The iceBook Cometh

I've had my shiny new iBook for about a week and a half now, so it's time to share my thoughts.  Let me preface all of this by saying that this is my first Macintosh, and I'm definitely a "Pee-Cee" guy at heart.  That's not to say I haven't used Macs before, as my primary machine was a shiny new G3-266 back when I worked for John.  But this is the first Mac that I've owned myself, and that I've used this extensively.


Initial impressions:

The first thing most people say when I show them my iBook is:

"It's white!"

Yes, they are masters of the obvious, but I understand what they're reacting to.  If you haven't seen one in person yet, they are indeed very white.  The color reminds me of Elmer's Glue when it's still in liquid form inside the bottle. The magnesium keyboard areas aren't as metallic looking in person as they appear in the Apple product shots.

The iBook is heavier than it looks.  I'm not complaining, at just under 5 pounds, it's not a heavy laptop, especially compared to some of the 8-pound Dell monsters we've got here at work.  It simply feels slightly heavier than the size of the computer would leave you to think it would.


Out of the Box:

I got the iBook model that came with the DVD drive, because it came with 128MB of RAM soldered on the board, and I wanted to watch movies when I travel.  I picked up another 256MB of RAM from Mac Solutions, which I installed myself, along with an AirPort card.

Installing the AirPort card and RAM requires fine motor skills, which I lack.  Those screws are kind of tiny, and you've got to push the RAM in with more force than you might be inclined to use at first.  It took me about half an hour to accomplish this, but I could do it in 5 minutes now that I know what I'm doing.  After installing the AirPort card and the RAM, I had to lock the keyboard into place using the little doohickey by the F5 key, or it would bow up in the middle, just like the reports I'd read on Macintouch said it could.

My iBook came with OS 9.1 and Mac OS X 10.0.3 pre-installed on the drive.  It booted into 9.1 by default, under which it performs very well. Simply changing the setting in the "Startup Disk" control panel allowed me to boot into OS X



The iBook is a really slick package.  It's well constructed overall, and it seems to be of higher physical quality than any PC of a similar price.  The clear polycarbonate coating does show fingerprints, but it is not very noticeable, as you've got to tilt the machine to get a glare off of the surface before you can see them.  I've put a couple of scratches in the surface somehow, so it must scratch pretty easily, but they're extremely hard to notice, much like any transient fingerprints.

The coating of the iBook sticks to your hands really well, it's not slippery to hold, and I'm pretty comfortable just carrying my machine around without a sleeve.  It has a nice rubbery feel to it, though I've still got to find a case that I like,  as I'm just using an old leather Dell case for now. I'm thinking of getting one of the nice backpack cases for it that I've seen over at eBags.

The screen is very sharp and it's not too hard to read as long as you're close.  Not one of the people I've showed the iBook too has commented on the size of the screen, though many have complimented the brightness and clarity of the display.  There is a disconcerting gap that exists between the display and the keyboard when it is closed.  This appears to be by design, but it does make the unit feel slightly less solid when it is closed.  It's not a problem in my book, but it did give me pause at first.  The magnetic lock that holds the screen shut is quite clever, and definitely the best latch design I've seen yet on a laptop.  For those familiar with the PowerBook G4, the latch is essentially the same.

The hard disk drive is very quiet.  I honestly can't tell when it's running most of the time.  I can occasionally hear the heads reset in the drive, but if you've got a TV on, music playing, or even a fan near you, you'll never hear it.  It's really that quiet.

The keyboard has a good feel to it, and it's quite easy to use for a touch-typist like myself.  I did accidentally pop off my Esc key while installing the RAM, but was able to snap it right back into place, although I freaked out a bit at first. I've read enough horror stories about Apple's tech support to know that they're not nearly as nice as the Dell folks I'm used to dealing with.  The thought of sending my new iBook in for repairs on the first day made me shudder.

The touchpad is quite sensitive, though I didn't have much problem adjusting to it.  If I use the laptop for extended periods of time, I generally hook up my Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer to do my mousing.  Several people reported that the touchpad seemed hyper-sensitive to them, and I think I know what they're referring to.  If you don't type in the "proper" manner, it's pretty easy to have more than one digit over the touchpad, causing it to jump around a bit.  Fortunately, I do type in the "proper" manner, so this isn't a problem for me at all.  And really, if you're using the computer so much that this is going to bother you, you should invest a few hours and learn how to actually type...

There are no PCMCIA slots built in to the new iBook.  At first, this gave me pause, but I realized that I would probably never need one.  My iBook has a built in 56K modem, built-in 10/100 ethernet, two USB ports, video out, FireWire and 802.11b networking.  What more will I ever want to add?  Even if for some reason I do need Bluetooth down the road, there will be plenty of Bluetooth USB adapters.

The ports are all along the left side, and they don't bother me there, I'm not picky enough about the location of any of those things to care.  I don't use them much, though, because I have wireless networks at home and at work now.  My power cable lacks the "nubby" that some people reported would block their CD/DVD drive on occasion, so apparently Apple has fixed that minor annoyance.

iBook Ports

Operating Systems:

OS 9.1 is pretty quick on the new iBook. It feels just like any other Mac I've used before.  I don't really have much to say about it, it's the same old Mac OS of the past.  I dislike having to adjust the amount of RAM each app uses.  I dislike the lack of pre-emptive multi-tasking.  I dislike the fact that one crashed app will often take down my whole system.  I appreciate the simple grace of the interface, but the guts of the OS are sub-par, even when compared to Windows 95.  Windows 2000 blows it away.

OS X is a bit rough, but promising. In 10.0.3 my iBook wouldn't wake up after being put to sleep if I had any "Classic" mode applications running.  Fortunately the 10.0.4 release fixed that problem.  I like OS X, but there are a few things that it needs before I can take the plunge that Al did, and wipe OS 9 from my system.  In no particular order, here's what OS X needs for me:

  • A faster finder - the current one is an abomination, slow as molasses
  • DVD Player - having to reboot into OS 9.1 to watch DVDs is a drag
  • Better power management - my batteries drain faster under OS X
  • Native verisons of ICQ, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger
  • SPEED - Lose the eye candy, and crank up the speed!

OS X is a little too slow to be comfortable on the iBook.  It's not too bad if you're only running native apps, but Classic apps tend to be quite sluggish.  Re-sizing a window is painful, as is anything involving the Finder.  Does Apple really expect people to use this Finder for serious work? It's so slow that it makes navigating your hard disk physically painful. 

I think I speak for a lot of people here when I say that I want to be able to turn off the eye candy and increase the speed.  I don't need translucent menus, in fact, I think they're annoying.  The genie effects and the Dock don't bother me, but I sure don't need drop shadows for each window.  Take a hint from Microsoft here, Apple, and let us switch on and off parts of the UI that we don't like.  In Beta 2 of Windows XP, there were no less than 20 different options concerning the look and behavior of the user interface, and you could put it in ugly fast mode with only one click of the mouse in that control panel.

Speaking of control panels, I didn't read the included OS X manual (still haven't) but it took me half an hour to figure out how to change my desktop wallpaper in OS X.  Apple didn't put the control in the system preferences area, it's actually in the preferences for the Finder.  Obviously, this is not intuitive, because if it took me half an hour to find it there, it's going to take less knowledgeable users even longer!

I do like OS X, it's a large part of what made me buy the iBook.  It's just still not quite ready for prime time yet.  But it's always interesting to watch an OS mature, and I hope that Apple won't rest until OS X is at least as fast and powerful as OS 9 is on the same hardware.

The best Operating System on the market right now is Windows 2000, bar none.  It's stable, fast, and you can run almost anything you want to on it.  Mac OS X is going to have to mature very quickly if it wants to seriously compete with Windows XP when it is released in October.

The Desktop

DVD Playback:

I really like DVDs, and one of the reasons I chose the DVD model iBook is because I want to be able to watch the movies I get from Netflix on the road or in the sky.  I've updated my DVD player to 2.7, and the playback is pretty good.  The picture is sharp on the LCD display, and it's quite watchable.

I have encountered a bug that I've seen crop up on every Apple I've ever used to watch a DVD.  Occasionally, the sound gets out of sync with the picture.  Stopping the movie, then resuming where you left off corrects the problem, though simply pausing it does not.  It's only happened to me once on this machine, during Quills, though I've watched two other movies on the machine with no problems.

I've gotten about two hours of battery life out of the machine while watching a DVD, so you're not going to make it through Titanic on one charge.


The built in speakers are not impressive.  They're not absolutely horrible, but they rank right in there with my alarm clock in terms of sound quality.  If you plan to watch a DVD in a car (while someone else is driving, of course) you'd better bring along headphones or get used to reading the subtitles, because the built in speakers can't overcome much background noise.  The speakers are functional, but you won't be rocking along to any music you pump out of them.  Buy some good headphones, or hook your iBook up to a nice set of speakers at your desk if you want to listen to MP3 files while you work.


I installed an AirPort base station at home last week, and I've been playing with it quite a bit.  I really love having the freedom to roam around my house, and still be connected to the net.  I love reading the morning news sites over my bowl of Cheerios in the kitchen, or sending a late e-mail from bed when I remember something I should have done earlier that day.  I can't wait for football season, instant stats right in front of the TV...

I like that I don't have to have an external antenna for my wireless internet access.  It's one of the things that sold me on the iBook.  With Dell's laptops, you can have internal wireless ethernet, or a built in ethernet port.  My iBook has both, which means no unsightly or ungainly antennas sticking out.

The AirPort was fairly simple to set up with my cable modem, and I even took it along to my grandparents house last weekend to try it out with their old-school phone line based ISP.  The range is pretty good in a normal house, don't expect similar results if you work in a building made of concrete like I do.


I'm quite satisfied with my iBook, and I'd definitely suggest getting one to a friend.  It's a sexy little machine, with all of the features anyone could want in a small and durable package.  It is priced quite reasonably, but I'd suggest spending the extra money for the AppleCare support package.  It added $237 to the cost of my iBook, but a One-Year warranty is a joke, one that will probably haunt you 13 months after the purchase of your iBook when your screen suddenly develops problems. 

Shame on Apple for making a three year warranty so expensive.  If you're comparing laptops between Apple and another brand, make sure the warranties are equal as well.

Even with the extra warranty cost, the iBook is still a lot of computer for a little price.  I like it better than any Dell laptop I've used, and the only thing that comes close in terms of build and design quality are some of the high-end Sony VAIO laptops. 

In my opinion, this is THE consumer laptop to beat.  Don't get me wrong, the PowerBook G4 is still a better computer, but you can buy two iBooks for the cost of a decently equipped G4. 

I've started suggesting the iBook to anyone and everyone I know who is looking to buy a laptop.  It's too bad for Apple that most of them wrinkle their nose at the suggestion of buying a Macintosh.  Once I let them hold and use the iBook, they tend to become a little more receptive.  Maybe Apple should start bundling Virtual PC with the machine, or run some ads touting how easy it is to share files between Macs and PCs now.