The Great Port Debate


When Apple announced the MacBook Air I had an immediate reaction to the absence of an Ethernet port. It went something like this, “What, no Ethernet port?”

It’s not that I need an Ethernet port often, but when I do, it’s critical. Take CES. I was in the press room with a limited window of time and a video that needed uploading. I wasn’t going to mess with a wireless connection that had been flaky the last time I’d tried it. I went straight for a wireline, got my 42 megabits megabytes uploaded and went on my merry way.

Other folks have pointed out that some venues only have wired connections, like a lot of hotels. Sure you can get a $29 USB adapter for an added Ethernet port, but you’d probably also have to spring for a USB hub, as the one USB port on the MacBook Air is precious real estate. Isn’t the whole point of the MacBook Air that it’s supposed to be highly portable? It wouldn’t feel very portable to me if I had to sling along a bunch of add-on hardware. (Engadget also notes that a 3G USB modem won’t fit in the one USB port – space is too cramped – without an extension cable.)

As I got crankier and crankier thinking about this, I remembered that my husband’s old MacBook used to have an S-video port. It was very handy. No need for a media extender (though I still want that SlingCatcher, Dave); we could plug it right into the TV and watch downloaded shows. It would be even more convenient now with so much streaming content available from the likes of ABC, Hulu and Netflix.

Yet Apple took away the S-video port. And very few other laptops seem to have one. What’s the deal? What do computer makers have against giving me some decent ports? Yes I know there are trade-offs, but for a few good ports, I’d be willing to make them. Take away everything useful and a computer’s just no fun.

30 thoughts on “The Great Port Debate”

  1. I have to agree that more connection options built-in make me happier. Apple and Sony have always ticked me off the way they force their own vision of what connections should be built-in. Sony is even worse by pushing their own proprietary connections/cards.

  2. Apple clearly decided to not compromise on screen and keyboard. Everything else could go.

    As to having more ports, my question becomes which ones? I think all of the following would be useful:
    FW 400
    FW 800
    USB 1
    USB 2
    Digital Audio In
    Digital Audio Out
    IR Port

    and so on. Which make the cut and which don’t?

  3. The Air looks sexy as hell, but without an integrated Ethernet jack and without being able to simply attach my USB 3G modem there’s no way I’d make it my only travel laptop. And I say this as a guy who spent about three months on the road/in hotels last year and frequently work from cafes.

    As an aside, while in CA last week I swapped MacBook Pros. My new one is more powerful, has a larger harddrive, and uses LED backlighting. And I still carry an extra battery in my backpack.

  4. i was just looking on the mabook air config site which i had not done yet. a few things i noticed:
    1. the apple remote is a $20 add-on, all other macbooks its included

    2. the macbook air comes with 2 micro-dvi dongles for vga & dvi, not accessories yet for s-video or the like

    3 micro-dvi is MBA only, so existing mini-dvi cables will not work

    unless they have accessories that just aren’t released onto the site yet, i think this thing is pretty useless. the best option would be a dock of sorts, i believe i caught an apple patent on engadget showing a dock that is essentially an imac that the MBA slides into the side of. that would be sweet.

    jealous on the MBP, dave. i put a 250gb drive in my macbook yesterday to sustain a new purchase a bit longer

  5. I wouldn’t expect to do major video work on one of these, but if it won’t boot normally I want to be able to start it in Target Disk Mode and troubleshoot it from another Mac.

    No FireWire = no Target Disk Mode = no dice.

  6. What about expresscard/pcmcia? The nice part about these slots was that even if a laptop didn’t have certain ports you could typically find an add-on card to get what you wanted. Apple has even taken away that fundamental ability and still has the nerve to price this thing way out of reach for most people. I guess less isn’t always more…

  7. I ordered my MacBook Air three days after the formiddable new device was announced at MacWorld. Research convinced me it will meet my needs – a lighter notebook to end aggravation of my back and shoulder problems and a full-size screen and keyboard.

    As for connectivity, I am fine with Wi-Fi. In the rare case in which a Wi-Fi network is not available, I can use the Edge connection on my iPhone.

    I have used the Ethernet port on my eight-month-old MacBook Pro only at Kinko’s, where it rarely works because Kinko’s fails to update Lap Wizard to be compatible with Macs. I end up using a thumb drive to print anyway. I doubt I have used my two-year-old PowerBook G4 with Ethernet much either.

    I will the USB port on the MacBook Air only for connecting a USB external hard drive or external CD/DVD unit. I will install software online or from my MacBook Pro, which I intend to keep.

    I have spelled all this out because the writer of this article is too self-centered to consider why others might find the MacBook Air useful.

    Sent on my iPhone.

  8. Podesta, dissenting opinions are welcome here. Personal attacks are not. Though, evaluating a $1800 purchase should indeed be a self-centered exercise…

    jon, I envy your 250gb – my MBP only has 120GB – though it is an upgrade over my prior 80GB and large enough to have a decent sized Boot Camp partition allowing me to (hopefully) travel with just one laptop. I have a nice, new 750GB Maxtor One Touch 4 ready to be used as a NAS once Apple fixes whatever is ailing my Airport Extreme USB disk sharing.

  9. The MacBook Air is the “motorcycle” of the Apple line… fun to ride, no real features, not very practical.

  10. i had the same problem, i can’t live without the bootcamp partition (im a windows sys admin) and space was running thin for both OS’s. i was extremely pleased with how easy it was to swap the drive & import everything from the time machine backup.

    im having the same problems with my airport disk, its a huge PIA. its flakey with my mac mini w/ tiger and hardly ever works with leopard. if apple is smart they will enable existing airports to act like time capsule, i guess only time will tell…

  11. jon, frequent poster Glenn caught a blog entry indicating the next build currently being tested supports Time Machine backups to Airport Express drives. Hope it comes to pass!

    Marc, do you remember an Apple laptop from maybe 10-12 years ago that had a docking station? Think it was one of those dark grey ones with a b/w screen. Was pretty innovative.

  12. “I went straight for a wireline, got my 42 megabits uploaded and went on my merry way.”

    Mari, did you mean 42 megabytes? 42 megabits = 5.25 megabytes.

    I’ve just never seen somebody refer to a file’s size in bits before. :)

  13. Actually, there is no irony in my post. I sought to provide a case study of why and how a person might want and use a MacBook Air. I did exactly that. Other commenters have raised weight, ergonomics and dual computer ownership in discussions of the MacBook Air. These factors will drive adoption of the innovative new computer. So will iPhone ownership because using multitouch grows on you. It is unfortunate that someone here doesn’t know the meaning of ‘irony.’

    Much the same claims of impending doom were made by naysayers about the iPhone. They’re fated to be wrong again.

    Sent from my iPhone.

  14. You should pair the Macbook Air with this product:

    Linksys WTR54GS

    This is a “travel router”. It is about the size of two decks of playing cards stacked together (the power connector is built in, so that includes power). The device will turn any hard-wired ethernet port into a wireless port for you. It supports modern wireless security protocols, so that the connection is yours alone.

    I use it frequently when I travel as a good “first line” of defense by having a pre-configured NAT router blocking incoming connections to my PC. It will work as a NAT router either with the external side being hardwired or wireless and the internal side being either hardwired or wireless. (Although it may seem odd to use a wireless router to connect to a wireless internet connection, there is some advantage to not connecting your own machine to the network).

    The best criticism of this solution would be price (about $90). It is a very nice product though.

  15. The counter-argument is that the last two facilities I worked at prohibited wireless networks/connectivity (though strangely allowed rogue computers onto the wired network). ;) I already travel with a wireless router (used to be an Airport Express, now a Belkin with four ports), but there are many situations where it’s not convenient/efficient to pull it out. I’m sticking with the 15″ MBP – it’s better suited for my lifestyle.

  16. My Fujitsu Lifebook P7120 is an ultra portable with an SVideo port on it. I’ve never used the SVideo port, so I really wish it had some other useful port there. Now, if it had HDMI or DVI I’d really be happy. The Left side of mine has Ethernet, VGA, SVideo, Telephone, USB, FireWire, USB, and a PCMCIA slot. The Right side has Power, USB, a SD/XD/Memory Stick reader, And the drive bay port that I’ve currently got a second battery installed in.

    With 2GB ram installed in this two year old machine, I expect it will last my lust for a new machine for another year.

  17. “there is no irony in my post”

    There was no INTENTIONAL irony in your post. The unintentional irony included calling someone self-centered for laying out *their* requirements for a laptop and then laying out *your* requirements for a laptop in exactly the same way without a trace of self-awareness.

    “Sent from my iPhone”

    Ye Gods, man, you’ve moved beyond fandom into caricature.

  18. No. YOU are the caricature, David. Of the person who has nothing substantive to say himself, but is ridiculously eager to find fault with the substantive remarks of others. As I said in my previous comment, the factors I listed, alone or cumulative, will lead people to buy MacBook Air computers. People, not just a single person. That is how my remarks differ from the naysayers.’ You all act as if your personal needs all that exist and damn the computer for that short-sighted reason.

  19. Sorry for the almost double post.

    William, your computer sounds much like a NEC subcompact I had some years ago. The sacrifices on my NEC were keyboard size, screen size and pointing device. (I did not mind having detachable CD/ROM and floppy drives.) That is why I am influenced by the full-size keyboard and screen on the MacBook Air, and a multitouch trackpad.

  20. Let’s keep it on topic without the personal attacks, or I shut down commenting on this post and flag offending messages as spam. Cool?

    On topic: My most favorite and most hated ultra-portable was a 7″ Sharp imported from Japan via Dynamism. Fit nicely in a little shoulder holster bag from Eddie Bauer, but battery life sucked and touch typing was difficult. It may have also been missing an Ethernet jack. ;) For awhile, I toted around a 12″ Dell which had a nice balance of features and size/weight.

  21. “People, not just a single person”

    You have no way of knowing that; you speak for yourself and no one else. Which is, again, why your original post was so ironic.

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