Using A MacBook Pro As Your Full-Time Work Computer

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About four years ago, I decided I had enough of being the family tech support guy and through in my Windows towel for good. Last week, I close the door to Windows in my work life as well… well almost, I still have to connect to Windows Servers, but I am no longer letting a heavy and underpowered Dell Laptop with a track pad that can only be used by contortionists and 4 year olds rule my life. Last week, I bought one of the brand new Apple MacBook Pro with an Intel i5 chip in it. And let me just say, that I’m actually rather upset that I did not do this any sooner. Go ahead Eric, you can call me a Fanboy now, I’ll wait for you to finish your little rant about how I could have bought a Aston Martin or put my kids through college buy now… OK? Can I continue now?

Seriously though, I long stopped caving into the argument that Macs are too expensive for real people to use, especially since in the 4 years I have owned the white MacBook, over 25 people I know have also switched to Apple from PC’s, some households even have adopted multiple Macs without re-mortgaging. If you are serious about buying a family computer for anything else then just surfing the web and paying bills, then you either go one of two ways. Gamers build and continuously upgrade their machines to some insane spec laid out by one game. Photographers, musicians and other creatives get a Mac and then get an insane amount of fire-wire plug-ins to harness and then manage all the beautiful stuff they’ve just made. Truth is that both type spend far too much money over the life of their computers, the big difference being that the Gamer’s cost are usually staggered over the life of the product with the end result being something that looks like XBox mated with your Espresso machine. Whereas the Creative type usually lays it all out right away and only occasionally needs to buy more drives or upgrade their RAM. I must admit that after being the Gamer for too long, I much prefer being the Creative user now even though in reality is that the Developer in me falls somewhere in between both in terms of hardware requirements. Sure I can do my job with a PC, but the truth is that when I develop on the Mac I spend far less time hacking the OS to do my bidding or not get in the way of my work flow.

One of my biggest gripes is the way that on a Windows machine, you have absolutely no control over what programs can steal focus from you. Or the number of times I have launched a program only to have to restart it immediately because an update needs to be applied right then. The lack of dedicated desktop spaces has also really annoyed me over the years, constantly alt-tabbing or rearranging windows to get to programs into the same view. I’m pretty lucky because I get to work on a 22inch screen at 1680×1050 both at work and at home. I can view two browser windows side by side and see both page contents displayed without scrolling. There are far too many little things that make you stop your task just in order to “manage” your desktop. Life is not perfect on the Mac OS X either, but the tools provided for manage your development experience are far easier to cope with.

My saving grace in this move is the fact that I no longer have to use Entourage for my corporate Exchange mail. The new 2008 MS Exchange they are now using at work allows me to finally be able to to take full advantage of Mail.app and the unified inbox, once and for all letting me get my GTD on! Mail rules allow me to colour code incoming mail so processing it becomes much easier when you know where to file it. For my own personal sanity, I must still file mail away, even though I should probably just chuck it; I need that safety blanket of having a CMA copy somewhere. The fact that Mail.app searches are about 1000 times more powerful than Outlook really helps too, and if I really get stuck I just head on over to GMail.com flex some label muscle.
Migrating or Regenerating?

What about all those Windows programs you ask? Well to tell you the truth, there really aren’t that many of them. As a developer I had been using a windows version of just about every developer tool I needed: Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Evernote, Filezilla or FireFTP instead of Transmit and Ultra Edit instead of TextMate. Of course MS Office has been available for the Mac for a long time and the lack of Access has just pushed me to make better web apps rather than being lazy and relying on clumsy forms tapping into a SQL db through Access Project. The Microsoft Remote Desktop Client lets me log into my servers via Terminal Services fo r maintenance and configuration changes. The only thing I really need Windows for is SQL Management Studio and testing in IE8, lucky for me I can run both in VMWare and I can even run IE7 as a Crossover bottle. In fact, I used my Dell Latitude e6400 to create my Windows 7 VMWare image, all I had to do was plug both machines into the network and run a VMWare tool on both and after a couple of hours, the PC was imaged onto my Mac. I must point out that if you don’t clean up your PC first, you will end up with one almighty and monstrous image file you then have to clean up in your image. I found it much easier to clean off my files and trim my caches before the image. Once I booted up the Win7 image on the Mac, I then removed the programs I didn’t need to run on the image anymore, such as Adobe CS4, Pidgin, Skype, and iTunes and a few others. Since these are all apps on Mac Os X, there is no reason to run them again every time I use the VMWare image. It also helps to keep the image file slim and in order to make it run faster I disabled Aero and 3D graphics. This was a huge boost considering how little resources I let Windows steal from my Mac. All of my images pretty much live in the second space (desktop arrangement), so if I need to switch between development and testing it’s just a CTRL-1 to CTRL-2 away. For the record and the curious, my creative stuff like Aperture & Photoshop lives in Space 3, and I’m pretty sure Dadcast recording and editing tools will live in space 4. And of course my gaming stuff lives on my iPod Touch and my Nintendo Wii. But that may change around a bit. You don’t have to dedicate spaces to your work-flows but it sure helps in keeping you focused at times.

All this does seem like a lot of work right? Well you’re right: it is. But, when I stopped to think about how much time I spend in front of a computer, it became perfectly clear to me that staring at something that annoyed the hell out of me for 12-14 hours a day would probably drive me mad. In any other profession, you would be considered foolish not to use the best tool for the job. Sure a carpenter can use a number 2 Roberston screwdriver to put a cabinet together and it will do a fine job, but why not use a drill driver for most of the work and get the job done quicker and with less risk of suffering long term RSI damage. Clicking the same five buttons every time I wanted to upload a file was just plain stupid. I now just drop the file on a Transmit droplet and move on. Good Times!