So I might be coming around to the whole cloud computing idea despite my history of being sceptical of the whole idea. Whilst I’ve yet to go any further than researching the possibilities the potential of the cloud to eliminate a lot of the problems encountered when scaling would mean a lot less time spent on those issues and more on developing a better product. However whilst the benefits of the cloud are potentially quite large there’s also the glaring issue of vendor dependency and lock in as no two cloud providers are the same nor is there any real standards around the whole cloud computing idea. This presents a very large problem for both cloud native services and those looking to migrate to the cloud platform as once you’ve made your choice you’re pretty much locked in unless you’re willing to pay for significant rework.
Right now my platform of choice is looking to be Windows Azure. Primarily this is because of the platform familiarity as whilst the cloud might be a whole new computing paradigm services built on the traditional Microsoft platform won’t have a hard time being migrated across. Additionally they’ve got a fantastic offer for MSDN subscribers, giving them a small instance and whole swath of other goodies to get them off the ground. This is good news for aspiring entrepreneurs like myself as Microsoft offers a free MSDN Premium subscription to start-ups (called BizSpark) who’ve been together for less than 3 years and less than $1 million in revenue. However as I was comparing this to the other cloud providers out there I noticed that no two were alike, in fact they were all at odds with each other.
Take the biggest cloud provider out there, Amazon’s EC2. Whilst the compute instances are pretty comparable since they’re just the operating system the other services (file storage, databases) are worlds away from each other and it’s not just the API calls that are different either. Amazon’s cloud offering is architecturally different from that of Microsofts, so much so that any code written for Azure will have to be wholly rewritten in order to function on their cloud. This means that when it comes time to move your service into the cloud you’ll have to make sure you trust the provider that you’re going to be going with. You could also double the entire budget and keep half of it in reserve should it ever come to that, but I doubt many people have that luxury.
Like the format wars that have raged for the past century such incompatibility between cloud providers only serves to harm the consumers of such services. Whilst I’m not suggesting the notion that there be one and only one cloud provider (corporations really can’t be trusted with monopolies and I’d hate to think what a government sanctioned cloud would look like) what’s missing from the current cloud environment is a level of interoperability that we’re so used to seeing in this Internet enabled age. The good news is that I’m not the only one to notice issues like this and there are several movements working towards an open set of standards for cloud operators to adopt. This not only provides the level of interoperability that’s currently lacking in the cloud world but would also give customers more confidence when working with smaller cloud operators, knowing that they wouldn’t be left high and dry should they fail.
Like any technology in its infancy cloud computing still has a ways to go before it can before it can be counted amongst its more mature predecessors. Still the idea has proven itself to be viable, usable and above all capable of delivering on some of the wild promises it made back when it was still called SaaS. With the d-day fast approaching for Lobaco I’ll soon be wandering into the cloud myself and I’m sure I’ll have much more to write about it when the time comes. For now though I’m happy to say that my previous outlook on the cloud was wrong, despite the problems I’ve cited here today.
I’ve never been that much of a fan of laptops mostly for 2 reasons. The first is that it’s not particularly feasible to build one yourself should have the desire to do so and for someone who’s hand built every PC he’s ever owned this was a bit of a sticking point. The second was that I never really had a use for an on the go computer that lacked the power of my home PC, apart from those times beloved LAN parties where I’d lament hauling the heft of my PC around. Still I’ve been the owner of several of these devices for various reasons, most of them work related unfortunately, so it’s not like I haven’t had experience with this platform. However I found myself in a rather peculiar situation where I was in need of an Apple computer and a portable device for travelling. Whilst I didn’t rush out and buy one right away it did finally come time for me to bite the bullet and purchase an Apple product and thanks to my contracting company’s financial arrangements the 15″ Macbook Pro was the same cost as Mac Mini with all the required trimmings. So I ordered myself one and just on a week later it arrived at my door in all it’s Apple splendour¹.
As always Apple is the master of utilitarian packaging with the box containing nothing more than what’s required to use the machine. Honestly after being showered with with miscellanea from all the computer bits and pieces I’ve bought for machines it’s always a bit of a shock just how little Apple includes with their products, even the really expensive ones. Still apart from the adapters and possibly the free games I’ve never really used most of those things, but it’s still nice to be lavished with “freebies” when you’re shelling out this amount cash. Hell even my $800 Gigabyte T1028 came with a free carry case.
The laptop itself is very easy on the eyes with Apple’s distinctive industrial minimalist design philosophy distilling away any unnecessary aspect. Even with the entire main body being machined out of a single piece of aluminium it still has a decent heft to it weighing in at about 2.5KG. The keyboard (whilst it takes a little getting used to if you’re used to more traditional laptop keyboards) is well built, backlit illuminated and has a good feel about it. I had no problem bashing out 1000s of words on it over the course of the past month and have yet to meet any sticky or unresponsive keys. The screen is quite nice and whilst I was initially going to go for the matt screen my game developer friend convinced me otherwise. It has given me some trouble in high light situations but it hasn’t been as bad as I had thought it would be. Overall the Macbook Pro gives a very solid first impression.
However it’s not all roses with the new Macbook pro. The first thing I noticed was the power brick. Now whilst I like the magsafe power connection (saved me a couple times from dragging the brick along the ground) the power brick itself is made in a way that you can’t use standard figure 8 cables with it thanks to an in the way connector. It’s mostly an aesthetics thing as the supplied connectors (a direct wall plug and 2m cable) serve to complete the power brick’s shape. Similarly there’s a distinct lack of interconnectivity ports with only the bare minimum being provided. Sure it’s adequate for the most part but there have been several times when I’ve wanted to plug in more than 2 USB devices (thumbdrive, iPhone, camera) and had to store things temporarily on the hard drive in order to get what I want done. Still both of these are minor complaints compared to what I consider the biggest flaw of them all: the aluminium body.
For the first month or so it’s life my Macbook Pro sat on top of my regular PC where I’d remote into it to get any work done. There were only a few times when I actually used it as a laptop and never for extended periods of time. However when travelling there were many times I’d be in front of it for an hour or so and that’s when I started to notice just how sharp the edges are on the bottom half of this laptop. After a while of using it I noticed just how much they were digging into my arms and any further use just made it worse. The only solution I’ve found is to use it on your lap with the keyboard angled down about 45 degrees so that my arms don’t touch it. This also brings with it the problem of it heating up your nether regions to ungodly temperatures making a cushion or laptop stand mandatory.
On the specification front I’ll admit that I was expecting a lot when I bought the Macbook, considering I shelled out for the fastest 15″ model with a 2.66 i7 and a NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M. Being as I received this laptop during the height of my Starcraft 2 addiction I decided I’d install said game on it to give the graphics card hardware a workout. The game plays buttery smooth on my nearly 2 year old main PC so I had thought it would be cake for my shiny new Macbook. Unfortunately at the same settings the framerates I was getting was almost half of that of my aging rig² even with the newest drivers from NVIDIA. A few tweaks later had it running better (definitely playable) but it still paled in comparison to the machine it sat atop of. I had also copied across my World of Warcraft installation but since my account is currently inactive I’ve yet to give that a go but I’d hazard a guess that it would be quite playable.
Battery life is actually quite astounding, especially when you’re using OS X. With mild usage I was easily able to get 6~7 hours on a single charge and even with 1080p video playing I was still able to eek out just under 4 hours, enough for 2 movies on long flights cross country. Strangely enough even a base configuration of Windows with all the Bootcamp drivers struggled to get close to half that, although I think that’s related to Windows not being able to switch to the low powered graphics as the native OS X does.
The Macbook Pro is everything I’ve come to expect from Apple. It’s well designed, minimalist and over all expensive when compared to similar offerings from other companies. With size, weight and battery life being critical factors for many it unquestionably excels in these areas. However it is marred by it’s high price, underwhelming performance and lack of interconnectivity options. Still the trifecta small size, comparatively light weight and uncanny battery life do make the laptop suitable for a wide range of people and I can’t deny the build quality that’s gone into this Macbook Pro. So if you’ve got the cash to burn or can swing a finance deal like I did the Macbook Pro will do you well, just don’t expect it to perform on par with it’s similarly priced cousins.
¹Just in case anyone was wondering why I’m doing the laptop review separate to the operating system review it’s because they’re 2 very distinct products and warrant being investigated on their own merits. Plus the Macbook can run Windows so there’s no real reason to lump it in with OS X.
²It’s specs are Core 2 Duo E8400, 4GB RAM and a Radeon 4870 just so you know