Tuesday 8 November 2022

From a 2006 Macbook to a 2012 Macbook Pro, what a difference!

So, I got a mid-2012 MacBook Pro as a birthday present, yes I know what you're thinking, I'm a Linux man, why have a Mac? Well, right now, making music on Linux is tricky, the JACK control system is a pain to setup, still. I've always made music on a Mac, from my old PowerPC Macs - Powermac G4s, iBook G4 and Powerbook G4s - then eventually to my old white 2006 MacBook (which I got in 2016) and now this Macbook Pro. I still occasionally use a Powermac G4 MDD for older PowerPC-only music software. I have a whole bunch of tools and plugins I have collected over the years. This is the first time I have had a reasonably quick Mac that can run a recent version of Mac OS (and can be made to run the latest, Ventura), and up to date apps too. 

The mid 2012 is still the best choice on a budget, since it, if I remember rightly, was the last to have upgrade-able RAM, up to 16GB na done of the most repairable before everything became soldered and glued together. Mine currently has 4GB but it's still usable for what I want to use it for, Garageband and plugins. And that's pretty much all I plan to use it for, and for any other occasion where I can't find a way to run something on Linux. This MBP is in good condition, other than the rubber feet need sticking on a bit more firmly, they keep falling off! There's no obvious scratches or dents. It came with a replacement 60W PSU which works fine. 

The Macbook Pro came with Mojave installed on a 500GB hard drive, but I decided to upgrade it to an SSD and dual boot two Mac OS versions, Mojave and Catalina, so I can run older 32bit apps that Catalina cannot run. 

I took the SSD out of my old 2006 Macbook, which was already in two partitions (I had it dual booted for awhile but then stuck with just Lion and a data partition), and put it in the MBP. Then I attached the original HDD via USB and booted off it to install the two Mac OS versions on the SSD, including transferring settings and data off it.

The guts of the machine are accessed from underneath, by undoing a bunch of screws and taking the base off, I followed the guide on iFixit. I did also try putting the RAM from my old Thinkpad X201 in it, but it didn't seem to be compatible. One day I will get two decent 8GB sticks to max it out.  

The only thing I am not keen on, hardware wise, is the glossy screen (apparently they can be replaced with a matte one but I am not bothered enough to do that). The keyboard is decent enough and it's the first Mac I have had with one that  is backlit, as is my Thinkpad T430s too. I now miss having that whenever I use a laptop without it, such as my old Acer Chromebook 14.

The MBP feels slightly heavier than my Thinkpad T430s, due to the metal body, which takes a bit of getting used to when sat on my lap. It has almost the same CPU (2.5 GHz i5 instead of 2.6 GHz) and the same Intel 4000 graphics as my T430s.  Naturally the Thinkpad has more ports, it's a bit annoying having only 2 USB ports on this MBP. I usually have USB MIDI keyboard, M-Audio M-Track Solo external soundcard/input box and a mouse plugged in. I prefer the precision of a decent mouse over a trackpad. I've actually been lazily using an old Apple keyboard as USB hub! I should find or buy a proper hub sometime, though I'm sure I have one somewhere...        

I am not that keen on the Apple App Store, it feels kind of bloated and there's a load of paid for apps, including a "Pro" version of FileZilla that I didn't even know existed. Apparently it has a paid cloud service and other cloud plugins. The free version is not on the store but can be downloaded from their website. I've also removed a lot of apps off the Dock I don't plan to use like Apple Maps, Music etc, all I plan to use it for is music production.  

Although Garageband is right there in the App Store, it wouldn't let me download and install because Catalina is not new enough for the latest version. The newest version requires Monterey. I found version 10.3.1 elsewhere to download, to use on both Catalina and Mojave. A dual boot is a little inconvenient when you can't easily share stuff between them, particularly with file encryption enabled on Catalina. And I am still not really keen on Finder, it's a poor file manager compared to the powerful Dolphin on KDE that I am used too. Also, out the box, I miss certain open source tools, like wget on the command-line. To do ad that, you need to install MacPorts, which requires Xcode, which I can't install from the App Store because, yet again, Catalina is apparently not new enough! The newest version it can run is 12.4, old versions can be downloaded manually from the Apple developer site, it is a 10.86GB download.

It's nice to finally have a fairly up to date version of Mac OS that has the dark theme that older versions didn't have. I am not so keen on how Disk Utility seems to have been dumbed down compared to the version in Lion that I was used to.  Also, I chose to have two Mac OS versions so I could still run old 32 bit apps, but sadly Native Instruments B4 just does not show up as an instrument in Garageband, though it will run as a standalone app. it seems Native Instruments moved on and want you to buy their Komplete software and plugins. The organ emulator built into Garageband just doesn't match the B4. I can't seem to find any advanced settings for it. On the plus side, the newer Garageband has better drums, and generally better built-in instruments, I particularly like the Mellotron sounds they've added. 

I couldn't use this Macbook Pro for everything, but it's fine just for music production. Mac OS is just too restrictive for me, it feels like a straitjacket compared with the freedom of  Linux, particularly KDE Plasma desktop. If I don't like the default theme on KDE, then I'll change it, change the icons, change the titlebar theme, or even swap out KDE for something else if I want to. Whereas on Mac OS there's two themes (light and dark), a single set of icons and that horrible file manager, Finder. And as mentioned before, I really like Dolphin file manager on KDE and I don't like basic file managers like Nautilus and Nemo on Linux which are too similar in dumbness to Finder. Having said that, this 2012 Macbook Pro should hopefully perform its one job of making music for a good few years, particularly if I max out the RAM to 16GB and, at some point, use Open Core Legacy Patcher to make it run Monterey and/or Ventura. What I replace with it after that I don't know, but I'll use this until it dies, so watch this space!  

You can find my music on my Audius page.


Tuesday 1 November 2022

Windows Phone In 2022... Could I Use One?

I am having issues with my Android phone, audio in calls keeps cutting out, so I wanted a cheap phone to test if it was a network issue or a phone issue and I thought it would be a great opportunity to revisit Windows Phone, which I enjoyed a few years back, but the lack of app support became a bit of an issue.

However I have toyed with the idea of ditching the smartphone, so maybe going with one with a little less app support might be a happy medium. Windows Phone handsets have always been pretty decent and I thought the Metro UI was a unique take on a smartphone OS. 

So I ordered an HTC 8x which I had a few years back (a dual core with 1GB RAM, 16GB storage, 4.3” screen with Windows 8.1, released in 2012) It was a fantastic looking phone. However before it has even arrived I was looking in to what I wouldn't be able to use it for – I felt like I was already setting myself up for a fall.

My Motorola Moto G10 does everything. It really is - like for most people - a mini computer, key to everyday life.

So let's start with how my daily phone usage goes. First up is calls, obviously as it's a phone and a Windows Phone will do that as well as text messaging. 

In terms of social media most apps that did support Windows Phone now don't, with a few exceptions or third party tools, but don't expect a full experience. WhatsApp is definitely a no no and one that I use daily, Facebook and Messenger can be done as well as Telegram, via third party app and I think Instagram and Twitter can have web shortcuts.

Then it comes down to the app you wouldn’t think of straight away but you would miss not having. Not having my banking apps means I can't check my balances or manage my accounts.

There are some apps or services that can be accessed by a web interface, so you could use store cards, bonus cards and food delivery services that way, but it is a pain unless you can pin shortcuts to your home screen.

Although I am not sure how a Windows Phone browser can cope with modern browsing and services.

Gaming is not an issue for me. I don't game on my phone so the lack of mainstream games on Windows Phone isn’t an issue.

Taking pictures and shooting videos will be fine, just like any platform it all depends on the handsets as to the quality of the cameras, but even back in 2012, mobile phone cameras were pretty decent. It’s when you want to do something with those pictures – such as upload them to social media – or those videos – such as upload them to YouTube – that you will have issues, or just not find it as easy as a supported OS.

The lack of built in Google support – which I think was Google's deliberate way of stifling the growth of Windows Phone can be an issue. No native YouTube or Google Maps really was a hindrance for me back then – and having been invested in Android and the Google ecosystem the last few years, it wasn’t going to be easy.

I take a picture currently on my Android phone and it automatically uploads to Google Photos which I can access anywhere. I take a video and I can upload direct to YouTube.

You should be able to sync your Google account which should retrieve your Gmail and your Google contacts but that will be something I have to try.

As far as I can tell - as my phone hasn't arrived yet - the App Store is still up and running, but it's tricky finding items that will install and run on Windows Phone – especially one running Windows Phone 8 instead of Windows 10 Mobile.

I could have listed third party apps for some of the services I mentioned above, but I need to check them out before I recommend them.

There will be a part two to this article, where I have set up the phone and used it for a while. Depending how I get on with not having access to everything like I would on Android will depend how long I use it. Or I could surprise myself and it could be the break I need from having everything at my fingertips.

Watch this space.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal