My Review of the 2020 MacBook Air

2020 MacBook AirOn June 22 Apple formally announced its departure from Intel x86 to its in-house ARM chipset, dubbed Apple Silicon. 

ARM-based chips, like those found in iPhone and iPad, are considerably faster and more efficient than their Intel counterparts and will allow for better battery life and enhanced integration between hardware and software. Close your eyes and imagine the speed and stability of a mobile device but in a laptop or desktop computer. 

The first Apple Silicon Macs will be available later this year. 

All of this is to say my own Mac — a 2011 MacBook Air — died within days of the announcement, so I was confronted with deciding between buying into a dying line of Intel-based Macs now or holding out for Apple Silicon later this year. 

It wasn’t an easy decision; while ARM-based Macs will be exponentially more powerful and more efficient, the transition to get there may include bugs and kinks. While this will be especially true for niche software developers who may lag in their production cycles, I don’t expect transitional issues from “anchor” apps like Microsoft Office and Google Chrome. Still, as a general rule, I avoid buying the first generation of any new tech. Plus, I can’t go months without a computer. 

I opted for the upper-tier MacBook Air. 

My Air’s configuration includes performance and memory bumps: a 1.1 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5, 16 GB 3733 MHz LPDDR4 RAM and a 512GB SSD. Choosing quad-core was a no-brainer, and the bump to 512GB of storage provides more wiggle room without fretting about space. 

This configuration is more than powerful enough for my needs: writing with lots of open tabs, light web development and casual video editing. I can run Final Cut Pro or Logic Pro X if need to, though if I used either of those tools fulltime, I would have opted for the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Apple’s attention to detail did not escape the 2020 MacBook Air. At the top of the list of enhancements is the return to the traditional scissor keyboard. The 2020 Air’s Magic Keyboard has 1mm of travel and has a satisfying click to keystrokes. 

And finally, at long last, I have a retina display and Touch ID. 

The line between the macOS and iOS is blurring more each year. There isn’t a hard divide between mobile and desktop experiences, at least when it comes to photos, bookmarks, documents, and settings. The majority of my stuff was synced via iCloud, and the rest was available through my Time Machine backups. I’m comfortably within the walled garden that Apple has constructed for me over the last 15 years, and I can seamlessly move between my MacBook, iPad, and iPhone. I expect macOS and iOS to become even more enmeshed when Apple releases its next OS, Big Sur, later this year. 

The 2020 MacBook Air has only two ports, and they’re both USB-C. None of my devices –– not my printer, my external hard drive, or my GoPro camera –– is USB-C. This is my biggest grievance with the 2020 Air. It didn’t occur to me how many older USB devices I had until I couldn’t use them. The issue of legacy ports was solved by buying a USB-C Hub Adapter, which opens the notebook up to all of my older devices. 

The 2020 MacBook Air, like all current Mac laptops, features a very awful 720p FaceTime camera, so don’t expect much visual appeal for virtual meetings from home. I suppose this is due to the Air’s thin form factor and lack of space for a larger, higher-quality camera. This is unfortunate as so many of us depend on video calls more than ever during the pandemic. 

Will I get almost a decade of use out of the 2020 Air? It’s unlikely. But based on my experience so far, I can say that shoddy camera aside, the 2020 MacBook is a solid option for anyone who needs portability and power.

2020 and the Death of Information Technology

Via Robert Cringeley:

IT — Information Technology — grew out of something we called MIS — Management Information Systems — but both meant a kid in a white shirt who brought you a new keyboard when yours broke. Well, the kid is now gone, sent home with everyone else, and that kid isn’t coming back… ever. IT is near death, fading by the day. But don’t blame COVID-19 because the death of IT was inevitable. This novel coronavirus just made it happen a little quicker…

Amazon has been replacing all of our keyboards for some time now, along with our mice and our failed cables, and even entire PCs. IT has been changing steadily from kids taking elevators up from the sub-basement to Amazon Prime trucks rolling-up to your mailbox. At the same time, our network providers have been working to limit their truck rolls entirely. Stop by the Comcast storefront to get your cable modem, because nobody is going to come to install it if you aren’t the first person living there to have cable…

Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) extends both the network and a security model end-to-end over any network including 4G or 5G wireless. Some folks will run their applications in their end device, whether it is a PC, phone, tablet, whatever, and some will run their applications in the same cloud as SASE, in which case everything will be that much faster and more secure. That’s end end-game if there is one — everything in the cloud with your device strictly for input and output, painting screens compressed with HTML5. It’s the end of IT because your device will no longer contain anything so it can be simply replaced via Amazon if it is damaged or lost, with the IT kid in the white shirt becoming an Uber driver.

Since COVID-19 is trapping us in our homes it is forcing this transition to happen faster than it might have. But it was always going to happen.

Humble Book Bundle: Cybersecurity 2020

Humble Book Bundle: Cybersecurity 2020 is now available. Pay what you can afford –– as little as $1 –– for up to nineteen digital, DRM-free cybersecurity titles:

Secure yourself a new bundle of cybersecurity ebooks! Get ebooks like Cryptography Engineering: Design Principles and Practical Applications, Reversing: Secrets of Reverse Engineering, Social Engineering: The Science of Human Hacking, and more.

 

Kirsten Gillibrand Proposes U.S. Data Protection Agency

via Protocol:

The so-called Data Protection Act of 2020 would create the country’s first data protection agency to oversee how privacy laws in America are enforced and guide Congress on the development of those laws. The agency would be empowered to impose penalties on companies that violate people’s privacy, taken them to court, field consumer complaints, and launch investigations.

“As our country and economy continue to evolve with the digital age, we face a national crisis as our personal data gets targeted — and not just for marketing by brands, but also to establish if we can access certain jobs, loans, or prices on products,” Gillibrand wrote. “Americans should be able to go to an institution that will look out for, and actively work to protect, their privacy and freedom.

Schools in Rural Texas Find Workarounds to Address Lack of Broadband, Digital Divide

A new report from my office looks at how the lack of broadband in rural Texas communities is crippling business and agriculture, and forcing schools to find creative ways to provide online access to students:

To close the gap, students often create “workarounds” to connect with online resources, such as gathering outside businesses and school campuses to tap free Wi-Fi. Hetherington says Bandera students were often seen waiting in line at the Bandera County Library after school to use its high-speed internet. Today, Bandera ISD’s BEC-provided Wi-Fi has been incorporated into its curriculum; for example, Alkek Elementary students take iPads down Main Street on digital “scavenger hunts” to hone their online skills. Texas school districts such as Huntsville ISD and South Texas ISD have outfitted school buses with Wi-Fi so students can study during the ride home, while Weatherford ISD has provided signage and even recycled hardware for local businesses that want to offer students free internet access.

The Home Computer Christmas War of 1983

Fantastic article on the battle royale between computer and gaming manufacturers in the runup to Christmas in 1983:

Coleco had entered the videogame console market late, introducing the Colecovision in mid-1982 just as Atari was beginning to wear out its welcome with the public. With its superior graphics and sound, and Donkey Kong as its pack-in game, it sold well before Christmas, but was not immune to the plague ET subsequently cursed the industry with and when Coleco management saw consumer sentiment was turning toward home computers they saw an opportunity to jump trains. The marketing department decided their ideal customer was parents of less-technically savvy teenagers who needed to do school assignments and wanted to play arcade conversions, and so they suggested adding a printer, keyboard and tape storage to the existing Colecovision console, rather than develop an entire new machine. It was hoped this could get the computer, christened the Adam, to market faster, but adding all those peripherals was trickier than expected, and despite promises to retailers Coleco failed to deliver most of the units in time for Christmas – and many of those they did deliver were defective. Poor reviews and disappointed potential customers coloured public sentiment and the Adam bombed, taking the Colecovision with it.