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May 01 Viewpoint

Volume Number: 17 (2001)
Issue Number: 05
Column Tag: Viewpoint

Living with a Mac 24/7

by Marshall Clow

OK – I'll say it. My name is Marshall, and I carry a Macintosh with me all the time.

I am not alone doing this. People have been carrying their computers for years. An acquaintance of mine started with a Mac Portable. He carried it with him everywhere for almost 2 years. (Yes, he has a strong back.) The PowerBook 2400 inspired many people to do this; it is very small and very light. I know a few people who have carried their 2400s with them for several years. I carried a 2400 myself for about 18 months. Recently, my employer bought me a Titanium PowerBook, and I switched to that. It's a lot bigger than the 2400, but it has other advantages.

Apple's new iBook is designed to be carried everywhere. At less than 5 pounds, it doesn't weigh you down, and it is small enough to fit in a backpack and leave room for plenty of other stuff. One of the target audiences for the new iBook are students, who, as a group, never really have just one place to work.

Apple has always marketed PowerBooks as "the computer that can go anywhere with you", but their arguments are more compelling when they as PowerBooks get smaller and lighter.

What happens when you have a computer with you all the time? As a software developer, these are the things that I have noticed:

  • I can work anywhere. This is especially important for people who have more than one job. If you ride a train or a bus to work, you can work while you are travelling to and from work. The same principle applies if you carpool to work. Last week, I had to get my car serviced. Rather than worry about arranging a ride after dropping off the car (and back later), I worked for about two hours in the repair shop's waiting room.
  • I have all my "working files" with me all the time. If I want to edit a photo that I took last week, I don't "go to the computer" to edit it; I "pull out the computer" and start editing.
  • The computer becomes a part of you. It gradually changes from a mass-produced piece of hardware and software to a device that is customized to exactly how you want it. These changes can be small tweaks, like changing the speed of the track pad, to installing a Dvorak keyboard, up to large hardware modifications. PowerBook 2400 owners are notorious for these kind of hardware changes; see for some examples. I haven't changed the TiPB much yet.
  • Unlike most computers these days, a 7/24 computer spends much of the time not connected to any network. Because of this, I keep all my files on my local hard disk, not stored on a file server somewhere. For those times when I am in an office (or at home) an AirPort card is a big convenience; when I am not in an office, aRicochet wireless modem works well.
  • Anything that's not internal to the computer is likely to get left behind. Most of the time, I only bring a power supply with me. Many times, I leave that at home, too. I do carry headphones, though.
  • Since I can use the computer anywhere, I tend to work in spurts. I can pull out the computer anytime I have a few minutes to wait.
  • I tend to have several projects active at once. I don't have any problem working on one of these projects for 10-15 minutes at a time, whenever inspiration strikes me.
  • I don't have to have the fastest computer around, but it needs to have a lot of RAM and disk space. If CodeWarrior can't compile my project because I don't have enough RAM, then I can't work.
  • Unfortunately, the terms ‘portable' and ‘large screen' don't really go together. I miss having dual 20" monitors, but I can't carry them around with me.
  • Backup strategies require a bit of thought. It doesn't take many hours before the data on the computer is worth significantly more than the actual computer. Since the computer can get dropped/lost/stolen, I back it up regularly.
  • I don't carry a CD player. I keep a selection of MP3's on my computer (see ‘lots of disk space' above) and play them when I want music. On an airplane, I watch movies on the computer.

Is This For Everyone?

Of course not.

Many people are quite happy to turn the computer off at the end of the workday, and leave it off until the next morning. Some people feel more productive if they have an office or desk to work at. Other people have trouble working with distractions, so a quiet office is the only place for them.

On the other hand, I sure enjoy being able to use my computer wherever I am; this summer I will be spending lots of time working outside in my back yard!


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