Sunday, 18 December 2011

Confirmed: The Best Computer Ever

I have been known to claim over these pages that I want to buy a MacBook Air because I am of the opinion it is the best computer ever. Now that I have bought and used one over several weeks, I am here to confirm my initial speculation: the MacBook Air is, by far, the best computer I have had the pleasure of working/playing on.
When I say “the best”, what I mean is that it is the device most suitable for my needs. Others’ needs may vary, obviously; what I will do next is explain why the MacBook Air is such a hit so you can make your own mind up as to whether these attributes are relevant to you, too. So here goes – these are the reasons I consider the MacBook Air the best:

  1. Incredible ergonomics and finishing: The combination of being ultra light and portable, together with the very decent keyboard and mouse pad, is sealed off with a decent screen or a respectable and quite usable size (13”, in my case).
  2. Decent grunt: Between its I5 CPU and 4GB of RAM, this is a pretty powerful computer. Not the most powerful ever, nothing that can play the latest Modern Warfare, but more than enough for what I need and foresee needing in a portable platform.
  3. Solid state drive: The MacBook Air represents my second proper computer experience with solid state drives replacing conventional hard drives. However, unlike my first generation Asus Eee PC, the difference is huge! The speed advantage of solid state is not marginal but rather that of an order of magnitude, and it expresses itself in everything I do with the Mac – from booting to processing photos. So much so that going back to the hard drives of my other computers feels like being thrown back to the dark ages.
  4. The screen: The MacBook Air’s screen is worth mentioning on its own. It’s not only of particularly high resolution, it is very clearly superior to all other portable computer screens I have seen before. Placing it next to my other laptop makes the difference dead clear. It comes down to Apple choosing superior hardware: there are three different types of LCD screen technologies; most laptops choose the cheapest, Apple chose the best.
If I were to sum it all up it would come down to this: the greatness of the MacBook Air comes from it being an exceptionally well designed piece of hardware.

Notably missing from my descriptions of the MacBook Air’s greatness are references to the Mac OS X operating system, now in its Lion incarnation. Is it because I don’t think much of it?
Well, no. I think it’s very good, and I can clearly see why no one exposed to the Mac world would ever want to go back to Windows. The majority of issues that the less tech savvy amongst us encounter with their PCs are never a problem on a Mac. Inside Apples's kingdom, things really come down to switching the computer on and using it through intuitive controls with hardly a need to perform any maintenance.
My problem with OS X, if you want to call it a problem, is not Windows; my problem is Linux. It’s just that I think Linux, at least in its Ubuntu incarnation, provides all the benefits that Apple does with its OS X, but does it better and for free. It’s just a pity there is no industry wide support for Linux: if Linux got as much attention as OS X or Windows are getting, the latter two wouldn’t exist.
There is another problem with OS X: it’s closed nature. Why is it, for example, that my Mac won't write to an external hard drive that has been formatted the Windows way? For that matter, why can’t Windows deal with Mac formats? And why can Linux be happy to deal with either, while offering additional formats that are superior to what both Apple and Microsoft offer?
There are other minor pains, such as Apple's over exuberant attempt to reduce keyboard buttons manifesting itself in me having to google for the right key combination whenever I want to grab a screen shot. Not to mention having to google the first time I wanted to do a right click. These are minor gripes, though.
On the positive side, Apple does know how to appeal to the consumer. This comes in simple things, like the Photobooth application that uses the webcam to take your photos and process them creatively: it turns you into an alien, places dizzy birds circling over your head, or puts you on a rollercoaster ride. There’s ample potential there for entertaining a family with a four year old, especially when you compare what’s bundled with a Mac to the bloatware contaminating most Windows hardware.

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