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Burney's Gadgets for Legal Pros: Test Driving the MacBook Pro

By Brett Burney, Published on June 6, 2006

Brett Burney is the Legal Technology Support Coordinator at Thompson Hine in Cleveland, Ohio. He regularly reviews products for Law.com's Automated Lawyer and Law Office Computing Magazine. Feel free to e-mail Brett with your legal technology questions.

Link to Archive of Burney's Gadgets for Legal Pros



I had the recent honor to test-drive a 15" MacBook Pro for a few weeks. At one point in my life, I was the proud owner of an Apple IIc but ever since, I've lived in the world of the PC (as differentiated from Apple/Mac computers). I don't have anything against Macs, it's just that my environment has always demanded I stay on the PC side.

Spending a few weeks with the new MacBook Pro will change a man. I was so impressed with the usability, the workmanship, and the intuitive interface, that I wanted to jot down a few of my thoughts in this month's column.

Before I go any further, however, I want to mention two "Apple-heads" I greatly respect in the legal field - Jeffrey Allen and Randy Singer. Jeff has been using Macs for many years in his legal practice and Randy's incredible site holds a wealth of information on software that can be used on Macs in a law practice.

The big news with the MacBook Pro, of course, is that they are the first portable Apples running the Intel Centrino Core Duo Chipset. Part of the tech-universe folded in upon itself the day that Apple announced it would switch from IBM processors to Intel. Microsoft Windows and Intel have gone together like peanut-butter and jelly, but Apples have run on chips from IBM. It was a major coup and the results are truly astounding.

How Bout Them Apples?

For those who may not know, the MacBook Pro and all Apple computers run a totally different operating system than a Microsoft Windows PC. Windows gives us the familiar "folders" and "start menu." Macs have a "Dock" and a "mount" inserted CDs or USB memory sticks.

So anyone coming from the Windows world will need to take some time to familiarize themselves with all the differences they will face in a new Mac. I'm not saying this will be difficult, but for legal professionals, time is prized commodity and time will be needed for anyone crossing over from the Microsoft ship.

But as in many other things in life, if you're willing to invest some quality time in something, it can pay huge dividends.

For example, many of you have probably seen the new "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" commercials on TV (if not, they're hilarious and can be viewed from here). Macs are not as prone to restarts or viruses as Windows machines are. Now that's an overbroad statement, but it's still accurate, and a big advantage to those that don't have time to always stay on top of the latest computer security threats.

Right of the box, a Mac computer is generally more secure than a Windows counterpart. That alone is extremely appealing to legal professionals who horde a large amount of privileged or sensitive information on their computers.

That's not to say that Macs are bullet-proof - we all must practice "safe computing" at all times, regardless of what kind of computer we use (i.e. don't open e-mail attachments, use a firewall, etc.).


With all this good news, it's a wonder that Macs aren't more prevalent in legal and professional offices today. One reason is because Apple focuses more energy on "life stuff" rather than professional office applications, although this is starting to change a little. If you've ever wanted to create home movies, or organize digital family pictures, or compose your own tunes, a Mac can make you look like a professional with just a few clicks of the mouse. All of this can be done on a Windows machine but it will require additional software and some digital skills. Macs have all the software pre-installed and you'd be amazed at how easy it makes these tasks.

Mac the Knife

So how could a legal professional use a Mac in their practice? I'll put forward a couple of my own thoughts but will defer to the greater minds I mentioned earlier since they are actually using Macs in their current practice.

With all the rivalry that occurs between Microsoft and Apple, many people may not know that Microsoft actually has a group that focuses on creating software for Macs. The flagship product from this group is Microsoft Office.

At Mactopia.com you'll find a ton of info about Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac. Office 2004 includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Entourage (which is basically Outlook for Macs). Since the majority of the working world uses Microsoft Office (usually on a PC), Office for Mac makes sense because it will be familiar and compatible with anyone you share documents with.

While Microsoft Office might be the most obvious "office application" that comes to mind for the Mac, it barely touches the surface. Macs are wondrous for giving presentations - either with PowerPoint from Office for Mac, or Apple's own Keynote which is a fabulously captivating presentation tool.

There are many specialized applications for the legal world on Macs, and I again point you to the Randy Singer's MacAttorney for a great list of such products.

Sign Up For Boot Camp

Perhaps the biggest crossover story with the Intel-based Macs is the possibility that they could run both the Apple operating system (called Mac OS X) and Microsoft Windows. Up until this point in the history of technology, one machine running both operating systems was an impossibility for the average computer user. But now that Macs run on Intel chips, and Windows has always run on Intel chips, the future is obvious.

In fact, the future is already here in the form of the still Beta software from Apple called Boot Camp. While I had the MacBook Pro, I had the opportunity to download, install and use Boot Camp, which allowed me to install a full Windows operating system on a partition of the hard drive. When I booted up the MacBook Pro, I could select whether I wanted to run the Mac OS, or Windows.

Windows on the MacBook Pro was spectacularly fast and responsive. Since the Boot Camp software was still in Beta, there were some drivers missing, but overall, it was just an impressive experience.

Running Boot Camp convinced me that one of the last barriers why consumers shy away from Macs has been removed. If people can buy a slick-looking Mac and run both Mac OS and Windows, they get the best of both worlds.

Cream of the Crop

As you can already surmise, I am thoroughly impressed with the MacBook Pro. And the more I used it, the more I found to like.

For example, I didn't realize at first that the keyboard illuminated itself in low-light conditions until I was working and turned down the lights so my daughter could sleep.

Second, I regularly get frustrated connecting to a wireless network when I use my Windows-based laptop. But with the MacBook Pro, I hardly ever had a problem jumping on to hotspots immediately.

The MacBook Pro was speedy and powerful. The screen was wide and beautiful. The battery life was average and overall operation was whisper-quiet.

The only complaints I could raise with the MacBook Pro would be heat and the decision to include an Express Card Slot over a regular PCMCIA slot.

All laptops generate heat, and some deal with it better than others. I didn't notice it too much on the MacBook Pro until I created a video. Fortunately I had it on a desk, but if it had been sitting on my lap, I would have expected my skin to crisp up a little.

The PC slot complaint may be a tad bit obsessive, but Apple decided to drop that format for the newer Express Card Slot. One reason is because PC cards take up so much room, but the bigger reason is that the technology for PC cards are so old. It's probably a good bet that the Express Card Slot is the future, but I just don't know if we're quite ready for it yet.

I don't think I am personally ready to tell legal professionals that they should buy a Mac, but we're definitely getting closer to that. Most legal software applications are not "Mac-friendly" and as I mentioned above, it will take some time for Windows-users to get familiar with all the goodness that a Mac has to offer - and I don't know too many lawyers that have that kind of patience.

In the few weeks since I enjoyed my MacBook Pro, Apple has announced a 17" model, along with the smaller, 13" widescreen MacBooks.