It’s only two months ago that I posted that these are Apple’s glory years and that it is likely too soon to bet against Apple’s stock. As it turns out I was wrong. When I wrote, the stock was at $650/share and now it is at $550/share, which is down 15% (and it is down over 20% from the top of about $700/share). One of the big drivers here is a decline in customer satisfaction and loyalty. I believe a lot of that is driven by software. A bunch of people I know have folders on their iPhones labeled something like “crap apps that Apple doesn’t let me uninstall” (I am paraphrasing).
The software problem for Apple goes further though as I discovered when I bought my new laptop. After some agonizing I caved and instead of buying a Linux laptop I went with a MacBook Air. I have been super swamped at work (as those waiting for email replies from me know) and I was nervous about how much time it might take to get a new machine to work flawlessly. So the good news for Apple is that once more I spent a lot of money with them.
But the bad news is probably more important. I got my new MacBook Air and I was up and running with it in sub 10 minutes because everything I have is in the cloud. My files are on DropBox and Google Drive, my email is in Gmail, my code sits at github. And I really only use two types of software on my Mac — three browsers and Terminal. I even put my various config files (.ssh, .vimrc, etc) on DropBox, so those were back in seconds as well. Bottom line is my MacBook Air is a beautiful piece of hardware but has no meaningful other ties to Apple.
It’s been about 3.5 years since I bought my current MacBook. That’s usually when I start thinking about what to buy next. I like to own the same machine for at least three and possibly four years and so historically I have spent a bit more money and then not a lot of time switching and fiddling. But as I think about the next laptop I am beginning to rethink my strategy for a number of reasons.
First, I am using less and less “desktop” software on my laptop. Really the only thing that I run consistently is a web browser (in fact I have Safari, Firefox and Chrome open all at the same time). I have happily stopped using Microsoft Office as we have gone towards Google Apps at the office. The only thing I find myself running occasionally is a local image editor but even that can increasingly be done in the browser.
Second, disk space is not as important to me as it used to be. I increasingly have files sitting in the cloud, especially when it comes to things that take up a lot of room such as photographs.
Third, one of the best parts of the switch to a Mac has been that I am on a Unix box locally. I am a fan of the command line and use vim for editing code. For the bit of hacking I do on the side I prefer Linux servers and so having a Unix locally is great. Running Linux does not require a super high powered machine.
So for the first time instead of “buying ahead” as Bijan just did, I am thinking about “buying behind” by going for a 13” MacBook Air. I love the form factor and weight of that machine and feel it can do anything I will need for years, although some people feel that having a Retina display will be a must.
But one thing is bugging me about this choice: the increasing iOS inspired control that Apple is bringing to MacOS. So a part of me is tempted to try a fairly radical experiment, which would be to find the nicest non Apple laptop and run Linux + Chrome/Firefox on it. If anyone out there has this as their setup I would love to hear what you are using how you like it.
On Friday at GEL 2009, I met Thomas Deng, a co-founder of DeviceVM which makes Splashtop. Then on Saturday, I noticed a ZDNet story on Techmeme about Presto. Both Splashtop and Presto are so-called instant-on solutions which are essentially miniature Linux distros that boot in a couple of seconds and give you a web browser with Internet access and a few other goodies.
My comment to Thomas was something like “that’s impressive” when I found out how many PCs had shipped with Splashtop. But then I told him that I already have “true instant-on without Splashtop” (and without Presto). Whe he asked what it was, I said “a Mac with an SSD.” And I am not kidding. My Mac boots in only about 30 seconds, but more importantly, when I wake it up from sleep, the machine is fully up and running by the time I have the lid open.
I have always in the past carried my laptop in sleep mode for a shorter wake-up time but usually had to reboot once every 10 cycles or though due to Windows hanging in some weird way. Now with my Mac I go for weeks without shutting off my machine and have really restarted only for software updates. That means I get to enjoy instant-on the whole time and we are not talking some minimal Linux distro but a hugely powerful full fledged machine.
So if you are on Windows and want instant on, instead of adding extra software, I highly recommend switching to a Mac with an SSD. If you are on a Mac already and don’t like waiting, the SSD is the way to go.