This post has nothing to do with my hobbies. It is a rant about the modern state of Apple’s Mac products. If this does not interest you then feel free to ignore this post.
I’ve been an Apple Mac fan since 2005, when I bought my first, an iBook G4. This machine was far ahead of the laptop PCs of the era: built in WiFi, a gorgeous (for the time) trackpad, amazing suspend and resume, decent battery life, and of course an amazing Operating System in the form of Mac OS X. The iBook I bought in 2005 shipped with Tiger, and it was fabulous.
Winding back a bit further, what drove me to look at using a Mac was the horrible state of Linux on the desktop. I’ve been a Linux user since around 1995, and whilst it was and continues to be a decent server OS, it’s desktop prowess and penetration has lagged far behind it’s other core usecases: servers, embedded and of course mobile. Linux was and is just too annoying to use. Not that there was anything wrong with the core Unix routes of Linux, indeed it was as a massive attraction after getting my feet wet with Unix on the HP-UX workstations at university. But as a desktop for doing ordinary “computer things” especially on a laptop, it was just painful.
Steve Jobs famously touted Mac OS X’s Unix routes in his keynotes. I was suspicious at first: Mac OS Classic (as it’s now called) always came across as a pile of junk compared to its contemporaries, things like Amiga OS. and even Windows 95. But when I first used an iBook I was immediately sucked in. It was as a superior machine, in every way: hardware and software. It felt like Linux with it’s Unix core, but it was a joy to use. The superior power management still stands out in my memory.
Since 2005 I’ve owned 3 different Mac laptops. I’ve also owned several Mac Minis, and around 2006 I also switched over to Macs at work. The laptops I’ve owned are:
- The original iBook (2005)
- The first unibody Macbook (2011)
- Macbook Retina (2015)
I bought the unibody Macbook the day after it was released. It was a great improvement on the iBook, in every way a superior machine. The same is true of the Retina machine. Admittedly I was forced into that upgrade because the keyboard failed on the previous machine.
This takes us to the present day. Unfortunately my Macbook Retina has developed a fault: it fell off the table and landed on a corner, causing damage to the screen. Repairing the machine will cost about £400, and I’ll have to carry out the, somewhat tricky, procedure myself.
I’d really love a new machine. My Macbook has had its memory upgraded to 8GB, but 8GB is not a great deal these days. Storage is a paltry 128GB of SSD.
However, Apple simply does not have a Mac laptop I’m interested in buying. Each previous machine cost me around £1000 to buy. Lets look at what £1000 (ish) will get you today:
Whilst the CPU is a newer generation, everything else is essentially the same: 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, and of course a display and trackpad that can’t really be improved. And look what has been taken out:
- No USB-2 (USB-A)
- No HDMI
- No SD Card slot
- No Magsafe charging port
- The keyboard has, by all accounts, gotten worse as the keys have almost no travel
I used the HDMI slot rather a lot. It was a great way to turn the Macbook into a media centre when we went on holidays, and for the occasional presentation. The SD card slot was used occasionally, as were the USB-A ports. I dont think I own a single USB-C peripheral. And Magsafe was a terrific invention; I have no idea why Apple has abandoned it. Then there are internal issues:
- Memory not upgradeable post purchase because it is soldered on
- SSD is soldered to the motherboard
Both of these are just down-right annoying. The SSD being soldered on is also terrible from a data recovery point of view.
So I am stuck with currently no useable laptop. My current plan is to look out for a second hand Thinkpad or similar “quality brand” and give Linux another go. Or simply do without a laptop and see how I get on.
So to the Mac Mini situation. After waiting 3 years, Apple announced a new lineup of Mac Minis in October of last year. I was really looking forward to buying a new Mini; my current desktop is a 2010(!) Mini, upgraded with 8GB RAM. I was looking forward to spending maybe £800 and getting a 16GB machine, with a nice upgrade of disk space. However, what we’ve been given is 8GB of memory, 128GB of SSD with no HDD option. At least it has a couple of USB-A ports. And if I wanted to upgrade the memory and disk space (16GB and 1TB respectively) the bill would come to £1,6999. No thank you!
I run the following core software on my Mini:
- Autodesk Fusion 360
- VirtualBox with a Windows 7 guest
Each of these programs is fairly demanding. As a result, and also not helped by an original OS install which is dated to when the machine was purchased, the system is unpleasantly slow to use. I have two choices: stump up £1699 or find another way to upgrade.
I have taken the cheaper way out and upgraded the HDD to a 500GB SSD. The performance difference is remarkable and, more importantly, the cost was only about £55. Swapping out the disk was not completely trivial, but thanks to a YouTube video I got there in the end. And reinstalling was a slog as well, as the process to recover from a USB pen-drive appears to be deliberately broken by Apple. Instead I had to reinstall from DVD and upgrade my self to the latest version that a 2010 Mac Mini can run, which is High Sierra (10.13). Eventually 10.13 wont be able to run current software. When that happens I’ll have to hope Apple have realised the error of their ways.
It’s also clear that progress on Mac OS X has ground to a halt; the last few releases have had no compelling new features. You can tell how grim the situation is when the biggest feature in the latest release is “dark mode”; essentially a colour scheme. Compare this with a decade ago when Apple added features like Exposé, Spotlight , Quicklook and Time Machine, all incredible features at the time of introduction.
So, in conclusion, Apple does not seem interested in making Macs for technical people. They have stripped things down to turn them into appliances. This is especially noticeable with the laptops, but I believe it is evident on the “professional” products as well, most noticeably on the Mac Pro, which is an embarrassment.
The reason for this is obvious: Apple is now a consumer electronics company.
It is depressing. I’ve never been a Windows user. In the 30 or so years of computing I’ve never used one as my main work computer. I’ve relied on “alternative” systems: Amigas, Linux, and currently Macs. But I can’t really see a way forward that isn’t many, many backward steps to unenjoyable and less productive computing.
Now back to retro homebrew computing, CNC. and 3D printing…