Joshua buys a Macbook, or 'Why can't I right click?'

6 April 2009
7:18 pm

Last year I bought myself a shiny Sony VAIO Z-series laptop. Adam had a similar type (the SZ, which preceded the Z), and I used to stare at it wistfully while on flights. His was both much lighter and thinner than mine as well as more portable (and the battery life was great), so I was consistently jealous that mine was always lacking. When we stopped over in Los Angeles in September I picked one up, and since then I've really liked it a lot.

Unfortunately a lot of the things that comprise the laptop and make it so cool are the things that have increasingly frustrated me as time goes on; one of the biggest complaints I have with buying laptops is the necessity of waiting for the manufacturer to update drivers. For the video card, usually, third party methods work to get that updated, but in the case of the VAIO that wasn't an option. The Z series makes use of two video cards, an Nvidia 9300 and an integrated Intel. They work in hybrid mode, allowing you to switch between them if you need to conserve battery power or want better performance. Thus, this requires Sony to update those drivers, and I can't do it on my own. In unfortunate fashion, the only drivers available for my laptop are a year out of date, and that's been a point of annoyance for me all along.

But that aside, it is a fantastic laptop, and I have certainly been spoiled by it. So when my frustration finally reached a head and I wanted to find something else, but just as nice, I was severely limited in my options. I wanted something the same size, 13 inches, with a decent processor, a better video card, and similar weight and size. One of the top options was the new Dell Studio XPS 13, which almost had won me over until I looked at some reviews and noticed that it only has one USB port (which these days is just pitiful) and severe overheating and noise seems to be a problem with it. Similar offerings from Lenovo and Toshiba might have fit the weight/size requirement, but had abysmal integrated video cards or were approaching 4000.00 in cost. Thus it was with much surprise that I kept finding myself looking at the new line of Macbooks from Apple.

I'd never call myself a Mac person; I often find their business practices to be predatory and worse than Microsoft, yet the cult following they've cultivated gives them a pass at every turn. They also consistently tend to overcharge for similar hardware that can be found on a PC for significantly less. Yet with that, I also have several iPods and an iPhone. While I've watched the Microsoft vs Apple fanboy war for years on the sidelines, I've still always said that a computer is a tool, not a religion. Thus I like what I find useful, not necessarily who's made it. And if nothing else, Apple has a design aesthetic that only manufacturers are recently beginning to emulate.

Originally I picked up one of the recently updated white Macbooks; it fit the bill with size and the video card, although the processor was a step down from what I had on my VAIO, but it was a concession I was willing to make since it wasn't an enormous loss. It was also the cheapest option, something I didn't expect considering Apple. It was both the cheapest 13" laptop I could find and was also cheaper than the VAIO itself had been originally. Taking it home though a few things immediately disappointed me; the build construction seemed poor (whole parts of the palm rest lifted away from the plastic chassis for example) and the laptop's screen was extremely washed out and flat looking. Some google research told me that both of these complaints were fixed with the newer aluminum unibody Macbook, so I took my additional four hundred dollars back to the Apple Store and exchanged it. This was much more improved all around and I was quite happy.

Never being much proficient with OSX I immediately repartitioned the harddrive to install Vista. I figure that after the laptop is set up that's a beast I can go back and tackle, but I wanted a Windows machine, so that's what its primary function is intended to be. Thankfully Boot Camp makes this a pretty painless process, but the more I fiddle and use this the more I feel like I'm re-learning how to use a computer all the same. As specific Windows functions have no correlation on OSX, the keymapping is some bastardized homunculus of multiple keystrokes; print screen alone requires I press Fn+Shift+F11 to do the same function that one button accomplished on a Windows keyboard. And, the crux of this entry, right click. I can't, for the life of me, figure out what magical combination of voodoo and prayer gets the trackpad to simulate a right click in windows. The white Macbook had the benefit of a button, and I discovered that holding two fingers on the trackpad while clicking the button with my thumb effected a right click. Sadly the aluminum Macbook doesn't seem to work the same way, so I'm sitting here repeatedly mashing the trackpad like an idiot, hoping that it right clicks the way it's supposed to.

In the end I'm sure it's something I'll get used to once the muscle memory kicks in, and the machine is admittedly quite sexy so it's worth it, but right now I still feel that Apple has a tendency to reinvent the wheel over and over just for the sake of being different, instead of acknowledging well-tested use paradigms.

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