feels of quality in a manner unlike any other laptop I’ve ever owned. At the same time, while heavy in that sense, the 11” MacBook paradoxically contains an incredible lightness. I still have a lingering fear when I’m at Starbucks that I’ll knock it off a table if I accidentally swiped at it or something. And given how wafer-thin the shell is, I can’t help but imagine what would happen if I flipped open the screen a little too much. True or not, its sturdy construction seems to belie some fragility, a product of its modest size.

The various ports and slots are neatly placed in the back, and while I haven’t yet developed the sixth sense for blindly stabbing the proper cable in its allotted place, I will soon enough. The magnetic power cord, however, does seems more showy than anything else thus far, and it’s fallen off a few times when I simply moved from desk to bed, or yanked (without really yanking). Similarly conceptually inspired but practically flawed is the two-part power adapter: Goldilocks would have designed something in the middle. But these are small qualms. Overall, I appreciate the minimalism in the design – even if it perpetuates a certain ironic uniformity.

I’ll forgo discussion about the specs and such (because who cares) and get to the heart of it: What’s a Mac operating system been like for this long-time Windows user?

Macs are incredibly intuitive. Programs are reduced to ubiquitous icons on the dock, and a tiny line indicates when they remain active. I like how the top menu bar usurps the program you’re currently using, making the process appeared streamlined, cohesive.  Generally speaking, you just don’t have to deal with folders and defragmenting and behind-the-scenes garbage and everything else – they take care of that for you. Software installations are especially painless: all you have to do is literally drag one big icon over to another big icon. They might as well pat me on the head and give me a lollipop afterward.

I like how compatible the MacBook has been with everything else. The fact that other Apple products have been involved does not detract from the smoothness of the operation. The iCloud feature seamlessly combined my Gmail and phone contacts; the iPhotos program rapidly and neatly imported my iPhone pictures. I’ve connected a flash drive, an external hard drive, a Kindle, and a mouse, and the MacBook has handled each ably. It’s better than plug and play, removing any need for management. The capper was when I discovered yesterday I could even iMessage and Facetime phone contacts via the computer. What kind of demon wizardry is this?

There are frustrations, of course. The lack of a true right-click has already driven me to rely on the aforementioned USB mouse. It also seems frustrating to have a distinction between the red x and completely closing a program… though I suppose it explains why the function is similarly complex in the iPhone. Add the fact that I’m dealing with a Japanese keyboard, and I’ve probably had more missteps than most.  There are probably a million command shortcuts I’m unaware of currently that will eventually make my life easier. But for now, the learning curve remains, if not quite steep, then at least a small incline.

Still, two weeks in, I’m committed to learning, to traversing down that path. I’ll do what it takes to familiarize myself with the nuances of the Mac. Because from what I’ve seen so far, the effort will be worthwhile. It took 15 years and someone else’s money to get me in the party, but I am pounding the Kool-Aid.

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