In Search of a New Laptop

Journal Aug 02, 2020

Am I in dire need of a new laptop? No, not really. My 2015 15" MacBook Pro is still perfectly fine and beats many of its 2020 PC contenders. But just like DHH a few months ago, I also began searching for alternatives, after getting at odds with some of Apple's decisions.

Despite all the issues with the Mac product line in recent years (the Dark Age between 2016 and 2020), Apple's computers are still by far the best piece of hardware you can find on the market. Notice that I am not emphasizing speed, performance, resolution, or form factor alone. You can find other machines that excel in one of these dimensions, and suck big time in all the rest. What I am talking about is the entire package. And when it comes to the overall package, Apple blows everyone away.

If the hardware isn't the problem, then what? Well, the part that's left, namely, the software. Precisely, Apple's intent on becoming the ultimate gatekeeper of its software ecosystem. This has been the case on iOS since its inception, so why bother? macOS has only been kept free from the grip of the Apple machinery for as long as it was needed to bake in the safety measures, but one can see the inevitable happening with every new release. The more macOS and iOS (iPad OS) converge on features and codebase, the easier it would become to pull the plug on all 3rd-party apps unless they get properly sandboxed and distributed through the App Store.

Is this that bad? I mean, gate-keeping apps will lead to improved safety, right? True, and well, unless it starts interfering with my workflow. I tend to consider myself a pro user. Although I have switched to doing much of my software development on a remote server quite some time ago, I still need the necessary tooling to do my work well. Plus, as a pro user, I have built my workflow around a set of routines and apps that allow me to do things faster and more efficiently than the average macOS user. I am not saying that all this would suddenly disappear if macOS and iOS converge. I fear that it would bring an additional burden on the developers of those tools, making the stakes too high for some to keep playing the game. Ever since the split between iOS and iPad OS, there has been a surge of more advanced productivity and development apps for the iPad, demonstrating a case, where it might be possible to do software development solely on the iPad. I've tried it and it works, but we not there yet. Just, not there yet.

What are the alternatives?

As I have mentioned, much of my development work happens on a remote machine these days. I don't need top-of-the-line performance, as much as I care about a premium build, minimalist form-factor, great display/keyboard, and a guarantee that five years from now, I could still walk around with this laptop and use it as my daily driver.

Like DHH, I have been checking the alternatives. Using Linux on the desktop full-time is not a thing I am after (for now). No hard feelings, working on Linux is what I earn my living with, but Linux on the desktop can get fiddly at times, especially, when fiddling with your OS is the last thing you have time for. What's left then is either trying Windows again (with the WSL), or keeping my mouth shut and keeping with macOS. After ten years within the Apple ecosystem, thinking about going back to Windows sounds both scary and exciting. For one, I have been pleased to see how much more developer-friendly the "new" Microsoft has become. I know a thing or two about the MS developer experience from my former life as a .NET developer, and it is leagues and bounds better than what it used to be. On the other hand, though, going back to Windows with all of its fragmentation, and myriad of options varying quality standards feels off-putting at first. To quote DHH:

[But] for me, this just wasn’t worth it. I kept looking for things I liked about Windows, and I kept realizing that I just fell back on rationalizations like “I guess this isn’t SO bad?”. The only thing I really liked was the hardware, and really, the key (ha!) thing there was that the keyboard just worked. It’s a good keyboard, but I don’t know if I’d go as far as “great”. (I still prefer travel, control, and feel of the freestanding Apple Magic Keyboard 2).
[...]
Windows still clearly isn’t for me. And I wouldn’t recommend it to any of our developers at Basecamp. But I kinda do wish that more people actually do make the switch. Apple needs the competition. We need to feel like there are real alternatives that not only are technically possible, but a joy to use. We need Microsoft to keep improving, and having more frustrated Apple users cross over, point out the flaws, and iron out the kinks, well, that’s only going to help.

Let me finish this monologue with something of a conclusion. Although I am not particularly looking for a new machine right now, I am genuinely interested in seeing what other options there are on the market. Once Apple brings out the new ARM-based laptops, it would be hard not to think of investing in one of them, but hey, if anyone could convince me of a great alternative, I would love to hear about it.

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