I’m in the market for a new laptop. Many developers I know and respect own an Apple Powerbook. They say the usability is much better than Windows XP. Friends also recommend the Powerbook. One of them, Chris Huston, said there is no contest between the Powerbook/OS X and a Windows XP laptop. He said it won’t be one big Powerbook feature that will blow me away. It will be 1,000 little features that will continue to impress me every day.

But I’ve never owned a Mac. I’m a long-time user of Windows, since the 3.1 days, and MSDOS before that. I think I’ve discovered every keyboard shortcut possible in Windows, and I’ve banished the Office paperclip and the scratching/sniffing Search puppy to the Recycle Bin. And, yes, I can write rudimentary Windows shell scripts, even though I’d much prefer BASH or CSH. So using Windows isn’t a problem for me.

But I also like Unix, so I don’t foresee the OS X command line as seeming strange. In fact, I’ve used Unix longer than any other operating system, starting with BSD Unix at college. I’ve used System V, HP-UX, AIX, and Solaris. And I’ve been using Linux on development boxes at home for more than five years, including customizing my own Linux and BSD kernels.

So I priced a 15-inch Powerbook at the Apple web site to see how feasible buying a Mac would be. Ouch. It would cost me $800 more for a Powerbook than a similarly equipped Dell. Is the quality of the Powerbook hardware and software that much better? Or does Apple take advantage of its loyal customer base and the fact it has really no competition for non-Windows laptops?

What I’m looking for is a laptop that has:

  • A fast processor for development, but not so fast that a high-speed fan system is needed to cool it. (The fans in my company-issued Pentium 4 laptop make a racket. When I run Ant/Maven or launch something huge like WebLogic, I keep expecting Newton’s third law to send it flying across my desk.)
  • A 15-inch screen is probably big enough
  • At least 1 GB of RAM, expandable to 2 GB
  • Hard drive 60+ GB
  • A non-fancy video card. I’m not a gamer or plan to watch movies from my laptop.
  • WiFi and USB 2.0 (almost standard nowadays)
  • CD burner, DVD reader.
  • Software to read and write Microsoft Word and Powerpoint files.

In other words, nothing too fancy. It won’t be my primary development box, but when I’m using it for development at a client’s site or on the road, it has to be fast enough not to irritate me with its pokiness.

My current question is, for my needs, do the features and usability of OS X really warrant the extra $800. Not to mention the extra frustration I will undergo getting applications like WebLogic 8.1 installed under OS X. (Folks at BEA say it is possible, they just don’t support it or make it easy.)