Requesting thoughts on the Macbook Pro

So I’m contemplating getting a Macbook Pro and thus leaving my current main machine (an XP laptop which I have been very happy with, by the way). I’m specifically looking at the 17 inch model, particularly because of the eight hour battery life. Any readers out there have any experience with the new Macbooks? Pros? Cons?  Do you really get 8 hrs with WiFi enabled?

I’m assuming I’m going to have to buy iWork, but is there any other software (for pay or free) that you would recommend?

Any comments will be gratefully received!


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I bought iWork and hardly ever use it. I do still have Word, but also use the Mac adapted version of Open Office. Mac's built-in TextEdit app will open (but not save as) txt files. It saves as .rtf by default but also can save as html or .doc format.

I don't like Apple's Mail app at all and use Thunderbird instead.

If you do anything at all with graphics (photos, drawings, etc.) I can highly recommend Graphic Converter, a Mac-only shareware ($35) app that can do almost anything that Photoshop can do, plus convert back and forth between almost all existing graphics formats, catalog your graphics, and do very good slideshows.

If you buy any Mac, I highly recommend getting an inexpensive external hard drive so that you can take advantage of the super-simple and easily restorable back-up capabilities of Apple's built-in TimeMachine app. If you have a wifi router that is capable (or get Apple's Airport Extreme), you can connect the external hard drive to it and your backups can be done automatically and wirelessly and in the background while you are still working on the computer.

I should have mentioned that I have no thoughts on any Mac laptops -- I've never used one, but I do love my 24" iMac.

My son just got a macbook pro and he loves it. Can't speak to the battery life on wifi but iWork wasn't needed. Apple's included office package does word processing and spreadsheet stuff and reads and writes word and excel formats for easy transfer.

I do not know about advanced excel stuff, macros, fancy formulas, multi-tabs and that sort of thing but basic stuff is all there.

The screen and interface sold him. The apps made the transition easier.

You simply must buy BBEdit, the best text editor in the world, and only available on the Mac. With syntax coloring for HTML, C, Perl, etc. and lots of plugins--for example, for tidying XML--it's a wonder! Barebones Software

Other things I swear by: Adium for IM, the Firefox browser (better than Safari), Navicat (for MySQL database work), NetNewswire (RSS reader), PDFPen (for marking up PDF docs), X11.

Depending on what you do on the machine, there are others.

I'd do it. if you're used to Macs keep with the mac.
If you aren't a tech geek and just want functionality, go with the mac. Less headaches.

I love Macs. I'd definitely suggest NOT spending money on the pro laptops. I've found that the regular laptops seem to function better with less problems. I always get the lower end Apple laptops because of this. Just a thought!

I don't know Thunderbird, but love Mac Mail for (a) its integration with my iphone and (b) its wonderful ability to parse events (place, date, time, topic) and contact info (name, email, phone numbers, address) and automatically enter them into the Calendar and Contacts list.

MikeMa @ # 3: Apple's included office package does word processing and spreadsheet stuff...

Umm, I think that is iWork, whose (word processing, spreadsheet, & presentation) components are named Pages, Numbers, & Keynote respectively.

Pretty decent basic package, with an innovative interface that works well once you get a feel for it, but not ready for real heavy duty processes. F'rexample, I opened a text file of the KJV bible in AppleWorks and changed every instance of "lord" to "bird" on an old G4 PowerMac, which took about 4 or 5 seconds (ditto with Nisus Writer Express); then I did the same thing on the same machine with Pages, and it took at least 20 minutes.

One of the major differences between MacBooks and MacBook Pros is that the latter have more connection options - get the Pro if you need FireWire in particular.

The MacOS is a real work of art, but also a work in progress - be prepared to hunt around for a set of utility programs (such as Default Folder X, FontCard, DragThing, TechTool Pro, etc) to fill in the weak spots in file management, font sorting, etc.

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 19 Feb 2009 #permalink

You will probably not get the full eight hours with constant WiFi-activity, but you should get at least 6-7 h. New, that is. Apples batteries usually lose the "top" hour rather quickly though, but they have a long "middle-life" with about 2/3 capacity. After about 1,5-2 years you will feel the capacity dropping of again. At least that's my experience.

By Paul Reinerfelt (not verified) on 19 Feb 2009 #permalink

Hello, I passed into this blog from the main SB page and thought to comment.

You could consider OpenOffice as a direct substitute for iWorks or MS Office. It's free and open source, so there is no risk in trying. (Yes it runs on Macs.) Another (commercial) office program for Macs (only!) is OmniGraffle (for diagramming), which I do not use but looks very interesting.

The default OS X PDF reader is not very good, it will is very slow on long documents (like review papers). I recommend immediately downloading Adobe Acrobat to replace it.

If you do any LaTeX, it is particularly convenient to use the AucTeX package for the emacs editor (both free). You preview as you write. (While shell-based emacs is already installed, you certainly want a graphical version like Carbon Emacs).

OS X is actually a UNIX - it is partially a fork of the BSD kernel (another fork of which is FreeBSD). So you have the complete POSIX toolkit at hand - shell and all (very similar to, e.g. linux). You should take a look at the terminal: some things are surprisingly much easier in the shell. File management, for instance.

One other advantage of mac laptops is the trackpad - their gestures are very expressive and comfortable. Two-fingered scroll, for instance.

I think you may want to ask a (non-Apple-employed) expert. The Pro laptops are seriously overpowered, you may not need them (unless you're looking at the 8-hour battery).

I also like OpenOffice and the price is right, regardless of which OS you use. Plus another benefit is that (nearly) all the Mac software writes PDF output, and Open Office can do this on a PC as well.

But I can't help you with which Mac to buy.

Just following on from #10, if you are interested in the LaTeX-based "word processing" tools, do take a look at LyX and BibDesk. Both have good GUIs (letting you avoid LaTeX itself, at least initially) and are quite capable, and free. BibDesk is a bibliography package.

Just a question that others might be able to answer in case it's of use for your battery life issue: is there a means to use an external battery? (I only use desktop machines, so while I've used computers for many years, I'm not familiar with laptops!)

By Heraclides (not verified) on 19 Feb 2009 #permalink

I like my M-Pro. I find I use IWORK more than open office - I have better luck opening the word files my students send me with Pages than I do with OO. That said, I use Iwork for about 5% of my stuff - everything else is Latex.

Apparently IWORK 09 is improved in functionality over IWORK 08 - check that out.

I second the external hard drive. I bought a 500gig Time Capsule - it took me a while to get things set up, due to my natural slowness, but backups are wireless, and with my printer hooked up to the Time Capule's USB port, so is printing.

I just got a 15" MacBook Pro as my main work/office computer. Since I'm at a University, I'm using Microsoft Office (free for me; I've never tried iWork). For a text editor, I downloaded TextWrangler (freeware). You can purchase Parallels ( and run a PC at the same time as running your Mac (perhaps get 2 monitors). Adobe Creative Suites is a good option for graphics and web design (perhaps a bit on the expensive side, but you should be able to get get an academic license at a less expensive rate). Macs also come with iLife with the iWeb application for web design. It's insanely easy to use.

I really wouldn't bother with the Mac Pro. Get the most tricked-out MacBook and save yourself some cash.

As for battery life--no, there is absolutely no way you will actually get eight hours using wi-fi. Maybe six, if you're lucky. But the problem I've been having with the latest Apple laptops is not battery cycle life, but overall battery life. As Paul Reinerfelt commented above, Apple batteries lose that "top" hour of life really quickly, which I was aware of; when I got my current MacBook in December, it would regularly give me six hours on a full charge, but by the end of January, it was down to about 4.5-5.

But the larger problem I've been having is that the last two new Apple laptops I've used have both chewed through batteries like you wouldn't believe. Not just knocking off that "top" hour, but just killing the batteries incredibly quickly. And my friend's MBP, only a year old, is already on its third battery. The first two were worn down to the point where he could only get about 30 minutes on a full charge.

Something to think about.

By Irene Adler (not verified) on 20 Feb 2009 #permalink

Hi there,
I cannot say much about the batteries with respect to how long they keep for one cycle, but lifetime is veery long (my old 12" powerbook is 4 years now and the batteries still work for 1-2 hours).

I had a Pro (15") and loved it. I exchanged it for one of the new MacBooks. I did that because the reason for me to get the Pro in the first place was that it was aluminium and the MacBooks of the earlier version weren't. But the Pro was too large for me and I am plum happy with the MacBook now. The only thing I miss is the enlightened keyboard. I used to think it is not necessary, but now I miss it regularly.

For programs,
I use MSOffice2004, - no problems working on the same file between XP and Leopard, - I interchange them everyday and have no problems. When you do science, you may want to check out Papers, - it is a wonderful program for reading, taking notes, organizing and finding scientific articles.

I have the 15" MBP and it's great. One thing no-one has commented on is the size of the 17" model -- more screen real estate is always a good thing, but 17" is too much for a portable, in my opinion, unless it's your only computer and you don't plan to connect an external monitor.

I agree with the rest of the commentators on openOffice over iwork, I use Octave instead of MATLAB and definitely firefox and thunderbird. Octave is pretty good and runs MATLAB scripts and interfaces with GNUPlot. Emacs is a total piece of crap that replicates a command line interface using a GUI. Better off searching for something that is relatively modern for a text editor. Best of Luck.

By jimbear59 (not verified) on 20 Feb 2009 #permalink

I've used the 17-inch MBP for many years, though I haven't (yet) laid hands on the new unibody model. Yes, it's large, but I use it as my sole work computer so I wanted the extra capacity and screen size. I was a little dismayed to hear about the sealed battery, but not surprised since Apple's been trending that way. My battery experiences haven't been as bad as those related by Irene Adler, but I have replaced a few over the years...

As for software, I echo the recommendation of TextMate above -- I use it constantly. VLC if you want to play videos. I use Firefox/Thunderbird as well as Safari. You'll want Quicksilver for application launching, Adium for instant messaging, FFView for image viewing, NetNewsWire for RSS reading. Syrinx if you're a Twitterer. Fluid is a cool little tool for creating site-specific browsers -- it's like turning a web site into an application. Growl for system notifications.

I have both Microsoft Office and iWork. I use iWork some, but would use it more if I *didn't* have Office, because when people send me Office documents they just open in Office.

By Squiddhartha (not verified) on 20 Feb 2009 #permalink

If you have some programs that you *have* to use because they are Windows only, you can use Boot Camp to turn your Mac into a Windows PC - though you will need to have some version of Windows on hand.

Note that this should only be done as a last resort!

The new iLife sounds pretty good for someone who travels all over the world. If you have a GPS enabled camera, or one of those little geotag thingies, you can keep track of just *where* your pictures are taken.

I use a 15" MBP and I upgrade every year or 18 months. I don't have the unibody, yet, but will buy one in June. My experience is that the base model $1999 machine is great. I opted for the faster 7200 rpm disc drive in my current configuration and noticed NO significant performance improvement, although I don't do anything that's write-intensive.

The 17" starts at $2799 and now sports 4Gb of memory and a 320 Gb disc, but unless you are doing Final Cut Pro, Logic or intensive Photoshop, or if you need a matte display for "true" color, I don't see the point of spending the extra bucks.

Use the $800 differential on an external hard drive and a Nikon D60!

Also, don't forget your educational discount. That will take $50 off the MBP and $110 off the Applecare Protection Plan. Also, iWork is discounted $30 with a new mac, MS Office is 10% off and you can get a $100 rebate off of a $99 HP printer, if purchased with your mac. Other discounts are $30 off of MobileMe and $20 off of a One-to-One subscription.

I agree with the octave comment - it runs great on the mac, as does R, but there is also a free program, SAGE, that runs either in a terminal window or "semi-notebook" style in a browser. Does symbolic and numerical calculations (enough for me), AND has a "sagetex" style file that allows you to embed sage commands in a latex file, and compiles it when you compile the latex - rather like Sweave and R. Other packages may do that too, but I'm not familiar with them.

I moderately disagree with jimbear59 about emacs: I enjoy using it for writing latex, but that may be due to too many years of doing so.

Oh, I should also add that I am in the market for a new laptop and setting my sites on the MacBookPro since the MacBook has no Firewire.

I love the Mac.

Your iWork will come with the Mac. Your need to use PC formatting will work with iWork, or you can use NeoOffice or any other Unix-type software, or get Word or Office for Mac.

Exactly the same, except easier.

I find Apple's Mail easier, although I have Thunderbird and find it annoying.

Safari is easier, but using the Safari-betas is much easier given their features that haven't made it into Safari yet.

This wasn't asked but you should consider Ubuntu Linux on a laptop. I'm writing this from one. I use Open Office. It's got great effects with Compiz. I can use virtual box if I absolutely positively must use a Windows machine.

Of course, this doesn't speak to battery life but Ubuntu is worth a look! Please do yourself a favor and don't buy a Mac before you know what you're turning down.

You can download a "live" disk from the Ubuntu site. You can pick the Gnome or K-versions. Burn it to disk and boot from it. It boots and runs, give you a chance to check it out and when you're done, pop it out with NO CHANGES to your hard disk.

Looks like you've gotten lots of feedback. If you want more, T. has one. I'm sure he'd be happy to talk Mac with you.

Chezjake, #1

Saving as TXT with TextEdit

Click on Format then click on Make Plain Text.

Click on File then click on Save as.

The dialogue box will show a drop down menu with Western (Mac OS Roman) as the default. Other choices include Western (Windows Latin 1), UTF 8 and UTF 16, and even Korean (Mac OS). There are ten different encodings you can use. I have no idea why they didn't include this in the help file.

@Alan Kellogg


I have no idea why they didn't include this in the help file.

Probably for the same reason they don't tell you that you can save as .pdf, but it's an option in the Print dialog box. You'd almost think they hired someone from Microsoft to do the GUI.

I have a MacBook Pro that's a couple of years old, and I've had nothing but trouble with it since day one. It's a nice-looking machine, and OSX is definitely a superior OS, but this particular Mac is a lemon. It won't wake up from sleep if the lid is closed, won't auto-update, and had a serious screen display problem when I first got it. The "Geniuses" were able to fix the last problem, but not the first two.

Oh, it also takes about five minutes to boot. My advice: If you buy a Mac, have them open it and crank it up in the store before you take it home. I sure wish I had.