Friday, February 8, 2008

What the %$*& Do You People Want?

We have entered Phase II.

Phase II is the time in the life cycle of an Apple product when the people who didn't get it in the first place feel inappropriately validated.

As with other products of any complexity new problems and limitations are discovered as they find their way into the hands of consumers. This week ushered in Phase II for for the MacBook Air. Coming weeks will see multiple articles like this one at, headlined "MacBook Air has issues, says Apple."

The Computerworld article doesn't go as far as do dig up frustrated customers and quote them at length about how disappointed they are in Apple for selling them a product that fails to bring about self actualization. Don't be fooled. That article is coming. In Computerworld's first wave of Phase II articles they do state repeatedly that Apple has "admitted" various things. Since they are admissions, not simple statements, the implication is that they represent substantial failings.

Apple certainly has screwed things up in the past. Remember the
eMate 300? How about perfectly round mice? Maybe Computerworld is right. Since the article is little more than a lit review covering the first batch of Apple support articles on the MacBook Air it would be easy enough to fact-check, but in stead let's just take an aerial view of the problems listed in the article. Most of them have to do with wireless performance issues.
  • Remote Disk issues with certain routers
  • Slowness with multiple Bluetooth devices connected
  • Profile migration over WiFi is slow
  • Poor WiFi performance when the laptop is closed and using an external monitor

Remote Disk is a new Apple technology that allows MacBook Air to share other computer's disks over WiFi. This is a big deal because MacBook Air has no internal optical drive or wired Ethernet. This is a new consumer technology, relies of WiFi and promises block level (or something like it) file sharing (something usually associated with SANs). How is it news that it doesn't always work with routers, specifically, ones with un-patched firmware? So far as multiple Bluetooth devices causing slowness, well, name for me a wireless technology that doesn't suffer under load I'll buy you a beer. Todo tengo que decir sobre esto.

Profile migration (moving a user account, including all data, from another computer) over WiFi is slow. Spock, No! Say it isn't true! Profile migration over FireWire is slow if you have any data. This is like saying that the
inability of a Ford Ranger to outrun a Lamborghini Gallardo represents a known issue with the Ranger. It's not an issue. It's a direct result of the fact that the Ranger is a pickup truck not a world class sports car. How much lumber can you haul in the Gallardo? Anybody who honestly expects wireless Ethernet to push gigabytes of data from point A to point B in moments doesn't understand the compromises that come when you quit using wires. This has nothing to do with the MacBook Air and isn't even Apple's fault. It's God's fault for making air less electrically conductive than copper.

Same thing with the slow WiFi while closed thing. It is the reality of antennae. Do people really expect Apple to rewrite the laws of physics? They have already changed the way consumer electronics are marketed and music is purchased. Isn't that enough for one company?

My personal favorite, however, I need to quote directly from the Computerworld article.

" Apple also confirmed that MacBook Air users who want to install Windows XP or Vista in a Boot Camp partition must have an external USB optical drive, like the $99 SuperDrive the company sells. Windows can't be installed using the Remote Disc CD/DVD-sharing software bundled with MacBook Air, said Apple."

I don't entertain any feelings of superiority over other people by virtue of being a technology professional. Other people don't expect me to know my way around their professional areas and in return I don't expect "normal people" to know much about computers. So, I can accept that to people with no computer expertise this may sound like yet another failing of Remote Disk. It isn't. It isn't any kind of failing. It's like the Ranger/Gallardo example, or the fact that objects acted on by no force save gravity will fall to Earth. It is rooted in the fundamentals of how operating systems are installed on computers.

When Microsoft Windows, or most other operating systems, are installed on a physical computer (virtual machines are slightly different) an important part of the installation process is when the computer restarts and boots up using the installation disk as its startup disk. This allows the installation program to seize control of the whole computer, putting files wherever need be and having exclusive access to any part of the computer it has a driver for. I don't know what to say to a fellow professional, a technology journalist for example, who honestly thinks this should work today on a Mac with a virtualised Windows disk over wireless Ethernet except "duh!" Someday maybe we will have EFI [1][2] with a complete networking stack and wireless drivers which make booting a client to an arbitrary OS over a WiFi connection possible but the fact that today (Feb. 8, 2008) it doesn't work with the MacBook Air is hardly a failing on Apple's part. It is exactly what should be expected.

...but that won't stop people from bashing them for it.

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