Apple's MacBook Air ultra-thin could spawn improved PC notebooks

By Joel Shore, ITworld.com |  Business

The envelope, please. No, it's not just an awards-show phrase, it's precisely
how Steve Jobs unveiled Apple's latest masterwork, the ultrathin MacBook Air
computer at Macworld earlier this week. Just 0.16 inches at its thinnest point,
Jobs pulled the computer from a standard-size manila interoffice envelope. I'm
no Mac maven, but like the crowd packed into the Macworld keynote address, I'm
duly impressed.

Weighing in at around 3 lbs., selling for $1,799, and outfitted with an 80GB
hard drive (a very, very thin hard drive considering the maximum thickness of
0.76 inch), the MacBook Air may be the perfect machine for the executive on
the go. Of course, the fact that it's a Mac and not a PC is likely to be a showstopper
for many, but in 2008 that barrier is a whole lot less valid than it was a decade
ago.

A feature with which I'm especially impressed is the storage option. Toss in
another thousand dollars, and you can replace the 80GB drive with a 64GB flash-based
solid state drive. We're all spoiled these days and look upon 64GB of storage
as paltry, especially compared to the inexpensive 750GB desktop hard drives
that Seagate is cranking out by the trainload. But again, for the executive
crowd and perhaps engineers or architects on a job site, instantaneous, reliable
storage with no spinning disks or heads to crash is a feature too alluring to
ignore.

For most users, 80GB is plenty of space. The new Microsoft Office 2008 for
Mac requires 1.5GB of drive space. And typically, Office documents are fairly
small. Adobe's Creative Suite 3 Design Premium edition needs 5GB of space. Of
course, some Adobe files (ultra-high-resolution Photoshop images with many layers,
for example) can grow to several gigabytes in size.

Streamlined to the limits of credulity, the MacBook Air still manages to include
a 13.3-inch widescreen LED (yes, that's LED, not LCD) display and full-size
backlit keyboard.

One thing that's not clear until you read the specs is that the add-on CD/DVD
drive is an additional $99 -- and absolutely necessary. With it you can "install
new software" among other things. Installing software is certainly something
I'd want to do. But wait, there's one more small gotcha. Wireless networking
is built in, but there's no Ethernet RJ-45 port. That's a $29 adapter that plugs
into the unit's sole USB port. Not a big deal, but a minor annoyance. (See the
complete specs here).

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