Sunday, 28 August 2011

Out with the Hackintosh - Long Live the MacBook Air

It amazes me how many people still read my Hackintosh posts on the Apple Harvest. I first built my Hackintosh almost exactly two years ago. My last post on the subject was in June last year. So why have I stopped writing about something that people want to read about? The most important reason is purely selfish. I write about the things that I find interesting, and the things that I get excited about. If some of those things are of interest to other people then so much the better, but the Apple Harvest wasn't set up to pander to market or popular trends. There are plenty of other blogs and other media sites which are geared to that audience.

There is a secondary reason for the lack of recent material on the Hackintosh. The simple fact is that I don't use it anymore. Actually, it's unusable. Some time last year, on a trip back to the UK from Zurich, I was updating the Hackintosh with the latest software upgrades, when it occurred to me that my girlfriend might be able to use it when she took her boys away for their half term break. That way we could keep up our nightly iChat conferences (the one thing that keeps me going on these long trips away from home). It was then that I noticed for the first time that, while iChat ran OK, the microphone wasn't working. I found a potential fix somewhere on the internet and attempted to implement it. Something went wrong and the Hackintosh died on the spot, but on this occasion I didn't have the time or patience to go through the whole recovery process. As a result the computer hasn't seen the light of day since (literally as it has been sitting in a drawer).

The Hackintosh for me was a largely academic exercise. I wanted to see if I could "build" one (which I could) and I wanted to see how OS X would perform on non-Apple kit (it was OK). I also wanted to try out a netbook to see whether it was really possible to use one for any length of time as a proper computer. The Hackintosh worked. It was great on the train, and fine to use around the house for the odd bit of surfing, but I seemed to spend a lot of time "fixing" it, especially as new OS X upgrades came along.

After I bought my iPad in September last year the days of the Hackintosh really did seem numbered. All the things I was doing on the Hackintosh, I could now do on the iPad, but without any of the hassle. I could surf, check mail, watch films and video, listen to music and even do basic office tasks with iWork. Anything else that I wanted to do was either going to get done on the iMac at home or on the MBP while on the road. The Hackintosh was simply not good enough to be a replacement for the MBP on a trip lasting more than one or two nights. It was certainly not going to be of any use for trips lasting five to eight weeks, overseas.

And now, it seems unlikely that the Hackintosh will ever get restored. On my last visit home earlier this month I treated myself to a new top spec MacBook Air.

It's the custom built 13inch, i7,  256Gb disk and 4Gb RAM version and it's the most beautiful laptop I've ever owned. I loved the idea of the MacBook Air from the first day they were unveiled, but I knew that it was going to be a while before they were suitable for mainstream use. In fact the Hackintosh would probably have been a better performer (for a fraction of the price), but without the usability factor. But the 2011 versions have given us a fantastic piece of hardware, with great performance, and all the ease of use of a traditional Apple laptop. My MacBook Pro has stayed at home on this current, two month long outing, and I've really not missed it at all. OK, maybe I miss the extra two inches of screen space when I'm watching Eye TV and there's a wide screen film on, but that's about it. The thing I was most concerned about was my iTunes library - just the music alone would more than fill the 256Gb MBA flash drive - but this happily sits on a 1Tb external passport disk with a small selection of songs sitting in a library on the MBA itself for when I'm out and about. I have an additional 1Tb disk which serves as a Time Machine disk, and a secondary partition where I make a scheduled, weekly Carbon Copy clone of the MBA disk.

Both these disks are usually connected through a powered USB 7 port hub, which either plugs directly into one of the MBA USB ports or into the USB port on the Airport Extreme in my flat. An Airport Express provides the link to the stereo for music and an Apple TV connects into the HD TV for viewing my movies and TV shows. And I can sit at the table on the far side of the room and be able to have full control of my media empire while still writing my blog. Like I am doing right now!

And when I go into the office in the morning I use a utility called UnDock to eject all the connected disks, close the lid and pop the MBA into my rucksack, along with the iPad and my lunch! This laptop really was designed to be carried around with you so it seems criminal not to do so. Compared to lugging the 15inch MBP around this is luxury. OK, it's luxury at a premium price, but if I can't have a bit of luxury while I'm away from the creature comforts of home but earning decent money then something has gone very wrong.

What does the future hold for the Hackintosh? I will fix it when I get back home for good at the end of November, but the Apple Harvest HQ is now Lion based, and I have my doubts about whether the Hackintosh will be able to support Lion. Maybe I'll even convert it back to a Windows box which is how it started, although I think this is highly unlikely. If it's a pain to use as an OS X box it'll be far more painful as a Windows machine! We'll see, but in the meantime please don't write to me asking if it's for sale, or on offer to a good home. It isn't! It will always be a reminder to me of what we can achieve with a bit of research, a bit of patience, a bit of confidence, and a page full of instructions that someone has painstakingly put together after months of hard work, frustration, and no financial reward. My enduring thanks and regards to the pioneering Hackintoshers!