75 days with a MacBook Pro

I've been the proud owner of a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display system for 75 days now. Here are my impressions of living with the system as a primary work system for that duration, along with insights into how I got the machine ready for work.

It's been 75 days since I took delivery of my 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. In that time I have transformed the notebook from a shiny slab of aluminum and glass into a serious workhorse capable of pulling its weight, and carrying out the multitude of tasks that I've thrown at it over the weeks.

Image: Apple

As most of you are probably aware, my background is in PCs, and that means that I've spent the majority of my time in front of one version or another — or sometimes even multiple versions — of Windows. That's not to say that I haven't dabbled with Linux and even OS X during that time, because I have, but my primary go-to operating system has, up until now, been one that was born at Microsoft HQ.

In late 2012 I decided that it was time for anew notebook. My aging Dell XPS 13 had been given a bit of a reprieve thanks to my iPad taking over some of its duties, but once screws started falling out of the bottom of it and the screen hinge began to get a bit creaky, I decided it was time to put it out to pasture.

Despite my extensive background with PCs, the decision to go with Apple's OS X platform was actually quite an easy one. The rising importance of OS X meant that having a Mac platform available for testing was a no brainer, and thanks to Boot Camp and apps such as VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop, Macs are more than capable of running the Windows platform.

Two birds, one system. Best of both.

After some deliberations, in the end I went for the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. I stuck with the standard 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD configuration. But, I did bump the processor up from the stock speed of 2.5GHz and opted instead to go for the 2.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, thinking that the extra 100MHz was worth the additional cash, and that it would come in handy for virtualizing Windows and running Photoshop.

Once I took delivery of the system — I'll spare you the unboxing experience — the first thing I needed was protection for my new MacBook Pro. As beautiful as the system is, it seems a little fragile, and given how much it had cost, I wasn't feeling like taking any chances.

I decided to take a two-pronged approach, opting for a G-Form Extreme sleeve for day to day use, and an SKB 3I waterproof case for times when the going would get a bit tougher. Both are excellent products and neither have let me down.

Then there was the issue of software.

To get my MacBook Pro ready for work I needed a lot of software, but the Apple App Store made getting hold of and installing the bulk of it a snap. Some applications — such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite 6, and Parallels Desktop — aren't available from the App Store, and so these had to be downloaded and installed manually, a task that the App Store quickly gets you out of the habit of doing. (Yes, the convenience of being able to one-click buy and install software has made me lazy!)

Within a couple of hours I'd installed a fair bit of software on my MacBook Pro. Rather than list all of it, I'll just offer up some of the highlights:

  • Evernote

  • Microsoft Office

  • Snagit

  • Google Chrome

  • VideoLAN VLC

  • Adobe Photoshop CS6 and Lightroom 4

  • SplashID Safe

My MacBook Pro handles this and other software — including games such as Left 4 Dead 2 — brilliantly. It is also perfectly capable of running Adobe's CS6 suite, and the experience is smooth and the workflow effortless. It gives me a desktop experience while away from my desk.

I also threw on antivirus, in the form of ClamXav, which so far seems to do a good job of protecting my system from malware, especially considering the $0 price tag.

I also bought a handful of accessories for my MacBook Pro, in the form of a Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter and a USB SuperDrive — because the Retina display MacBook Pros don't come kitted out with either.

Also, in order to get an extra USB port for charging my iPad or iPhone — or anything else that'll charge up from a USB port — I fitted a TwelveSouth PlugBug to the charger. It's not a totally elegant solution because I still wanted to attach the cord to the charger. This configuration is possible, but it's not shown in any of the product photos because it doesn't look particularly beautiful, but it works just fine.

I also added an Apple Magic Mouse to the equation, which I only ever seen to use when I'm playing games.

I've talked a lot about the hardware and software, but how well does it all come together?

In a word, my experience with the MacBook Pro has been amazing. I had the system ready to do serious work within a few hours — quite impressive when you consider that I was having to buy and install a lot of new software — and since then the system has become my main system. There are a number of reasons why this has happened:

  • It integrates with my iOS workflow so well, giving me access to iMessage and so other iCloud services

  • The screen is just wonderful. It's hard to go back from a high-pixel density display to an ordinary panel

  • The entire package is just so easy to use. There is an element of reduced drag to using OS X that Microsoft has yet to attain with Windows

  • It's highly portable, which means I can work on the hoof

  • Battery life is excellent, which means I can get more done away from my desk

  • The notebook is compact and lightweight, so I actually don't mind taking it with me places

Downsides — yes, there are a few:

  • Price. Yeah, about that...

  • Having to buy a separate optical drive and Ethernet port is a slight annoyance

  • Switching between OS X and Windows is still quite a cognitive burden, but it does get better

  • I'm an avid photographer, and use the system for post-processing, so the 256GB SSD is already feeling a little cramped

  • There's an initially steep software purchase and learning curve. I could have lessened this if I had loaded software onto the Windows install in Parallels Desktop, but I chose to have a more pure Mac experience

  • Learning my way around the operating system have been pretty easy, but there has been an occasion when I've turned to Google for the solution to problems

That said, the positives far outweigh the negatives, and overall I'm happy with the choice I've made.

Will this make me turn my back on the PC? Now way! As much as I love the simplicity of the Mac, I can't buy or build for myself the sort of desktop that I need. Also, when it comes to things like gaming and handling multiple virtual machines, Windows still trumps OS X.

For now, at any rate...

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