The latest entry in the laptop saga: Apple makes a good laptop

When I last wrote about my work laptop, I mentioned the failed Thinkpad T41, which was then fixed and placed into service. But I’d still leave it at work half the time because I didn’t want to deal with the stupid IBM Presentation Director.

It finally got fixed… somewhat… when I moved from using the onboard LCD + a 21” CRT to using two 21” LCD displays. Which meant that I would go from using just the onboard LCD to just using the two LCD dispays on my desk.

Now, I don’t think I mentioned this previously, but there’s another thing that still bothered me. See, when the IBM Model 5150 Personal Computer came out, the keyboard was designed to be pleasant to use… but still inexpensive and small. So, as a way of reducing the keyboard size from the 3270 keyboard layout, they deleted a bunch of keys. The 3270 had even more keys than the standard 101 key layout — basically having around 20 more function keys of various types. IBM decided to reduce the number of keys by combining the arrow keys and a few others into the numeric keypad and then provided a mode key to let you toggle between the two states… and IBM decided that if the numlock key was on, you wanted the numeric keypad that’s integrated into the right-hand side of the keyboard.

This means that you’d type something like ”162e” when you meant to type ”joke” if you had the numlock key on and you just undocked the laptop. And since I use the numeric keypad, I leave my numlock key on at all times, which meant that every time I docked or undocked, I’d have to remember that. At least until I quit that job and turned in my laptop.

Anyway, my new work laptop is a MacBook Pro. I love it because it just plain works. See, when I plug it into the 24” widescreen on my desk, it does the right thing. When I plug it into a projector, it does the right thing. And the mac doesn’t even have the barest notion of a numlock key, so I don’t need to think about that.

Thus, the annoyance of a design that precludes a docking station requiring me to plug in 6 different plugs is actually LESS annoying than a design that requires me to select various software options. You can measure it every time we need to share a display — the mac users just plug-and-go, wheras the folks here who have an HP laptop need to screw with the system in order to get it to cooperate.

I haven’t even bothered to install Bootcamp or Parallels yet. My current job has me largely Microsoft-free. I have MS office installed that I run once in a blue moon. Otherwise, any documentation is on a wiki. My servers are all running Linux. I view this, like being able to get to work without a car, as an improvement.

My biggest point is this: For most people these days, their computing environment is the biggest contribution to their personal egronomics, because both their social lives and their productive lives revolve around it. The biggest gift that Steve Jobs has is to make the common, simple, everyday tasks of life as easy as possible. It turns out that being able to handle the simple, common case — moving from work to home to work again — is more important than having “presentation schemes”. And because Apple makes both the hardware and software, they can protect themselves from hardware manufacturers from trying to distinguish themselves in the market place, which generally makes things harder to use, not easier.