A Blog

My Computers Through the Ages Part III

March 06, 2014

We’ve been through the pre-history, and then the awkward years. Now we come at last to the present. From here on out, it’s Apple all the way down, so if that ruins your day, please feel free to stop reading and go outside to contemplate your existance.

Why did I switch? Most of it came down to what I use a computer for. I’m a software developer by trade. The first part of my career was mostly in the Microsoft stack, but by the late 2000’s I got the itch to move on to something else. Every kind of development platform that I’m interested in runs better on a Unix-like system. Apple doesn’t make me happy 100% of the time, but I don’t think I’ll be leaving their ecosystem for a while.

24” iMac (2009) I’m not sure what I was expecting when I made the switch, but I wasn’t terribly fond of this one. The hardware was great; a beautiful display, pretty fast processor, and a spacious hard drive. I loved that I didn’t have a beige butt-ugly tower on my desk anymore. My frustrations were entirely with OS X. It came with 10.5 Leopard, with 10.6 Snow Leopard released shortly after the computer showed up on my porch. After upgrading, it had a myriad of reliability problems. What made me grind my teeth were the kernel panics. A kernel panic is an error in the Operating System that it cannot recover from, stopping everything and requiring a restart. You might be familiar with its colloquial name on Windows: the Blue Screen of Death. I would average one of those every month on my iMac, which is astronomically high for an OS marketed with “it just works” as its slogan.

It frustrated me enough that I considered going back to Windows. What held me back was that I had started getting more and more into Rails development, which (still) doesn’t run very well on Windows1. I had started to work on a Rails based project that would have benefited from having a laptop in order to work outside the house. Despite my initial reservations for OS X, I doubled down.

13” MacBook Pro (2010) This was the cheapest Mac laptop at the time. With impeccable timing, I bought this right before Apple released the new MacBook Airs. This wasn’t a particularly fast computer, but it showed me how well OS X could work when it doesn’t constantly blow up. I don’t know if my iMac was a bit of a lemon, or if OS X just works better on laptops, but it was noticeable.

It also made me realize that I could get by with just a laptop. Syncing data between two computers is a bit of a pain, even with things like Dropbox and source control management. On more than one occasion I had to call my wife and walk her through performing an hg push in order to send me the latest bits of a project. I held on to this computer for a little while and then sold it to put together enough scratch for the next one.

15” MacBook Pro (2011) I went laptop only for the first time with this computer. It was my workhorse for almost 3 years. On it, I created Rails apps, iOS apps, and even managed to use it with my day job in .NET-land (through VMWare). It was reliable as a rock even with me mucking around inside it to upgrade the memory and hard drive. Even though I had this computer longer than most others, there’s not a whole lot to say about it, which is a good thing.

13” MacBook Pro w/Retina (2014) Here we are (finally) in the present. I didn’t think the retina screen would be that much of a deal breaker, but I’d rather sell my left foot than give it up now. I can leave my power cord at home and fit in an entire work day on the battery. Oh yeah, it’s also crazy fast despite only having a dual-core CPU (my last one was a quad). All of that comes in a package just under 3.5 pounds. I’ve only had this computer for a couple of months, but it’s already the best one I’ve ever owned.

I don’t know what the future will bring. I like the new Mac Pro, but not enough to spring for its $3000+ price tag. And I don’t know if I’d go back to a desktop again. I’d like to hold onto this laptop for as long as I can.

1. Rails by itself runs fine on Windows. It's when you start adding gems into the mix that things start going hinky. And then there's the whole cygwin thing. Ugh.

Scott Williams

Written by Scott Williams who lives and works in sunny Phoenix, AZ. Twitter is also a place.