Laptops optimize

Why mobile staff need to embrace Apple's new MacBook Air

Erik Eckel explains why he thinks the MacBook Air is the perfect computer for mobile workers. Share your thoughts on the Air and its most able competitors.

Mobile staff, true road warriors, understand the importance of carrying highly dependable, highly reliable computers. Battling slow-booting systems, malfunctioning hardware or potentially virus-infected computers is no place to find oneself when on the road, short on time, and needing to efficiently complete pressure-intensive tasks.

Frequently organizations turn to lower cost consumer-grade 64-bit laptops (64-bit chosen by the manufacturer in order to tout excessive RAM even though few applications leverage the architecture) featuring substandard chassis possessing a lifespan of 12-24 months in the field. These systems don't get the job done. I've seen far too many clients, having picked up other major-name brand laptops on their own, experience optical drive, display and disk issues, as well as software problems within just months of purchase.

There's no room for such failures when traveling. Mobile users would be well served, however, to consider embracing Apple's new MacBook Air. For starters, Apple's customer service and satisfaction ratings persistently rank exponentially higher than any other manufacturers'. Such empirical measures attest to Apple's lower incidence of failures, as well as the company's ability to correct issues when they do occur.

The newly designed MacBook Airs offer other advantages, too. Because the machines run Mac OS X, they provide impressive performance using a platform that's virtually immune to the ever-growing list of malware plaguing Windows users. New models leverage flash storage, too, which eliminates the need for slower, less energy efficient hard disks. As any seasoned road warrior will attest, battery life is critical. The new MacBook Airs, used in real-world wireless environments, last anywhere from five to seven hours depending upon model.

Despite weighing just 2.3 pounds, a critical factor when incessantly bouncing out of taxis or rental cars, setting up shop in hotel or meeting rooms, climbing onboard aircraft, and waiting to clear security lines, users don't sacrifice performance. The new laptops boast powerful but efficient Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs, integrated 802.11 b/g/n wireless and Bluetooth, VGA, DVI, Dual-Link DVI, and even HDMI output using available adapters and impressive video performance thanks to NVIDIA GeForce chipsets. Systems can also remain in standby mode, enabling very fast startup cycles, for up to 30 days.

In short, Apple MacBook Air computers provide traveling staff with fast, secure, lightweight and reliable laptops that excel in the field. Considering the systems can even be configured to boot Windows (either natively or within a virtual machine), I'm hard pressed to see why any traveling staffer should leave home without one.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

27 comments
pcamusic
pcamusic

This is indeed an amazing little machine. Please note: Apple does NOT support Windows XP on this computer- you must run Windows 7. My local Apple store didn't know it and even Apple Care didn't know it but when I got tickets to set up 2 of these for customers (Enterprise) I got quite the surprise as we were still in testing for Windows 7.

bhall
bhall

Have none of you people ever used a Mac in an enterprise? The toolsets that are available on the Mac are so limited compared to features available for Windows. Just try to reschedule a single occurrence of a recurring event with multiple invitees, using Outlook 11 or Entourage. Or maybe you want to stylize some text on a Sharepoint site, well you better know some HTML. You can ignore all this talk of hardware specs and battery life, it doesn't matter if the software only has 1/2 the features. The reality is that the stuff we're all used to doing to manage ourselves, our day, our staff, and our work, on a PC simply isn't there on a Mac in the Enterprise. While the Mac may be perfect for my husband, who works for himself at home and uses a public e-mail provider and MobileMe. Me, I'm stuck flip-flopping between my Mac and Parallels. I Love my Mac, it is a spectacular piece of engineering. The hardware is beautiful, but the software (beautiful too) is engineered different than Windows & sometimes they just don't work together. The bane of my existence is the Mac's TRUTH database--it is the local master of all synchronization. But in an Exchange environment, the Exchange server is the master of all synchronization. That makes 2 Masters--sometimes the Truth gets to be the boss, sometimes Exchange gets to be boss. It is kinda like when I was a kid and asked Mom if I could do something & she said no, so I'd just ask dad, who usually said yes--well you better watch out when Momma found out! I was recently asked what the big deal was between Macs and PCs. My response: If the Mac were driving a car and it wanted to turn right, it would make a 90 degree right-hand turn. If the PC were driving, it would merge to the left lane and take a left hand "jug handle" to make a 270 degree left turn, eventually ending up at 90 degrees from where you started. Do you still get to the same place? Yep. My environment is 30% Macs, and that isn't going to change. Fortunately, most of our Mac users are not aware of the full scope of what they're missing out on. But as the consumerization of technology progresses, and more Macs get incorporated in the enterprise there will be a new class of user that is aware of these limitations, and won't stand for it. It will become IT's fault. Running a Windows-based tool like Parallels isn't a reasonable solution. While it does provide the PC tools, it takes valuable computing resources, HD space and cold hard cash. Why do I have to pay for tools for two environments on one piece of hardware? That's ridiculous. Not to mention that it takes 2 guys in my iT department to configure my Mac. First the Mac guy gets it all set-up with software and installs Parallels. He then hands it off to a PC guy to install all the PC applications. Same thing goes for troubleshooting. Here's my version of an old joke--Q: How many Tech guys does it take to fix Beth's printing problem? A: All of them. Sad, Sad, Sad!

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Why would anyone want to use a notebook with a 3 year old CPU? Jeez. Mini-display port? So you need to carry one or more adapters around if you want to hook it up to a "normal" screen. Drop it on a hard floor once [or twice] and you can probably kiss it goodbye.

gechurch
gechurch

I agree that you are a hundred-fold less likely to get a virus on a mac, and I love that it goes from sleep to standby after an hour (why doesn't Windows do this by default - it's simply the way it should be). I'm glad I clicked on the link Eric provided. That thing really is amazingly thin, and as you would expect from Apple it's a great design. I have heard claims of 5-7 hours battery life from Windows laptops too, and they are generally bogus. Yes, it can get 7 hours if you dim the screen until you can hardly see it and then do nothing other than solitaire for the next 7 hours. But no, that doesn't count as useful. But this Macbook has about two thirds of the internal space taken up by batteries, so it's claims may well be true. Then again, what they don't show you is the side-on view. The batteries may be long and wide, but they can't be much more than about 5mm high at their thickest end. When you consider that, there's probably less battery than your average laptop. The flash chips on these things are interesting too. They're soldered onto the motherboard instead of enclosed in a 2.5 inch SATA drive. Great for saving space, but you'd want to hope nothing goes wrong with them (which they shouldn't - they're a very resilient technology), and you'd better not want to upgrade! The price of these Macbooks looks pretty decent too, considering they have SSD's. Now for the negatives... despite this machine having some genuinely interesting features, I can't help feel that this article was again a let down. It sounded more like a paid advertisement than a genuine recommendation. And once again, as I am coming to expect from Eric's Apple articles there is no mention of the negatives. This thing has no optical drive, comes no larger than 13", has no kensington lock connector, can't have it's hard drive upgraded or replaced (and it looks difficult or impossible to work on, upgrade or replace anything else also), and it doesn't appear to have an ethernet port. Some of these are major issues for businesses. Why aren't they mentioned? The author also lists bluetooth and video connectors as advantages. These are (and have been for some time) standard in virtually every corporate notebook (and without needing adapters for video). This is not an advantage of choosing a Macbook. Similarly the "powerful" CPUs are becoming uncommon in Windows laptop, having been replaced by faster i3/i5/i7 CPUs. Why try to make it sound like a Core2Duo is something special? I am also unsure of why you detract from 64-bit. Sure, most users don't currently need 4GB or more of RAM. But it costs two tenths of bugger all to include 4GB and it sure doesn't hurt. Given the number of (often expensive) extra's Macs have always forced on it's buyers, I'm surprised a Mac fanboy calling this as a negative. Once again the author has made a silly comparison between a high-cost/high-quality Apple laptops and low-cost/low-quality consumer grade laptops. I completely agree that it is worth spending more to get quality gear. It is a false economy buying cheap hardware. A couple hundred dollars more can get you a significantly better machine, with significantly better support. This is nothing to do with the Apple vs Windows decision though. There are many high-quality Windows-based laptops to choose from (and most are cheaper that Apple's offerings). My company use and recommend HP. Our experience has been great. They have very few issues, and when we have had a warranty claim I get through to a human that can speak English, and they send the replacement part out overnight without requiring the faulty part to be sent back first. Their business support is top-notch. In fact, a colleague did a warranty last week and after getting off the phone he realised they were going to send it to our old office address. He rang back four minutes later, and the part had already been dispatched! Anyway, I'm diverging from the point. The points you make are valid, but it's not an Apple vs Windows argument. It's a high quality vs low quality one. Please stop using your articles to push this misrepresentation. The real decider when choosing between Apple or Windows is applications and integration. To make an unqualified statement like "any traveling staffer" should have one without making note of this fact is again poor form. Come on Eric - write an article that shows us some of the cool things Apple are doing, that shows your excitement for the technology, but is tempered by an understanding that issues like compatibility and uniformity of hardware are genuine business concerns that need to be taken into account. Stop rehashing the same ill-conceived points that everyone should have a Mac because they never get viruses and they are better quality than a $400 Acer.

davidh
davidh

A recommendation of hardware should be driven by an individual's skill, usage patterns, and functional needs. While Apple's backlit keyboard is really nice for low light situations, it does no good if keys are missing from Apple's 'simplified' keyboard. I end up lugging a real keyboard that barely fits in a large bag and a two button scroll mouse so I can fly around applications and be productive. True, Apple does have keyboard shortcuts that are convenient if you have three hands and fourteen fingers. And the two fingers on the touch pad to simulate a 'right click' is recognized by the BIOS after 3 or 4 tries. So it is possible to get work done on a MacBook. If a warrior only needs to surf and write a simple memo on the road, then the MacBook is a contender. But for the tech workers and content creators that need to blaze through work on the road, other platforms may offer more productive choices.

mkopparam
mkopparam

The iPad is great but it has limited computing ability or use for the road warrior. The MacBook Air is roughly the same dimensions but it's a computer and that's the key difference. You've got the ability to use office applications, store large amounts of data and be extremely mobile.

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

The problem with Mac vs Windows is that Mac is extremely well polished due to their control on the hardware they use. The problem with Windows not being as well polished as the Mac is becuz, there are lost of cheap low end hardware alternatives that couldn't handle well-polished eye candies. At least it saved us some holes in our bank accounts. Not to mention there's no "Apple Certified Mac Engineers" in most job search.

MacNewton
MacNewton

Parallels may not be the easiest app to install, and it does take some understanding of how both operating systems works. But why do you need to have your IT department to do it, Online support is very good and with their help you could have done it yourself. My version of that same old joke, (Q) How many end users does it take to read the instruction manual . (A) none, they don't read, they just call the IT department!

MacNewton
MacNewton

Re: There are other alternatives: http://ces.cnet.com/8301-32254_1-20027289-283.html No matter how good other systems are made on how nice they look and feel, it still going to be ran by that poorly conceived OS called Window. An OS Build on lies and ripped of ideas that even their own software engineers said that it was there most "Mac like" system yet. ;-P

MacNewton
MacNewton

I had 6 laptops over the last 25 years, haven't dropped one yet! Have you had time to look at one yet? Very cool design. Give yourself a treat, go to an Apple store and give it a try!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Oh, good; it wasn't just me. Generalizations about what companies buy. Assumptions that Macs are virus-free. Ignoring the capabilities of properly configured power settings. Assuming all road warriors need are e-mail and the Internet, and not any apps that won't run under OS X. These may apply to some people, but that doesn't justify a blanket recommendation that this shoe fits all feet. I hope Eric didn't sprain a finger copying and pasting this from an Apple site.

mrbobyu
mrbobyu

Currently I have a desktop for gaming/high performance need and I use my Macbook Air for work and school. I thought MacBook Air was a waste of money at first. I had so many choices from buying a laptop from Acer, Asus, Dell, Hp, Lenovo, etc. Also from the price range; 600$-1,500$. I have to say You Pay for What You Get. Samsung Sense x1 is similar to the Macbook Air. Both laptop prices are very similar. http://en.akihabaranews.com/79478/laptops/samsung-9-series-laptop-a-true-ultra-slim-wonder/samsung_sense_x1_ultra-slim_laptop.html No optical drive? no problem, apple released a software called Remote Disc, basically it is connecting to a computer who has a optical drive in your network, easy and efficient. I would be curious who use optical drive everyday. The 13in is more than enough considering the resolution displayed is like a 15inch. I work with the 13in at work for 8 hours and I don't have difficulty reading and writing stuff on it. At home I mainly use my desktop since I have 30inch screen and more powerful computer for my need. 128gb SSD is enough for standard use. I have dual boot and I installed windows 7 enterprise installed with office professional + Visio. On top of that I also installed StarCraft 2 and many other games on the windows platform (works like a charm). I still have around 10 Gb left on my Windows side. Why do you need more GB on your system? Get an external drive if you want to store music/videos. Since most of the video/music for me, I can get them via Internet or on the cloud without any hassle. CPU ?!, i5, i7? What do you need all that power for? Do you really need that much power? Sure it is faster but for what? On top of that many people who has i7 won't take the full advantage because the bottleneck from those system are the HDD. The SSD really makes the huge difference in performance, booting, loading programs, playing games, etc. I don't know but the weight on the MacBook Air is so light, you can barely feel it when you put it in a backpack. Seriously I had a 17inch Asus laptop around 9lbs and also a 5.55lbs Dell Studio. Once you try the Macbook Air, you will notice the difference in the long term. Sure 2.5lbs of difference is nothing but when you carry it all day long, have to move around, etc, the Macbook air is the winner. Anyways I agree with the author, for people who travels a lot, you should consider a light weight laptop or a netbook if you only use it for low performance need. Considering the design and performance from the MacBook Air it is really something to consider, I'm a happy man with his laptop and I don't regret my choice so far. My MacBook Air spec: 13inch, 128gb SSD, 4gb of ram. Dual boot.

jdiego2009
jdiego2009

All the pros and cons stated so far are from the user's perspective; but business usage should also be analyzed from the company side. What about PC management? My company wants to know the status of each PC, control user identity, deploy software, backup data... Is there a wide offering for these tools on Mac? I am sure that, if Mac ever gets a considerable share of the market, the required tools will start being as available as today's Windows equivalent. But it is also true that big market share will imply big chances of virus and similar (big pro of Mac?). A small comment on user experience: old PgDn/PgUp keys are by far the best way to browse through a web page in a laptop. Why Apple has always ignored them is a mistery to me.

Justin James
Justin James

I could not agree more. These last few articles are not even remotely objective. As you say, it's not that the Mac Book Air is a bad machine, but that this article presents a completely bogus comparison. I'll put a Dell or Lenova laptop in the same price class as the Air against any consumer grade laptop and I'm sure that you'd be just as happy as you are with the Air, other than OS differences, of course. Fact is, the overwhelming majority of the arguments you've made in favor of the Air are either irrelevant and any price point (Bluetooth) or irrelevant at *that* price point (SSD). And as gechurch pointed out, the Air is a loser when it comes to CPU and RAM. Indeed, the strategy of having a Windows VM is a lot less attractive with a machine with the Air's specs... In fact, the *only* valid points in the article are those relating to OS X vs. Windows. Not exactly eye opening there. J.Ja

ceso_softdev
ceso_softdev

Lately I have seen way to many of this "paid advertisement" articles from regular techrepublic contributors. Its kind of sad to see that Mr. Jobs has managed to get soo many of them into his advertisement budget. Please be objective!. While not a Mac fan, I can recognize the quality of their products, but saying that you should drop all other technology in favor of Mac it's simply going too far. its non-sense.

gechurch
gechurch

Your comment about the 'simplified' Apple keyboard reminds me of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler".

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

Personally, I prefer convertible tablets which comes natively with Windows. Mine is a 11" Acer 1825ptz which IMO is an impressive hardware and half the price of a Macbook air. It's basically everything I need on the move.

glenstorm_98
glenstorm_98

I love my iPad for accessing various kinds of content when commuting on mass transit, but completely recognize that it's not meant to be a fully functioning computer. The Air is of course a completely functioning MacOS system. One thing to bear in mind (okay, maybe two related things) is that while the solid-state drive in an Air is much faster at *reading* data, it is slower at *writing* it. This translates to near-instant booting and program launch, but if you're doing something that's write-intensive, such as compiling code, you'll actually see a *reduction* in performance. The other possible drawback is that flash memory-based devices do have a limited service life. A given memory cell only remains reliable for a finite number of write operations, and depending on what you are doing with it, this could be an issue. Not saying the Air isn't a great machine; just want folks to know what to expect, so they're not disappointed.

gechurch
gechurch

It's not the easiest thing to install, and it requires knowledge of two operating systems, and you seriously expect end users to spend their time reading documentation and doing this themselves? You have very different expectations of end-users than any other company I've dealt with. Everywhere I've been the end-users are busy, and the IT department exists to get the technical stuff done precisely so that end users don't have to waste their time reading about things that are nothing to do with their job.

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

No matter how poor Windows is to you, it's still the most widely used OS and there's almost no company who are willing to spend to try out Macs becuz most of their systems are built around Windows. And mind you but it was Microsoft who saved Apple from dying when Bill Gates helped Steve Jobs by developing Mac versions of Windows apps. Mac like? I don't feel so at all.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

I rarely drop anything but I know people who do. You have to look at the bigger picture. And yes, I was at an Apple store.

MacNewton
MacNewton

Page down/Page Up Keys are not needed if you have a MacBook, the trackpad does the job much better, give it a try.

MacNewton
MacNewton

To clear the air, Parallels should not be installed unless you understand that you WILL need to customize it for you system. That said, Installing windows on a Mac using Boot Camp is a much easer then working with Parallels & Windows. Also your right about sugar coating it, All OS installations should only be done by people that know what there doing. And this is my point. "Most people only use what they need to know to get the job done, after that they are a liability , if something goes wrong or out of place they call the IT department. If end users were to drive cars the same way, most people would not get out of the drive way. All end users should know more then the basic operating system PC or Mac. The iPad is very useful that way, Apple has dumb down the OS , so the end user needs only to know what icon to touch, the app does all the rest, saves the file, loads the file, and when they get the bugs out , they will print the work. So, the end user does't need to learn anything but the App. ,The iPad is very good for people who just need to run an App or 2. ;-)

Justin James
Justin James

I can't personally comment on whether or no Macs are easier to use than Windows machines or not. Other than using one briefly in a store a year or so ago, I haven't touched one or worked with one since around 1998 or 1999 (I will say, at that time, if it hadn't been such a crash-prone OS, I would have liked it, and I recognize that the MasOS of the 90's and OS X of today are totally different systems). That being said... Hearing an acknowledged Mac enthusiast describe the experience like this, and try to sugar coat it is just really sad. Gechurch is right, this is completely, utterly unacceptable in the business environment. When it costs $50 - $150 an hour to keep a worker on staff, having them waste their time screwing around with not only setting up Parallels, but then trying to configure Windows (um... why are your end users given usersnames/passwords with enough authority to join a machine to the Active Directory domain?) is a VERY expensive decision. More to the point, users don't use an operating system. They use the applications running on the operating system. If the applications are the same on both Mac and Windows (and in the case of things like Photoshop, that's generally true), then it doesn't matter what OS you are on. If the applications on one or the other are deficient (as another commenter pointed out regarding issues with Outlook and Exchange), then your OS choice matters a big deal. Look, I don't know anyone who (*for business purposes*) turns a computer on, and only uses the applications and utilities that come with the computer. In fact, the OS should, for all intents and purposes, be nearly invisible to the user. It's like the people who put fancy wallpapers and screensavers on their computer... when you are doing "real work", you don't see the desktop or the screensaver! Even if your applications are predominantly Web apps, the Web browser, not the OS, is your environment (and it too should be invisible). I'd state that a GOOD OS is as invisible as possible. Having to monkey around with virtual machines (whether it be Parallels or Windows 7's "XP Mode", people who use VMs to isolate unsafe or misbehaving apps, etc.) is a great example of where OS's have major shortcomings. Fact is, if the OS did what you needed it to do, you wouldn't need the VM! Once it is flawed enough to require a VM, arguing about how easy (or not easy) it is to use it is like discussing whether having the brakes suddenly quit while driving on the highway is better or worse in a Ford or a Chevy... fact is, you shouldn't be in that situation to begin with! J.Ja

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've used both, and prefer anything over a trackpad. I usually pack a full-sized USB mouse on those occasions an laptop is imposed on me.