A recent column (see BW Online, 3/27/06, "Two Juicy New Apples") on the new Intel (INTC)-chip based Apple (AAPL) MacBook Pro laptop and Mac mini desktop prompted several questions. To start off with, reader Tom Thomas asks a question that's a concern to many potential buyers: I am a Mac user and am thinking about purchasing a MacBook Pro. I wonder if you tested it for all standard Mac software such as Final Cut Pro, iMovie, iTunes, Safari, Microsoft Office, Adobe, and chat programs like Skype, MSN, Yahoo! (YHOO), etc. Also does the camera work with any chat program or is it designed just for iChat?
This question applies equally to all Intel-based Macs -- including the previously released iMac desktop (see BW, 2/13/06, "It's iMac on Steroids"). Applications fall into four categories:
1. Native OS X apps written for PowerPC chips such as the G4 and G5. Nearly all of these will run under Rosetta, Apple's built-in translation program. You do take a performance hit, which means in many cases that the extra speed of the processor goes into the translation work, and performance stays about where it was on a G5. This includes the current versions of Microsoft (MSFT) Office, Adobe (ADBE) Creative Suite, and Macromedia Studio MX. All are being rewritten, but the timing is uncertain.
2. "Universal binary" programs that have been rewritten for Intel. This includes all of the Apple iLife programs -- iPhoto, GarageBand, iMovie, iDVD -- and built-in Apple apps such as iTunes and Safari. (I have not used Internet Explorer on the Mac for some time; Microsoft no longer supports it and it works really badly. Firefox is the best alternative to Safari.)
3. Pre-OS X programs. These will not run on Intel-based Macs, but not many of these programs are still in use.
4. A handful of Apple professional programs including Final Cut Pro, Aperture, and DVD Studio Pro will not run until rewritten. Those new versions have started coming out, and all of the programs should be available within a month. The built-in iChat camera works just like a plug-in iChat camera. Any program that supports the external iChat will work with the built-in one.
OFF THE HOOK? Meanwhile, a reader in Thailand, Suriya Rudarakanchana, writes: You forgot to mention that the new MacBook Pro notebook has no built-in modem. How does one deal with wired and wireless connection to the Internet when traveling? I understand that Apple has a USB modem (costing about $50), but it's not available in several countries. Can one use this modem by simply plugging it in? And how does one go about setting up wirelessly?
I thought of making a point about the MacBook Pro not having a standard wireline modem in the review, but then I thought it has been more than a year since I have used a modem on a laptop. Apple may be a little premature in getting rid of it, but not too premature. Then, while reading this query, it occurred to me that the world is a widely varied place.
In some countries dial-up connections remain more common than they are in the U.S. International modems are especially tricky. While modems designed for the U.S. phone system will generally work around the world, they need local regulatory approval to be sold in particular countries. And these days, with modem sales slow, manufacturers may not find the cost of "homologation" worth the trouble. But you can be reasonably comfortable that if you get your hands on a modem, it will work.
Where available, Wi-Fi wireless is a better choice, and it is built-in (see BW Online, 3/23/06, "Total Wi-Fi Freedom"). Unfortunately, Macs can not take advantage of the new cell-based wireless services such as EV-DO or HSDPA. Apple does not make it available as a option, and the standard add-on cards made for Windows PCs won't work in the MacBook Pro. Apple will have to find a way to add these wide-area wireless services in the future.