Sunday Feb 08, 2009

Apple Macbook Air

For over 12 years now I have run either Solaris or Linux on my laptop but increasingly found being system administrator for my laptop was less and less rewarding and more of a chore. I have been looking at Macs for sometime as a possible alternative and then last year I saw the Macbook Air. I blame Simon Phipps for this since it was him who forced me to divert on my to a meeting in Canary Wharf to go to the Apple Store at Oxford Circus to pick up a DVI to VGA converter that he had forgotten to bring for a presentation we were doing. Centre stage in the store was the newly launched Macbook Air in the flesh and I could not resist taking a look at it. It was beautiful and I was smitten. Once back home I ordered one and then suffered the agony of waiting 6 weeks for it to arrive. So why take so long to blog about it. Well I wanted to use it for a while and make sure I was well out of the honeymoon period and had discovered all of it's faults so that could provide a more sensible analysis of it's strengths and weaknesses. Also at it's launch there was much talk of it's shortfalls and I wanted to see if these were really the terrible handicaps that many reviews were making out.

So nearly 1 year on how is my Macbook Air. It still remains my favorite piece if IT technology ever. It is just beautiful both to look at and to use. Is it perfect? NO it has just one minor flaw. Due to it's stunning looking thin design there is nowhere to attach a desk lock and for such a desirable piece of highly portable kit this is an issue. So what about the lack of DVD drive. Well I had one of those in all my previous laptops and rarely used it, in fact I was thinking of getting the optional extra from Toshiba that was an extra battery that slotted into the space left by removing the DVD drive in order to extend battery life. I actually bought the USB DVD drive with the Macbook and I have NEVER used it. So what about the lack of USB ports. NOT a problem I rarely attach anything to the 1 USB port I have. Most things connect with Bluetooth or WiFi, I no longer carry a bag full of USB sync cables and everything else I sync with my desktop machine at home. OK so surely the lack of a removeable battery is an issue. NO while I had additional batteries for previous laptops I was always forgetting to carry them or charge them and so rarely got any benefit from them and even if I did remember to charge them and carry them it extended my battery life to 4-5 hours which is what I get from my Air. OK so what about replacing it when it won't hold charge any more well I have 2 choices. Firstly I could send it back to Apple for them to replace it. Secondly I could read one of the dozens of blogs that explain how to buy a battery on ebay and do it yourself.

So we have done what is bad about the Air but what makes it so special. Well it is light. thin and stunningly good looking. Battery life is great (even on the HDD model that I have - my wife would not approve the budget for the SSD version). It is instant on/off when you open and close the lid. So much so that I have found that I no long use my PDA but go straight for the laptop. The famous Mac OS X GUI is just a joy to use and so productive. Finally the thing runs for weeks without the need for a reboot. My Windows laptop could not run for a full day without crashing or locking up and requiring a reboot. OK so Mac OS is not as solid as Solaris but it beats Windows and Linux in terms of stability as well as usability. I have been so pleased with the Mac OS usability that following a spyware infection on my desktop PC at home which took 5 days to clean off I decided to buy a Mac Mini to replace it. The built in webcam also makes it great for Skype Video which I use extensively to keep in touch with the kids when I travel. Their favorite game now is getting a guided video tour of Daddy's hotel using the free lobby wifi. Finally when I want to geek about I open a shell tool and there is a UNIX prompt offering me man, awk, perl, gcc and CLI access and with X11 server I can access all my applications on my Solaris server or SunRay server.

Oh yes. I still run OpenSolaris on my laptop. On the Air I run xVM VirtualBox with images for OpenSolaris, Fedora, Ubuntu and OpenSuSE.

So in summary if you want a portable desktop with removeable battery, copious I/O and a DVD drive get a Macbook Pro that is the right machine for you. If you want something similar size and weight to a netbook but with the CPU and memory of a desktop, with long battery life and stunning good looks buy a Macbook Air. The Air should be every road warriors weapon of choice. The phrase that I keep hearing from every Mac convert is "Isn't it great, it just works".




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