Aug. 29th, 2010

jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
After two-and-a-half years, the 12" Powerbook G4, which I had bought already used, two years old, began to feel really old. It had probably been a mistake in the first place to buy a used computer from a line that was already obsolete when they built the last models. (On top of that, the CD/DVD drive was already mostly broken when I bought it, but I noticed that too late to give it back or claim compensation from the seller.)

It mostly felt old playing some kinds of videos. DivX and MPEG-4 in larger formats was too much, as well as some flash video stuff from the net. YouTube was fine, but some others, e. g. those from SPIEGEL Online, were not. And as I had not seen the (technical) point in upgrading from OS X 10.4 Tiger to 10.5, the selection of available software had already begun to shrink noticeably.

After the 2010 tax return it was time now for an up-to-date device again. Months ago I had already resolved to buy a MacBook or 13" MacBook Pro. (The bigger ones don't appeal to me, in particular not at their price.) The white plastic MacBook would have been enough with the RAM upgrade, but with the small Pro costing only 60 Euros more than the MacBook with 4 GB RAM (which the Pro already has), it was the Pro. Good choice. It came with OS X 10.6.3 "Snow Leopard" and runs 10.6.4 now after the first update.

As always, the migration to new hardware and OS version, even from the same manufacturer and in the same product line tradition, brings some, let's say, discoveries. "Same same, but different" or even "sometimes happy, sometimes sad."

Software Update has become much more intrusive. With Tiger, it checked for updates in the background and showed its dock icon only when there was something to do and it needed confirmation from the user. Now it shows the dock icon already when it only checks for updates. When it installs software for which a restart is required, it first asks for restart permission (which is okay), but then immediately shuts down everything and only then begins to install the software, which had previously been done in the background.

Only a short while ago, but still with Tiger, I discovered and learned to appreciate's "New Remote Connection" dialog as a fast and convenient way to open an ssh session to another machine. But now, with Snow Leopard, it wants to start ssh connections by default with SSH protocol version 1, which, for good reason, does not work with any of my servers; after each program restart I have to switch that to automatic or version 2. I have not found anything in the preferences (and I do mean Library/Preferences/ or the application bundle that looked like I could change this default. [Thankfully his has been fixed in OS X 10.6.7 -- ssh is now called without any options by default.]

Other than with my 10.4 installation, IPv6 is no longer consistently preferred with some services - telnet, ssh, http. Sometimes IPv4 is used, sometimes IPv6. I have not yet recognized a pattern. This may well be an application issue, but still it is strange.

X11 seems to work completely different from before.

Regardless if X11 is started or not, each Terminal window has a DISPLAY in its environment that contains the pathname a UNIX domain socket (e. g. /tmp/launch-ghLYjm/org.x:0); the socket exists, but is non-functional if X11 is not running. That confused my mechanism of dectecting the existence of an X server; xdpyinfo simply kept blocking on this socket. No fun. Ok, that could be fixed with an only slightly annoying timeout.

When I try to start X11 myself, it doesn't. Or, sometimes it does. But most of the time, some processes start, but nothing happens in terms of a usable X server.

I thought that my .xinitrc and (rather historic) .xserverrc might cause the problem, but moving them to the side has not really improved the situation. Instead, even without me having done anything (except perhaps checking the socket $DISPLAY for aliveness), it tries every few seconds to start up an X server, fails, tries again, ... you get the idea.

The non-functional DISPLAY variable in the environment causes outgoing ssh logins to fail if ForwardX11 is set to yes in ssh configuration, because the remote host tries to connect to the X server at first. Took me a while to find out that this was the reason why Unison failed to connect to another host.

I guess it is intended like this: Some X11 client connects to the socket $DISPLAY, a monitoring process notices this, starts an X server, passes the socket file descriptor to the X server, and lo! X11 applications can be started just like native ones. Clever, if it would only work.

There is something in the system.log, but I cannot make anything of it.

The new Quicktime Player looks awful. All black!

What is this fascination with black, anyway? When I put the dock on the side, where it belongs (IMO), it turns black! With a bit of transparency, yes, but black. That is ugly compared to the thin and airy dock of 10.4 (and predecessors).

A translucent menubar! WTF? At least I can switch this particular idiocy off again.

There seems to be a general trend towards needless design changes. The new dock (if it is on the bottom of the screen) so three-dimensional with a partial reflection of the icons - wow, that is so much eye candy that I want to take the toothbrush to my eyes. (But black?) Is this a "Yes, we can!" attitude, and "Just because we can"? That sucks.

The rounded upper corners of the windows are less rounded now. I can live with that. The amount of roundness taken from there has apparently been applied to the corners of the pull-down and pop-up menus.

The upper menubar corners are no longer rounded at all. Why did they give up one of the most visible design features of the Macintosh since 1984? Are we no longer nice-looking and a bit cute? This seems to be the most needless design change of all, given that the space previously occupied by the rounded corners has not been put to any other good use.

I like the hardware. Only two annoyances here: the glossy screen (I prefer to use the bathroom mirror when I need a shave) and the sharp edges of the case - because this is where my wrists are when I am typing with the laptop on my belly, lying in my bed. And this is at least 97% of the time when I use it. And the edges are really sharp.

The glossy screen does make for a more brilliant display, with a deeper black, yes. (Hum, does that correlate to that obsession with black I seemed to notice earlier?) Apart from the reflections of my face that I could live without, the display is indeed crisp. I like. (Only after having seen the screen of the new iPhone from a very close distance, I say it could use something more like that in terms of resolution.)

I like the wide format as a good compromise. It lets me put the dock on the side (the black dock) and still have it not steal too much from the screen width. There isn't too much height to spare anyway. The display is now better for watching films not in 3:4, small surprise.

I liked the keyboard of the Powerbook more, but this one is better than I expected. I was afraid that the more or less flat keys offer less guidance to the fingers that the more profiled ones of the Powerbook, but it is not as bad, no insecure feeling. The price paid for being able to shave off 2 millimeters (rough estimate) from the height of the keyboard is not too high. I really like the key illumination, although there is more light coming out from under the sides of the keys than through them.

I love the case. It is gorgeous. The rounded corners, the smooth undisturbed matte surfaces, the flat body - wow. It is often said that Apple sells their hardware more due to its design than its technical qualities. Sure, with this kind of design!

Although I have bought the slowest one, this little machine is screamingly fast compared with the G4. Moments where I had to wait a bit with the old Powerbook are now gone. Good.

The automounter seems to work with less hassle now. I once had a working setup with handcrafted mountpoints via Netinfo with 10.4, but that broke at some point, and I couldn't revive it this way or the other. With 10.6, the /net/$SERVER/ thingy works just like that without any setup required. Joy!

The battery lasts long.

In the end, I am quite happy with the new MacBook Pro. The X11 thing is a real annoyance, all others are minor. The new toy is fast and overall a joy to use.

Update 2011-08-12: After fiddling around over several days it turned out that there was (a) an incompatibility with the decades-old ~/.xserverrc and (b) checking for the existence of an X server at $DISPLAY in my ~/.profile kept it from working. Understandably so, considering that is done during the startup of that exact X server. Why X11 initialization starts a login shell -- perhaps to have the environment variables set up properly -- and has a non-empty $PS1 in there I shall probably never know. At least [ -t 0 ] is false, so I can exclude the check for that case.


jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)

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