Back to Mac

Macbook Pro RetinaI have switched, properly, to a Mac. I know you can get more for your money with a PC (for which, read Windows laptop these days), but the overall integrity, reliability, and quality of the Apple computers is in my humble opinion unsurpassed although Lenovo’s Carbon X1 comes close.

Already, in work situations, I have found the Mac much easier to use without lots of additional utilities and complex configuration than any Windows machine I have ever used. I am still going through the learning curve on OS X (the 10th version of the Unix operating system and front end Steve Jobs brought back to Apple when Apple acquired his Next computer business). Underneath the hood of course everything seems pretty familiar even to someone who does not get to spend much time dabbling with Linux and has forgotten huge amounts of Unix over the last few decades.

PCs vs Macs

I will miss the Lenovo Yoga’s flexibility: tablet and laptop, with the ability to be setup in a couple of other physical configurations. I was also intrigued by the touch screen but frankly found it not as good as my Android based touch devices (including a 12.2″ high resolution tablet with a Wacom digitiser). I did touch the screen every now and then to scroll stuff but frankly that was because the trackpad on the Yoga is a bit small and not that sensitive (as is the case on most PC laptops) – by contrast, the Macbook’s trackpad is fantastic. I do use a mouse and standalone trackpad as well (connected by blutooth) just for flexibility and so I do not have my arms bent in front of me. A term has come up for using touch screens on laptops: gorilla arm, laptop really don’t need them (I wonder though if Apple will eventually introduce them just to compete).

Running Windows

I have not given up Windows completely. There are applications that I need to use that are not available for the OS X, and there are no acceptable substitutes. In particular, Microsoft Project (the 365 version in my case) is a particularly good example, particularly for someone who contracts out as a Project Manager.

Apple support a feature on their laptops called Boot Mode. This is primarily to support the use of Windows on the Apple hardware. You can split the storage into two, one part for OS X and one part for Windows and you choose which operating system to run when you start the laptop up. As Apple completely control the hardware, unlike Microsoft with PCs, they are able to provide very stable drivers for Windows so, ironically, Apple provide one of the best Windows PCs available.

I do not use Boot Mode. I have gone another route: virtualisation. This is the use of specialist software on the host system (the Apple Mac OS X environment is the host in this case) to create a software environment that behaves as if it is hardware without an operating system. You then use the usual operating system install media to occupy the fake (virtual) hardware and work in the usual way. From the point of view of, for example, a Windows 8.1 Pro ISO installation disk image, the software environment it gets started by is just the same as the environment it would have found itself starting up in when installed on a new PC.

There are three common virtualisation applications available for OS X: Parallels, VMWare Fusion, Oracle Virtualbox. The latter is opensource and free. The first two are strong competitors and constantly leapfrog each other. I chose Parallels.

Parallels has several ways of working. The option I like most is called Coherence mode. In this mode it attempts to run Windows applications in such a way as to make they appear as they are native OS X applications, working on the desktop in the normal way with the usual OS X menu bar at the top of the screen. I regularly use this with all of the Office 365 applications and Project. I am able to access the same Document folders and share the clipboard so can easy copy and paste between applications regardless of which operating system they are hosted by.

If I want, I can have Parallels operate Windows in a full screen mode, including the Windows 8 modern interface incidentally, which is well supported by the trackpad – don’t need a touch screen. There is a small performance overheard, typically about 10%, to run applications in the virtual environment rather than the native environment. On powerful hardware, not really noticeable.

Parallels can run more than just Windows though. When I was trying it out I also had it running, at the same time, virtual machines hosting: Ubuntu Linux, Android (yes, Android), ChromeOS (as used on Chromebooks), and a virtualised instance of OS X – a good place to experiment. Ubuntu in particular looks very similar to OS X and of course shares much under the hood given the Linux and Unix underpinnings.


It is worth noting that the Macbook is pretty high specification:

  • 15″ retina (2880×1800) display
  • 2.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i7
  • Turbo Boost up to 3.7GHz
  • 16GB 1600MHz memory
  • 512GB PCIe-based flash storage
  • Intel Iris Pro Graphics
  • NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M with 2GB GDDR5 memory
  • Built-in battery (8 hours)

You can get higher specification hardware at a lower price in the PC world (or at a higher price in PC World) but I really do not have anything I need to run that will demand more at the moment. The Yoga 2 for example has a significantly higher resolution screen that is also a touch screen, but what is the point (I cannot see the dots that make up the retina display at normal viewing distance), Windows does not use high resolution screens properly, and I have no desire to have a gorilla arm.

Back to Mac

This post is headed Back to Mac because I did have a Macbook for a good while. A fairly modest 2009 model. Originally purchased for Lucy, who was getting very frustrated with her older Windows laptop (and with Windows in general). Sadly, she broke the screen on it before using it for long, and many months later replaced the screen with a matt screen and started to use it but shortly afterwards started at university and needed to use some Windows only software (the Macbook could not handle virtualisation, and I never bothered trying Boot Mode – it would probably have done the job). I took over the Macbook after providing a new Windows laptop to Lucy (a Samsung series 9, which is still going strong), added hardware and replaced the hard drive with an SSD. It made for a great lounge computer. Sadly, the abuse a lounge computer received eventually wore it out some months ago. It was never a candidate for use as a work computer, the specification was just not good enough, but it did give me time to become comfortable with OS X. When I started to get frustrated with the Yoga I had purchased over a year ago, whilst considering many Windows laptops and also seriously considered a new high specification Macbook, and ultimately, that is what I chose.

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