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A Developer's Perspective on Apple's 12-inch PowerBook
Pages: 1, 2


You'll experience one of the real joys of PowerBook computing when you first use the keyboard.

The keys are the same size as those of a regular desktop keyboard, and they are a pleasure to type with. I'm usually very skeptical of notebook keyboards, but this one is a winner.

Photo of keyboard.
Figure4. The keyboard of the 12" PowerBook is a joy to use.

However, there were a couple of tradeoffs to get those full-sized keys into such a small space, and a few keys were sacrificed. The arrow keys and the function keys are all much smaller than regular ones. If your development work makes extensive use of them, be prepared for some frustrations.

Quick Reminder: You Now Also Have a $2,000 External Hard Disk. Most Mac users know that you can use your Mac as a secondary hard disk for another Mac when in FireWire target mode. There are times when this trick is quite handy, especially when adding a new computer to your Mac family. Simply connect two computers via a FireWire cable, and when the PowerBook is booting up, hold down its "T" key. Your PowerBook will then appear as a hard drive icon on the other Mac.

Using Multiple Screens

The 12" PowerBook comes with two video output adapters:

  • S-Video output adapter
  • VGA output adapter

Using the S-Video output adapter, you can connect the output of the PowerBook to a TV monitor, which is useful for multimedia presentations for medium-sized audiences.

Photo of the adapters.
Figure 5. The VGA output (left) and the S-Video output (right) adapters.

The VGA output adapter is useful for connecting the output of your PowerBook to another computer monitor. It supports video mirroring and dual display mode and allows you to extend the screen real estate of your Mac.

Photo of connecting the PowerBook.
Figure 6. Connecting the PowerBook to an external LCD monitor, in dual display mode.

Both the dual display and video mirroring modes simultaneously support resolutions of up to 1024 by 768 on the built-in display and up to 1600 by 1200 on an external display, both at millions of colors. To toggle between the two display modes, press F7.

One gripe I have with the built-in screen on the PowerBook is its resolution. At 1024 by 768, I would say this would be the minimum that I can accept for a portable computer. I usually run my desktop Mac at a much higher resolution, hoping to squeeze in as much screen real estate as possible. Of course, the answer would be to buy a larger 15" or 17" PowerBook (which both come with higher resolution), but that's not the point here.

One Hot Potato

What happens when you put a G4 processor in a small metal box and run it for hours? The term "I'm really cookin' now" takes on a whole new meaning. Maybe a key part of the PowerBook's design to augment heat dissipation is to use the attached human body as a heat sink. So be alerted that this machine gets toasty with use. I'd have to put this feature in the negative category except for laptop computing in Alaska, Sibera, and both of the poles.


Overall, I like the 12" PowerBook very much. With its anodized aluminum casing and the glowing Apple logo on the back of the screen, this machine is quick to turn heads. It also packs quite a bit of computing power into a small package, so I can lug it anywhere and instantly become productive. Thanks to Mac OS X, it plays nice with the other kids regardless of the computing environment I find myself working in. And let's face it, for a G4 notebook with a SuperDrive, the price is good.

The 12" PowerBook is faster than an iBook, but not as fast as a top-of-the-line TiBook or 17" PowerBook. It's a great computer for on the go, but probably not a desktop replacement, as many developers are using TiBooks. I'd like to see a faster hard drive, more RAM capability (which may be coming), L3 cache, and some way to incorporate USB 2.0. A little more screen resolution would be appreciated, too.

One final thought, do not rest this PowerBook on bare skin while working. You've heard the stories!

Wei-Meng Lee (Microsoft MVP) is a technologist and founder of Developer Learning Solutions, a technology company specializing in hands-on training on the latest Microsoft technologies.

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