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1/16/2008
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MacBook Air Is A Hit At Macworld Expo

Attendees at the annual Mac conference were eager to get their hands on the new Apple notebook, but some expressed concerns.

Macworld Expo was buzzing Wednesday about the new thin notebook computer introduced by Apple at Steve Jobs' keynote earlier this week.

The MacBook Air, which Jobs billed as the world's thinnest notebook, includes a 13.3-inch LED display and a full-sized keyboard. It's scheduled to ship in two weeks, priced starting at $1,799.

"I got excited because of the weight," said Debra West-Maciaszek, manager of the tech pubs department for Nikon Precision. "It's only three pounds. If you travel a lot, that's cool."

Her husband, Mac Maciaszek, who is retired, was a little less enthusiastic. "It's a nice machine -- don't get me wrong," he said. But he was concerned that the lack of a built-in optical drive would make it hard to install applications.

The system will sell with an optional $99 external detachable optical drive or the MacBook Air can borrow an optical drive from another computer. MacBook Air users can use software installed on another Mac or Windows PC to wirelessly connect to and address the remote computer's optical drive as if it were local to the MacBook Air. Users can then use the remote computer to install software to the MacBook Air -- the external software will even let Windows run Mac installer files.

West-Maciaszek was also impressed with Apple's plans to rent movies over iTunes. "I travel a lot, and I always take my DVDs," she said. "This will let me leave the DVDs behind."

And Maciaszek was impressed with the Time Capsule, a wireless networked storage appliance optimized for use with the Time Machine backup software built into Mac OS X Leopard. The Time Capsule is an Airport Extreme Wi-Fi base station with a built-in 500-Gbyte or 1-Tbyte hard disk. "I just bought an Airport Extreme without a hard drive," Maciaszek said. "I ought to learn to wait for January before I buy anything."

John Gilmore, president of Gilmore Technology Services, an IT consultancy in San Ramon, Calif., was also impressed with the MacBook Air. "I think it's a great product. If I had the money, I would buy one," he said. "It's gorgeous, it's very light, and it has the advantage of instant-on."

Support for 802.11n Wi-Fi will make networking throughput adequate for most jobs, Gilmore said. Earlier Wi-Fi standards were too slow for large amounts of data.

He said the iTunes movie rental announcements and upgrades to Apple TV aren't useful to him, personally. But he added, "Apple is going to make a lot of money on that."

Gabe Langhout, general manager of the Dutch Republic, Web designers in Holland, said he likes the light weight for the notebook, but thinks it's expensive.

"Solid state memory is expensive," he said. The notebook's standard 80-Gbyte hard drive is conventional spinning storage, but it comes with an optional 65-Gbyte solid state drive for $999. Even Jobs said the solid state drive is expensive.

"It's a little pricey, but it's super-fast," he said at the keynote.

Russell Holmes, executive vice president for Praxis Integrated Communications, said he was "a little disappointed" by the announcements. "I was expecting something a little better" -- a blockbuster announcement, he said.

But, still, he liked what Apple did announce, specifically the MacBook Air. "It's great. It's a nice little computer. It's lightweight and thin," he said.

However, he said he was concerned that the notebook would require a lot of peripherals and attachments to make it usable.

"They didn't say what market they were selling the MacBook Air to -- is it a personal computer, business computer?" said Ismail Naheed, a technical engineer for Bell Microprocessors in Minneapolis.

He said he also finds movie rentals from iTunes appealing. "I don't want to rent movies from Netflix and wait for the mail, where I can get it from iTunes and it's instant," he said.

The Time Capsule is also impressive, he said, but he's concerned it will be complicated to configure. At the keynote, Jobs said it would require no configuration at all -- just turn it on and it starts backing up -- but Naheed was skeptical. If that were true, he said, the Time Capsule would automatically back up data from every Wi-Fi enabled Mac running Leopard within networking range, whether or not the owners of the machines wanted them to back up over Time Capsule.

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