Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2008 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

March 25, 2008

Bob Holmes on Vista

Subject: Microsoft, Vista et al


One of the main reasons that OS X is rock solid and gives such a good user experience is the fact that Apple controls the hardware that can be used with OS X. This does limit the choices of hardware that Mac users can put inside the box and is one of the reasons that Macs cost more.

Microsoft, at the risk of alienating a large number of expansion hardware vendors, needs to tighten up the certification program and expand it beyond drivers to specific hardware versions. Computer manufacturers such as HP, Dell, et al already do this in a way and the Windows experience when it is preloaded by a manufacturer is, by and large, a good one with the exception of the myriad craplets many manufacturers insist on installing.

The area of difficulty for Microsoft Windows users is when they attempt to upgrade an existing system or build a system of their own. The number of possible combinations of hardware is mind boggling.

Microsoft has made an attempt to address this problem with the program that will examine an existing system's configuration and advise whether the system is OK for upgrading to Vista. However, there is nothing in the Vista installation program to prevent installation on a system that may have hardware of questionable compatibility.

If Microsoft wishes to give its customers an experience similar to the OS X experience, they will be forced to limit the customers hardware choices to the list of certified hardware.

Bob Holmes

You are of course correct; and Apple sells premium (as opposed to consumer priced) hardware as a result. On the other hand, investing in hardware that has a working operating system is attractive.

I have spent the day in wild frustration at Vista, and accomplished very little. This has tilted me farther toward buying a big Mac Pro and putting Vista on under either Parallels or VMware. When Vista or XP don't work I can always use the Mac side to get work done.

Peter Glaskowsky notes:

I wish you wouldn't perpetuate the myth that Apple charges premium prices for its hardware.

The fact is that Apple simply doesn't sell cheap configurations. For the same hardware, Apple's prices are closer to Dell's than to Sony's. And sometimes cheaper than Dell's.

. png

Which may be a better way to put it.

In my day book (The View; see www.jerrypournelle.com ) I speculated that one would want a MacBook Pro for most work. I received a great deal of mail on this, and the conclusion is obvious. Herewith MacBook vs. MacBook Pro:

Windows on a Mac


Just a comment about your discussion of running Windows on some Macs (Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, iMac) but not others (MacBook, MacBook Air).

My MacBook (2.2 Core 2 Duo, 4 GB aftermarket RAM) handles Parallels and XP quite easily. The more recent MacBook versions are very similar to the specs of MacBook Pros, except for a dedicated video card and screen size (other minor differences too: backlit keyboard and card slot). The downside from my perspective (and perhaps this is what you were getting at) is the smaller screen. The base MacBooks (~$1100-1300) are easy (much easier than MacBook Pros) to upgrade with RAM and larger/faster hard drives.


Subject: MacBook vs. Pro vs. Air

I'm typing this on a MacBook Pro... my wife is sitting four feet from me typing on her MacBook (non-Pro). If I were putting down my own money tomorrow, I'd lust after an Air... and then buy a MacBook (non- Pro), and use the money I saved maxing out 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard disk.

People claim slower graphic performance on the non-Pro MacBook, but her machine manipulates photographs nicely enough, and I'm not doing video editing or gaming. And she uses Parallels daily (a Windows-only piece of software for her job) with minimal stress.

The two distinguishing features of our two machines are (1) I have a lighted keyboard, and (2) I have a $30 SD card reader cleanly hidden in an internal ExpressCard slot, whereas my wife uses a $10 external reader.

For what it's worth.


-- Stephen Fleming | Chief Commercialization Officer | Georgia Tech

Tim Loeb, Mac guru, says

You wrote that you wouldn't try Air or MacBook as the Mac plus Windows machine, with which I have to disagree. The latest MacBooks make fine Windows machines under Parallels: there's plenty of hard disk space and plenty of CPU horsepower, and XP at least runs quite well there. The Air is a little problematical because of the limited hard disk space, but it does run XP under Parallels quite snappily enough to get real work done if you have the drive space. Been there, done that on both.



The disk drive space on the Air is a severe limit, but I would have thought the memory limit even more so. In any event, I haven't yet been tempted to add XP to the Air, but I carry her everywhere now.

And from Roland Dobbins, one of my expert advisors:

The differences between the MacBook and MacBook Pro are as follows:

1. MacBook Pro has a 15" or 17" display, MacBook 13". Pro display has higher resolution due to larger size.

2. MacBook Pro has a matte option for the display, MacBook is glossy- only (wish the MacBook had this).

3. MacBook Pro has a GPU, MacBook doesn't (though, since I can't imagine playing games on a laptop, I don't know why 3D acceleration is so important; MacBook is limited to 1920 x 1200 on external monitors, whereas MacBook Pro can go higher).

4. MacBook has longer battery life than Pro (about 2x, in my experience).

5. MacBook hard drive is infinitely easier to upgrade than Pro.

6. MacBook keyboard is significantly different than Pro (much more like the old Cambridge Z88).

7. MacBook Pro keyboard is illuminated, MacBook keyboard is not.

8. MacBook Pro has a FireWire/800 connector, MacBook has only FireWire/ 400.

9. MacBook Pro has an ExpressCard slot, MacBook does not.

10. Pro CPU is a couple of hundred MHz faster than the MacBook (not enough to notice, IMHO).

11. MacBook is 'tougher' and less-easily scratched/marked than Pro.

Roland Dobbins

Chaos Manor Advisor Greg Lincoln says:

That battery life line is definitely wrong. My 1 year old 15in 2.4Mhz MacBook Pro lasts at least as long as my new MacBook.

I get about five hours of light surfing and word processing on both. Apple reports 5 hours of "wireless productivity" on the current MacBook Pro and 4.5 hours on the MacBook, which matches my findings. (My pro is about a year old.)

Roland may be thinking of the early model Pros, which had relatively poor battery life.


I have found that "battery life" is a slippery concept, since Wi-Fi is probably the chief battery drain.

And that ought to cover the subject. I have a MacBook Pro, and a Western Digital drive plus Kingston Memory to upgrade it. The memory is easily installed by any user. The disk drive upgrade is daunting, and I may decide to go let the geniuses at the Apple Store do that job for money — assuming they will do that. They probably won't. The disk replacement operation is daunting enough that I don't recommend it. That may not stop me from making the attempt.

I also have a MacBook Air, which is the computer you will have with you. As to choosing between MacBook and MacBook Pro for your only machine, there is enough information above to make a reasonable decision. If I were buying a Mac for my wife — and I well may do that — I would get the MacBook; a Pro would be more than she needs, and the Air is not quite there as one's only system; the 2 GB memory limit sees to that. This isn't a knock on the Air. I carry Khaos nearly everywhere, and I have done a surprising amount of work in odd places. Probably not enough to have made the Air a cost effective investment, but over time it very well could be. Besides, that Air is WAAAAY Cool.

Last week's mail had a comment about AppleCare:

Dave Markowitz wrote:

>> It was refreshing to get a competent tech support representative who spoke English well, and not have to throw a fit to get good service. I'm impressed.<<

Apple has bucked the trend by not outsourcing their tech support overseas. I have gotten technicians in Texas and in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan! So, how much is that worth to customers in reduced frustrations and happier endings?

(Like others -- if I had known how deeply you were going to make the Mac/iPhone plunge, I would have made some recommendations! Feel free to ask me anything... I manage a group of Mac users inside a mostly- Windows division of Georgia Tech, so I've figured out a lot.)


-- Stephen Fleming | Chief Commercialization Officer | Georgia Tech

I'll take you up on your offer. I am still learning about all things Mac including iPhone. And I now have the Time Capsule to play with.

And on the iPhone

Subject: From the Mailbag

Tim Loeb wrote:

>> An application I hope to see someday soon on the iPhone is voice to text.

You don't have to wait! Sign up for free with Jott.com. (Yes, your voice may be transcribed to text by a clerk in Bangalore. Privacy purists will choose not to use this. For leaving myself notes that pop up in my email, or my wife's email, it's wonderful!)


-- Stephen Fleming | Chief Commercialization Officer | Georgia Tech

There is also a port of Dragon text to speech for the Mac. I don't have it yet, but I have good reports. Stay tuned.

I was sent an engraved Sony Reader as a gift. I had a bit of trouble getting it set up — that is very likely a problem related to my health conditions now — and I have done little with it. This is largely because I use the Kindle, which goes in the bag with the MacBook Air and comes with me nearly everywhere.

My limited experience with the Sony Reader is that it's no easier to use than the Kindle, but the Kindle takes longer to get used to. The readabilities are comparable. The Kindle, though, makes use of Amazon's splendid marketing and distribution system.

Comes now this mail:

Subject: Sony ebook reader


We are vacationing in Japan and stopped in at the Sony building in Tokyo. They said the ebook reader was now 3 years old and is no longer offered here. Probably foreshadows the future in the US.

Hope all is well (enough)

Typing this on an Apple in store ... my finger doesn't know where the Enter key is.

Everett Harper

Thanks. They certainly are still selling the Sony Reader here, and indeed there is a new model (which is the one I have). There are also problems with most common PDF formats on the Sony Reader. I prefer the Kindle, and that's what I carry.

Linux and/or portable apps


You've mentioned a couple of times about wanting to try Linux. One **BIG** thing you could do to minimize the stress would be to see how many of your 'typical' apps are available cross-platform or what cross-platform apps could replace them. I gather from your postings you're already a fan of Firefox, which is certainly accessible on all of Wintel, Mactel & Linux. While I know this could be a huge effort given your trade, have you tried any recent release of OpenOffice as an alternative to MS Office? Its ability to use MS formatted docs is quite solid at this point. The last item would be Outlook, where Thunderbird and its calendar plugin, Lightning, should be able to do the job. I'm sure there's any number of techs that could help you migrate mailboxes and/or calendar data.

All of these can be had across platforms. For that matter, I understand that WoW runs as fast or perhaps faster under the WINE shim package than under Win32, so you could even do gaming. Just a suggestion for your Copious Spare Time.

My prayers are with you for a speedy and full recovery.

Bob Halloran
Jacksonville FL
"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither." - Benjamin Franklin

As I have said before, I will master the Mac before I go learn Linux. One thing at a time...