The new machines are thinner and lighter — and more expensive, and less expandable than ever. While this may be fine for someone handed a MacBook Pro by an employer (thanks, LinkedIn), it does make me wonder who would spend so much of their own money on such a machine, and it made me reflect even more on the optimal environment for engineering.
First, let’s talk about the machine.
Thinner, Lighter... and More ExpensiveAs part of the group that views their computers more like pickup trucks than as sports cars, I literally rolled my eyes throughout the keynote at the continued emphasis on how the new MacBook Pros are thinner and lighter than their predecessors. That’s great, but the last thing I care about is how thin my laptop is (within reason), and, by the way, this is only 3 millimeters (or a tenth of an inch) thinner than the old one.
Lighter? Sure, maybe that matters. But if you tote all the dongles you'll need to replicate an old MacBook Pro experience, the weight savings probably evaporates. And, of course, you'll be jamming a giant, fragile spaghetti ball of cables into your bag (if Apple’s Lightning and MagSafe cables are any indication) — which, again, takes away all the gains Apple ostensibly giveth.
Finally, can we talk about these prices? All of the machines got at least a $200 price bump, even though Apple is using cheaper components everywhere. The top of the line configuration (and you’d better buy that one if you want this computer for the long haul, as there is literally zero user upgradability in the ones with the Touch Bar) costs a blistering $4,300 — and still only has 16GB of RAM. Let’s hope you don’t need to run any virtual machines.
Less Expandable and the quagmire that is USB-C/Thunderbolt 3/USB 3.1 Gen 2There are no user-serviceable parts in these machines (except for the SSD on the physical function keys model, aka “The One You Shouldn’t Buy”). No upgrades, no changes. Everything is soldered onto the motherboard. It looks like the expansion path for this system is Thunderbolt 3, except…
Thunderbolt 3/USB-C is a “total nightmare.” I almost ended this section with just that sentence, but seriously, go read that post. It’s amazing how poor the compatibility is with the “Universal” ports on the machine.
You may be able to plug two devices into each other, but they may not work.
You may be able to plug your machine into a USB-C power supply — but if you use the wrong cable, you may physically damage the machine.
You may be able to plug in your high-speed RAID array to the super awesome Thunderbolt 3 port, but you'd better hope it’s on the correct side of your desk (left, for the record), because two of the completely unlabeled ports on your machine might actually be slow ones, and unless you read this exciting support document on Apple’s website, you’d have no idea.
Let’s not even talk about Apple's lack of courage leaving in a 3.5mm port. Or about how you can’t plug Apple's flagship phone into Apple's flagship computer without a $30 cable.
What’s the optimal answer?I thought about this for a while and then realized that even when I was an engineer, I did almost all of my work in three applications: Chrome, Terminal, and Sublime Text. These applications (or very close facsimiles) exist on any platform. Since I don’t develop for iOS or Mac OS, I don’t particularly need to use a Mac, so other platforms look much more attractive. Specifically, Windows, (which, yes, I have privacy issues with, but put those aside for a second) easily runs Chrome, PuTTY is a fine terminal emulator, and there’s tons of great text editors. You could even install the new Linux subsystem based on Ubuntu and run native vi/emacs/etc. and it’d barely be like you left. Outstanding Windows hardware like the Razer Blade or the HP Spectre x360 pack even better specifications and performance into similarly-thin and light cases for a fraction of the price.
Sure, Mac OS has good polish and mostly is stable and reliable (there’s still plenty of places where it is not, and they seem to be more prominent as the releases march on), and the integration with my iPhone is nice and shiny. But maybe the other ecosystem isn’t so bad. Maybe it’s worth investigating — a thought I haven’t had in the five years I’ve been regularly using Macs. I think that beyond the specific decisions associated with this computer, it’s worrisome to think about what this means for the Apple ecosystem’s overall health. Apple’s current stranglehold on the developer computer market they acquired by forcing you to own a Mac to run Xcode and develop for the iOS world may no longer even be enough to keep their hardware top-of-mind — tools like Xamarin and the like mean a whole group of people can do development work for the Mac/iOS with just one shared Mac Mini instead of each of them having an expensive MacBook Pro.
What do you think? Are you sticking with Apple to develop? Why or why not? Write a post including #NewMacBookPro so we don’t miss it, or leave a comment below and tell me where you stand.
Source: LinkedIn by Greg Leffler