The Computer Blog

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The BIG Apple Screw-Up: No Firewire in the MacBook is a BIG Deal!

Through the years, Apple has patted itself on the back for removing technology from its computer line it has decided its users no longer need. In this latest evolution of its MacBook line, though there are many things to its credit, Apple has removed Firewire 400 from both the MacBook and MacBook Pro models, restricting its consumer base to the pathetic use of PC-derived USB 2.0. Already this morning, Apple’s discussion boards are full of users crying “foul!”. At first, Apple performed its usual controlling censorship trick by deleting the threads illuminating the users’ dissatisfaction, but they’re back up now to the company’s credit.

I’m here to say I’m one of those crying “FOUL!”.

The inclusion of Firewire in Macs and the beautiful uses you could put it to was one of those things that distinguished the Mac technical experience from that of the world of the PC. PC’s running Windows had no ability to boot off an external disk and run the operating system from boot up, something that could be routinely done on a Mac if a copy of the operating system (and I’m talking OS X, here) was properly installed on the Firewire hard drive. Holding down the Option key allowed you to pick a boot hard disk during the machine’s start sequence. This not only allowed you to use a Firewire hard drive to troubleshoot a system that might not otherwise boot, but you could run disk utilities from the external drive to fix the boot drive. In addition, Apple had used Firewire to enable you to use its Migration Assistant to make transferring files and applications from your old machine to your new one a snap. Now, with the dropping of Firewire, you must use network connections (either wired or wireless) to use Migration Assistant. HELLO, APPLE, THERE ARE STILL PLENTY OF FOLKS WHO DO NOT HAVE A HOME NETWORK!!!! They own a single Mac and now, instead of being able to plug in a cable and transfer data from it themselves, they’ll have to get a friend who does have a network AND understands Macs to help.

You’ve shot yourself in the foot, Apple! At the very least, you’d better issue an update to Migration Assistant that lets it use USB 2.0, or you’re going to lose switchers you could have had!!!

Meanwhile, too, note that if you had hoped to use the smaller format MacBook with its increased horsepower to edit video, you’re either out of luck or going to have spend money on a USB 2.0 to Firewire adapter and hope it works (which it probably won’t since the video application that needs Firewire will still see it as USB)! Otherwise, you’re going to have no way of getting your video onto the new MacBook if you have a decent video camera; Apple must be thinking that consumers primarily use those little dinky half-video, half-still cameras that use USB 2.0 to hook up with a PC. You’re better bet, if you’re using a real video camera, is to step up to a MacBook Pro and use a FW800 to 400 adapter; I’m betting you have better luck with that than you would springing from USB 2.0, and I’m betting that’s what Apple is counting on.

Last night, my wife and I had talked about moving to notebooks only by using a couple of the new MacBooks and the new 24 inch LCD’s. Yes, we have a home network and I can get Migration Assistant to work, so the loss of FW is not as big a deal to us as it might be to other couples. But, for me, personally, the loss of both FW400 as a camera interface AND the loss of Target Disk mode (Target Disk Mode does not exist in the new MacBook Pro, either!) and its ability to allow troubleshooting of a sick Mac as well as make a bootable backup from a healthy one IS a BIG DEAL! My wife may still move to a MacBook only set-up but I don’t feel I can now, even though I’d like to. The new LCD with its iSight camera gave me a reason to switch but the loss of Firewire 400 IS a SHOWSTOPPER!

Guess I’ll take a look at having an Apple Repair Center put a 500GB hard drive in my current 15 inch MacBook Pro and then wait for someone to make an adapter that let’ll me run it with one of the new 24 inch LCD’s. I won’t get the smaller footprint I want when I’m on the move, but at least I won’t lose some of that wonderful functionality I’ve come to associate with using a Mac.


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