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Re: OT: Laptop for College Bound Student?

On Wed, Jun 11, 2008 at 03:55:14PM -0700, Paul Johnson wrote:
> On Wed, 2008-06-11 at 09:31 -0400, Gregory Seidman wrote:
> > I love Debian, but for a laptop I'd go Mac and MacOS X every time. I'd even
> > lean Mac for a desktop.
> I have reservations for Apple laptops in general because the input
> devices built in have, historically, sucked.  Until 1997 (and far later,
> possibly not even today, in public schools with Apple hardware), you
> couldn't find a keyboard made by Apple that had the key bumps on the
> correct (F and J) keys, only the wrong keys that only Apple and Apple
> alone seems to have put them on (D and K).  Going to school where the
> keyboards were predominantly Apple even if the hardware connected to
> them was not, and having been taught by my folks to type the right way
> on a PC keyboard in kindergarten ("these computer things are probably
> going to take off, it's probably best if the boy knows how to type"),
> this was especially annoying and bothersome for most of my childhood.
> Continuing the tradition of inferior input, MacBooks today come
> pre-crippled by lacking a proper mouse.  It's 2008, and even Apple runs
> NeXT now:  Put 3 buttons and maybe a scroll rocker on the on-board mouse
> already!

Mac input devices have come a long way. I have an older MacBook Pro in
front of me and the bumps are on F and J. It also has a nice touchpad which
maps the following:

1 finger tap = left-click
2 finger tap = right-click
1 finger drag = mouse move
2 finger drag = scroll (vertical and horizontal)

There is also the actual button for left-click or left-click-and-drag. The
touchpad can be configured to support left-click-and-drag with a
tap-then-drag but I don't like it. When I need a middle-click or
right-click-and-drag the modifier keys are sufficient (in X11, middle-click
is Option-click and right-click is Command-click). My understanding is that
the touchpad on the MacBook Air provides even better input, including
multi-touch gestural input ported from the iPhone, and that this newer
touchpad has found its way to the new MacBook Pro and maybe MacBook.

I also use a (tragically no longer manufactured) Kensington Expert Mouse
PRO trackball which has appropriate buttons that just work. In fact,
essentially any third-party USB input device Just Works. And the "Mighty
Mouse" that comes with desktop systems supports right-click out of the box
(though it requires changing a preference).

> > At this point in time, unless money is *really* tight, I'd get a MacBook.
> > $1199 gets you 2G memory, 1 year warranty, 802.11a/b/g/n,
> Is n ready for prime-time?  Last I heard it was still in the draft
> stages and subject to change.

I don't know.

> > That's without the student discount, by the way. The student discount
> > brings it down to $1089, or $1272 with AppleCare. It also comes with a free
> > iPod (8GB iPod Touch or 8GB iPod Nano or you can pay an extra $100 for the
> > 16GB iPod Touch or $200 for the 32GB) when you buy it as a student. The
> > free iPod is an online rebate thing. The student discount is available
> > online, of course (look for the Education link at store.apple.com).
> The low price with student discount is the only reason I'm not
> eliminating it entirely from my consideration.  What would be a
> dealbreaker, though, is if I could only get it with OS X.  How much
> cheaper is it if it ships with no operating system?  I'd rather keep my
> familiar Debian.

It should not be surprising that Apple hardware is not sold without an
Apple operating system. Given that the OS sells retail for $129, and the
consensus is that Apple's business is hardware and any software is geared
toward selling hardware, the part of the bundle cost that can be attributed
to the OS and bundled apps is negligible. Of course, there is nothing
preventing you from wiping the drive and installing Debian.

You might try out MacOS X for a while first, though. I find it pleasant. I
find that with a combination of Fink (kind of like apt-get, but you wind up
treating it more like Gentoo because the binary packages are way older than
the source packages and it makes it really easy to build everything from
source packages), various free native apps, third-party X11
<http://xquartz.macosforge.org/>, and one self-built package (pidgin,
because Fink hasn't updated from gaim), I'm in good shape.

I still live in mainly xterms. I deal with my email by remote displaying
from my home machine (a Debian box) over ssh. I use pidgin, as I mentioned,
for IM (and integrate it with Growl using a python script that talks DBus).
I use gvim (in X11) for editing. I use native Firefox for browsing, native
X-Chat <http://xchataqua.sf.net/> for IRC, bundled Preview for image and
PDF viewing, etc. Lots of good free/Free software, lots of good shareware,
lots of good commercial software if/when I need it (and when my employer is
paying for it).

This is already off-topic and veering farther off, but I want to make it
clear that I'm not recommending Apple hardware and software because I'm
some kind of blind fanboy. I recognize the tradeoffs I make (largely in
cost and freedom for comfort and convenience), and I only make them where
it makes sense (e.g. my home server is Debian for good reason). I've spent
time in front of various versions of *nix (SunOS 4, Solaris, IRIX, DEC
Ultrix, Digital UNIX, various Linux distros) using various desktops (tvtwm,
fvwm, fvwm95, GNOME, KDE, SGI's Magic Desktop), various versions of MacOS
(from System 6 on up through the current MacOS X), NeXT, various versions
of Windows (3.1 through XP, but I haven't dealt with Vista), and even the
Atari ST, Apple //gs, and Amiga interfaces.

In all my experience, I've never found a user interface that is comfortable
for me out of the box without at least some modification and customization,
and MacOS X is no exception. I've also never found a user interface I
couldn't get used to and be productive on. With all that in mind, though, I
find that MacOS X is the most pleasant so far. 

> Paul Johnson

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