Laptops

One thing I never understood about laptops, or products in general, is why there are so many different but similar models of them. It’s confusing, but apparently people find value in things they think are tailored exactly to what (they think at the time) their needs are.

Obviously the most important consideration is your budget. The second most important is what operating system you are comfortable with: OSX, Windows, or Linux, listed in decreasing order of usability of and increasing order of maintenance. The third criterion is what you want to accomplish. Are you an artists or in sales? Mac is what you need. If you need to produce documents and spreadsheets then either OSX or Windows will work for you. If you are a developer who is hooking up to the latest in web technology you must have a Linux machine.

I always get my wife Apple products. They command a premium but they look beautiful and just work. After Steve Jobs’ earthly departure their products seem to be declining in awesomeness and increasing in price, but the MacBook Air seem to be the most popular choice among the students I teach.

I have a softspot in my heart for HP because I bought my first laptop from David and Bill. They went downhill for a while but their Spectre line is looking really good these days. (Unfortunate name choice given the latest Intel debacle.)

My current laptop is a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I tried the first version of the Surface Book and had to return it to Satya. They are two (or maybe three, checking just now) generations past that now. The touch screen is a little too touchy sometimes, but other than that it is a very solid laptop. I made the mistake of getting in the Windows 10 Insider Program. Don’t do that unless you like a wild ride.

After HP I bought IBM Thinkpad series laptops, aside from a Sony Vaio that died on the last day of their warranty. (Didn’t those guys get hacked?) Lenovo bought out the IBM business and continues to produce high quality products. Their T series are a good value and I’ve never met anyone who bought a X1 Carbon who was disappointed.

I spent many hours getting linux (Slackware) to run on my laptop and desktop machines starting with an Intel 386 desktop that cost me $3000 back in the early 90’s. There are much better options now.

OSX is Unix based, ever since OS9 was abandoned, but it is BSD Unix. Windows 10 has their WSL: Windows Subsystem for Linux. It is a work in progress but you can install the latest version of Ubuntu and are a shell prompt away from using apt get to install gcc-9, llvm, clang, and all the latest linux based technology.

There are new options available now if you believe you can rely on an internet connection: buy the the cheapest, crappiest Chromebook available and use it to log into a virtual machine of your choice. You can pick any operating system you want, how fast and how many cores you want for a CPU, how much RAM and disk space you need.

Your only problem is figuring out what you want to achieve with all the power at your fingertips now.

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