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  • What Mac Features Do You Want to Give Up?

    February 17th, 2011

    When the first iMac arrived in 1998, loads of Mac users — and the usual skeptics — complained about what you lost. Where was the SCSI port? Where do you connect a mouse and a printer? And no floppy drive? How dare they?

    As you may recall, the original Bondi Blue iMac had Ethernet and USB, but that was it; all the other ports to which Mac users were accustomed were gone. No ADB for input devices, no LocalTalk for printers, no SCSI for hard drives, scanners, and other stuff. Of course, that also meant you were free of SCSI conflicts, which could sometimes cause your Mac to hang unyieldingly while trying to get data from a hard drive.

    If you wanted to connect a peripheral using a different connection method, you needed some sort of adapter, assuming one was available. There were also external floppy drives for those of you who couldn’t break the habit, but they only worked with the higher capacity 1.4MB or HD variety. As far as the rest of the floppies were concerned, well, good luck, or just use a different Mac.

    USB was especially troublesome, because few devices supporting that protocol were available. Indeed, USB first debuted on the Windows side of the tracks, but it went nowhere until it was embraced by Apple on the iMac. Of course, with a Windows PC, you had loads of legacy ports too, so USB wasn’t required. Apple changed the rules.

    It took a while for Mac users to become accustomed to such changes. If you opted to buy a Power Mac, you’d often order it with a SCSI card so you could use your existing external drives and scanners. Apple’s FireWire, which debuted on the Power Mac, and ultimately arrived on the iMac, was meant to replace SCSI functionality in large part.

    The point is that Apple, under the direction of Steve Jobs, was fearless when it came to removing older technologies and adopting new ones. These days, the iPod, which debuted as a FireWire device, only supports USB. FireWire has vanished from the MacBook and MacBook Air. Apple has never even considered adding a Blu-ray drive, although they are available from third party vendors. Blu-ray, according to Steve Jobs, has complicated licensing schemes that amount to a “bag of hurt.”

    The MacBook Air even lost the Ethernet port, because it was meant to connect wirelessly as much as possible. There’s no internal optical drive either, although both are available as USB-based accessories. I wonder how many of you actually buy them.

    As rumors expand that a new generation MacBook Pro is already in production, you have to wonder whether Apple is picking up a trick or two from the MacBook Air. While Ethernet, USB, and a single FireWire 800 port, are probably givens, can you depend on an optical drive? How often do you really need one?

    I’m not just referring to CDs and DVDs. Some of you might use optical media for backup, and what about installing software? Yes, the Mac App Store helps in moving software installations to the cloud. Many of the most popular apps you buy are also available unboxed from other sites; even the Adobe Creative Suite, though it’s one huge download if you go that route.

    Not having an optical drive means a lighter weight portable computer, with one less mechanical device to break. Whether it presents an inconvenience depends on your requirements. I know that my MacBook Pro has been here for 10 months, and I’ve used the optical drive maybe once or twice. The iMac, purchased in late 2009, has had its optical drive working more often, maybe once a month. I suppose an external drive would comfortably replace both. As with the MacBook Air, your OS backup can be reduced to a small USB drive, but don’t lose it when you toss out the trash.

    Apple’s approach is thoroughly different from most consumer electronics companies. The normal approach is that, once a hardware feature is added, it rarely goes away. Apple long ago decided that good design is not just knowing what features to add, but what to avoid, or, in fact, remove.

    I can’t say that a MacBook Pro without an optical drive would be a great seller. It may be too premature to wean many Mac users from a hardware component long taken for granted. At the very least, Apple will need to offer an external drive, as an option, for those of you who are still devoted to optical.

    At the very least, expect to see more and more solid state drives offered, at least as an option. I expect they are still far too expensive if you require 480GB or more. Going from the standard 128GB on the 13-inch MacBook Air to 256GB adds $300 to the purchase price.

    Apple’s designers, and Steve Jobs of course, have the gift of understanding where technology is going. Features may vanish from Macs or mobile gadgets. You won’t like it, but, after a few years, you’ll see the method in Apple’s madness.



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