Quit Yer Bitchin', Tim

Bray’s been bitching about his new PowerBook again. The thing that gets me is that he complains incessantly about his laptop… and then goes out and buys another one.

Compared to the last machine, this one has about 21% more pixels and 33% more clock cycles. The bigger screen is noticeable, but it doesn’t really feel much faster. This sucks. After a two-year product cycle, I expect to be dazzled by the next upgrade. I’m not.

Well, first of all, it hasn’t been two years. In fact, the last rev of the PowerBook happened just a couple days ago, an instance of which you purchased. Its been two years since you bought one, but I’m pretty sure Apple doesn’t measure its product lines on your purchasing schedule. The fact that there was not a bigger bump in CPU speed was simultaneously expected and unfortunate, given their current relationship with IBM. Why would IBM break their balls when there’s no chance of saving their relationship. And they have much bigger chip customers to be worried about right now.

Here’s another thing: personally, I haven’t been dazzled by a laptop upgrade yet. Not Dell nor Gateway nor Apple could manage to dazzle me, since they are making only incremental improvements. Most laptops are not twice as fast as the ones from two years ago when you factor in disk speed and bundled RAM, but rather simply add features like DVD burners, SD media slots and oh yeah, bigger and better screens… sort of the like the one you now have.

Apple actually does their laptop right, in that lots of the video processing is pushed off to the rockin’ video card so that admittedly anemic CPU doesn’t have to work too hard to give the customer all of the GUI niceties that OS X includes. Try getting that from HP or Dell, neither of whom have any control over what the OS does.

But, there’s more.

I suppose Apple doesn’t have too much to worry about, most people who’ve gotten used to an OS X laptop aren’t going to be driven back to Windows because it runs a little faster. But I’m not most people; I use this sucker for heavy lifting, and as soon as there’s some x64-based meat-grinder running Solaris that turns on instantly after sleep and and anti-aliases well and Just Works with whatever wifi, and doesn’t make me download drivers to do basic stuff, I may be outta here. Unless of course, Apple manages to get their act together and start shipping laptops that are delightful, not merely adequate.

The key point to remember here is that you are not most people and, more importantly, you are not even the kind of person that Apple was thinking about when they designed the PowerBook. Therefore, it actually makes no sense for you to purchase them time and time again. These laptops are media hubs, designed to do things the average Mac user would likely be doing, not stressing out the CPU by compiling code.

By the way, have you ever had a laptop that just worked perfectly for all the above-mentioned features right out of the box? I have. It was from a company called Apple and they called it the PowerBook. Asking Sun and the Solaris team to get that right has been beyond their werewithall for the entire life of the Sun Microsystems organization thus far. (in their defense, they only recently started giving a shit about such things)

As well, the take-your-ball-and-go-home attitude is ridiculous in light of the fact that you knew full well what you were getting before you bought the thing and still bought it anyway. There are definitely viable options to the PowerBook for the Tim Bray’s of the world: one’s that do come with big honkin’ x86_64 CPUs and fast RAM. I’ll bet they’ll even run Solaris, though why you’d want to escapes me. (JDS is nowhere near as easy to use or smoothly integrated as OS X and Solaris has the driver support of MS-DOS 5.1 when it comes to the x86 platform) But when you get one of those, you have to realize that you’re going to give up some of the niceties of less powerful but more customer-oriented laptops like the PowerBook.

Now, I own a PowerBook of the same version that Tim just dumped for the new one. I will not, however, be getting another one for all the reasons that Tim has mentioned and more (except for that lame hard drive size complaint). My next laptop will probably be the AV6200 or the AV4155 EH1 because I, too, do a lot of compiling and heavy-CPU-lifting on my laptop. I’ll be running Linux on it, assuming I can get my iPod working with it, or I’ll just wait until I can. But the price/power ratio on these laptops can’t be beat and I don’t understand why someone as smart as Tim would keep torturing himself if he knew exactly what he wanted in a laptop.

Finally, Tim, you have an Ultra 20 desktop now. You want power? Its called screen. Its been around forever and you can forward the X session back to you over SSH from wherever you are. That way, you can have AMD64 power with Apple sleek in one package (well, two). Alternatively, VNC has been around for almost as long and works well, too. I use rdekstop on the local LAN so I don’t have to ever sit in front of my $WORK-mandated Notes instance. And, there’s even NoMachine NX if screen/SSH or VNC aren’t fast enough. I’m getting a little tired of reading your blog and reading these almost-entirely illogical rants against Apple’s laptop division. There are valid beefs to be expressed against them, but yours aren’t generally among them.