Charles Engelke's Blog

June 24, 2012

Switching to Mac?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charles Engelke @ 1:58 pm
Tags: , , ,

I’ve been a PC user for nearly 30 years, first with MS-DOS and later with Windows. I’ve been very happy with them, though ever since Apple switched the Mac operating system to be Unix-y I’ve thought I might prefer that. A stint with the iPhone soured me on Apple, though, and I thought little more about it.

Now my Incubator group has started developing mobile apps. We did Android prototypes first and are getting good responses. But we clearly need to support iOS, too, for any products we actually release. So we got a Mac Mini at work to develop with, and I decided to buy a cheap MacBook Air to get familiar with the environment. (Well, not that cheap… I ended up with the 13″ box with 8GB of memory and a 256GB drive instead of the entry level one.)

I’ve been using the Mac for almost a week now, and am really liking it. So, am I switching?

Maybe. There’s a lot to like about it, and little on the negative side.

The good:

  • Boy, this thing is fast. Though, to be fair, a similar Windows laptop with plenty of memory and SSD probably would be just about the same. I think my experience this week is the death knell for spinning drives on any laptop I own from now on.
  • Very portable. The 13″ box is a lot bigger than I expected. Still, it’s plenty small enough to take everywhere I travel.
  • Great for software development in my preferred target environments (Linux, web, and mobile). Ruby and even Perl don’t support Windows nearly as well. It’s even better (so far) for Android development! I was able to connect my Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone and run it in debugging mode in the first try; that’s yet to work on Windows due to the Samsung USB drivers.
  • Awesome trackpad. Everybody says so, and they’re right.

The bad:

  • Lousy keyboard. Yes, most Windows laptop keyboards are worse than this, but I always use ThinkPads, and their keyboards are much, much better than this.
  • Missing keys. I want Home, End, and Delete keys! And I’d like Page Up and Page Down, too. I’m slowly learning the various keyboard shortcuts, but those dedicated keys are very useful, especially for coding.
  • No TrackPoint pointing device. It’s not the most popular option, but it’s by far the best. Yes, even better than the trackpad. (Though having both would be awesome!)
  • No documentation. I knew there were virtual desktops available, but I had no idea they were called Spaces. And even when I figured that out, how was I supposed to know that you get them by hitting F3 and pointing to the upper right corner of the screen? And that the Apache web server configuration is in /private/etc? Thank God for Google, or I’d be lost.
  • Dongles. I’m going to need to buy some if I ever want to connect a monitor or a wired network. I don’t like that, even though I kind of understand it in an ultra-portable like this.
  • Text editor. I have tried a couple on the Mac, and haven’t found one I like much yet. They all seem to de-emphasize the keyboard, which I prefer to use, especially for selecting and moving text. And the one I like best so far (Sublime Text 2) has inadequate documentation.

The same:

  • The hardware is equally good on both sides (I’m comparing the MacBook Air to the ThinkPad X series here).
  • They both have good, though not great, battery life (I can go a whole business day on battery with either, so long as I let it sleep when not in direct use).
  • I think that the matte display on the ThinkPad is actually better, but the glossy one on the Air has more initial impact.
  • Almost all the software I use on Windows I’m now using on the Mac. It’s all no-cost in both places, too.

So, am I switching? It seems likely. I’m going to take the Air with me on a two-week trip and see how I get along without having Windows ready if I need it.


June 6, 2012

Grayed out

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charles Engelke @ 9:48 am

Why is light gray text becoming so popular on the web? More and more web pages look like copies from a machine that has run out of toner. If you want your text to be read, make it readable. The best web designers put readability ahead of appearance.

Just consider this snippet from


Isn’t it better with black text?


And don’t get me started on gray text on gray backgrounds, or trendy fonts that display on monitors with single pixel-wide strokes, or tiny font sizes in wide viewports.

Please, don’t make me open the browser’s debugger and edit your CSS to make your text readable. 

Blog at