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My 15-inch PowerBook G4 hard drive bought the farm a few days ago. But not to worry—thanks to a comprehensive backup strategy and talented IT professionals, I haven’t lost any data I can’t easily replace. (What? You weren’t worried whatsoever? That’s not very empathetic of you.) Even better, since I’m now based in San Francisco as opposed to Los Angeles (where I was the last time something like this happened ), I have access to a great many backup systems. So really, the only productivity lost to this particular mishap was time spent making sure the applications on my backup system were configured to my exact specifications and regaling co-workers with my tales of hard-drive woe. (They’re not a particularly empathetic bunch either, as it turns out.)

The time spent waiting for my PowerBook to be rebuilt to its former glory gave me some extended exposure to two different pieces of Apple hardware—one that represents the future of the company and another from its not-too-distant past. I found the future to be a lot more appealing.

The future, in this case, was represented by an iMac Core Duo—my first prolonged use of an Intel-powered Mac. I haven’t made the transition to Intel just yet because… well, I haven’t. Your faithful correspondent is a busy man who uses several applications not yet available as Universal Binaries. And I was hesitant to commit to new hardware if it meant a lot of thumb-twiddling while waiting for Photoshop to do its thing using the Rosetta emulation technology.

After spending some time with the iMac Core Duo, I think my concerns may have been a little overblown. The Rosetta-ized Photoshop wasn’t exactly fast, but I wouldn’t call it a productivity killer, either. (Disclaimer: My Photoshop needs are fairly modest compared to, say, a graphic pro’s; if you spend most of your working day using a non-Universal program like Photoshop, your satisfaction level will be vastly different from mine.) Indeed, I probably wouldn’t even have noticed that I was using an Intel-based Mac if not for the “Intel-based Mac Demo System” label one of my co-workers has taped to the machine. I think that seamless experience happens to be a good thing.

Less positive was my interaction with a 12-inch PowerBook G4, the only laptop available when I needed to do some mobile Macworld work while my 15-inch model remained on the disabled list. The arrival of the MacBook has relegated the 12-inch PowerBook to the ash heap of history—and not a moment too soon as far as I’m concerned.

That 12-inch PowerBook is small—way too small for my tastes. I’m usually a pretty proficient typist— Peter Cohen describes it as a “piston-like typing motion that’s truly frightening to behold”—but I found that most of my typing effort with the 12-inch PowerBook was spent on hitting the Delete key after one of my apparently-pudgy fingers pressed the wrong key for what seemed like the 70th time in a row.

And here’s the thing—the keyboard on my beloved 15-inch PowerBook and the thrice-damned 12-inch model are pretty much exactly the same size. (That’s 10.75 inches wide and a little more than 4 inches deep with the letter keys 0.75-by-0.75 inches, give or take a fraction of an inch.) Do the vents that ring the side of the 15-inch PowerBook’s keyboard have that much of a psychological effect on my fragile eggshell mind? (Even more puzzling: I have no problem at all typing on my wife’s iBook G4. Explain that one to me, doctor.)

I know the 12-inch PowerBook has its partisans—Jason Snell claims to be a really big fan, though I notice that didn’t stop him from replacing his with a MacBook —but for my taste, the small screen made it too tiny for me to take it seriously as a professional laptop. If someone could enlighten me as to its appeal—and why Apple should consider bringing back the 12-inch form factor in future Intel-based laptop offerings—I’d be interested in hearing the rationale.

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