Thursday, June 29, 2017

Adapting to a new MAC

Recently I got an email at work saying that my laptop was due for replacement. The email asked me to choose whether to get a Lenovo laptop or an Apple MAC,. I am not really a fan of Apple products due to their habit of ignoring standard interface conventions. Nevertheless I was persuaded by some co-workers that clicking the apple button was the right choice. The new laptop was delivered very promptly after I clicked on the button and suddenly I had a shiny new MacBook Pro sitting on my desk and I had no choice but to become friends with it.
  • On the positive side
    • The hardware is impressive  The laptop is slim and light and the screen is crystal clear with a very high resolution. It can even be read outdoors on a sunny day.
    • It comes with a solid state disk drive which means that it is lightning fast.
    • The CIO office in IBM has set up a process which  makes it trivially easy to setup all of the essential applications most people need in IBM in one go. This meant I was productive very quickly.
  • On the negative side:
    • As many of you know, MAC uses the command key for most  situations where most normal computers expect  you to press the control key. This is quite annoying at first, but I am surprised how quickly I managed to learn the new key sequences. This inventing of their own UI conventions is not ideal, especially for people like me who have to regularly use a variety of different operating systems. However, I think I will learn to live with it.
    • What is really annoying is that Apple is into minimal design and hence they decided to remove any keyboard keys that they think are rarely used. One of these is the break key. Many users rarely if ever use this key, but in Lotus Notes there is a convention that you can use ctrl-break to abort any operation which is taking too long. Unfortunately this is a key combination that I find myself wanting to use frequently. A Google search threw up a few suggestions for MAC compatible alternatives, but none of them seem to work.
    • Another missing key is the escape key, but this is compensated by the Touch Bar.  This is a cool strip which contains virtual keys that change depending upon what app is running. For example, whenever an application is running that can accept the escape key, a small esc appears in the touch bar. Likewise whenever Spotify is playing the touch bar has virtual keys for play, skip etc.  (even if it is running in the background).  This is a nifty idea, but most applications don't take advantage of it yet (probably because it is only available on newer MACs). You can also customise the touch bar so it works the way you like.
    • I am a big fan of Bluetooth and I (wrongly) assumed that a modern laptop like a MacBook Pro would have excellent Bluetooth support. To be honest I find the poor Bluetooth performance to be the most frustrating thing about the new laptop. Initially, I connected a Bluetooth mouse and it worked except that I need to turn the mouse on and off every few hours to make my laptop realise that it was still there. Then I connected a Bluetooth keyboard and things got even worse, the laptop looses connection to either the mouse or the keyboard about once per hour (it can be even more often). Finally I added a Bluetooth headset and this seemed to overload the laptop's Bluetooth sub-system completely. The different devices seem to conflict with each other. For example, if I turn off the Bluetooth keyboard (which I often have to do),  the sound on my headset is likely to go up or down. Overall it makes me want to go back to wired devices (if the laptop had proper sockets to plug them into).
Overall I have to say I am still undecided about my decision to go down the Apple route. I am not (yet) looking to take my old Lenovo Linux laptop out of retirement, but I am a still a long way from being converted into an Apple fanboy.


  1. Cmd + .

    That's your friend Brian. It is the mac version of ctrl break.. I've a mac and found it to be the solution after some googling a few years back

  2. Wow, thanks for the tip Dan. The google search turned up, cmd+enter, cmd+= and cmd++ none of which worked.