My Turn

Why Laptops Need Docks

Jason Laffin - 2002.05.15

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

Lately, a number of Web sites have been advocating replacing desktops with notebooks. As I sit writing this on my iceBook, my primary machine, I agree that a lot of people can be happy doing most of their work on a laptop. Other than the slow speed of my CD burner and the necessary lag of processor speed behind today's desktops, I am quite happy. But there is something that can be improved: comfort.

How many laptop users would like to use a full-size keyboard, mouse, and look at a regular monitor? Wouldn't this make sense if a notebook were to really replace a desktop? You can do it - you can to plug in a USB keyboard and mouse. Then you can plug in a monitor adapter. Finally, plug in your ethernet and/or modem cables and power adapter. That's a lot of things to plug in, and I know that I don't/won't do it.

Those of you familiar with PC laptops know that they have "docking stations." Basically, these replicate the ports on the notebook by using a large plug that connects to the back of the laptop. Docks usually have PS/2 ports, USB ports, an ethernet port, power adapter, video out, and some have a printer port. When you want to work at home, put your laptop into the dock, close the latch, and power on. When you are ready to go, turn off the machine, open the latch, and pull out your laptop.

Newer Technology made a similar product for the G3 PowerBooks before they went out of business. Unfortunately, Apple doesn't seem to think this idea is important. I can't even close my iBook without it putting the display to sleep while using an external keyboard and monitor.

You could almost build your own port replicator using available USB technology. USB keyboards and mice are easy to come by. Eskape makes video out possible with MyView [link not working when article posted] (though it doesn't support resolutions greater than 800 x 600). Belkin and SMC makes USB ethernet adapters for PCs(Belkin says they won't write drivers for Macs because every Mac already comes with ethernet). Just hook these into a hub, then plug ii into one USB port. Perhaps someone could integrate the video and ethernet circuits along with a plain USB hub into a small box, and there is a docking port. Make it FireWire, and I know they would sell (and Apple fix, or someone write a hack for, the video sleep while the cover is closed).

The technology is available. Apple or someone else just needs to realize that notebook users want some place to easily plug in their laptop so they can work easily at their desk with the comforts of a regular keyboard, mouse, and monitor.

Note: Please read What's Wrong With PowerBooks by Jonathan Ploudre.

Editor's note: BookEndz currently makes docks for the iceBook (iBookEndz, $160) and the pre-2002 TiBook (BookEndz Titanium, $245). They also have docks for the 1999 and 2000 G3 PowerBooks ($230). Not cheap, but one solution. BookEndz may be also available on eBay and from dealers.

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