Today I received my new Macbook Air. I pondered for a few weeks before getting it. My mind was finally made up by the fact that my brother-in-law could use my current Macbook, so I decided to upgrade. For day-to-day use, it offers everything I need and nothing I don’t, making it 40% lighter than the Macbook that I was lugging back and forth to work every day.
The first experience is that it’s small. It starts with the box it comes in. And the thinness and lightness of the computer itself aren’t adequately conveyed through the Web site or the television commercials, or even by seeing it in person. You have to hold it to get an adequate sense of just how compact and portable it really is. So it’s small, which I haven’t heard anyone deny.
The question that has stimulated all of the discussion, much of it remarkably petty and acrimonious, is does it achieve that smallness in a reasonable way? And that discussion generally centers on the exclusion of an optical drive and a FireWire port. While a Mac laptop will handle pretty much all day-to-day tasks without those, they’re very useful for initial set-up, installing new software, and diagnosing and recovering from various sorts of failures. In their place, Apple offers a variety of wireless alternatives. They also offer an add-on optical drive. So are the wireless options in a world of high bandwidth wireless connectivity sufficient? No. In my experience thus far, not even close.
When I opened up the box and pulled the computer out, the first thing I did was begin to reinstall the operating system. I generally do this when I get a new computer anyway, but in this case, I especially wanted to do it to be sure that, on an 80 GB hard drive, the operating system and bundled software took up as little space as possible and to see how the remote installation process works. So far, it’s simple and robust, but it’s unbelievably slow. On an 802.11n network using all Apple hardware and with only other 802.11n devices connected, I’m about 10% of the way through the installation process after two and a half hours. Where Apple was able to successfully do away with floppy drives before other hardware makers, it looks like they’ve been a bit premature in their attempt to do away with optical drives in favor of wireless alternatives. This just isn’t viable yet. I don’t know if it’s a hardware or software issue, but for now, the external optical drive should be considered part of the price and, perhaps, carrying weight of the Macbook Air. I hope it’s a software issue, so that I’ll see the benefit of its resolution.