MacBook Air: The ultra Ultrabook and business Windows, too

MacBook Air: The ultra Ultrabook and business Windows, too

Summary: Ted Schadler lends some firsthand thoughts on using the MacBook Air in the enterprise.


I've been testing the MacBook Air for five months now. I use it for work and for home. At work, I run our corporate image Windows XP with the attendant applications and security software in a Parallels virtual machine. At home, I run the Mac side. After a few hiccups with the security software going haywire in our corporate image (thanks to the Parallels support team and to our own IT client and network security team for help), it's been a great experience.

I don't need to wax poetic about just how good the MacBook Air itself is. Plenty of testers have already explained just want makes the MacBook Air the ultra ultabook. See Engadget, CNET, Fortune. (And of course ultrabooks were all the rage at CES this year, see HP's showcased by Serena in Gossip Girl and Dell's XPS 13.)

But I do need to describe my experience with this travel-friendly, totally modern, and practical combination of hardware and software. I'll then also point out some things that are still challenging in using the the MacBook Air in a Windows-centric business world. First, the experience in four bullets:

  1. The machine itself is a wonder. I drop it on the floor and it keeps ticking. The battery lasts a flight across country. It fires up and finds a network in seconds. It's lickedly splitly fast and deliciously light. It's thin and light enough to slide unnoticed into my bag. (I have to look to check that I didn't forget it.) It boots in seconds, finds Wi-Fi in moments, and discovers new video connections without problems. And it draws looks of envy from colleagues and respect from customers. It's worth the price.
  2. Parallels virtual machine is easy to use (and easy enough to set up though I'm not much of a do-it-yourselfer). The software is stable, and it behaves just like a Windows machine at work. No performance issues, totally compliant with our security and network requirements, running all our corporate software. It's like having your cake and eating it, too. (Colleagues also rave about the VMWare Fusion virtual machine.)
  3. Windows runs just like I expect it to. It was critical to me for this machine to run our business image. Otherwise, it wouldn't be possible to use it the way I live, where work and life blend together like milk & honey. I can keep the practical bits running while embracing the new bits. (Pun intended)
  4. The OS X Lion software is more post-PC (I like the new scrolling motion and touch-aligned things) and more fun than previous versions. The App Store alone makes the software worth running. You get the same app experience on the Mac as you get on an iPhone or iPad. And the number of apps is growing -- all my regular apps (like Evernote, TweetDeck, Kindle) are there. Apple says 100 million downloads to Macs already.

Now the challenges. These are on the Parallels/Windows side of the machine and have to do with the backward compatibility of Windows software. In particular:

  • I haven't quite cracked the code on iPass, our corporate Wi-Fi access software. It doesn't seem to find sites or log on from the Windows side. And I don't have a corporate-provided Mac version.
  • Our Cisco softphone doesn't seem to run on the Windows image, either. That is, it might, but with my limited skills I haven't yet figured out how.
  • The display drivers, particularly in PowerPoint 2010, don't always work well. Sometimes when going into slideshow mode in PowerPoint, the display goes a little whacko. I can usually bring it back to heel by alt-tabbing my way to a different application and back.
  • Chrome (and Safari) run tediously slow. There's some network traffic thingy that I don't notice in the VoIP or video apps, but I do notice a lot (and detest) in the browser page loads. The Parallels people want me to disable my security software (no can do) and change the network settings (also can't do) to fix it. It ain't good, but I live with it.
  • I live in fear that that some other Windows application will crap out. Early on, I had huge problems with an uncontrolled process in our security software. If it happens again, then I'm back to rebooting every 10 minutes.
  • The ability to scale this solution up to every employee is still hard to imagine. I had to walk the machine upstairs and draw on highly expert IT resources to get the image ported and stabilized. I don't yet see how we could scale this up to meet the needs of every employee.

But these are far from deal breakers for a lone employee, and I am very happy with the Mac over our business machine. The coolest thing is that I can remain backwardly compatible with my organization's requirements while embracing the new architectures of apps and devices. Nice work, Apple, Parallels, and our network & security team! For some real research on just how popular this Mac-running-Windows phenomenom is, see my colleague Dave Johnson's report, caught here in a blog post: Repeal Prohibition.

What's your Mac experience running Windows?

Topics: Software, Apple, IT Employment, Security, Operating Systems, Networking, Mobility, Laptops, Hardware, CXO, Windows

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  • RE: MacBook Air: The ultra Ultrabook and business Windows, too

    Their will be plenty of superior devices coming in about a year's time if you can hold out.
    • Indeed

      @kris_stapley@... by then the Macbook Air 2013 will be out, and no doubt be superior to this year's version.
      • In 2013, the newer Macbook might be catching up to the other ultrabooks

        on the market.

        Besides, what could go into a Macbook air that wouldn't already be available to the other manufacturers in the field? Wait! You might have a point there. The Apple logo is exclusive to Apple equipment only. My bad!
    • There's always a superior device around the corner...

    • RE: MacBook Air: The ultra Ultrabook and business Windows, too


      But their Achilles heal is that they only run Windows.
      • Yeah, that's quite a disadvantage to be stuck at the top, with 90%

        of users, vs the measly 5% for MacOS. But, hey, there's still hope for Windows and for MacOS, when they could both strive to achieve the "high" 1% share of Linux.
  • RE: MacBook Air: The ultra Ultrabook and business Windows, too

    I would consider one if they ditch the aluminum. Horrible. I have a mac book pro and it has scratches and dents all over the thing especially on the bottom. Won't be going that route again. I have three other laptops and they do not show near the wear that the pro does.
    • RE: MacBook Air: The ultra Ultrabook and business Windows, too

      In Bizzarro-World, plastic is stronger and less flexible than aluminum.
      Harvey Lubin
      • RE: MacBook Air: The ultra Ultrabook and business Windows, too

        @Harvey Lubin

        I too have the unibody MBP for over a year now and have dropped this thing and have no visible damage, I even stack other laptops on top of it when I run out of desk space. I was considering the Air for pretty much the same reasons in the article, my Windows VM works flawlessly on the network(VirtualBox) VPN and all. Now does it work better than a Windows machine? Tough question to truly answer but I use it for both my mac and pc needs and keeps me from having to toot two only if my wife would agree
      • RE: MacBook Air: The ultra Ultrabook and business Windows, too

        @Harvey Lubin

        Not so bizzarro-world. I own a couple of firearms that have the frame made out of a high strength polymer.
    • You should show your equipment some respect

      If that's how you treat all your equipment, the others will look better but you are probably damaging them, too. I treat my Dell just as well as my MacBook, not because I have to but because I learned as a wee lad to take care of my things so that they will continue to take care of me.
  • Mistitled?

    There is no doubt that the Air is a nice machine, though it has real competition for the first time.

    But all the reasons listed why it is the "ultra" ultrabook all read like they are straight off the ultrabook minimum spec sheet. If the pros are all bare minimum standard for ultrabooks, and there are a number of cons listed, why is it the Ultra ultrabook?

    Point #4 is the only thing that you have stated that is not par for the course as far as ultrabooks go, and OS X is a matter of preference. As far as "post pc" that sounds like a negative to me. I like my PC to be a PC, and my tablet and phone to be "post pc".
  • RE: MacBook Air: The ultra Ultrabook and business Windows, too

    At over $2,000 these MAC airs are way too overpriced. Who in their right mind would pay that, only to have to buy a retail copy of Windows 7, just to get anything done? If they were competitively priced, cost half as much, and came with Windows 7 preinstalled, I might consider one.
    • $2000?

      @Stephen-B They start for less than half that! As for "getting anything done", OSX is more than up to the task for most use cases.
    • Might I take this moment to point out how well your

      @Stephen-B ... predictions have proven to be? So excuse me if taking your insights also give me pause. Just saying.....

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
    • @Rick_Kl: Not a great haul so far

      You caught a small fish (rbethell) and an old boot (James Quinn). Clearly not one of your best efforts.
      • RE: MacBook Air: The ultra Ultrabook and business Windows, too

        Nice one!
    • RE: MacBook Air: The ultra Ultrabook and business Windows, too

      @Stephen-B My Air, with an i7 processor and a 256GB SSD was well under $2000 - actually under $1500. I have no clue what you are talking about. I run both Windows and Linux in virtual machines on my Air, and they run beautifully, but I haven't needed either to "get anything done". To me a big downside of other ultrabooks is that you have to run Windows (I have run a PC support area since well before Windows was introduced, and it should have been blown up years ago, that the registry still exists in 2012 is an abomination).
    • RE: MacBook Air: The ultra Ultrabook and business Windows, too


      Mac Book Airs at the Apple store start at $999 and are $1,599 for the upper end model.
    • Typical lying troll post

      I just priced the high-end MacBook Air with all the available hardware upgrades. It was still $1807.