Sep 17, 2021

The Mac eXperience

I have been using a macbook (m1 chip) for the last few months. I keep switching between this and the windows laptop or my Linux setup, depending on the need. I have realized that there is really no one system which caters to all the uses, but also see why people who use the mac swear by it more than people who use windows. 

The Mac is a 13" one with the new Apple Silicon (M1) chip. 

 This is a long post. You can skip to the tl;dr at the end.

 The Good

  • The mac is fast : Like really fast. Like really really fast. You open the lid, its on. I have a gaming laptop - which is quite fast but I never really get the same level of the screen coming on as on the Macbook. Login with the finger print reader is super fast. I don’t even think about it. The gaming laptop requires a pin setup , while the office laptop requires a long password. There is just no way the other laptops can compare to the mac. 
    • This has also lead to a change in behavior. Since the screen wakes up so fast, I usually just close the lid when not needed - even if is a small 5 min away, and on opening the lid - its on. This would also lead to more security as this means that unlike the other laptops where I do not want the Lock Screen coming on immediately, here I am always locking the system as soon as I do the lid down. 
    • The chip is fast that I have no issues with keeping a lot of windows open, and tabs within those windows. Those who love the tab clutter of chrome and other browsers, will find tab switching pretty fast.
  • The mac sips the battery : When Apple launched the M1 chip they had very tall claims and most people (including me) dismissed them as being too far fetched. This is one of those things which you need to experience to believe. The mac can easily run the entire work day on a single charge - including video calls. As mentioned earlier, since I close the lid when not in use, it means that in reality I can go a couple of days without needing a charge. This is a godsend for people who are traveling. 
  • The mac's form factor is minimal : I have used a lot of 'ultrabooks' in my work. These are lightweight windows laptops that you see in ads - top of the line stuff. The mac has a slimmer form factor than most and quite lightweight. In addition, I am not sure how to quantify this, but it just feels better to hold. It maybe due to the weight or the aluminum texture, or just the slim form factor. I play around with a lot of gadgets from raspberry pi to assembling my own solutions, and if I think for a device to use on the go, I will gravitate towards the macbook. 
  • It gets the numbered listing of files correctly : Seriously windows, why do you not get this correctly ?

  • You do not need to shut it down in fear of it slowing down. Here, I am writing this post on the macbook which has not been shutdown for 29 days. 

  •  Programs keep running in the background :  This is good and bad (see next session). I do not like to keep a lot of applications running - I don't like clutter. So, what I do is close any window I am not using. With applications running in background, it means that things like Outlook keeps running and I get mail alerts and open the app only when needed. Nice. On windows I can't do this. If I kill the Outlook windows, the program stops. 
  • It can run programs for the Intel architecture : For those who are not into the technical aspect of things, the new chip that Apple has made for their laptops is based on an architecture called ARM. This is fundamentally different from what Intel makes. When there is a drastic change like this, programs need to be ported over to the new architecture. Apple, has done something amazing. They have added an emulation layer called Rosetta 2 ( read reference to Rosetta stones) which enables older programs to run without a hitch on the new architecture. Since programmers cannot immediately switch over their code immediately, this is a boon to existing software. This means that programs like steam can run smoothly on these new laptops - otherwise the macbooks will give a very handicapped experience on launch.
  • It can play games :  Standard disclaimer - I do not mean piddly games like those on Facebook or iPhone. I mean full blown games. A friend of mine asked me if it can play Path of Exile. This is a fairly demanding game and even my gaming laptop struggles to keep up with it. Well, the game does play on the M1 ( this will not run on an ultrabook) at the lowest settings ! That's amazing. For a list of games which are supported check out Apple Silicon Games. However, gaming support is still limited - see "The Ugly" section.
    Path of Exile on the Mac M1
  • Touchpad is awesome: This is the best touchpad I have every used. No windows laptops comes close to the kind of responsiveness you get with the touchpad of the mac. 
  • Touch bar is awesome: People are split on this - and some really do not like it. I do. Its adaptive to the program you are using. So if you are on a Teams call, it will show the volume controls, mute, end call buttons. This is a great thing ! Pity apple is planning on doing away with them.

The Bad

  •  Programs keep running in the background : Now this is a double edged sword. You may think you have closed the program, but no. Only the window is closed. So you have to go to the menu and "quit" the apps. This is frustrating. If only there was an option to select which programs you want to keep running in the background. 
  • ARM support is a work in progress : A complete switch to a new architecture comes with its pain points. As such ARM support is still getting added to many apps. This means that most programs run with the Rosetta 2 translation layer. Since the M1 chip is a beast, you will not really see much differences, but with a native ARM compiled code, I expect things to get much faster. 
  • Maximize/Minimize are on the wrong side: The buttons you get are on the left of the title bar at the top. This is infuriating. You can get adjusted to it, but I wish there was an option to move it to the right side. 
  • Buttons are all wrong : Similar to the max/min buttons, the shortcut buttons are all different for someone coming from a Windows/Linux background. I understand that someone moving from mac to win will also have the same issue. I do wish we had a standardized way of keyboard shortcuts - especially since I use external keyboard and mouse for most of my work and since I keep switching between machines. You will get used to it - kind of like if you have to drive on the other side of the road when you go to another country.


The Ugly 

Ok Apple, we have a problem here. Why are these not there ?

  • Windows do not maximize properly : Why Apple ? Why ? Why do you not maximize the windows properly ? Clicking the maximize button makes the screen full screen on a different virtual desktop. Hey, I do not want a full screen. I want all my programs to be on the same screen and full screen. This is frustrating. 
  • Windows do not tile properly: Uggh. This is so lame and its so difficult to do. At max you can have 2 windows side by side. Why Apple why ? This reduces my work speed. I usually have the left half of the screen with whichever document I am working on and the right side is references which I keep changing. Sometimes the right side is further split into 2 for more reference points. Can't do this out of the box on the MacOS , and this is really easy to do on Windows and Linux. I find this so strange that Apple does not implement this properly.
    • Workaround : After a lot of head banging with frustration, I came across the awesome app called Rectangle. This has workarounds for both the above frustrations. It took me almost a month to find this as most apps are paid and I am not going to pay for a feature which should be part of the default OS. 
  • Alt-tab is broken: Say you want to alt tab to another program which has multiple windows open. Lets say you have multiple word docs open and you want to alt tab to one of them - MacOS has a really weird way to do it. It just shows the open programs - which you alt tab to and ... wait ... then it splits up into the open docs and then you select them. What a waste of time. I guess its because Apple assumes people will always be using their touchpad. So, for working around this and regaining a bit of your sanity - install alt-tab app. Phew ! 
  • Most games are not playable : Sadly most games are not playable on the mac. This will come as a surprise, but you can now play more games on Linux than on Mac. Windows is the absolute king when it comes to PC gaming. 

Can't play Witcher 3 on the Mac sadly. 

The tl;dr:  

  • Fast
  • Awesome battery life
  • Install Rectangle app
  • Install alt-tab app
  • Install Rosetta. This should install automatically the first time you try to install a non-M1 optimized app.

Jun 25, 2021

Thoughts on Windows 11 reveal

Yesterday, Microsoft announced its biggest change to the world of Windows. A new and improved Windows 11. I do not have my hands on it yet, so the below are my thought on it based on the keynote :

  • I love the new look and feel. So soothing.
  • Mid placement of the icons - its like how the Mac does. I do not like it, I like it on the side. I hope there is a config to move it to the left.
  • Running Android apps from within windows is great ! However, it is with the amazon store not the google play store. That is not good.
  • Gaming improvements are awesome. As a gamer, there is no better platform than Windows IMHO for gaming. XBoX pass though could do with better games.
  • Continuing to support developers by enabling them to use their own charging backend is good. With the move towards having to use the OS mandated charging platform, its good to see Windows continue down this direction.
  • Mixed feel about integrating Teams as part of Windows.  Enterprise users don’t have a choice, but its not a good product so far for general users. Needs to be enhanced like Zoom where you have many more people on screen at the same time.
  • Great to have the widgets back. I like how Apple does it on the Mac and iOS, and it looks quite similar to that.

Now, the big question - when do we get it ?!

May 17, 2021

Access your files on a Mac from your iPad

 Airdrop is pretty great - but its a PITA if you want to just check on files without having to transfer to your mac. 

So, here's a little secret - you can access your files from the iPad. For some reason, apple hasn't yet made it available in a simple way for the users. But with a few steps - you can do this. 

Here are the steps:

Note : Both iPad and MacBook should be on the same wifi network and connected to the wifi. Make sure of this before trying. 

1. Open the system preferences. You need to allow file sharing - which is by default turned off. 
2. Go to "Sharing" . See the screenshot - its on the bottom row ( 3rd from last)