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  • Why I Won’t Buy the MacBook Air

    January 31st, 2008

    All right, I have your attention. But I’m perfectly serious. You see, I like to get a new note-book every two years or so, which is sufficient time for the older model to seem laggard compared to the latest and greatest hardware.

    So it would seem that 2008 is the right year for me to begin to do some window shopping, and not for a Windows note-book I might add. Aside from cost considerations, I have to consider what works best for my particular situation, including the features I need and the ones I can sacrifice.

    Long ago, a Mac note-book had a screen of less than 10 inches, and that was a huge impediment to my workflow, particularly since my desktop Macs usually have the largest displays I can afford or acquire for extended evaluation. It’s so easy to become accustomed to a huge expanse of desktop space, and it can get quite claustrophobic when the screen real estate is reduced.

    So with a 17-inch PowerBook G4 — and later the comparably-sized MacBook Pro — I feel that I have a screen size that represents a suitable compromise. Apple doesn’t have note-books with larger screens. The Windows variants that do are big, clumsy, and just not suited to carrying around for long distances. To be sure, the larger MacBook Pro’s 6.8 pounds weight, plus lots of accessories, provides me with a rather heavy case to lug around. Since I’m not a backpack person, I just let it hang from my shoulder, which is alright for short trips, but not so comfortable when traveling from the airport check-in line, through security and then to the gate, which is always at the other end of the terminal.

    Maybe they do that to make us accustomed to the real pain, which comes when you’re crowded into the plane’s cabin as it taxis around endlessly waiting for permission from the control tower to take off.

    But, when I finally reached my destination, I’m pleased that I have most everything I need for comfortable portable computing.

    Then there’s the MacBook Air, and I’m skeptical.

    Granted the Air is a sharp looking computer, although being able to store it in a manila envelope may make it super easy to steal. While I haven’t worked on one, I have used the regular MacBook, which it closely resembles as far as the display and keyboard layout are concerned.

    With the MacBook, and the predecessor, the iBook, I felt unnaturally constrained. I seemed to spend inordinate amounts of time scrolling around to view the content I wanted. Imagine how I feel with the iPhone, although I have grown accustomed to its layout, and its limitations.

    But even if I could accept a 13.3-inch screen as adequate for my purposes, what about the 80GB hard drive? Well, my MacBook Pro has a 160GB drive, and there’s only about 40GB empty. It’s not that I am a pack rat. However, over time, things begin to accumulate, and it would represent a hard decision to copy that stuff to an external storage device, or dispense with it entirely. I suppose I could do it in a pinch, but why?

    Being confined to a wireless connection might be acceptable in many situations, but did Apple forget that some hotels still offer strictly wired Internet in their rooms? So I’d have to make sure that I get their external USB-based Ethernet adapter.

    But wait? What about an optical drive? Sure, I can network with one at home or at an office, where there’s another Mac or PC around, using Apple’s new Remote Disc feature? But where do I find the second computer in the hotel room, or on the beach? Do I look for strangers who might allow me to share their DVD drives? Do I even require one often enough to simply buy the external peripheral that Apple offers?

    Of course, if I want to have the optical drive and Ethernet connection serve me simultaneously, I need the portable USB hub. Does it have to be powered? Well, there goes portability.

    Now I am not concerned about the MacBook Air’s graphic limitations. I’m not a gamer, and my video requirements on the road are basic enough that the Intel graphics chip ought to be sufficient.

    Now when it comes to memory, I have to tell you that running Parallels Desktop with Windows Vista and my full assortment of regular applications taxes the 2GB on my MacBook Pro. My next note-book will be equipped with 4GB.

    Of course, with the MacBook Air, 2GB is the minimum and the maximum, as it’s hardwired to the logic board. Forget that option.

    On the other hand, I realize that there are many people in our audience who would not suffer from its feature omissions. For them, the MacBook Air’s light weight and good looks may be just the ticket.

    But not for me.



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    20 Responses to “Why I Won’t Buy the MacBook Air”

    1. Dave says:

      Why I’m waiting for mine to be delivered on Tuesday.
      I’m retired. I have a 24″iMac as my desktop machine. I need/like a laptop for the times I want to sit in my easy chair and just surf, do email, perhaps work the NYT puzzle and when we go away to our mountain home for 4 or 5 days. I also plan to take it on our cruises or trips instead of lugging my 5 lb powerbook.
      In short it’s ideal for a second computer. I can transfer my photos using USB (never bothered with a card reader). In my environment I have no need for a dvd/cd drive, no need for a separate graphics card, no need to swap in a second battery (I can listen to music or watch a movie on my iPhone or iPod).
      It just delivers the basics with a light weight form factor.
      I’ve already learned how to tilt my laptop so as to see the screen even if the guy in front of me on the airplane has his seat reclined.
      As far as connectivity on the go, I have always packed my airport express to take any ethernet signal and add wireless.
      (Besides my wife will be traveling with me and using my “old” MBP.)
      I understand your desire for hits thus your provocative headline but as the Macalope would say, hey he’s trotting out Artie MacStrawman.
      There’s a definite role for this product even though it may not be for you.

    2. David H Dennis says:

      I wonder about the psychology of the Air. I wonder if people are really boasting about how macho they need, in that they can’t live without a huge screen or massive hard drive. What I really wonder about is the strangely bitter tone of various reviews (albiet not Gene’s) where the implication is that the Air is stupid or people who buy it are less than macho men who need 17″ MacBook Pros.

      In the end, I’m too macho to leave my beloved 17″ form factor behind. But I hate this bitterness that I’ve seen in many of the Air’s reviews. It’s a very cool thing. We should enjoy it for what it is.

      Like Gene, I think the Air is great, just not for me. I look forward to playing with it in the store.

      D

    3. Andy Carolan says:

      I think that any laptop is a compromise on features that we all make use of with our desktop machines. But for much of any given feature its mainly down to its compromise in size. Screen SIZE, Memory SIZE, HDD SIZE, Keyboard SIZE. However, we still manage because the feature is still there allbeit in a reduced form. Its when features that we are all used to are omitted from the capabilities of the system. This is unfortunately the case with the “Air”. Ok, so the trade off for the lack of certain features is a thin, light, easily lugable computer that afterall still capable of most tasks that are thrown at it.

      Perhaps the advent of the “Air” represents a change in the way things are done at the user level. With WiFi speeds improving and Hot Spots more readily available the connectivity options ARE there, but you may have to look a little further to find them. The lack of a CD/DVD RW may well be a disability as Apple have chosen to supply it as an “option”, but how often does a regular user make use of it while on the road anyway and for what reason? If its for data backup, try a relatively cheep, high capacity USB memory stick.

      I guess you need to go with the system that has the feature set that you need and for many the “Air” will work out just fine. But if you are after something that will function as a viable desktop replacement, this is not the machine for you.

    4. Aaron says:

      Gene,

      If you feel too constrained by the MacBook then the MBA isn’t for you (personaly I don’t think that it’s for me either). The MBA is for a real specific type of user which, I don’t think you and I are.

    5. I think the significant question for Apple, however, is how many people are willing to accept the Air’s tradeoffs, and embrace it for its benefits and convenience in other respects, not to mention it’s sharp looks of course.

      No folks, I don’t think it’s another Cube. There is a definite audience for the thin and light notebook, even though I’m not a part of that audience.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. Adam says:

      Wow, I agree with everybody! My Macbook (rev A black) was my main system for almost a year. Then (when I got my own house) I bought a Mac Pro. Now I use my Macbook just as Dave describes so for me the MBA would be a good choice if I wanted to save 2.2 pounds. I don’t mind a backpack/courier bag so 5-1/4 pounds is really nothing for me to tote around. Threfore, the Macbook is perfectly adequate and I will not be replacing it anytime soon.

      I think the Macbook Air is a perfect product for a certain demographic. The traveler needing to take a subset of work with them. I believe that the MBA will be Cube/iPod like in that it is a great introductory platform for new design philosophies and components (flash memory main drives for example). Remember 1,000 songs in your pocket for “only” $500.00? Now you get 20,000 for half the price and the same physical form factor. The Cube was Apple’s first truly compact desktop machine. Much of what came from it has evolved into the present day Mini and iMac.

      The MBA does not need to be a runaway hit in order to be a success, or for that matter to benefit all of us down the line. It is not for everyone, myself included. I would not rule it out as my next portable Mac, but that’s likely 2-4 years down the road on my upgrade cycle. Ultimately, though, I think it will have value for me even if I never own one.

      Cheers

    7. Bill says:

      I think the MBA is more like the original iMac G3 than the Cube.

      It’s Jobs’ “computer appliance” yet again.

      Apart from the possibility of a 3rd-party battery, there are no upgrades for the MBA.

      It will be 2009 before an affordable, higher-capacity drive (either hard disk or SSD) is available.

    8. Brett says:

      You tell ’em gene! I always carry DVDs and CDs with me when I go to the beach. They were made for sand and surf. I too shall miss having a built-in optical drive.

      However, all is not lost. The Macbook Air’s wedge shape allows it to be used to dig sand castles.

    9. You tell ’em gene! I always carry DVDs and CDs with me when I go to the beach. They were made for sand and surf. I too shall miss having a built-in optical drive.

      However, all is not lost. The Macbook Air’s wedge shape allows it to be used to dig sand castles.

      There is that. But I’m a little past my sand castle days. 😀

      Peace,
      Gene

    10. Chris says:

      Actually, I really want one, but don’t need it. I have a great G5 iMac at work, and an Intel Mac Mini at home for all the desktop stuff. My MacBook is just used for web surfing, mail, and writing, and not much else. While there are smaller machines, I would never want to go with a smaller screen, so I love the form factor. As to the lack of I/O options, I rarely use more than wireless, BT and a single USB connection at any one time.

      My problem is that the MacBook has been working great, and isn’t showing any sign of quitting. Unless it meets with an unfortunate accident, then I don’t think I can justify upgrading for vanity!

    11. Dana Sutton says:

      The above arguments pro and con go to show that differences of opinions are what make for an interesting horse race. What might be more serious is to wonder about to degree to which smaller portable devices are going to render the laptop obsolete. Is it possible that the iPhone is going to have a negative effect on the sales of Apple’s laptop line? Used to be, if I were going to Cincinnati on a short business trip I might take a laptop just to read my e-mail, make some notes, maybe carry a document or two. Sure,a MacBook Air is lighter and more convenient than a standard laptop. But for purposes such as this how can it compete with a device I can simply stick in a pocket? As with the relation of the iPod Touch to the iPhone, I wonder how carefully Apple has thought through the problem of what ecological niche each of its products is intended to fill and how to keep its various products from cannibalizing each others’ sales.

    12. Dana Sutton says:

      The real problem is the degree to which smaller and more portable devices are going to make the laptop obsolete. It used to be that if I were going on a short business trip to Cleveland I’d take along my laptop for such basic purposes as reading my e-mail, accessing the Web, and taking notes. Sure, a MacBook Air is lighter and more portable than a standard laptop. But for purposes like this how can it compete with an iPhone? As with the relation of the iPod Touch to the iPhone, Apple’s problem is to keep its various products from cannibalizing each others’ sales.

    13. kenh says:

      I get the feeling that this is a machine that is being sold to test some concepts in the market that will show themselves in various ways in other products down the road.

      I don’t need it either because I have a 13.3 Macbook. But I will say that I carry a lot of stuff in my briefcase, and the struggle is always to fit it in with the Macbook. That 1/2 inch difference would matter to me, and when there is a later version of the MBA, I am sure I will go with it.

      I agree with Gene about the scrolling, I guess I have just gotten used to it over the years. I have not had a desktop machine for 5 years.

      Totally wireless would be fine with me out in my community, no problem there, but what really irritates me is that the school system that I work in, 6000 computers, is mostly Windows and is so locked down for “security” reasons that Wifi availability is difficult. It’s not a priority with the IT people since “no one uses it.” Well, no one uses it because they don’t maintain it, and in a brick building, you need a lot more points. I can walk across the street if I want to and piggyback off someones residential network, but I don’t.

    14. Robert says:

      Very good article. You followed a decision making process that took you to to the right decision for your own needs. The same thorough process could lead others to equally valid personal choices than might be very different than yours but right for them.
      If only the pundits of the world has the ability to think so logically and express themselves so clearly. But that might be asking too much. By the way, does anyone out there know the origin/derivation of the term “Pundit?”

    15. Very good article. You followed a decision making process that took you to to the right decision for your own needs. The same thorough process could lead others to equally valid personal choices than might be very different than yours but right for them.
      If only the pundits of the world has the ability to think so logically and express themselves so clearly. But that might be asking too much. By the way, does anyone out there know the origin/derivation of the term “Pundit?”

      If they did, I’d have less to write about 🙂

      As to the origin of the word “pundit,” maybe this will help a little:

      http://www.takeourword.com/et_n-p.html#pundit

      Peace,
      Gene

    16. Andrew says:

      After finally seeing and playing with a MacBook Air, I just have to have one. I am one of those frequent travellers (short-hop around town) that Apple designed this for, and for its intended mission it is perfect. I can finally retire my old Thinkpad X41 (which also uses a tiny and slow 1.8″ HD), and with Parallels, can even use a Mac for Outlook and Exchange.

      The non-swappable battery is a big downside for me, but I think with OS X’s superior sleep performance it will get through my typical workday without running out of juice.

      The only thing that keeps my money in my pocket is the horrible experience I had when I bought a then-new MacBook. That machine was replaced 3 times before I got one without serious defects, so I’ll wait a few months and see how the new Air does in terms of reliability. No more early-adopting of anything for me.

    17. Adrian (Potential 1st Time Apple Buyer) says:

      I have always been a DELL person. I’ve never used an Apple… well one time I have. I have a DELL XPS fully loaded notebook that I have used one time while traveling. I literally use my notebook for dumping photos into & surfing the net & checking email. For me personally I like the concept of saving the space & don’t need the huge hard drive. My notebook has a 160 GB Drive & is super fast. I could actually replace my DELL desktop with it. Anyway, I’m new to Apple & actually know little to nothing. From the little research I’ve done on the MBA it is perfect for what I need in a notebook. I’ve always been a MS Windows user though & it’s all I know. I’ve heard from many Apple friends of mine that once I get an Apple, that’s all I’ll want. I’m just wondering, can I still use Microsoft office tools, outlook, all my windows shortcuts? I guess I’m a bit nervous to go that route. Any feedback for a potential first time Apple buyer?

      Thanks,

      Adrian

    18. Brett says:

      @ Adrian (Potential 1st Time Apple Buyer)

      “I’m just wondering, can I still use Microsoft office tools, outlook, all my windows shortcuts? ”

      It’s up to you.

      1) You can obtain and install Windows (using Apple’s supplied Boot Camp software) on your MBA, and never again boot into OS X if that’s what you wish. Unfortunately, you would be missing out on the best part of owning a Mac.

      2) Or, once Windows is installed, you could use Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion to run your preferred Windows applications concurrently with OS X applications, thereby getting the “best” of both worlds.

      3) Or, if Office is your main application, you may be able to avoid Windows altogether by purchasing Microsoft Office for the Mac which is mostly equivalent to its Windows counterpart. Some power-user features are missing on the Mac version such as Visual Basic and Word macros. The Mac version of Word doesn’t support Microsoft’s very latest proprietary file format, but should still open all your legacy files, and save files that others can open on their PCs. Office for the Mac includes the Entourage email client rather than Outlook. It is more limited than Outlook but suffices for many people. I couldn’t tell you offhand what difference is.

      I’m not sure which “Windows Shortcuts” you typically use. It is likely that OS X offers similar shortcuts (and then some). Nevertheless, you should expect a little adjustment getting used to the Mac. Consider buying a book such as “Mac OS X Leopard: the Missing Manual” by David Pogue ($21 at Amazon.com). Your time will be rewarded.

      If you can, go visit an Apple store (or find someone who has made the switch) and ask to see how things are done in OS X. There is a reason people love their Macs.

    19. Adrian says:

      Thanks Brett! I’m going to try & set aside some time so that I can visit my local Apple store. I guess I want to know what I’m missing by not using Apple. All I know is Windows. I want to know what I’m missing by not using an Apple product.

      Thanks again!

    20. Lucy says:

      Well, to begin with I’ve bought a MacBook Air and I’m really glad with it. I find nothing really bad in this laptop. If you are in ultrathin and ultraportable, and you travel much, it’s just a perfect computer!
      Try to know more about this laptop: http://www.maconair.com
      May it can change your mind..

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