11" MacBook Air: the best computer I've ever had

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A while ago I blogged about my impressions on running Ubuntu Natty and GNOME3 on my MacBook Air. As I've gotten some questions about the laptop itself, I decided to write something about it.

Simply put, the 11" MacBook Air is the best computer I've ever had. I've always appreciated small and light laptops as I travel quite a bit, but this one takes portability to a completely new level. The laptop weights only a kilogram, and is small enough to fit pretty much any bag. And it is pretty:


Funnily enough, it has a slower processor than my previous work laptop (1.4 GHz vs. 1.6 GHz), but the fast SSD makes a huge difference. Pretty much anything I do on the device feels faster. It appears Brooks Review agrees:

...my MacBook Air is the best Mac I have ever owned — hands down — no contest. I have had everything from the fabled 12″ Powerbook G4 to a pimped out Mac Pro — the MacBook Air takes the cake here. It is incredibly fast for 95% of everything that I do and the screen resolution is amazing give the small footprint of the machine. The size and weight of the machine still amazes me every time I touch it.

Battery life is also quite good, with Linux giving me about 3-4 hours per charge. This could obviously be better, and I dream of the 10+ hours an Arm processor would give.

Why Linux?

Why do I run Linux on the system? First of all, I appreciate the software freedom. I also love the predictable release cycles that Ubuntu and GNOME give me: every six months there is a new release with a set of features announced early on. And since we deploy our software on Ubuntu, my own development environment has automatically the same set of packages and versions available. Midgard, Node.js, etc. are all available from the repositories.

I also like GNOME's focus on simplicity. Unlike OS X, the user interface has very few unnecessary elements, and the desktop itself has been designed to let me focus on the task at hand, minimizing distractions.

Installing Ubuntu on the system is not exactly trivial, but after a bit of setup everything works as it should: suspending, wireless, webcam, everything. And boot times are also pleasantly fast. Compared to previous Ubuntu versions, network acquisition after resume is also very fast, comparable to OS X.


As said, battery life could be better. Ten hours would give me trouble-free working environment when traveling, as now I often have to prioritize when to use the computer and for what in fear that no power outlet is available.

I also hate the display adapters Apple forces us to buy and carry around. I give a lot of presentations, and this is another piece of equipment to accidentally leave home. Why not just go VGA or HDMI?

In both of these aspects the similarly compact Nokia Booklet would've been better. Unfortunately it has been a while since that "business netbook" was released and there has been no word of newer versions.

Another gripe is related to the stability of the GNOME3 PPA release for Natty. There are some regressions compared to stock Ubuntu. I hope that will be eventually fixed now that Natty is officially out. Shame that Canonical wanted to do their own thing instead of going with GNOME.