August 28, 2006 I had an opportunity to test-drive a MacBook Pro with an Intel processor running OS 10.4 Tiger. While this may not seem special to some, it was the first time in some eight years I had sat behind a Macintosh. (Okay, it was really the first time I sat behind a Macintosh with the intention of spending some time learning about the new tools the Mac has to offer.) However, before I get started I want to point out I am not anti Apple/Macintosh computers and this is not a Mac vs. PC article. The intent of this writing is to give a Windows users perspective of the MacBook Pro. Additionally, I did something bizarre as I explored this machine for the first few hours; I recorded the audio of my experience. When I finish writing this review, I will create a Podcast using the recorded audio of my experience. Of course, I will be using the Mac to create this Podcast.
How did the Mac make it to my desk?
I am an avid Podcaster and host of Adventures in Podcasting a weekly archive of my adventures in teaching people in the Peoria Unified School District about the value of Podcasting and RSS. One of the folks who listens to the show is Steve Nelson, a Systems Engineer for Apple Computers.
Following a Podcast this summer, Steve sent me an email asking if I had experienced Garage Band or any of the other iLife tools. I explained to Steve the two Macintosh computers I own are a bit old to run the new software. (The two Mac’s I own are a vintage LC II and Performa 6400 with the Avid Cinema card.) Several email exchanges later; I am sitting at MacBook Pro typing this article.
My first thoughts…
I had not seen one of these computers up close and personal until I pulled it from the rugged case in which it was shipped to me. Opening the case the first time revealed a shiny silver machine. While the top of any machine is not that impressive, this little Mac captured my attention as I lifted it from the case. The sleek, sexy little machine bleeds Macintosh; at one-inch think weighing a bit over five pounds it is absolutely striking.
During a visual inspection of the case, I discovered two USB 2 ports, a six-pin fire wire connection, Ethernet port, external monitor port and, of course, analog connectors for headphones and a microphone. The front of this machine sports a thin door which is home to the DVD burner. As I connected the power cord to the MacBook Pro, I had to say “Wow!” as this was the most impressive power connector I had seen. Many laptop owners consider the power adaptor and connector the Achilles heal of the computer world. Considering the number of machines that have fallen to their premature death by to a person tripping over the cord, this connector is shear brilliance. The connector is a magnet and even has a cool LED so you know it is connected correctly.
As I fired this machine up for the first time, I have to say I was a bit shocked when I looked at the screen and I saw my face looking back at me. It was at that time I noticed the very tiny camera mounted in the lid just above the screen. Wow, if this machine came with an assistant to actually do the work, it would have everything!
Working with a few of the applications…
Once I was over the shock of seeing my ugly mug on the screen, I began to explore some of the applications.
I was very curious how RSS, more specifically, Safari worked with RSS feeds. Needless to say, that is where I began. In truth, I had seen this feature several months back but never had an opportunity to play with it. What I did like was the fact the Safari browser automatically displays the RSS feed in a readable format. You also have the ability to subscribe to the feed thus removing the need for a separate RSS reader application. In the end, I still like RSS reader applications better. However, this is a matter of personal choice, not the Safari browser.
Following Safari, I dove into Photo Booth, which of course takes advantage of the slick little camera mounted in the lid. I had a ball with this software; in fact I think I took about twenty-five very silly images. Having stated that, a picture is worth a thousand words… So here are a couple examples.
The rest are available on my Flickr page. Take a look.
Garage Band 3
One of the major reasons for testing this machine was the chance to work with Garage Band. In fact, I told Steve I would even do a Podcast with this machine. Being true to my word, Adventures in Podcasting, Podcast 35 was published in both M4A Enhanced and MP3 versions.
Garage Band is a nice piece of software and easy to use. It did take me a little longer to create the show in Garage Band than it does in Audacity. However, considering it was the first Podcast I had done in Garage Band, additional time is reasonable. The other reason for the extended time was the fact I created an enhanced Podcast.
An enhanced Podcast allows the podcaster, (me), to break the show into chapters. In addition, links can be placed in the chapters that allows the listener, (or in this case, the viewer), to open a web page while the Podcast is being played. I really like the chapter feature as it allows you to jump around in the audio file. However, this does have a downside. The listener must listen to the show using QuickTime, iTunes or an iPod. If the listener wishes to visit a web site linked in the chapter, they must be at a computer running one of the two versions of software noted above.
iTunes does allow the M4A files to be converted to MP3 format thus making the file available for MP3 players. During this conversion, the enhancements are lost. For this reason, I posted the show in both MP3 and M4A formats.
I am ashamed to say I did a very poor job in my exploration of Garage Band because it was not until I sat down with Steve and Joan that I learned how to make any custom music using the built-in loops for which Garage Band is famous. After a two hour meeting with Steve, I was dangerous and back home I went to play.
The one thing Garage Band can’t do is give a person with NO talent, talent. Then again, listening is believing and you can listen to this process in the chapter “What I learned from Steve & Joan” which is on part two of the Podcast, The Macintosh after an 8-year absence... If you are going to listen to the MP3 version, it is about 30 minutes into the show.
I did struggle with two items while using Garage Band:
- Garage Band would not import the 8 bit wav file format my digital recorder created. Not a major issue, a quick run through Audacity put the files in a format that could be read.
- Garage Band has a maximum time limit. While I am not clear on the exact limit, I did have a difficult time creating a Podcast over 65 minutes. (I know some people are really praising Garage Band for that.
) This is the reason I had to break the evaluation into two separate Podcasts.
Overall Garage Band 3 is impressive and deserves all the praise it receives.
IPhoto is another nice application that comes loaded on the MacBook Pro and reminded me of Picasa by Google. This application allows you to view and make minor editing changes to your images. In addition, this software allows you to create cards and calendars from the digital images saved on the machine. I also noticed buttons to order prints on-line and iWeb, the Apple web page tool.
Comic Life looks like pure fun for a person with time and a desire to create. The product comes with an number of page templates which will allow you to create a… Comic book. While I enjoyed making a quick collage using the images I snapped off while testing Photo Booth, (see the image shown above), I know other people would marvel at the chance to make custom posters or even their own comic book.
Office 2004 for Mac
I can’t say much about Office for the Mac because the only application I opened was Word, (I am typing in it now.) I can say it does take some getting used to as the menus are somewhat different from the PC version. However, if a person keeps an open mind and is willing to look a bit, the tools most people require are available.
At the time of this writing, I have not had a chance to play with iDVD or iSight. While I don’t believe I will have an opportunity to create a DVD, I am planning to create another Podcast on this machine. However, this time I will also try to create a Vodcast using iSight. Visit Adventures in Podcasting, Podcast 36 or more appropriately, Vodcast 36 to see if I was successful.
Being a PC user and this being an Intel based computer, I just had to try out Parallels. Yes, I have read about this and know it worked but I just couldn’t get past the feeling of, “I have to see it to believe it.” With that said, I downloaded the 30-day demo of Parallels and loaded Windows XP on this machine. It booted, I pulled up the Peoria web site, looked at the statistics on the Adventures in Podcasting page and shut it down. What can I say… it worked.
To be completely honest, there were a couple items on this machine I didn’t care for and please note two are a matter of personal opinion.
- I love the look of the DVD door on the front of this machine. However, I couldn’t help remembering the days of the Mac Classic II when my favorite tool was a paper clip that would allow me to eject a stuck floppy disk. How in the world do you get a disk out of this machine if it doesn’t want to give it back to you?
- As a general rule, I don’t like track pads. I know they are on almost every laptop built and I do use them, I just don’t like them. For that reason, I plugged my USB mouse into this machine. Out of habit, I clicked the right mouse button and was shocked to see a window of options appear before my eyes. After two days of pressing the ctrl key down to see these options, I have to seriously ask, why isn’t there a right button on the track pad?
- Heat… If you have read anything about this machine, you have read about the heat it puts out. While it is not unbearable, it is warm on the left side. On several occasions, I had to stop typing this article to let my left hand cool. Of course, I should also point out if I was using proper typing form; my hand wouldn’t be on the machine. (Shame on me, I used to teach typing.)
I like the fact this machine will run Windows as well as the Mac OS and for most people who need to live in both the Windows and Mac world, this machine with Parallels loaded is a nice alternative to owning two machines. However, in my case, I might lean more towards boot camp. I would like to see Apple sell this machine preloaded with both Tiger and Windows. Wow, if that happened, Mac and Windows people would have no one to argue with!
To close this out, I will say I am very impressed with this machine, the next time you are in the market for a laptop, give the MacBook Pro a serious look. I know I will.
If you would like to listen to the Podcast of my adventure with the MacBook Pro, visit the “
Note: The feed contains four total files, two MP3 files and two M4A Enhanced Podcast files.
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