Every tribe has its talismans – on buying a MacBook Pro

Every tribe has its talismans. Here and now, mine seem to be:

  • Moleskine notebooks (if you’ve never owned one, I dare you to pick one up and not fall in love)
  • digital cameras (I’m rather excited about the new Canon EOS 450D / Rebel XSi)
  • Macs. PowerBook, MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, … pretty much everyone I know carries one. Outside of IBM, at least; with few exceptions, most IBMers have use of a Lenovo ThinkPad for work.

Although I’ve actually owned a Mac (Mini) for years, but never really felt like a Mac owner until now. Even having bought a MacBook Pro (I went for the 2.2 GHz, 15.4″ version) of my own I have not exactly switched so much as finally bought a laptop which actually belongs to me. I’ll continue to use my ThinkPad T42p for some worky things (and it’s nice to have both), but I’d expect to use the Mac more and more.


Photo: iLove by Julian

Some observations after a few days use.


Like the Moleskine (which I’m convinced is what a Mac would feel like if it were made of paper) the MacBook Pro is a machine which asks to be touched. Everything about it looks and feels good. It’s full of surprises too. The LED next to the camera wasn’t a surprise (I’d wondered if it had one) but it was nicely hidden. The way the screen dims and the keyboard illuminates automatically, based on the ambient light in the room, continues to surprise and delight me. In fact, putting my hands over both speakers is still my favourite party trick.


Of course, the machine is a small part of the story, and like so many small parts, It’s what you do with it that counts.

Before I even bought it, I ordered the Mac Heist bundle, which includes

  • VectorDesigner (which I really like)
  • Snapz Pro X (which I really like)
  • Pixelmator (which I am not sure about yet)
  • CSSEdit (which I have not used yet, but looks promising)
  • iStopMotion (which I really like)
  • TaskPaper (which I really like, but can’t help wishing I would sync with Todoist. I’m unlikely to use both)
  • … and lots of other things which are interesting but not the reason I bought the bundle.

I bought iWork with it, and also installed Quicksilver (on the sage advice of a friend who follows the 43 Folders blog more closely than I), Firefox (I still prefer it to Safari) EVE Online and Second Life. I’m thinking I probably need/want TextMate, Aperture, … what else am I missing?


There are some things I’m still trying to get used to. I’m not going to point out the power of right-click, because Ctrl + click is fine. Honestly. But even the keyboard still baffles me somewhat, mainly because I’ve spent many years perfecting my keyboard navigation skills in Windows . If I used the mouse more, it wouldn’t matter, but in my head, Ctrl + left means jump left one word. Combine it with Shift and you select the previous word. I’m struggling with doing this with different modifier keys, and it’ll take a while before it feels natural. I’m not saying the way it’s done in Windows is right, just different.

A bigger issue is Tab. I try to use only the keyboard as much as possible, especially when typing. Tabbing between fields in a form is much faster than pointing and clicking. Firefox continually surprises me by not treating non-text fields (such as checkboxes) as something I can click by Tab, then Space to toggle the checkbox. Am I missing something? Tab jumps over the checkbox altogether (often taking focus back to the address bar) and I’m forced to take my hand off the keyboard, point, and click. [Update: found it. Ctrl + F7, or System Preferences | Keyboard Shortcuts | Full keyboard access: if windows and dialogs, press Tab to move the keyboard focus between: Text boxes and lists only / All controls]

When a dialogue box pops up, does Enter mean OK? It seems to, but what if I want to click the 2nd button. Normally I’d hit left, or Shift + Tab or something, then Space. By I don’t get any on-screen hints as to which is the active button, or what keyboard shortcuts I can use.

Veteran OS X users are probably laughing at me for all of this, so please do share your mouse-free power user tips.

Why not an Air?

I’ll be the first to agree that the Air looks great, and would be even nicer to carry around than the Pro. For me, the power/price/weight ratio was wrong. What I wanted was a 12″ MacBook Pro. The Air isn’t that. It’s small, yes, but not powerful enough for a primary machine. Add the CPU upgrade and it costs more than the cheapest 15″ Pro, which outperforms it in every way except size and weight. No contest (for me), and at least the Pro is still no heavier than my ThinkPad T42p. I’ll still drool when I do pick up an Air, of course.

14 replies on “Every tribe has its talismans – on buying a MacBook Pro”

  1. Hi Roo congrats

    Welcome aboard the Mac laptop train, I use a combination of a PowerBook 12″ and a Mac Mini + assorted PCs. I’m disappointed with the Air and thought a 12″ or smaller PB 12″ replacement would be great. However I may have to pickup a MB 13″ in the short term as my PB 12″ is limiting me severely, curse Apple for their product cycles..

    As for key bindings, If your an Emacs editor fan/user you will find some of the basic keystrokes integrated at OS level in both apps and even dialogue boxes. If your not an Emacs fan it may prove useful to learn (Good in Textmate also).

    Enjoy your MBP


  2. Andy: I actually nearly typed “Aperture (or Light Room?)”. I’ll have to go and re-read all the great Mac stuff on your blog now.

    Al: I’m more of a vi user than emacs (I hope Sasha isn’t reading this.. her book is probably going to the thing that persuades me otherwise) but I do tend to work `set -o emacs` in Linux, so that sounds like a hint worth knowing.

    Jo: that sounds handy. Just turned it on. Thank you. (I love the two-fingered scrolling too)

  3. And despite the macness of Parallels VMware Fusion is pretty essential for those windows / linux emergencies.

    Although a little behind realtime Twitterific just nestles there keeping you in the loop. Adium does a lovely job of merging all your IM and Colloquy gets you IRC.

    For xAMP try MAMP!


  4. Al turned me on to TextMate, and it does rock, although I recommend that you pick up the box to get the most out of it (and I’ve barely scratched the surface).

    As for other useful apps, you may like VisualHub for converting video formats; Adium for cross-IM-platform IMing; AppFresh; ecto for blogging; there’s a Mac Plazer (if you still use Plazes?); iShowU is a nice alternative to SnapzProX; OmniGraffle is a fantastic Visio alternative / diagramming tool; Skitch for screenshots; iScrobbler for Last.FM … and there are various others. We can compare notes next time you’re in the office :-)

  5. System Preferences > Keyboard & Mouse > Keyboard Shortcuts

    ^F1 will toggle Full keyboard access allowing you to Tab through options using space to confirm. Return will always select the blue button regardless of tabbing.

    In other news, I’ll have to remember to carry a bib around with my MacBook Air when I get it :o)

  6. [⌥] + [⇥] (and [⌥] + [⇧] + [⇥]) to navigate a webpage with keyboard in Safari
    [⌘] + [~] (and [⌘] + [⇧] + [~]) to move between opened instances of one program.
    [⌘] + [⇧] + [3] (and [⌘] + [⇧] + [4]) as a “print screen and save to the desktop” function
    [⌘] + [H] always to minimize and almost never “+” and “-” characters in the top left corner. Never [⌘] + [M]
    [⌘] + [W] (and [⌘] + [Q]) as Window’s [Alt] + [F4]
    [↩] on a file as [F2] in Windows – name change
    [⌘] + [O] on a file as [↩] in Windows – opening
    [⌘] + [L] in any browser goes to the location bar
    [⌘] + [T] new tab where applicable and possible
    [ctrl] + [⌘] + [D] opens a small dictionary window explaining the word that is under the cursor
    TextExpander “to “write for me”. It can be set to subsitute some strings with other ones as you type.

  7. Thanks for starting the Mac keyboard navigation thread here ;-)

    My only addition (I’ve gotten many take aways) is that there is a way to map the ‘home’ and ‘end’ keys to work properly here.

  8. “Every tribe has its talismans”. What a great phrase I thought, so I asked google who else has used it. Google couldn’t find any. Good coin.

  9. welcome to the clan.. I’m hoping one day to become grand imperial mac poohbar, My collection already contains 2 mac mini’s, a 24 inch imac, a macbook, a dual processor PPC G5, a PPC G3 (which thinks its a G4) a 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th gen ipod, an old ipod shuff;le, a new ipod shuffle, an iPhone and a PPC G3.. with all of those, just the feel, usability and ease has convinced me that windows just isnt for me..

    The UI is also surprising me with nice twists and tweaks.

    I hate going back to the thinkpad or any windows machine with a track pad that doesnt allow me to put two fingers on the trackpad get extra functionality.

    laying two fingers on the trackpad and clicking gives you a right click..

    sliding two fingers on the trackpad gives you scrolling up and down (or left right)

    sliding two fingers on the track pad whilst holding down CNTRL zooms the screen

    Apps wise I’d recommend ECTO for blogging, VisualHub for video conversion. Handbrake for DVD extraction, and MacTheRipper for protected DVD’s

    .Mac is good if you have many macs that you want to keep in sync with keychanges, bookmarks in safari, address and calender syncing with other macs

    AppFresh (as suggested by Andy Piper) is a great application to check all your applications and keep them up to date

    AdiumX for instant messaging and SuperDuper or DejaVu for backups, and of course titanium toast for DVD and CD burning (unless you try and run the latest copy on leopard in which case you can call it titanium coaster..)

    welcome to the light side :)

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