Jan 15 2015

What sucks about the MacBook Pro when you’re an IT guy

Published by at 11:19 am under Hardware,macOS,Software

My company notebook is a mid 2014 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina display. For the money that it costs it is slightly under-powered and should at least have a real quad core CPU instead of a dual-core with hyper-threading, but otherwise it is a beautiful little machine.

What totally sucks about the Mac is the keyboard layout. I’m German and naturally I use a German layout. I think thousands of posts have already been written about Apple’s complete lack of interest in standard keyboard layouts and about the fact that Apple seems to be the only company in the world that just doesn’t care for proper localization.

It’s the year 2015, Apple, and for starters, you still have not labeled the keys with the braces and the pipe symbol. I am an IT guy, and every day I spend hours in the command line of the system. Using a German Apple keyboard for that job is a royal pain in the ass – and it could so easily be resolved if only Apple would adhere to the same standards as the entire rest of the IT industry. Being special doesn’t make you better in this case, Apple – in this case, it only makes your products worse than the competition.

A bunch of my next problems have to do with the fact that I run OS X on the MacBook Pro. OS X Yosemite, actually, but that really isn’t the point here. The point is that I work in an environment that is dominated by powerful VMware vSphere/ESXi, Microsoft Windows Server and Ubuntu Linux Server back-ends, along with Cisco and Mikrotik routers and switches and a magnitude of other communications equipment. It’s a very technical environment, and I’m not using my Mac sitting in Starbucks, designing webpages or blogging about whether Safari got snappier with the latest OS X update. I am also not burning my time on social networks while downloading the latest songs from iTunes and neither am I editing my last video selfies in iMovie.

Where I work, OS X still is a second class and sometimes even a third class citizen — even desktop Linux in many cases works better and is more compatible with all the administration tools that I need to use on a daily basis.

For example, one thing that is almost unusable with OS X is VMware vCenter. Yes, VMware provide an integration plugin for OS X, but what good is it when the mouse cursor disappears most of the time and you don’t know where you’re clicking? Yes, maybe that’s not Apple’s problem or fault, but nevertheless the end result is that using OS X for your job hurts you instead of making things better for you – because the available software for that platform is buggy, slow, lacks features (Office, Skype), obviously was only an afterthought (Skype again) or just sucks or doesn’t even exist (Mikrotik Winbox, VMware vSphere client or MS Project for example) and you have to fire up a Windows VM or use a remote desktop connection to a Windows machine in order to get your stuff done.

Ironically, another thing that causes a lot of discomfort when you’re using non-Apple software is the killer feature of the MacBook Pro: The Retina display. Everything that you run in a virtual machine on a Retina Mac just looks like crap, even if you adjust the scaling for Retina displays. While reading eBooks or watching photos on a Retina display is awesome, opening a bunch of terminal sessions is not — the net screen resolution of a Retina display for that purpose basically is 1280×800, which gives you not enough real estate to juggle multiple windows around. You’re better off scaling down the display resolution. The side effect is that everything becomes smaller and harder to read, but at least you gain some additional work space for using multiple windows. Optimal solutions look different.

One thing that also annoys the hell out of me is that Apple removed the “maximize window” button and replaced it with an entirely useless “go full screen” button. Who wants a full screen terminal session, for example? Or a full screen browser with a hidden menu bar? The only application where I ever wanted a full screen view of something was good old (and now discontinued) Aperture – and even there I only wanted the full screen view of my photos on the second monitor, and not on my primary display.

Having only one menu bar at the top of the screen is also a poor choice for usability, especially when you are using one or two big displays. The menu bar belongs into the application’s window, that’s the place where your mouse cursor actually is when you need to access the menu. When you have two 30″ displays hooked up to your system, you don’t want to move around 60 inches of screen real estate just to use the open file menu. At least make this an optional setting, similar to how Ubuntu does it.

The noise level of the notebook’s cooling fans also amazes me. Just open a web page with some Flash content and wait a bit – the MacBook Pro will quickly sound like a hair drier. Yes, I know. Steve Jobs said that Flush sucks. But, again, that’s not the point. The point is: This doesn’t happen while using Windows as the main operating system, and I doubt that Adobe don’t care about their rather large professional OS X customer base. It can also happen when using VLC, but VLC doesn’t behave like that either on Windows or Linux.

And then there is the frequent animated beach ball – you know, that annoying animation that is always shown when the operating system’s kernel is busy re-organizing itself and your notebook is entirely unusable for several seconds. This major software problem has been around since the very first version of OS X and considering what monstrous hardware we have nowadays, this is simply not tolerable anymore. Neither Windows nor Linux have these problems on Apple hardware, by the way. It seems they had kernel engineers who actually prevented or successfully fixed such performance issues.

Performance. Yes. You only know how slow OS X really is when you use Windows or Linux natively on the same Apple hardware. Except for the not correctly localized keyboards that do not comply with any industry standards, Apple generally builds very beautiful hardware. It really is their software that sucks, as even some of the more renowned software developers in the OS X community have recently posted. Just read the related article on Forbes or Michael Tsai’s blog.



3 responses so far

3 Responses to “What sucks about the MacBook Pro when you’re an IT guy”

  1. Chuckyon 15 Jan 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Agree with most of your criticisms. Personally, I’ve been sticking with 10.6 and non-retina hardware, and thus don’t suffer from almost all of your issues. (Though the foreign keyboard issue doesn’t apply to me.) OS X really was an amazing OS before they started totally mucking it up beginning with Lion. However…

    “The menu bar belongs into the application’s window, that’s the place where your mouse cursor actually is when you need to access the menu.”

    No. Really, no. Fitts’s law is why you really do want the menu bar at the top of the screen. Microsoft’s decision to put the menu bar on windows stems historically from legal reasons of fear of copying Apple too closely. Microsoft UI engineers wanted to put the menu bar at the top of the screen too. Lots of subsequent user testing has re-proven the point. It’s just easier in practice to go a further distance when you’ve got physical screen bounds to constrain you, though obviously if you’ve been a long-time user of window-based menu bars, the adjustment may be difficult.

  2. Winnion 15 Jan 2015 at 9:51 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Chucky. I’m not sure though if Microsoft’s decision was solely based upon their fear of copying Apple too closely or if they made that decision because they actually thought that putting the menu bar in the application’s window was an improvement over what Apple did.
    Almost all current Unix/Linux desktop systems also have the menu in the application window. In Ubuntu, it’s the user’s choice where he or she wants the menu bar – and Canonical added that option after too many users complained about the Mac style that they originally wanted to force on their users.
    It’s not in Apple’s nature to make their products highly configurable, but if Apple gave their users the same choice as Ubuntu offers it, there would be one complaint less on the list.
    Lion might have been Apple’s equivalent to Microsoft’s Vista, but I think that Mountain Lion was still quite okay. I’ve only used Mavericks for a few days, so I cannot say much about it. But Yosemite definitely is very poor host platform for VMware Fusion – the performance of (Windows) VMs is horrible, and that never was the case with older versions of OS X and older versions of VMware Fusion.
    I’ve been thinking about turning this MacBook into a pure Windows machine for all of the mentioned reasons, but the issues with the Retina display are holding me back. As long as you’re in “Modern UI”, Windows 8.1 looks very good. But that impression is quickly ruined once you switch to desktop mode.

  3. Even Longeron 23 Jan 2015 at 12:18 pm

    Hi Winni,

    I totally agree with your points except of one: the very definition of Vista on the OS X side is: Yosemite, – it just couldn’t get any worse.

    Also, I don’t quite get the issue about the menu bar as well, – maybe because I switched to Mac too long ago and took the need of getting used to it “as given”, instead of resisting it ;).

    Actually, Windows 8 tries to hide it from you by default (until you hit the ALT-key), which is much more annoying for me.

    Example: reach the task bar in IE on the desktop with default touch keyboard only.
    Almost impossible until you enable “full” touch keyboard layout with Ctrl, Alt, Windows key etc.! I tested it on a Surface Pro 3 with Win 8.1, and it is really ridiculous design decision in my opinion.