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New 21.5 inch iMac review

My almost six year old Macbook Pro died yesterday.

Well, that's not precisely true. It wan't technically dead at all, or even "mostly dead". It had simply reached the point where I felt I had to pull the plug - literally. It was still working, but overheating and regularly taking long pauses to cool itself down.

It's possible that a good internal cleaning to remove dust and a new battery might have extended its useful life. On the other hand, the keyboard was half dead from a previous accident. Not being 32 bit was starting to be a problem too: more and more I would find that applications I wanted to at least review and possibly buy would only run on 64 bit machines. Finally, managing disk space on its 80 GB drive was becoming something I had to attend to all too frequently.

So, even though I'd rather have not spent the money right now, I drove to a local Apple Store to replace the MacBook.

What to buy?

I could replace the MacBook Pro (or buy the MacBook Air), but my iPad answers 99% of my portability needs - I felt that either a Mac Mini or an iMac would be better. After hemming and hawing this way and that, I decided to go with the 21.5 inch iMac. It has more memory expansion, and more raw cpu.

I could have saved myself almost $70.00 had I reached this decision a few weeks ago when we had a sales tax free weekend, but I didn't. I put it on Discover, so that's a few dollars back and it is a business expense that can be written off completely this year, so that's some compensation too.

I brought it home, connected it to my Time Machine drive, turned it on and told it to restore. It already had Lion installed, so I didn't need to do that upgrade.

Initial impressions

It's fast, and the screen is impressive. However, I'm having some adjustment problems.

First, of course, is Lion. It's just a matter of getting used to it. The reverse scrolling which has been the source of so many complaints didn't bother me at all (probably because I spend so much time on the iPad). But little things that are slightly different keep slowing me down.. those will pass in a few days, though, so I'm not concerned.

There was one Lion feature that stopped me dead; I went into full screen mode in Chrome and could not get out - ESC does not work. I had to go to my iPad to find out that Shift - Command - F will revert back to normality.

I've also made accidental right swipe gestures that throw me into Widgets, but I knew how to get out of that (left swipe, of course). I'll get used to all that quickly enough.

Display

I am concerned about the display, though. Oh, it's beautiful - no doubt about that. Watching a Netflix is quite an experience (especially for folks like us who have not yet bought an HD TV). However, the default resolution makes screen fonts just a tad too small for my six decade plus old eyes.

That's fixable. I could adjust the fonts, sit a little closer, adjust the screen resolution (1600 x 900 seems to be closer to what I'm used to) or just zoom in a bit. Zooming is easy with the Magic Mouse - control and two fingers expands easily. There is no shortage of ways to increase readability.

It's also possible that I just need to adapt - I CAN read the default fonts at the default resolution; it just looks all too small to me. If I give it a few days, I may adjust.

But there's another problem. I find myself craning my neck upward. I'm not sure why - it may be from all the years of most definitely looking down to see the MacBook screen. I don't actually have to raise my head that far to see this screen, but I find myself doing it subconsciously and it's already bothering my neck. If I could remember how to adjust the height on my office chair, that might help too, but right now my neck hurts and I am not happy.

Save a Version, Duplicate and HTML documents

TextEdit always made working with HTML files bit clumsy, but it's even more so with Lion. The Help Documentation explains how to open a file with HTML code exposed to edit (you need to turn on "Ignore rich text commands") but as "Save As" is no longer an option, you'll find that TextEdit stupidly and automatically changes the file name to ".txt". I do not mean that it creates a ".txt" copy of your ".html" file, I mean that it silently renames it!

You can then choose "Duplicate" and when you "Save.." that, you can change the extension back to ".html". However, "Save.." is then immediately replaced with "Save a Version". The moment you do that - or simply make enough changes that TextEdit decides it had better save a version itself - your document is again silently renamed to ".txt".

That's just dumb, Apple.

iPhoto, iTunes

Because of lack of space, I had moved most of my photos to an external drive and had pointed iPhoto at those. I had that drive connected, but only some of my photos were available when I started up iPhoto in Lion. I just had it import from the other drive location; it was very quick. My music came over without any problem.

Fast User Switching

Although I could use Fast User Switching on my MacBook, the machine didn't have enough speed or RAM to make it useful. On the MacBook, it was A Bit Slow and Clumsy User Switching, so I seldom used it. On this iMac, even with only the base 4GB of RAM, it's quick and easy.

VMWare

I also had difficulty running VMWare instances on the MacBook for the same reasons. I could run anything, but they ran somewhat slowly and were also apt to cause excessive paging and maybe even swapping of my other apps. That is also much improved now and as I have already ordered an 8 GB RAM upgrade ($53.99 from Crucial.com vs. $400.00 from Apple - duh!), I will soon be able to handle even more.

Parallels Desktop

At Per-user screen sharing in Lion, I mentioned that a well designed iPad app would be really useful. Well, Parallels has this with their Mobile App. The app is low priced ($4.99), but it requires Parallels Desktop. It's not perfect - I found it a bit confusing at times - but it's pretty darn slick. You can download a free demo of Parallels desktop, but you'd have to pay the $4.99 to try this out.

By the way, all reports are that Parallels Desktop on Lion absolutely screams.. the old version I have was too old to qualify for an upgrade, but it might still be worth buying it again anyway.

All in all

This should last me at least another 5 years and probably longer. If I can figure out how to adjust my chair, I should be fine. If I can't, maybe it's time for a new chair too?



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Fri Sep 9 20:12:57 2011: 9798   BrettLegree

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I'm considering checking out Parallels 7 on my machine too, to see how it compares with the latest Fusion beta.

I mean, I've been a VMware disciple for years, I have used Parallels in the past but if it works better for me, then why not.

Back to the subject at hand - my MacBook Pro is still kicking, I am expecting an SSD for it next week, which I will install myself - the memory is already maxed out, and I've got it all set up in "clamshell mode" with a 24" LCD (used to run it with *two* 24" panels, but that was actually a bit too much, so I moved the second display to my side desk and use it with my X120e).

I am pretty happy with it for now - perhaps someday it will die (well, it will, inevitably) but for now, it does the trick.

I'm wondering if I might find the same thing once I get a tablet, that I won't need laptops too much anymore.



Mon Sep 12 08:43:28 2011: 9813   NickBarron

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Do you not need your laptop for visiting clients and doing any technical work?



Mon Sep 12 10:40:02 2011: 9815   TonyLawrence

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Not very often.

The iPad has ssh, RDP, Citrix, Webex, GotoMeeting.. the only time I need a laptop is if I need a physical connection to something - and that's rare today.



Mon Sep 12 10:42:01 2011: 9816   NickBarron

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Ah lucky man.

I could not be without a computer and the array of ports. Ethernet, FireWire etc.

The iPad just doesn't yet have that flexibility, some equipment only allows changes through a trusted secure connection.

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