Death of Firewire - whatcha gonna do?

  • Posted: 17 October 2008 04:14 PM

    When I first considered the nightmare that is a FW-free MacBook, my blood boiled. But I appeal for calm and rational thought.

    After the initial shock resided and and I thought about the situation rationally, I realised that buying a FW-free MacBook for my daughter really would not be that catastrophic. At least, not for her.

    Here’s why. I have an iMac. It has FW 400 and 800. I have a MacBook Pro. It has FW 400 and 800. When I need to capture video over FW, those are my machines of choice in any case. And my daughter has thus far only needed FW when doing a school project using DV. And if such a project comes up again? If her school doesn’t have the right camera, I can lend her my Canon HV20.

    A second look at my HV20 revealed its wealth of connectivity. Sure, it has the FW I have used and will continue to use. It also has HDMI, Component, MiniSD and, yes, a USB out.

    Then I realised my other FW equipment was dual connected. Each one of my four back-up drives has multiple connections, bar one, which is USB 2 only. The most recently purchased, a Western Digital, has eSATA, too.

    I didn’t plan it this way. It just panned out like so.

    At this point, I’m thinking that doing without FW won’t be a big deal. I have workarounds when or if they’re needed. The only workaround I don’t have figured is one that mimicks the ease of Target Disk mode, which has been a fabulous tool on the rare occasions I’ve needed it.

    If my situation is typical of how Apple assessed the need for Firewire in the MacBook and decided to toss it, then I can understand their decision. I’m not any happier about it but I appreciate their rationale.

    What’s more, I figure only the people who now use FW are the ones going to be upset. When I mention that I use Firewire, most people hearing it return a blank stare, some even argue that USB 2.0 is faster. Not true, of course, but there you go.

    So, take a moment, consider the very real fact that Firewire hasn’t gained the traction it deserved and that Apple made a decision to move forward. What low-cost or no-cost workarounds will you employ if you really want to buy a MacBook? Also, please complain to Apple. I believe they do listen. The video support in the new MacBook is evidence of that. Perhaps, with enough complaints, they’ll bring FW back.

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    Posted: 17 October 2008 04:31 PM #1

    I find that the loss of Firewire is unfortunate, but not catastrophic.  Steve Jobs said, like Gretzky, he wants to skate to where the puck is going.  With the trend in consumer video going more towards compressed AVCHD on HDD or flash media, it would appear that Jobs and Apple are doing just that. 

    My wife has a video production business and shoots with the Canon HV20 which gets connected to our iMac or her MBP via FW, and for off-angles she uses a Sanyo Xacti HD-1000, which stores to SDHC card and is USB 2 ONLY.  So, like Coaten, pro stuff gets done on the pro/prosumer machine with the faster interface.

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  • Posted: 17 October 2008 04:55 PM #2

    Off-angles with an Xacti? On a Mac? What’s your secret to getting the Xacti’s footage in? I’ve failed every time. Only get the audio track with a green screen. How’s it done? Please share. I’ve thus far been booting into Windows, importing footage with the OEM software, exporting it as MPEG-2, dumping to an external, rebooting to OS X, importing to iMovie/FCP/whatever.

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    Posted: 17 October 2008 05:04 PM #3

    [quote author=“coaten”]Off-angles with an Xacti? On a Mac? What’s your secret to getting the Xacti’s footage in? I’ve failed every time. Only get the audio track with a green screen. How’s it done? Please share. I’ve thus far been booting into Windows, importing footage with the OEM software, exporting it as MPEG-2, dumping to an external, rebooting to OS X, importing to iMovie/FCP/whatever.

    Set your video settings to HD-HR (1280x720 60 fps). It will import at that setting to both iMovie and Final Cut.  The green screen is a known issue that is WIDELY discussed on the Apple Support forums. For some reason, whether on Sanyo’s part or Apple’s part, the Full HD (1920x1080) setting just won’t cooperate.

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  • Posted: 17 October 2008 05:11 PM #4

    Thanks. I would never have figured downgrading resolution as a solution.

    Still, what is effectively 720p would make a nice effect as an off-angle cutaway. You know, reportage effect sorta thing.

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    Posted: 17 October 2008 05:22 PM #5

    [quote author=“coaten”]Thanks. I would never have figured downgrading resolution as a solution.

    Still, what is effectively 720p would make a nice effect as an off-angle cutaway. You know, reportage effect sorta thing.

    Exactly.  and with many of her clients requesting compression for the web, she could effectively shoot it with her Flip Mino (also a really kick-butt little fun camera) since the resolution at that pint is just lost.

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  • Posted: 18 October 2008 01:46 AM #6

    I feel the same way as the above posts. I don’t use TDM all that often, but it can be handy. With the removability of the hard drive (or SSD) now a caddy will do the same job in just a few more seconds. The only thing missing then would be the sharing of the optical drive if required, but that is very rare and may be covered by the same wifi method the MBA uses?

    In terms of external drives I have always touted FireWire, being that I use notebooks and pocket drives. My last two drives however have been Western Digital passports and for the cost difference (in the UK at least) I didn’t pucker up for FireWire, instead getting USB2.0 only - they work great with Time Machine so I won’t miss that.

    For video I have a Sanyo HD700 which works great at 720p and connects via USB or using a media card reader for the SD card. I use a 24-in-1 ExpressCard/34 card reader in my current MacBook Pro and will continue to do so in my new one, however I would be just fine using USB even if it’s a little slower. I am not a huge video guy and so I am not so worried about that kind of performance. Besides, I expect all aspects of video editing to take a while frankly.

    It’s a shame FireWire isn’t there in a MacBook, but when I told my mom she just looked at me blankly. I think the vast majority of MacBook users don’t know what FireWire is, or at least don’t know it’s benefits. As such I think a section of the market cares, but many won’t even notice.

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    Posted: 18 October 2008 01:58 AM #7

    Well said, coaten. 

    In all honesty, there’s nothing I really need FireWire for except for the occasional Target Disk Mode or Migration Assistant.  But the humble FW400 continues to impress me with, among other things, its speed (hey, real-world thoroughput that actually approaches the theoretical max 50MB/sec is still plenty fast enough for most consumers).  Like you, I’m not personally affected by the loss of FW because I’ve got an iMac, and I’m not really much of a notebook person anyway. 

    Thing is, as much of a business decision this might be for Apple, this is yet another step Apple’s taken down an uncertain road.  Most new Mac customers probably don’t know a thing about FireWire—but many thousands of longer-term Mac customers do, and appreciate its benefits especially as applied to other Macs and backup external HDs.  It may not be the most popular standard, but when you remove it from the most popular Mac, it makes you wonder about all of the other Mac lines.       

    But my kinda-off-in-the-distance concern is really more about how Apple’s had a long history of doing things that in absolute terms are detrimental to the consumer. Eliminating formerly included iPod docks.  Removing 56k modems.  Irreplaceable iPod/iPhone batteries.  Less ports and port types.  Introducing proprietary connectivity options without corresponding cables.  Restricting expansion options and user serviceability of hardware.  Laptop batteries with lower capacity than before (see: the new MacBook/Pros). 

    Most of these things are largely accepted or shrugged off by the overwhelming majority of buyers, and the potential problems associated with these actions are either miniscule or have been well-mitigated.  Most of these actions are understandable given the kind of company Apple is.  I personally don’t really care about a lot of those actions.  But they are unquestionably negatives, and people will remember when Apple takes these kinds of actions, and now they’ll know about it faster than ever.  There may come a time where Apple removes a feature or item and suddenly, the subtractions turn into a Jenga puzzle, and if that ever does happen, the cumulative subtractions of the past will play a role IMHO.  It won’t spell disaster, but perception is a precious thing to keep and a terrible thing to waste.  So is the tenet of keeping the customer’s best interests in mind, even if it might interfere with aesthetics, the realities of the marketplace, or margins.         

    I might actually drop a note in the online suggestion box about keeping FireWire (at least in FW800 form) on all Macs.  FireWire is hugely useful when you need it, and it is a powerful competitive advantage that Apple has done well to employ in Macs.  I would not be happy if my next iMac didn’t have FireWire, and my iMac would undoubtedly be less useful without it.

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  • Posted: 18 October 2008 11:12 PM #8

    True, Mav, each feature reduction is just the thin end of the wedge.

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  • Posted: 20 October 2008 07:47 AM #9

    Here’s where the lack of Firewire will really hurt.
    From the iMac DV/PowerMac G4 AGP/Powerbook to the January 2003 Powerbooks USB was only 1.1.  Migrating from those machines using Target Disk Mode (not Migration Assistant) is difficult when it is only possible to use USB 1.1 at USB 1.1 speeds, even if they did enable Target Disk Mode for USB.  And you can forget better than 802.11g wireless speeds, and some of these Macs networking is also slow via ethernet.

         
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    Posted: 20 October 2008 07:52 AM #10

    The lack of FW is just not an issue for me. My cameras connect with USB. The external drive I picked up last year is USB. I made that as a deliberate choice. When Apple moved the iPods to USB-only I saw this coming at some stage.

    While dropping FW does not bother me I HAVE been more than a little annoyed by the shrillness of the complaining last week. I saw one poster that said he had been hoping to get a MacBook but because of the lack of FW was going to get an HP laptop instead. Another referred to ‘those of us who have older equipment and won’t be upgrading…’. I couldn’t help but wondering if he plans to keep his existing camera or external drives FOREVER.

    Good or bad, the market has gone away from FW on consumer equipment and it’s just something people have to deal with. Someone said that Apple is aiming where the puck will be. I like that. These cases will (if history is any guide) be the cases in use by Apple for the next 6-8 years. During most of the life of the late 2008 case FW will be just a fond memory.

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  • Posted: 20 October 2008 08:26 AM #11

    I can understand people with firewire devices being upset by this… frankly, if you’ve just purchased a laptop, unless you’re richer than me, you’re not going to be running out and getting new external drives and camera if they are firewire.

    Having said that, all my external drives are connect to my Time Capsule anyway, and both my macbook pro and mac pro have firewire, and I’m not in the market for a new Macbook anyway, but if I was, the fact that my video camera is firewire would be a problem if the Macbook was to be my only computer.

    I definitely agree that firewire is a better data transfer mechanism than USB 2.0.

    OTOH, I also agree that people refusing to buy Apple products and threatening to switch to HP or whatever over this are being silly. If you really want to be stuck with Windows over a firewire port, you deserve what you get.  :wink:

         
  • Posted: 20 October 2008 08:32 AM #12

    As for peripherals, I could easily live w/out FireWire, but TDM is something that has saved the day several times for me. (And I’ve touted it as a major selling point for Macs!) I’d seriously consider the new MB, but the lack of some equivalent of TDM has me more than a little concerned.

    Fortunately my C2D white iMac still serves me quite well. But I see things moving toward the portability of a notebook becoming more necessary in my near future. I guess I’ll wait and see what comes about on this issue over the coming months.

         
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    Posted: 20 October 2008 08:43 AM #13

    Daisy Chaining Devices

    One thing I always found nice about FireWire was the ability to daisy chain devices together. Right now on May PowerMac I have 3 hard drives, a scanner and an old iPod all strung together and everything is stable and works very well.

    USB has been flakey for me. I seem to get problems with the devices that are attached via USB, keyboard, mice, camera, CD/DVD R-W, newer iPod. Even my monitor has a USB hub in it so I can connect those items all at once. But I continue to have to plug and unplug the USB cable, power off the devices to get the PowerMac to recognize them. This doesn’t happen all the time, but enough to get under my skin.

    Plus I use, target disk mode and sometimes boot off an external FireWire drive.

    So for me, I would look to get a low end MacBook Pro before getting just a MacBook. And please don’t get me started on why I prefer matte over glossy screens.

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  • Posted: 20 October 2008 10:41 AM #14

    Gee, it’s such a great idea that Apple can make me pay $700 for a $20 port.

    I have three cameras that use firewire only.  I used to use a G4 to edit, so don’t tell me that I ought to have a Macbook Pro.  I know what my needs are - I need a small cheep laptop for quick edits when I’m away from my 24”. 

    Last years models won’t be around forever, and used computers don’t last as long and are more libel to break on the job.

         
  • Posted: 20 October 2008 10:46 AM #15

    Unless they switch TDM over to USB, I am still gonna complain about them dropping FireWire. Everytime I set up a new portable lab, I save many, many hours by setting up one station and then cloning it to a second, then cloning both to 2 & 4, etc. until I run out of firewire cables. A 30 station lab is finished after 5 repeats.

    If I lose FW/TDM, I’ll be forced to clone individually from an external.  That’s almost 6 times the hours to get a lab up and running. Resorting to a network master on a OSX Server will be snail-pace slow if there are more than a couple stations cloning simultaneously. (Not to mention the expense of a server with multiple drives big enough to hold a master for each mobile lab.)

    Similarly, all labs are supposed to be nuked and paved every summer so they can all start out the next school year with clean systems.  If TDM goes away thats 6 times the hours times 25+ mobile labs district wide once we upgrade them all to newer, non-FW laptops.  Screw that, we have enough to do.

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