Eric Kennedy at Iceland's Jökulsárlón Glacier River Lagoon

Macbook Air or Pro?

When the Macbook Air was released in January 2008, I was a skeptical that it could take the place of a developer's Macbook Pro. The founder of RealSelf bought the first model and endured countless trips to the Apple Store to have the hard drive replaced and other technical issues resolved. I dubbed it the "Macbook Error".

It suffered from the same overheating problems as my late 2006 Macbook Pro 17" but lacked the fleet of fans to keep it from melting down. With only a single USB port inconveniently concealed under an angled door, a limit of 1920x1200 on an external monitor and a tiny click button on the trackpad, it was not a desktop replacement like the Macbook Pro.

Flash-forward to 2010: SSDs dropped in price and became an affordable upgrade for older computers like my 2006 Macbook Pro 17". The performance improvement and quiet operation convinced me that I would never buy a computer with an outdated series of spinning and grinding disks.

The Macbook Pro 17" is a solid computer, but it's bigger than an airplane traytable and an anti-glare screen is an expensive upgrade. I use an external monitor, keyboard and mouse for productivity at work, and would rather pay less for the laptop LCD so there's more money left over for an external monitor.

The Macbook Air was appealing because it's screen was unmarred by the extra layer of glossy plastic that is standard on the Pro. The 256 MB SSD drive was less expensive than on a Pro because all versions of the Air use SSDs.

Unlike the older versions of the Air, the current one is now as fast for most activities as a similarly priced Pro. I use Xcode to build apps for the iPhone and iPad, and compiling code (including a 4MB SQLite library with full-text search support) is a good test of the Air's speed, and it's essentially as fast as the Pro. I'm glad to be free of the noisy DVD drive and extra fans of the Pro. If you really need a DVD drive to watch DVDs, the savings from buying the Air instead of the Pro will more than cover an external DVD drive.

If you have to run Windows programs, Parallels Desktop will make it seamless. Apple's switch from Motorola (PowerPC) to Intel processors was one of Steve Jobs' best decisions, as it made it very easy to run Windows programs on a Mac and gave Apple the same cost advantage of Wintel machines. I was a passionate Mac user in the mid-90s, the kind that tried to convince my friends to switch from Windows95 to the Mac. Since my parents were divorced, I convinced them it was cheaper to buy one laptop than two desktops, so my first laptop was the PowerBook 5300cs. You might remember it from the movie Independence Day:

In comparison to the 5300cs, which cost $2900 in 1995 ($4100 now), the Macbook Air is comparable in price to a similarly-equipped Windows laptop. Before the September 2010 Air was released, there was a big premium for the Air over the $999 white plastic Macbook. Once the 11" Air was released for the same price, it took only a few months before Apple discontinued the plastic Macbook. The build quality of the aluminum body on the Air is amazing, even compared to the pre-"unibody" Macbook Pro.

For people switching from Windows to the Mac, you can always run Windows full-screen with Parallels. Growing up in Seattle, all of the jobs required deep Windows skills, so I bought a Dell in early 1997. (In my defense, Steve Jobs had not yet taken the CEO role at Apple.) After 9 years using Windows and Linux, I switched back to the Mac in 2006 but kept running Windows in full screen mode for a few months because Office 2004 for Mac was so bad.

The two reasons why someone would buy a Macbook Pro now instead of an Air -- higher resolution screen or extra storage -- don't really make much sense now that 27" external monitors cost less than the premium for a Pro and most files can be stored in the cloud.

So if you're considering a new computer, get an Air.