Making the Switch from a G4 PowerBook to a Unibody MacBook
I finally switched to using my new Unibody MacBook for production - just over five weeks after it touched down here. That isn't how I had expected things to unfold, but I ran into some unanticipated snags in the transition from my long-established and highly evolved workflow on my previous Macs to the Macintel environment.
The biggest one was email software. I had (correctly as it turned out) discounted the likelihood of being able to use my beloved Eudora classic email client, but I hadn't figured it would be so hair-tearingly difficulty to find a tolerable substitute. I did take a swipe at using Eudora. The program will start up, which gives me access to my dozen years accumulation of message archives and Eudora's kick-ass search engine, but Eudora 6.2.4 is not a happy camper on the Intel machine and steadfastly refuses to send email through the MacBook's USB modem over my dialup Internet connection.
For that matter, while it's been usable, Eudora doesn't work really well on my G4 PowerBook running Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard", although it remains a slick, fast, and solid performer on our pre-Leopard machines.
I'll get back to the email issue in a moment, but first a few other early days observations about the MacBook, now that I'm doing work with it.
First, I have to say that I'm not exactly being blown away by its speed compared with the old 1.33 GHz G4 PowerBook, which underscores what great computers the PowerBooks are. I do notice that the MacBook boots significantly faster than the PowerBook, and it's lively enough, but working with applications doesn't seem notably faster (I haven't done much graphics work with it yet) - and indeed in some instances not faster at all.
Tex-Edit Plus, my most-used app after Eudora, has been a bit slower and downright sluggish starting up - presumably due to its being a Carbon application and not Intel-native.
That's more than a bit disappointing, as there is nothing else that even comes close to matching TE+ (I've tried them), particularly its text-cleaning features and superb implementation of AppleScript. TE+ developer Tom Bender told me last fall that he's planning to get back to working on TE+ soon, although I don't know what prospects there are for a full Cocoa-based version.
Another standby application that broke is Notepad Deluxe, a cool little mini-database that I've used for years as a parking spot for transient research data. It starts up fine, but the registration won't stick, requiring entry of the serial number on each startup.
Slow Dialup Performance
In terms of speed, my main bottleneck was never application performance but rather the agonizingly slow rural dialup access to the Internet I'm stuck with, and the MacBook has done noting to speed that up. Actually, at the seat-of-the pants level, throughput with the external modem feels slower than with the built-in modems in my PowerBook G4 and G4-upgraded Pismos.
Speaking of which, what finally nudged me into getting down to business using the MacBook is that my wife's (and my former) G3 iBook suddenly died 10 days ago (see R.I.P. iBook: December 31, 2002 - March 7, 2009), and I handed off one of the Pismos as a replacement, which left me one short of my quorum of three active machines.
Input & Display
I'm using the MacBook on a stand with my trusty Kensington SlimType keyboard and a Logitech V-550 wireless mouse, so the multitouch trackpad isn't entering into the equation for now. I'm not crazy about the MacBook's built-in "chiclet" keyboard and like the Pismo's - and even the big PowerBook's - 'boards better by a wide margin.
I'm finding the display downsize from a 17" 1400 x 900 to 13" 1280 x 800 about as I had expected. I don't find the proportionally extra width all that helpful, and I really miss that extra 100 pixels depth - I hate scrolling.
The LED lit display itself is extremely bright and crisp, and I'm not unhappy with the glossy glass surface, but I do find that angle of view is much more critical than with the matte displays in my older 'Books.
Back to Email
Back to email software: I don't like Apple Mail, and I have tried Opera's Mail module but wasn't happy with it either. Infinity Data Systems' Odysseus shows promise, but the current 1.0 beta build is still too buggy and cranky for my needs.
Consequently, I've settled on Mozilla's Thunderbird as the least objectionable Eudora stand-in, at least for the present. I tried running T-Bird 3, and it had some interesting attributes, but from time to time it would lapse into making a loud buzzing sound that I could only get rid of by quitting the application - or just killing sound output altogether, requiring a system reboot the get the sound working again.
I found the same problem with the Open Source Eudora 8.0b5, so am provisionally using Thunderbird 126.96.36.199, which seems stable and as yet hasn't broken the sound output, but it's not nearly as slick and convenient to use as classic Eudora.
I will probably be relying more on the "cloud" and Gmail webmail as a consequence, and Gmail's optional HTML-only user interface isn't excruciatingly slow on dialup.
Not Enough Ports
Aside from having no FireWire port, which I've definitely missed during the setup and configuration phase, two USB ports - one of them not fully powered - are not nearly enough, especially when one of them is semi-permanently occupied by the USB modem. I'm getting around that by using two USB hubs in tandem, but that's an inelegant workaround. I also miss having a USB port on the MacBook's starboard side. The magnetic MagSafe power adapter plug is really cool, though.
And speaking of cool, I'm extremely pleased to report that the MacBook only runs a few degrees hotter than the G4 PowerBook, with the big payoff being that its fan kick-in threshold seems to be set somewhat higher than with the old G4, because so far it has never come on, which pleases me greatly.
One thing's for sure, this unibody design is the best-looking Apple 'Book yet to my sense of aesthetics. It's light and comfortable to carry. The irony is that the big 17" G4 PowerBook will be stepping in as my "road" Mac, at least after I get around to replacing its battery, which is on its proverbial last legs.
My summary observation is that the switch from PowerPC to Intel is proving more disruptive than either the 680x0 to PowerPC or the Classic Mac OS to OS X transitions were - even though I'm using the same Mac OS system version.
Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, and he is a news editor and columnist at Applelinks.com. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.
Other articles by Charles W. Moore
- Apple's Great Hebrew Support, AirPort Express Silently Upgraded, Pismo G4, and More, Charles Moore's Mailbag, 2012.12.03. Also a WindowShade replacement approved by Apple, upgrding a 15" MacBook Pro, and three 13" MacBooks.
- Is There a Cure for a Smelly Mac?, Miscellaneous Ramblings, 2012.07.30. For those suffering from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, gases let of by a new computer can be no end of trouble.
- Optimizing PowerBook G4 Performance, TenFourFox May Run Faster with NoScript, and More, Charles Moore's Mailbag, 2012.07.18. Also pros and cons of Linux on G3 PowerBooks and iPhoto 11 no longer updating in Snow Leopard.
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