Miscellaneous Ramblings

Portables Replacing Desktops in Users' Plans

Charles Moore - 2001.10.30 - Tip Jar

Macworld UK says that when they asked Which is best for you: Desktop or Portable?, they didn't expect the tide to have turned so heavily towards PowerBooks and iBooks.

In the poll results, only 17 per cent of voters favored desktops, while 35 per cent owned or planned to buy a portable, with 38 per cent in favour of having both.

IMHO, this is just common sense sinking in at the consumer level. As I have advocated for years in my Road Warrior column and elsewhere, PowerBooks - and more recently iBooks as well - are simply a better choice for most users. The portable Mac is the logical Mac.

The iMac weighs a hulking 35 pounds, and relatively compact as it is, it still occupies a significant chunk of desktop real estate. The iMac may have a convenient carry handle, but very few of us would ever consider it to be a seriously portable computer. And while it is in many respects the logical heir of the original "small Macs," it weighs more than twice as much and is a lot bigger. Even the Cube, as I found out, is a far more bulky and cumbersome package than a PowerBook.

So the portable's obvious first advantage is its small size and portability. Some people need and others (like me) simply prefer the small size of a laptop computer. You aren't rooted in one spot and can conveniently use the computer outdoors in nice weather if the mood strikes you. 'Books also don't dominate a room the way a desktop machine does. They are more subtle, a quality that appeals to me greatly.

Another major advantage of choosing to work on a PowerBook is the built-in flat screen display. You can, of course, buy a flat screen monitor for a desktop Mac, but doing so will erase a significant chunk of the desktop's price advantage.

The PowerBook 3400c and G3/G4 PowerBooks made the "PowerBook as my only Mac" concept a no-apologies potential reality for many users. Of course, some people still want the raw power and expandability of a high-end desktop Mac, but for many of us, a PowerBook or iBook will do anything we need a computer to do - and a great deal more besides.

Apple's G3 Series PowerBook portables essentially removed any logical rationale for owning a both desktop computer and a laptop for most Mac-users. With more speed than any but the very fastest desktop models and an inventory of features that would have been considered the pinnacle of high end only a couple of years ago, a 'Book can easily be "the computer to have when you're only having one" with no excuses necessary.

And if you want to, you can even convert your PowerBook into a virtual desktop Mac for stationary use. Just plug in an external monitor, a standard keyboard and mouse, whatever other peripherals you need, and voilà! This sort of setup costs substantially less than buying separate portable and desktop computers.

Another 'Book advantage, especially if you live out in the boonies like I do, is lack of worry about power outages. I can happily keep on computing - and even Web surfing and faxing - through blackouts as long as my batteries hold up.

And, of course, portable computing is not just a boon to traveling business people, students, and other road warriors. It's a pleasure to be able to pick up the computer and work outdoors on a lovely summer afternoon or just move to another location in the house or office. It's a lot more convenient to carry the same computer between home and the office than it is to deal with the hassle of keeping files synchronized between two computers. When you go on vacation or business trips, it's easy to take a laptop along. In the rare instance that your trusty PowerBook needs service, it's a lot less back strain to carry a laptop into the dealer than a 40 pound desktop box.

Of course, some desktop die-hards "poured scorn on the portable lovers" in the Macworld UK poll, one arguing that "Portables are overpriced, underpowered fashion accessories."

Well, everyone's entitled to their opinion, but the desktop is becoming a dinosaur for all but very high-end or low-budget users.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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