Scientific laptop fashion?

I must upgrade my computer soon. Meanwhile I keep my eyes open to see what is available and what might be suitable for me. I have even considered a laptop – so am naturally interested in what people are using.

I recently watched the videos of the Origins Symposium. It was great and well worth the time. However, I was a little distracted by the laptops presenters used. As many of the presentations were by panels of five or so people sitting in front of the audience their laptops were often lined up in a row.


Patricia Churchland favours Macs but steven Pinker doesn't!

This brought home to me how common Macbooks are these days. The apple on the lid really stands out. However, the other thing I noticed (and this is completely anecdotal) is that the proportion ofΒ  Windows (or at least non-Mac) laptops increased towards the end of the symposium.

The symposium started with “The Universe, Multiverse, Physical Laws” and progressed through “The Galaxy, Planets, and Life,”Origin of Species, Evolution, Human Origins” to “Consciousness, Complex Cognition, and Language to Culture: Cooperation, Morality & Institutions.” So I wonder if this means that astronomers and cosmologists overwhelmingly favour Macbooks while Biologists, sociologists and neurscientists favour Windows and Linux systems.

I appreciate that for historical reasosn graphic and photographic professionals mostly prefer Macs but wouldn’t have thought that there were similar reasons for most scientific professions. (Although I do remember Pamela Gay from Astrocast saying that some of the astronomical software originally only ran on Macs).

Or perhaps this is just a matter of scientific fashion (at a premium)?


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16 responses to “Scientific laptop fashion?

  1. Pingback: Scientific laptop fashion? Β« Open Parachute | Computer Laptop

  2. I think that because Macs are now Unix-based they can run software designed to run on Linux/Unix and because they look perrrty with their glowing apple lid they get noticed. But you could achieve the same thing for much cheaper (half the price?) by buying a Dell and installing Ubuntu on it.

    Windows = Christianity
    Mac = Hedonism
    Linux = Atheism πŸ™‚


  3. Now I am starting to feel uncomfortable because my experience has been limited to almost solely Windows. And I must admit the glowing apple was starting to look attractive – that makes me feel guilty.


  4. Damian,
    I use an ‘old’ Dell Latitude D600 (which does all that I need it to do), which has (of course) Windows XP on it. I’m interested in doing the Ubuntu thing. Is it pretty involved? And what about transferring all my files and browser settings? Any tricks?


  5. I luvz my laptop (although the downside is that work comes home with me :-)) but usually just load my presentations onto the conference venue’s system. But if they don’t have one or lack a screen up the front, I’d use the laptop – it’s nice to be able to see which slide you’re talking about, without having to turn round each time you click the mouse!


  6. Dale, the best thing to do is download Ubuntu, burn it to CD and try it out in LiveCD mode. What this does is it boots the whole operating system off the CD without touching your current install. If you like it you can proceed with the installation. If not, just take out the CD and nothing will have been lost from your Windows installation.

    Obviously, running from a CD is a bit slow but you’ll get a feel for the OS without having to lose anything.

    I’m running it on my (really really) old Dell Latitude C610 and it’s considerably faster than Windows XP was even with a miserable 256mb RAM and a 20gb hard drive.


  7. Thanks, Damian, I’ll have a go…

    [One active download (6 hours, 34 minutes remaining)]

    Big file, huh! πŸ™‚


  8. Yeah, it’ll be around 700mb. Bittorrent is perfect for downloading things like this. Faster and more reliable.


  9. Ha,

    From my experience macs are over represented amongst evo-genetics types, partly because of software (the only GUI for most popular phylogeny program was for PPC macs) but I also think it stems from IT departments – apple do pretty good deals for academic customers so departments get filled with macs, if you use one every day you’re more likely to want to get one for yourself.

    And what about transferring all my files and browser settings? Any tricks?

    If you decide you want to keep both windows and linux (dual boot) then the ubuntu partition will be able to read all your windows data fairly easily. I have a dual boot system (still need MS office) and have set up a partition that holds firefox and thunderbird profiles (and my inbox) so each OS can use them and write to them. (I know this sounds involved but it’s actually pretty easy, the hardest bit is setting up the partitions from windows).


  10. Alison – you’re being a bit coy there! Have you got a glowing apple on the lid? Are you a hedonist?

    Something I have noticed from watching videos of lectures and conferences is how many of the audience use their laptops during presentations. Do students actually take notes on their laptops these days?


  11. Ricardo Newbery

    I’ve been to several fairly high level computer conferences and I say it’s pretty common these days to see plenty of Mac laptops; up to 1/2 or more in some cases. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “laptop fashion” but at least in the case of computer professionals, I don’t think you can dismiss the popularity as the result of some frivolous cultural fad.

    In my humble opinion, Damian has it half right. Having used several different platforms myself, from Windows, OSX, to various other flavors of Unixen/Linux, the Unix underpinnings are probably a big reason. But so also is the pleasant and productive user interface. The ease-of-use, mostly-hassle-free desktop environment combined with the Unix goodness under the hood is a pretty attractive combination in many circles outside the mythical graphics/photographic Mac base. Although Ubuntu is starting to be fair contender.

    But I believe the appeal of the Mac user interface in some scientific communities also predates the OS X unix underpinnings. I remember in the early 1990s that at least in my college, the physics department seemed to be mostly Mac with some smattering of Unix for the computational and visualization folks, the engineering departments seemed to be mostly Windows, the chemistry department a mix of Windows and Unix, and the geology department primarily Unix and some Mac desktops.

    It seems that Macs have always been fairly popular in the physics/astronomy circles. Not sure exactly why that was so. The UI was arguably better than the alternatives during the early 90’s, although by the late 90’s it was showing it’s age, before OSX once again vaulted the Mac UI above all contenders of the time. Perhaps it was an ornery reaction to the popularity of the Windows platform in the business and engineering disciplines. Maybe it was the ready availability of physics-oriented software for the Mac. Not sure.


  12. I agree Ricardo; Macs have the nicest user interface.

    David, I too have to use Windows occasionally (for authoring in Flash mainly) but use VirtualBox to do so. For anyone unfamiliar with the process, you are basically running Windows from within Linux. The advantages of this are that you don’t have to deal with partitioning your HD or dual-booting and Windows can be given access to files that reside on your Linux file system.

    I used to use VMWare Workstation (which I paid a licence for) but moved to VirtualBox a year or two ago.

    Another cool aspect of running Windows as a virtual machine is that you can take snapshots and roll it back if you happen to break something or get a virus – which is particularly useful when you use it as a testing environment.


  13. A downside of running Windows as a virtual machine is that it won’t handle gaming because it doesn’t have the same full access to the hardware of your graphics card.

    If you want to continue to play graphic-intensive games on Windows then you are better off with a dual-boot system.


  14. hi Ken – no, I’m not a closet Mac-user; work provides me with a Dell πŸ™‚ I must say, the few times I’ve had to use a Mac somewhere else, I’ve struggled a bit, but that’s just a matter of familiarity (or lack of it!) with a system.
    Quite a few of my students use laptops during my lectures – I’d like to think that they’re either adding notes to their e-copy of the study guide or to the powerpoint, which is also available to them through our intranet. But I’ve never asked as I’d hate to find out they were instead playing games or catching up with their e-mail! I use mine for notes in meetings at times, but usually can’t be bothered disconnecting & taking it across, so use (fountain) pen & paper instead. Better doodles that way πŸ˜‰


  15. nice info for me, and i think Apple is really laptop fashionable, but Windows (especially Windows 7) and Linux is good too


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