Windows SuperSite: Yesterday the MacBook Air is Great, Today It Sucks.


It’s no secret I’m not enamored with the new MacBook Air. In fact, I chose to purchase a MacBook instead. While I think it’s a beautiful design, I also think it’s less a sub-notebook than it claims to be given its footprint.

Paul Thurrott of Windows SuperSite was just fine with it the day it was announced, but is now blasting it to high heaven. Why the reversal? I’m assuming it takes a while for him to get his marching orders from Redmond.

Anyway, in his initial comments about the Air he gave it a grade ‘B’. Not bad at all.

Today, however, he can’t stand the thing, and his critique starts with the most ridiculous line of all:

While it’s easy to get caught up in Steve Jobs’ patented “reality distortion” field as I did yesterday, at least with regards to the MacBook Air, sometimes it’s wise to sit back and really mull over what it is that he’s offering.

If someone who’s been around tech as long as you, Paul, and who bashes Apple as much as you do, still gets caught in the alleged “reality distortion field”, then you have no business posting on Apple at all. I’m serious.

And what do you mean “sometime it’s wise… to mull over”? When is it not wise to mull things over? All you’ve copped to here is that you posted without thinking, an admission perhaps a little embarrassing for you.

Take heart, though. A fellow Apple-basher, Joe Wilcox, had to admit yesterday that he needed to avoid Macworld to not get caught up in the RDF.

Anyway, having made an excuse for posting his own opinion yesterday, we now get the talking points memo from the Apple-bashers. Pay attention, because this will be the battle cry for all of them on the MacBook Air going forward:

It’s too expensive. No surprise there: Apple technology is generally quite expensive at launch. The SSD version of the MacBook Air, however, is particularly expensive: It starts at over $3000

I think the $1,799 is just in the acceptable range. I would like to have seen a hundred less, but it’s not egregious compared to other sub-notebooks. As for the SSD, give me a break! Apple charges $999 for it. Find it substantially less from any other vendor offering the option, Paul.

It doesn’t utilize next-generation Intel chip technology. Though Jobs brought his new lap dog, Intel CEO Paul Otellini, out on stage yet again this year, talking up how the two companies worked together to pull off yet another technological miracle, the chip in the MacBook Air is just a smaller version of last year’s less efficient 65nm chips, and not this year’s 45nm design.

Paul, it’s a fine line between bashing Apple and just being ridiculous. So now Intel’s CEO is an Apple lap dog? Intel’s CEO? Why is it anybody who does business with Apple is a lap dog, Paul? Intel’s CEO. Heh. You crack me up.

As for the “next-generation” technology, the MacBooks and MacBook Pros don’t use that technology either. Neither do the iMacs or the Mac mini. In fact, until one week ago neither did the Mac Pros! Are you seriously recommending to your Windows readers they should avoid all PCs not using the new 45nm technology? No, just Apple’s. Pathetic.

The battery isn’t removable… As Steven Parker notes over at Neowin, what’s going to happen to MacBook Air users when they run out of power less than half-way across the Atlantic?

Do you and Steven know the battery times of a typical sub-notebook? I hope you both bring two to four batteries with you.

There’s no Ethernet… While you can purchase a USB-based Ethernet adapter for $29

Well, then I guess there is Ethernet, isn’t there? And for just $29 for those that need it, like big-talking tech bloggers who want 45nm technology and 10-hour battery life, but then insist the machine be tethered to a cable. Sheesh.

Yet another power adapter.

WTF? This is an issue? Not once did I ever buy a laptop and expect to use the power adapter from a previous laptop. I expect to use the one that comes with it. The MBA is small, so is the adapter. This is the most non non-issue I’ve ever seen.

It’s thin to no good end. While there are already a number of ultra-portable machines in the MacBook Air’s weight class (3 pounds), most of them exceed Apple’s device in ways that are meaningful. They have Ethernet ports, for example. More than one USB port. A docking station for a hardware “slice” that adds more battery and an optical drive.

This is where Apple’s philosophy differs from the other sub-notebooks. Jobs made that clear in his keynote, but you ignored all of it. The other machines may have more ports and connectors, but in order to make room for those things you get a smaller screen (11 inches, maybe less), a mini-keyboard and weak processors.

Apple’s compromises were to jettison the extra connectors and ports, and instead go with a big screen, full-size keyboard, relatively fast processors for this class of machine, and good battery life to begin with (so an extra battery isn’t a requirement).

You can debate this approach, but Jobs was up-front about it. Besides, since all the ports and connectors in the world won’t make a sub-notebook an acceptable desktop substitute (especially as slow as they typically are), it’s not unreasonable to think that trading them for a bigger screen and keyboard might make sense.

Overall, what this says to me is that the MacBook Air is a must-miss

Whatever. The market will decide. What your article says to me is that you simply ignored Apple’s approach, chose not to even debate it, and then slammed the machine by tossing out unoriginal features gathered from who knows how many machines.

I don’t rave about the MBA, and have my gripes with it, but at least I can debate the design philosophy. Paul and some others cannot see it that way, and apparently assume that every sub-notebook must be made in the same way. As usual, Apple tries to look ahead, while other PC manufacturers try not to look at all.

Personally, I’m OK with Jobs’ compromises except for the screen, which makes for too large a footprint in an alleged sub-notebook. Still, I think it leans less to the “bad” side than other sub-notebooks, which I consider more like a “My First Sony” toy PC. And I have no issue defending the MBA against Paul because his “arguments” are silly.

I’ve brought up my beefs here, and commenters have added to the discussion. They’ve presented both pro and con to my opinions in a pretty reasoned manner. And none of us ever needed to argue against the MBA simply because it doesn’t follow the lead of every two-bit PC hardware manufacturer, or because it has a new power adapter, or because there’s no Ethernet even though there is, etc. That should tell you something, Paul, but I’m sure it won’t.

12 thoughts on “Windows SuperSite: Yesterday the MacBook Air is Great, Today It Sucks.

  1. @Barry C:

    I think other uses of Remote Disc would be great. In addition to sharing a Time Machine backup drive (e.g. with Time Capsule) you could share a SuperDrive (for those computers that can’t burn DVDs, like my wife’s PowerBook G4) or a Blu-ray drive, for example, all on the local network. DVD burning would be a little more like sharing a printer. This could be nice in a home office or small business setting, especially if more and more devices start appearing without optical drives. Think about an iPhone or iPod Touch accessing those shared devices: in addition to printing, you could read or write optical discs (say, to copy some movies for your friends, or backup some podcasts or music to free up space).

  2. I just read a PCWorld blog that uses the Macbook Air as a reason for Apple licensing Mac OS X. It’s an absurd piece, even using the word “monopoly” to describe Apple’s computer business. Um, hello? They have under 10% market share; I fail to see how that’s a monopoly…


  3. The thing that intrigues me most about the MBA is that Apple potentially sees the obsolesce of the CD/DVD by inventing Remote Disc. I see this as comparable to the Bondi Blue iMac which lacked the floppy disk which ended up launching the USB industry (well giving it the kickstart it needed). Now the MBA has only USB as the standard peripheral connector. Irony? 🙂

    Unlikely to happen but I’d also like to see Remote Disc open-sourced or available for licensing to third-parties as I can see some neat products using it. Adding the MBA Superdrive + Remote Disc to an Airport Base Station would be a one. Another is to have a separate Airport add-on product with two Superdrives (either on top of each other or side by side; one bay could be empty, later to be filled with perhaps a Blu-Ray drive). In either of these two potential products, Remote Disc would need to be enhanced (from what I saw from the Stevenote) to include support for disk burning from Windows & Mac OS X.

    I doubt anything like this is on Apple’s radar which I think third parties eg, Belkin, LaCie, etc., license Remote Disc from Apple to develop these. Apple want to avoid including the DRM necessaryto facilitate movie playback from HD-DVD or Blu-Ray but that doesn’t mean that some people want to do this.

    Anyone else think that wider applications of Remote Disc would be useful?

  4. I have a tiny Sony VAIO subnotebook and a Lenovo X60 12″ with cradle for the optical disk (or extry battery). The VAIO is way too small – half height screen and generally useless for regular work. The 12″ on the Lenovo is pretty good for XP, but I think I’d prefer something bigger for the way I work on a Mac; so I’m okay with the 13.3″.

    Only once have I ever really needed the optical disk for work, since most everything can come through the network. The Ethernet port usually is wasted as there are actually more places where I can access wifi than plug into an Ethernet port. Since the extra battery is in the double-the-weight-and-thickness cradle, I’ve learned to get by without it.

    So generally, I’m okay with Apple’s choices. Weight is the key factor as I need to be able to hold them one-handed with ease when I move around from room to room. I’m not crazy about the non-replaceable battery but I think I could live with it.

  5. I was agreeing with most of what people were complaining about, until I started to envision what it would be like to carry around a laptop that’s 3 pounds. Every criticism about the Air, specifically those the complaints about ethernet and firewire, would just weigh the thing down, thereby killing the concept of it being “ultra portable.”

    When you think of it in the context of what the MacBook Air aims for, it makes a lot of sense to have just one USB port. And why all this complaining about the lack of a replaceable battery in the MacBook Air? Apple sold 119 million iPods WITHOUT a user replaceable battery and another 4 million iPhones WITHOUT a user replaceable battery and the proper response to this popularity is what? A user replaceable battery? Yeah, that makes lots of sense (as in NOT).

  6. Jared,

    Nice comments, and thanks for the link.

    Regarding the MBA vs. MBP design, it’s a lot easier to “curve” two surfaces that are already quite close together. Remember the original iBook? It was all swoopy and curvy, but when they removed all that stuff for iBook G2, the machine got much smaller and dropped two pounds.

    I’m not suggesting “swooping” the MBPs would be as bad, but these things have large screens and therefore good-sized footprints already. Adding curves would likely add a quarter- to half-inch to each side, so now the footprint’s gone up just for show. Maybe that works, and maybe it doesn’t, but it’s a serious design consideration.

    I agree on the battery. Much like the iPhone the inside of thing is mostly power. Any disadvantages are removed by Apple’s stating the price is the same as a MBP battery and installation is free. Further, I have no doubt we’ll see accessory batteries using the magsafe connector soon enough.


    I believe any sub-notebook is predicated on the idea that it will NOT be a primary computer. I just don’t see any of them designed in a manner that would work very well as someone’s sole machine.

  7. I want to continue with what Jared was saying. If this is meant as a “secondary” computer, then I have to think that the iPhone could be a better purchase for many people. Of course, if you need to get serious work done on the go, but don’t require huge processing power, having the full power of Mac OS X in a 3-lb package should be quite amazing.

  8. The MacBook Air has already changed the way I look at my MacBook Pro. I have no plans to buy an MBA and I love my MBP but now when I look at it, I feel like the design is kind of second rate … squarish and un-streamlined, sort of boxy. (RDF in action?) I hope they introduce that new curvy hotness into newer lines of MBPs.

    I agree, the MacBook Air would probably not be as good a value as a MB or MBP for a primary machine, but it would be a stellar travelling companion if you have a desktop or other machine at work/home.

    I think that people aren’t latching onto this, but it’s possible that the enormous in-built battery life could be the most revolutionary thing about the whole laptop. This photo sums it up: the guts are mostly battery (well, I know it’s the 1/4″ thin part, but I was guessing they would do this, fill all the freed up space with battery):

    On Apple’s site, they rate the 15″ MBP as having 5.5 to 6 hours of battery life but that’s a hoax at best; most users get about 3 hours of actual use, or maybe 4 hours of light use. Five hours of actual use is incredible, making the laptop actually… useful… and actually… portable! (I hope they update the MBP and MB battery life claims to line up with the MacBook Air claims, using the same tests.) It will be exciting to see the reviewers verifying the battery life claims and comparing them to existing laptops.

    I think it’s an important and overlooked part of what made the iPhone so exciting… for all its features, you can still use it all day, but it’s not bulky. It’s the future, it’s almost 2010… you’d think we’d have laptops that you only plug in at night or every other day like a cellphone… Eventually.

  9. I doubt Paul Thurrott is officially taking any “talking points” from Redmond, but he certainly has all the intellectual fortitude, strength of opinion, and oracular ability of a tissue in a tornado. He always manages to get just about half of everything just off-kilter and wrong enough to set one’s teeth a-grindin’.

    I’m not particularly interested in the first generation of MBA (though the design sure is drop-dead gorgeous), but I can recognize its strengths and weaknesses. Whether it will be successful or not has just about nothing to do with the mostly inane points that PT brings up.

  10. Tom, what took you so long:-)

    These guys can’t stand Apple. They even claim there is a RDF when obviously there isn’t. I mean, do they really think Jobs is some ultra-charismatic person who uses telepathy or some crap to lure people in? They are weak, Windows shills then. Joe and Paul need a dose of reality more than the Mac Fanbois they accuse us of being.

    I read both articles and for some reason all I read was the same ignorant unobjective crap I heard back in June in regards to the iPhone. They never had one in their hands but boy was it bad. And then Apple sells 4M of them and has 19% market share. Can any reasonable person see where this is going? They are purposely (as we all know) undermining anything Apple. Until it becomes a hit, and then they just stop talking about it…usually.

    I just ordered a MBA for our CEO. She needed a small Mac laptop and this is perfect for her. I can’t say if it will be a success. But until I can see it in person and feel the weight of it, and use it, who knows. In the end, the sub-notebook market is all about trade-offs. And Apple chose what they felt was important when they designed the MBA, right or wrong.

  11. I bet a 12″ screen would be better for some people, but 13″s not bad.

    I suppose Apple did their market research and realized that people want a small laptop, but don’t like small laptops.

    It looks like with Time Capsule, the MBA, and the Apple TV Take 2, all announced in one day, Apple is seeing the future of no wires and media disks. This is all a pretty big deal.

    Yeah, I think Apple should have included the ethernet adapter, but oh, well. Time to move on. Yeah, it would be nicer if it was cheaper. Apple will do what Apple will do. It’s not like they are hurting right now.

    The MBA will fit in a lot of backpacks and briefcases. I don’t see where you need something smaller. And if you are getting real work done, you’ll appreciate the size and the full keyboard.

  12. The more I see the MBA the more I like it. Still, I would prefer a MacBook Pro with the multi-touch keypad. The MBA is clearly designed to be a second computer; its a device that allows you to take, from your desktop, your work on the go. It’s not designed to replace your primary machine, but rather to add to it.

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