Disaster and Air change my computer strategy

I’ve been a MacBook Pro user and before that a PowerBook user since there have been portable Macs. I moved to having a PowerBook as my sole machine many years ago and a 15″ MacBook Pro has been my only computer since they came out. My current three year old 15″ MacBook Pro is one of the last models before the line went unibody and I’ve been considering an upgrade for a while now.

Disaster
Yesterday afternoon I was doing some work downstairs with my MacBook Pro and was finished and ready to cook dinner. So, I closed the computer, walked upstairs to the office, opened the computer thinking I’d connect one of my externals and do a SuperDuper backup like I do every evening at the same time. When I opened the computer the optical drive made its typical noise but the machine didn’t wake up. I tried hitting the brightness button on the keyboard, waking it up with key hits, and then after trying every method I know to wake a stubborn MacBook Pro, I did a keyboard/power button reset. The machine’s optical drive made its sound but all I heard afterward was a click of the hard disk, a small flash of the sleep light, and the computer was dead.

I pulled the battery and unplugged it and held down the power button for 5 seconds to reset the power manager and that didn’t help either. I attempted to connect a backup firewire drive to it and hold option down to boot off the external but it didn’t get far enough into the boot process to recognize the other drive.

In short, I was in trouble. I wasn’t sure at that point if I’d crashed the hard disk or something else happened but that was the end of what I felt I could do.

Miniaturization isn’t always good
One of the liabilities of using a portable computer is the miniaturization of its components relative to iMacs and Mac Pros and between smaller hard disks, energy saving powering the machine up and down, and moving the computer around, components take a bit more of a beating than they do on the larger machines. Apple builds this increase in liability into the cost of AppleCare which is a lot higher on portable Macs but that’s never stopped me from buying it. I’m glad I have.

I called AppleCare and told them what happened and the very polite guy on the other end told me it might not be the hard disk, it might be the logic board and he made an appointment for me at the Apple Store in Danbury, Connecticut (my favorite local Apple store) and they would attempt to diagnose the problem before sending it in.

I made dinner and watched a movie to get my mind off of it but I was seriously bummed last night.

Luckily when these things happen my wife gladly loans me her 13″ unibody iBook (I’m using it now) and I had a SuperDuper backup from the day before that was bootable and so, I was back in business in a few minutes, minus some things I’d done during the day yesterday. Before going to bed I made sure that I could continue working on this setup and used MobileMe to pull down the few updates I’d made to my address book and calendar yesterday so those things are synced. I also tried to remember what I’d done during the day and updated a few files that I knew I’d worked on. My guess is no matter what happens to the MacBook Pro hard disk I’ll be fine.

I figured that this trip to the Apple store would also give me a chance to see the new MacBook Airs and see how readable their screens are relative to the iPad or to a 13″ or 15″ MacBook Pro.

MacBook Air
I walked into the Apple store early for my appointment and immediately went over to a table full of new MacBook Airs, both 13″ and 11″ models.

Each of these machines is spectacular in its own right. They’re both paper thin, very light, very sleek and extremely attractive. I was tempted to just buy one on the spot, seriously.

I shut both of them down and started them up to see how the solid state boot process worked and it’s very fast, amazingly fast. The 13″ which has a faster processor felt a bit zippier but for what most people will use these for they’re both fine. The 13″ as had been stated in many reviews, feels as fast as a MacBook Pro. It really does.

I then got both of them set up the way I’d be using them:

1. Changed desktop to a light blue instead of Apple’s space scene

2. Made the dock hide

3. I ran Safari and made the window fill the entire screen to give each an iPad like feel.

I went to this web site (Richard’s Notes) and read the last post. On the 13″ model, which has the same resolution as a 15″ MacBook Pro things were smaller than they look to me here on this MacBook (which is similar to my older 15″ MacBook Pro). Not too small to read but a bit smaller for sure. On the 11″ model, which also has a very high resolution screen, things shrunk more, a lot more.

But, and this is a big but, I didn’t find either of them unreadable. In Safari hitting Command + will increase text size and one size up on the 11″ did the trick. The 13″ could be left alone although it too was a lot easier to read in Safari with an increase of one text size.

I also tried using the Monitors control panel to reduce the resolution on each of them but using any of these machines in resolutions other than their native resolution seems to play havoc with antialiasing on text and I think the better solution for the cleanest screen is to increase text size in Safari rather than mess with native resolution.

I was able to hold onto these two MacBook Airs and walk over to an iPad and launch Safari and pull up my web site. The iPad in landscape orientation was just as readable as the 13″ without text size adjustment but the 11″, which compares with the iPad in footprint is a bit tougher to read. Again, the fix is simple in Safari although in other applications may be more complex.

Bottom line, I’d love to have either model of MacBook Air but if I had to choose one today I’d choose the 13″ model as it would be more universally useful to me and more readable.

But, that wasn’t the end of my exploration at the Apple store.

Back to the iMac
Given that I’ve just had a hardware failure on a 15″ MacBook Pro, my only computer, which gets used for everything all day long and given that it’s three years old, coming to the end of its life, and given that “cloud computing” with MobileMe, my iPhone and maybe an in between device like an iPad or a MacBook Air is starting to come into sharper focus, it seems like it’s time to toss the entire scenario up in the air again and come up with some other solutions.

If one isn’t going to be a one computer guy, what kinds of things could one do with the approximately $4000 it would cost to get a new high end 15″ MacBook Pro and a 27″ Apple display (with AppleCare on both).

Well, one could buy a 21″ iMac with a Core i5 processor, 8 gigs of memory, 2 terabytes of hard disk space and AppleCare for $2218. This gives you a very fast computer, a big monitor, bigger components, and cheaper AppleCare for a very decent price.

One could add to that a “low end” 13″ MacBook Pro with 4 gigs of memory and 250 gigs of storage for $1448. Maybe buy a low end iPad for the plane and have the small MacBook Pro and iPad as a traveling kit.

Or, one could add the 13″ MacBook Air with 4 gigs of memory, 256 gigs of flash storage and AppleCare for $1948.

Or, could could add the 11″ MacBook Air for a bit less money.

The Guy with the MacBook Air
After I started thinking about these things and then walked over to the 15″ MacBook Pro that I thought might be my next machine, it looked like a huge brick compared with the MacBook Air models or even its 13″ MacBook Pro cousin.

Wow, it may be that my days of being a 15″ MacBook Pro user are coming to and end. This is huge for me. I mean, if Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) uses a 15″ MacBook Pro as her sole computer, that’s about as cool as it gets, right? This is what I’ve been doing for years and years. But, my guess is that if Stieg Larsson had lived to write more books, Lisbeth would be using a MacBook Air in future episodes.

If I get an iMac that takes the pressure off of a single portable computer being a jack of all trades. The portable device can potentially be more like an iPad and be primarily a “reader” and only secondarily a creator.

While I’m not happy that my computer failed, I’m not sure I’d have come to this new place in my thinking about these things had I simply seen the MacBook Air models, as amazing as they are. I also had to reconsider the idea of having a desktop computer, not just for the big screen or lower price, but also for its durability.

I’m not sure I’ll be doing this entire change at once or when I’ll actually start doing it, but in reality, I could easily walk into an Apple store today and buy both the iMac and some kind of portable computer “companion” and be done with it.

Those are my notes. I’ll have more to add to this tomorrow after spending a day in New York with a friend who will be carrying an iPad. We plan to get to at least one Apple store in addition to the photo expo at Javits. Stay tuned.

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