Review: MacBook Air for coding

So you want to buy a Mac eh?

As a person who has grown up on the PC and in the Windows environment, this was an irregular move. For the first time in my life, I purchased a computer purely for work purposes (also irregular). Of course I do use my Mac for some day-to-day things like Skype and writing, but I bought it primarily to work in Ruby on Rails.

When I was in Malaysia, I was having a nightmare getting rails to work in Windows. To make matters worse, I couldn’t dual-boot into Ubuntu. The end result was that I decided to “invest” in my future and get a MacBook Air (MBA).

So, for anybody considering it, I’m going to share my list of pros and cons changing over to the Mac and in particular OS X.

Macbook Air

2013 MacBook Air

Pros

From a general laptop perspective, the MBA works very well. Once you get used to the keyboard, you will find it is really hard to go back to any laptop keyboard not styled like a Mac. Even most ultrabooks use this design now. Speaking of ultrabooks, after getting the MBA, I don’t think I can ever buy a “normal” sized laptop again. It just feels overly heavy/bulky to not use an ultrabook style laptop.

I find going from program to program or screen to screen on my MBA better than my Windows computer. The CMD+tab & CMD+` is fluid and it’s fairly easy to still keep track of where I am.

Probably my favourite thing about the actual laptop is the trackpad. Apple got the trackpad totally right. While I used to hate using the trackpad on most laptops, I don’t mind using my Mac trackpad. I still prefer a mouse for speed and control but I can handle using it for hours without feeling like I want to chop my fingers off.

I upgraded my air to the 8gb ram and I highly recommend it. I can’t imagine this sucker running on 4gb. The OS itself seems fairly heavy and I find it doesn’t clear memory that fast. For a portable coding computer, it works well. If you want it as a full-blown laptop replacement, you can consider the MacBook Pro (MBP) for the increased power and screen size. But if you’re just using terminal, an editor and pushing to Git, the MBA is a-OK.

Using programs and OS X isn’t better or worse than Windows. It’s just… different. However, when doing rails, I am starting to notice the advantages. The dev tools are more seamless and better suited for what I’m working on. However, that being said, these tools are equally available and supported on Linux. For example, you will probably end up using Sublime on OSX and pitting it against Notepad++. Having used both I do prefer Sublime. The Git integration is naturally built-in and you will find far easier to find support for development.

Cons

Well, nothing is perfect right?

The first thing people usually point out is that Apple computers are very expensive. Apple supporters will counter by saying it’s worth it for the “intuitive UI”. So in the end, do I feel it’s more intuitive?

Not really. Like I said before, it’s just different. Some things are better, other things aren’t.

Now, actual price points. The MBA doesn’t actually cost much more than a comparable similar sized PC ultrabook. The MBP on the other hand, can cost quite a bit more. If you are considering the MBP for a replacement full-scale dev machine, you will probably be taking several of the upgrades. The magic number I’ve arrived at is ~$2200USD (education discount – no apple care) for the 15″ MBP as a minimum standard. Everything is soldered together so you will not have upgrade options in the future. You can save money by going with the 13″ version but that brings me to my next point. You will probably want a bigger screen to code on. I’ve adjusted to the 13″ MBA but given a choice, I would surely take a 15″ laptop.

Another feature that I have a love/hate relationship is my magnet cord/adapter. The magnet falls off a bit too easily and my cord seems to snag a lot. I’ve heard it’s because of the changes they made from the gen 1 to gen 2 adapter. This will probably be the first thing to break.

Going back to the thing about being different. Some things I do hate on my Mac are things like the file system/organization. Some features like cut and paste aren’t always available (Macs are all about the dragging). Files are sometimes hidden (because of importing or other reasons) and it becomes a witch hunt to find  them. Some of that is because I know where these files would be in a Windows environment, but other times, it’s because it feels like the Mac is ‘protecting’ the user from viewing the files easily.

Conclusion

Even though I don’t work in media (design, audio, video), I understand why those industries prefer the Mac. That being said, even in the design world, when working with Adobe, there is nothing that a modern PC can’t do just as well. Similar things can be said for the dev world, but you’ll be comparing OS X to Linux more commonly.

If you don’t work in those fields and use it for word processing and browsing, I can say it is quite a waste of money, especially if you own a Pro. But at the end of the day, I compare it to owning a car. People use it for function but also consider its “style”. But if you use it just for word processing and internet it’s sorta like buying an automatic Porsche. It doesn’t make the most sense.

For a rails developer, the choice is simple. Either load Linux or buy a Mac. If you can’t afford it, Ubuntu will do everything that the OS X can do. So wait until you get that 100k dev job or your business can afford it.

I recommend the MBA over the MBP for the price point and bang for your buck.

Happy coding.

-TUS

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2 Comments:

  1. I remember when we talked about MacBooks and we basically established that what I had was just a glorified Facebook machine. You on the other hand are making a great use of yours 🙂

  2. Pingback: Mastering your development environment: Part 1 | the unsuccessful student

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