Written by Barry Warsaw in technology on Wed 09 December 2009.

So I got my new Mac Book Pro, named it "hemispheres" as mentioned in my previous post. I'm very happy with this machine, and here are my early impressions.

The SSD is pure win. It's quiet, cool, and fast. The biggest immediate downside of course is the cost, but as a refurb, this option was made much more affordable. It'll be interesting to see how it performs over time as there are known issues with the long-term use of the technology.

My two biggest concerns were the screen and the keyboard. I absolutely love my previous generation MBP keyboard, as it's about the only laptop I can comfortably use for 8 hours a day. The unibody MBPs have a completely different keyboard, with a different feel, but I hadn't used one for a long hacking session so I was unsure how it would feel after a few hours under my hands. I'm very relieved to say that while it has a different feel, it's still incredibly comfortable to use. Apple seems to know what they're doing.

I have had a few problems hitting the right keys, most notably not quite getting the shift-2 chord right to produce an @ sign. The reach is a little bit longer it seems so I often end up just typing a "2", somehow missing the shift combination. I have a few other common typing errors, but for the most part I'm getting used to it.

The other big uncertainty was the antiglare screen. I absolutely love the matte screen on my old MBP and hate hate HATE the glossy screens that seem to come on most laptops today. Honestly, if the MBP didn't offer a matte screen as an option, I probably wouldn't have bought it. Of course, now it's a $50 upcharge, but I think it's worth it. The antiglare screen has a different color temperature than the old MBP matte screen. It seems colder and I don't think there's any way to adjust it (well, maybe color calibration but my first and only attempt at that didn't do much). The screen also seems a bit more "washed out" than my old MBP, but it's also brighter because of the backlit-LED. I'm not fond of the dimming in the dark and brightening in the light (it seems backward to me), so I'm kind of riding the F1 and F2 keys, but after several days of use, I am getting used to it.

The machine does seem to have a very long battery life. For hacking in front of Sunday football, I'd estimate it's about a 5 hour run, and the battery indicator seems pretty accurate after its calibration. That's with the high performance graphics card, btw (there are two in this machine).

I'm getting used to the different arrangement of ports and media slots, and the sleep light seems much less obnoxious. I do wish the machine had come with an eSATA port, as I think FireWire at least for storage is becoming increasingly uncommon and/or expensive.

Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6) seems pretty cool, although honestly I don't notice much of a difference. There are still some kinks though, as my cursor freeze up occasionally. I'm sure Apple will fix this in subsequent patches. They did seem to fix a few Mail.app bugs I'd reported, but sadly not everything. And they broke GPGmail so currently I have no encryption in Mail.app (a release for Mail.app 4 is reportedly forthcoming).

I wanted this machine to run Ubuntu as well, so that I'd only have to take one laptop with me to conferences and such. I struggled with the best way to install Ubuntu: should I dual boot, use a virtual machine, or both? A colleague of mine had done the "both" route with VMware and bootcamp and I had enough disk space to consider this, but decided to see how the VMware-only approach worked first. The main problems are that Xorg configuration and MAC-address (and thus DHCP assigned IP addresses) would be problematic in a "both" environment.

Fortunately, Karmic Koala in a VMware 3 machine works absolutely great. It's very fast, looks and feels great, and doesn't tax the machine much that I can tell. The biggest problems are the lack of OpenGL/compiz for windowing, and a weird problem where Gnome-Do's summon chord of control-command-space has to be hit twice in order for it to work. I don't know if this is a VMware thing (since it works fine on my native Karmic desktop) or because I need to install vmware-tools. My last experience with vmware-tools was far from satisfying so I've mostly ignored it. I may try it to see if it clears up this problem though.

I should mention that I have an older version of Parallels, but ditched it because of some things that bug me about it, such as screen resolution during boot up, and more. Parallels 5 reportedly supports OpenGL/compiz for guests, so I grabbed a try-and-buy and went through the installation of Karmic in it, but was never able to enable desktop effects, so ditched it again.

In any event, I'm not going to try to set up a dual-boot until and unless I have to.

I did have one big gotcha as I was getting the new MBP set up. Apple has a very nice migration assistant that helps you move your stuff (including applications, settings, home directory, etc.) from your old machine to your new machine. The first time I tried it was massive fail. First, I did a wireless-to-wireless transfer and it never warned me that it was going to take 12+ hours to migrate, and once it started it was impossible to interrupt. Second, 12 hours later when I tried to log into the new machine, I was completely prevented from doing so. I actually could log in, but OS X was throwing up a cryptic error saying it couldn't open my FileVault. My home drive on my old MBP is encrypted and of course I wanted the same on my new machine. I figured since Migration Assistant happy proceeded it would Do The Right Thing. Yeah, not so much.

After being on the phone with Apple support for a few hours, I was finally told that this was not a supported migration option. Thank you Migration Assistant for the warning. Not. The solution was to re-install the OS on the new machine (since I could in no way log in now), turn FileVault off on the old machine, effect the transfer, and then re-enable FV on both machines. The problem with this is that you need enough disk space on the old machine to turn FV off, and this I did not have. It took quite some effort to free up the 31GB of space on my old machine (1/3 of the total hard drive size), but by temporarily moving stuff off to a NAS, I finally managed it.

This time, I did an ethernet-to-ethernet migration and it took way less than 12 hours. Of course it was transferring a lot less data, but still, it only took an hour or so maybe. I guess that's the advantage of gigabit ethernet over 802.11G :).


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