Lee Kelleher

My year (so far) on MacBook Windows 8 Boot Camp

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Towards the end of last year, my business partner (Rich) was eager to get hold of the new MacBook Pro (with 15″ Retina display) – obviously with the cost of the MacBook being considerably higher than an average PC-laptop counterpart – Rich felt it was unfair for him to get one. However since I’d never owned a Mac before – and heard how developers absolutely *love* using them, I thought it would be good for me to get one too. Rich was delighted!

On a side-note, another reason for wanting a MacBook was to play with Mono/.NET – it would be an attempt to shift my mindset on being more cross-platform focused.  This hasn’t happened yet – and highly doubt it will now – but more on that later.

When the MacBook arrived it was like Christmas day, unwrapping a thing of beauty.  The build of the machine is truly excellent, the hardware is fantastic and OS X looks amazing, (obviously – it’s the Retina display!)

Playing around with OS X was fine, it’s a nice operating-system, but I wasn’t overly excited about it – I put that down to not knowing what to do with it, (e.g. a project to work on), rather than the OS itself.  So given than I’m a .NET developer – the next thing I want is to install Windows.  For this I used Parallels Desktop 8 to run an instance of Windows 8 (from our MSDN subscription). Once I got Visual Studio 2012 set-up and a test Umbraco install up and running, I was ready to work.

After a few days of Umbraco/.NET development inside the VM, I realised that I never used OS X – again maybe this was because I didn’t know how to *use* it, or that I’m so focused on development that I only use the tools I need to get my job done?  Wanting to give OS X some justice, I installed Chrome and Skype, and tried using them by switching between them and VM – this turned out to be a horrible experience for me; I kept losing a mental focus.

Next up it was time to try Boot Camp.  At the time (January/February 2013), Boot Camp 4 didn’t officially support Windows 8, but having read several blog posts saying that it would work, I gave it a try.  The install was successful, but I kept hitting various issues – the screen resolution was ridiculously high (as you’d expect from a Retina display); the thunderbolt ethernet adapter is flakey.  Once Boot Camp 5 was released the various quirks got much better, (although the ethernet adapter still isn’t great).

I was much happier using Windows 8 via Boot Camp than as a VM – sure maybe I’d sacrificed my option for being “cross-platform”, but I felt that the machine (and/or I) was performing faster.

Was it perfect developer bliss? Sorry, afraid not (for me).

When I’m working at my office, I have the MacBook hooked up to dual-monitors and external keyboard and mouse. I’ve been using Microsoft’s Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 7000 for the past few years – as boring and corporate as it appears, it is an excellent keyboard – of course, I prefer using that.

In terms of mobility, the MacBook is awesome – it is very light, the battery is incredible, boots fast (from hibernate) – it ticked all the right boxes.  However, after months of use, the keyboard layout isn’t for me.  To be specific, the position of the “Fn” and “Ctrl” keys don’t feel right.  As a developer, my left hand’s little finger generally hovers over the bottom-left key – which is usually the “Ctrl” key – but not on the MacBook; it’s the “Fn” key!

At first I thought I’d get used to it… “just shift your finger over”, “Surely it can’t be that hard to adapt?” – well after several months of trying to adapt, I’m still hitting the “Fn” key to do most keyboard shortcuts – breaking my flow – “Huh?! Why didn’t it copy/paste?!!” I’ve started to call it the “F****n*” key!

Now that I’ve started to rant, I also dislike the “magic” touch-pad. When you press down on it (e.g. do a click), the sound is too loud/hard; especially when compared to the softer sound of pressing the keyboard! Becomes quite annoying when you’re working on train journey or sitting in a quiet office … *click-click-click-click*

It’s not all negative, the MacBook still is an excellent machine; I can see why people love using them so much. Alas it turns out that it’s not for me. During this year I’ve come to realise that I’m not as adaptable as I thought; old habits really do die hard; (but you know what, I’m okay with that).

Over the next month I’ll be looking for a new laptop – most likely a Dell Latitude or Lenovo – something with a boring corporate feel to it – of course it will have the best processor I can afford and 16GB+ RAM … oh and it will have the “Ctrl” key back in it’s rightful place.