The MacBook Air: It was supposed to be so easy

I finally bit the bullet and picked up a MacBook Air. Ubuntu 11.04 had a problem with remote folders breaking after waking up from a suspend. That was the last straw. I’m fine with paying more so I can spend time hacking on web stuff instead of troubleshooting desktop issues.

For all the hype, I expected a machine descended from the heavens; a laptop from the desk of Zeus. These religious aspirations for a notebook were a bit misplaced because there are a number of problems with the Air’s experience. This is not a critique of Lion, the hardware, or any one organization in particular, but a quick dialectic on the overall user experience, including third party applications.

Problems:

  • No out-of-the-box support for remote folders via SSH. Ubuntu makes this a breeze. I spent way too long following blogs to find out how to set this up. I eventually bought an app called transmit that does the job.
  • I’m expected to pay money for a decent text editor? Notepad++ and Gedit are both fantastic and free. TextMate better be the best thing since canned bread.
  • Homebrew depends on Xcode which is over 3 gigabytes. There isn’t a ton of space on this SSD.
  • Have to buy $15 Thunderbolt to VGA adapter to use with my LCD screen.
  • Sometimes the command key ⌘ functions like a Windows control key, as in copy-paste, but other times it doesn’t, like when switching through tabs in Chrome.
  • Mail doesn’t work. Gives IMAP error when trying to log in to Gmail. Probably due to my Gmail settings, but no indication of this.
  • When compiling stuff the fan really makes a fuss. The hot area is small, but too hot to touch.
  • Brew fails to compile dependencies for SSHFS. Not going to troubleshoot this.
  • When computer speakers are plugged in, I can hear very faint interference from a TV or radio station. Seriously.
  • “Delete” key appears to do nothing in Finder. I assume this is because it’s really the backspace key.
  • When using a USB mouse, the scrolling direction is reversed. I can change this in the settings, but then all the touchpad gestures are reversed.

Bright spots:

  • Boot time is unbelievable. I tried to time it but it completed before I started the timer.
  • Terminal included, Chrome and FF easy to set up.
  • Keepass + Dropbox work exactly the same way as they do on Windows, Linux, and my Android phone. Way to be consistent.
  • Heat is contained to the area above the function keys.
  • Dead silent when fan isn’t spinning.
  • Supportive community with lots of recommendations
  • Keyboard shortcuts and gestures will save a lot of time.

A number of positive things go without saying. I didn’t have to hunt down Wi-Fi or video drivers and I didn’t have to re-install the OS just to get rid of bloatware. But, for $1,343.79 I expected a little more divine intervention.

On the whole, the problems listed are pretty minor. I was able to get a comfortable working environment set up in a few hours. I’ll be spending inordinate amounts of time with this machine for the next few years, so send some OSX productivity tips my way.

Edit: Disregard everything above this line. This is why it was worth it:

Update 11/24/2011: Buying any other computer would have been a poor choice. I carry this machine everywhere. Keyboard shortcuts and gestures really are worthwhile; I don’t use an external mouse anymore.

2 Replies to “The MacBook Air: It was supposed to be so easy”

  1. Woo!

    I used Textwrangler for a long time and then bought BBEdit.

    Command + delete in finder does the trick

    Try Alfred or Quicksilver for a launcher. I love Alfred. Both transform the experience for you.

    Try Omnifocus for GTD. I love it.

    1. That Alfred site is a marvel of modern design.

      I’ve been using Sublime Text 2 for a few weeks now. Very happy with it.

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