The Mobile Mac

Less Is More: 12" PowerBook Still a Lawyer's Best Friend

- 2006.05.31 - Tip Jar

Wow, what an exciting month this has been in Apple-land. Speed bumps for the MacBook Pros and the introduction of the new MacBooks. This is the first time we have not had an Apple laptop under 5 lbs. or under $1,000 since 2002, but overall the value of Apple's current line is about the best its ever been.

All of this Intel-powered newness might give owners of PowerPC laptops serious MacBook-envy.

I was every bit as excited about the newest Apple portables as the rest of the people in the Apple Store on the Tuesday afternoon when the MacBook was introduced, but when push comes to shove, there wasn't anything on display that had me reaching for my credit card. Depending on your needs, you might just find yourself in the same position, or dare I say it, spending your hard-earned money for a leftover, refurbished, or used PowerPC 'Book, as I am contemplating this very moment.

First there is the issue of value. The $1,099 white MacBook is a screaming bargain, as is the 17" MacBook Pro. In between, it's a matter of compromise, though only the black-tax on the $1,499 MacBook is a questionable move.

That said, it's precisely the black MacBook that tempts me the most - perhaps my vanity is showing. With a new laptop, the really important questions to ask, and which most upgrades fail, are whether the new model will really give you any added time in your day, make the time you do spend more pleasant, or allow you to do things you want to do and are currently unable to.

Let's look at these questions one-by-one.

Will It Add More Time to Your Day?

Well, no computer can make a day longer than 24 hours, but if you find yourself waiting for your computer to do its thing, then speeding those things up can give you more time to do other things. A 500 MHz G3 iBook can be used to edit video or apply filters to high resolution photographs in Photoshop, but it will be very slow-going and waste a lot of your precious time - at least if you need the computer while you are waiting for it. Remember, a function that takes 4 hours to complete doesn't waste any of your time if you're out for dinner and a movie while it does it.

The new machines may very well add time to your day, though in the case of Photoshop (since they have to use Rosetta to handle PowerPC code), they may not. For me, the MacBook fails this test. Any gains I would see over my 12" PowerBook in Safari or Mail are measured in seconds, and therefore just not significant.

Would a New MacBook Make the Time that I Do Spend More Pleasant?

Again, that depends. When I travel, I spend a lot of time watching movies on airplanes and at airports. The MacBook's larger widescreen would be a definite improvement, though the glossy coating may be an annoyance under certain lighting conditions (it's a plus in others).

Sound is a wash, with the MacBooks speakers playing a bit louder than my 12" PowerBook's (they positively blow the iBook sound system into the weeds), but not sounding as full or rich. I'll call the sound a wash.

The MacBook keyboard has attracted a lot of attention in the press, but in use it feels excellent and doesn't slow me down, much like the also-excellent keyboard on the PowerBook. I have to call this one close to a wash, with the MacBook getting the edge.

The built-in iSight will make my bag less crowded, but the smaller PowerBook is easier on my shoulder. Both work well on a coach-class tray table (the MacBook is only 1mm taller with the screen open).

For movies in the hotel, the MacBook edges ahead, despite the penalty in weight and bulk, which are important things to me for a travel machine.

Will It Allow Me to Do Anything that I Cannot Do Now?

Don't forget the converse question: Will it prevent me from doing anything that I can do now? The answer to both questions in the MacBook vs. 12" PowerBook comparison is yes. The MacBook will run Intel-optimized software, which the PowerBook will never do. It will also be faster on universal programs, and it can run Windows at high speed with Boot Camp or Parallels, as opposed to relying on the pokey performance of VirtualPC on the PowerBook.

I've complained before about the integrated graphics on the MacBook limiting its utility as a Windows game machine, but on moderate settings with less demanding games it should be fine, while with productivity apps it will be quite fast.

What the MacBook, or any other Intel Mac for that matter will not do is run OS 9 applications, as the classic environment is no longer supported. There are some promising substitutes out there, like SheepShaver, but these are works in progress at this point.

I don't use any OS 9 applications and haven't even bothered to install Classic on any of my Macs, so I certainly wouldn't be losing any functionality by going Intel. I would stand to gain the entire world of Windows gaming through Boot Camp, and this is significant to me. I travel a lot, and nothing beats a good game to make a boring hotel room in the middle of nowhere more tolerable. The verdict isn't in yet on Windows gaming with the integrated graphics, but at least the potential is there for less demanding games or with lower detail levels.

In the end, what I would stand to gain is Windows gaming, though limited by the integrated graphics, and not a lot else. Windows games, while tempting, are not enough to justify upgrading what is, strictly speaking, a business tool.

If there was some business benefit, then the Windows games would be a terrific bonus, but at least at present my productivity would not be increased at all with an Intel-based Mac.

Microsoft Office and QuickBooks Pro are two applications I spend a lot of time in, and neither is a universal binary. Even if they were, just as with Mail and Safari, gaining a few seconds at program launch doesn't really translate to adding time to my day or even making my computer experience that much more pleasant.

For me, the 12" PowerBook remains my constant travel companion, and it will likely remain so until software upgrades or hardware failure dictate an upgrade.

An Intel-only OS or MS Office release might be enough to motivate the switch, but a few seconds here and there are just not compelling enough to warrant an upgrade at this time.

That, and the 12" PowerBook is still the smallest Apple laptop ever. When sitting in coach or running in and out of meetings, less is definitely more. LEM

Andrew J Fishkin, Esq, is a laptop using attorney in Los Angeles, CA.

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