Thursday, February 21, 2008

OK so I bought a Mac...

After a few months of looking at the problem of Security Usability seriously I discovered that I had to get a Mac.

There was no real choice, you have to get a Mac to do usability. Otherwise the punchline to every conversation is 'well you should get a Mac'.

So I got one, a MacBook Air.

Hardware wise the Air beats the Windows machines on the market, there really is no comparison. Despite the constrained form factor it feels like a solid machine and the keyboard is better than the one on my Thinkpad.

The machine is not the fastest notebook on the market, but it is more than fast enough for Web browsing and running Microsoft Office. I would not want to write code on the machine, but I wouldn't want to write code on any laptop. The only serious hardware limitations are the battery life and the disk space. And the only reason the disk is an issue is that I don't have enough to dual boot.

Both limitations could be removed with a killer accessory - an external module with a 250Gb hard drive and a LiIon battery. The only problem being that thanks to the use of the MagSafe power connector, owners will have to wait for Apple to deliver.

I actually think that Apple have got it right with the non-replaceable battery - fill in the otherwise void spots with battery. But the built in battery should not preclude the ability to make use of supplemental power on a flight.

The items I would fix in the next version are:


  • Make the front edge of the machine less sharp, it cuts into my hand when I hold the machine and use the trackpad. The edge should be rounded to a 1/16th or 1/8th. The look of the machine closed should be secondary to the feel in use.
  • Use a graphics chip that can drive a 30" monitor at full 2560x1600 resolution. I don't much care about speed so long as it is 'enough'. Pixels are another issue entirely, I want as many as possible.
  • Switch to USB 3.0 with the optical and make it possible to drive a DVI/DVI2 monitor over it via an adapter.


Software wise, Leopard is, well like using Vista. Once you get it running there are some nice features that are better than Vista and some Vista features that I miss. At this point the main difference in the window model is that in Vista the menu bar sticks to the Window where the work is going on and on. The Apple model works better on a small screen such as a laptop. The Windows model works better on really big monitors like my 30" HP LP3065.

The real difference between Vista and Apple is the setup process. The Mac automatically connected to my network printers without fuss. It even connected to my Windows Home Server without any problem.

The only configuration problem is that Time Machine will only work with a disk hosted on an OS/X server or a Time Vault. The Mac can store bits on the Home Server box but not use it as a back up device. This is something that Apple should seriously consider fixing as otherwise the fact that I have a Home Server would lock me into buying Windows machines going forward. Its not the cost of the machine thats the issue, its the associated management issues.

When OS/X works, it works well, the problem is that I have absolutely no idea where the applications I am loading onto the machine are going, how much of my disk they are eating up, whether the installation packages have been cleaned up etc. I don't even know if the machine is using power in 'sleep' mode or if that is equivalent to the Windows Hibernate function.

Security, this is the first machine I have had that has asked me if I want to turn on disk encryption. The level of security is much the same as Windows XP professional or Vista Business or Ultimate provide, but its rather easier to be confident that all user data is being encrypted correctly. What is less clear is whether the confidence is justified.

Now the bad part, Mac allows me to set up in minutes the security measures that take rather longer to achieve on Vista but that is as far as it goes. When it comes to the Vista security measures that I am pretty sure nobody except for the developers would ever use the tendency appears to be to omit them entirely rather than work out ways to make the functionality usable.

3 comments:

Paul said...

To use a non-apple solution as your time-machine backup drive, just enter the following command from the terminal:

defaults write com.apple.systempreferences TMShowUnsupportedNetworkVolumes 1

Charles said...

"When it comes to the Vista security measures that I am pretty sure nobody except for the developers would ever use the tendency appears to be to omit them entirely rather than work out ways to make the functionality usable."

Go on, then, what are those? True, the Leopard firewall isn't as good as the version that preceded it (in 10.4, "Tiger"). But what are you thinking of?

And have you had the fun of turning on Apache, PHP and installing MySQL?

Phill H-B said...

Some of the chat room comments on the unsupported drives config suggest that there might be a problem when the drive fills up.

Perhaps the lack of support for this mode is because they found this was a bug in testing and cut the feature for this version.