Tales from the Trenches: New Macbook and Firewire

  • Posted: 14 December 2008 08:28 PM

    I have been waiting for two years to purchase a new Mac. I waited so long because I wanted the perfect Mac, and the current offerings didn’t meet my need. Specifically, I wanted an entry level Mac Notebook with a dedicated graphic card like every other Mac I owned had. Largely for that reason, I was super excited about the new Macbooks until I discovered that they didn’t have Firewire. I have used Firewire’s Target DIsk mode a lot to solve various Mac issues, not only on my own Mac, but on the Macs of friends and family as well.

    I wasn’t going to buy the new Macbook for that reason, and the Macbook Pro is too expensive for my fairly average needs. However, a family member not to long ago got a job at Apple and I was able to get a decent discount on the machine. I decided to give the new Macbook a try absent Firewire.

    First the good. I love the new aluminum body, the bright screen, the performance, and the keyboard. I think all of these things are major improvements over previous generation Macs. I placed my old iBook (which has the same body as the low end Macbook Apple is still selling) side by side with the new Macbook. There is no comparison in terms of brightness. The Macbook blows the previous iBook away in terms of watching video. The so called glossy screen issue doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The keyboard feels solid, and I like the dedicated expose buttons.


    Second the bad. The loss of Firewire should not be taken so lightly.  I tried to use Ethernet to bring my user settings over to my new Mac from my old Mac. It didn’t work. I had to manually drag over folders (Apple’s Discussion boards are filled up with similar stories). Worst, many of the folders would not drag over in their entirity because there were issues of not having the proper permissions to do so. Keep in mind, I was signed in as a root user on both Macs. With Firewire, none of this would have been an issue. Firewire treats another Mac as essentially a slave hard drive to the first computer. So if you are signed into that computer as a root user, you have full administrative privileges on the slave hard drive. Ethernet treats the second computer as essentially a networked computer. To say the least, the set up with my new Mac could have been a lot smoother. Truthfully, I am still working on it. Lots of my applications on the old Mac once dragged over, would not work on the Macbook because some of the files wouldn’t drag over in their entirety. So, I did a clean install of the OS, and manually installed my applications (and I have a lot).

    My stepfather wanted me to update his computer with a copy of Leopard he bought a couple of weeks ago. Normally, I would use Firewire to drag his user folder over to my computer before I do the update just to be sure I have a backup (yes I know there are other ways to back up things, but that isn’t the point). That didn’t work using my new computer because of the same issue of not allowing all files to be dragged over. I had to use my old iBook to safeguard his files before the update. Firewire allowed all the files to be dragged over without a hitch.

    Apple really should rethink this whole Firewire issue. Every Mac should have Firewire. I can live with the fact I can’t use my second generation iPod anymore on this new Macbook, but arguably USB fills the void in that regard. USB and/or Ethernet doesn’t come close to the usefulness of Firewire.

    [ Edited: 15 December 2008 11:04 PM by Terrin ]      
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    Posted: 14 December 2008 11:44 PM #1

    Hi Terrin,

    I agree with everything you said. I was in the market to buy a new MB Pro and was planning to buy one soon as they came out, but I had to think long and hard about the changes in Firewire before I made my purchase.

    I could not believe Firewire was left out of the MacBook. Learning that FW 800 supports target disk mode on the MB Pro was a huge relief. Eliminating FW 400 in favor of FW 800 is evolutionary. Excluding FW on any Mac is a huge step backward. Target disk mode is central to the Mac advantage, plus I use firewire audio interfaces.

    Don’t forget to leave feedback with Apple.

         
  • Posted: 15 December 2008 10:59 PM #2

    I have left Steve Jobs an email, and left feedback. I essentially said this is the best Mac I ever bought, however, if I were to do it again I am not sure I would because the lose of Firewire across the entire platform really was a major blow. I now can say from first hand experience that USB and Ethernet do not fill the void.

    jpashin - 15 December 2008 03:44 AM

    Hi Terrin,

    I agree with everything you said. I was in the market to buy a new MB Pro and was planning to buy one soon as they came out, but I had to think long and hard about the changes in Firewire before I made my purchase.

    I could not believe Firewire was left out of the MacBook. Learning that FW 800 supports target disk mode on the MB Pro was a huge relief. Eliminating FW 400 in favor of FW 800 is evolutionary. Excluding FW on any Mac is a huge step backward. Target disk mode is central to the Mac advantage, plus I use firewire audio interfaces.

    Don’t forget to leave feedback with Apple.

         
  • Posted: 16 December 2008 01:00 PM #3

    The new MacBook line has been released about two months ago. The FireWire issue has been discussed extensively back then.

    What has happened since that has caused this discussion to crop up again? Is there a reason we have to hear all the arguments for the millionth time?

    As we all know by now, there are many Apple fans/users who are less than thrilled by the omission of FW on MB. Judging by the enormous popularity of the new MB, however, there seem to be infinitely more people who actually don’t care about the omission of the FW on these.

    From Apple’s point of view, the FW issue is a non-issue. Much like there are still people who believe System 9 is better than Mac OS X, and continue to keep their old G4s in order to boot from it, there will always be people who will miss one thing or another that Apple used to have and no longer offers.

    I don’t see anything of additional value contributed here to the discussion of the subject of FW on MB that hasn’t been already said many times over.

         
  • Posted: 16 December 2008 02:52 PM #4

    I welcome the discussion.  Not everybody is so on top of every discussion that they get bored with a topic soon after it first appears.  To me, this topic is still very current and relevant, and it is an important issue that shouldn’t be blown off as just another OS9 cling to the past.  It’s about ordinary, everyday trouble shooting and maintenance and one of the most effective tools for that has been discarded.  People have a right to complain about that.  They also have a right to let it be known why they will or won’t purchase a particular product.  Plenty of people need that sort of input to help them make their own informed decisions.

    The only thing that is of no additional value to this discussion are useless complaints about how wothless it is because it’s all been discussed before.  To those who think this I say “move on please.”  Perhaps you can find a discussion more to your suiting on another board.

    I’d also like to add that some people with video cameras with firewire are not exactly thrilled about these new machines either.

    [ Edited: 16 December 2008 02:55 PM by rpaege ]      
  • Posted: 16 December 2008 03:35 PM #5

    rpaege - 16 December 2008 06:52 PM

    ...some people with video cameras with firewire are not exactly thrilled about these new machines either.

    And I am one of them. But I still have to say, these discussions are exactly just as tiresome as System 9 discussions. There is absolutely nothing that these could accomplish. For sure, they won’t convince Steve Jobs to reconsider and have Ive re-design the whole machine, in order to bring back the FireWire interface (surely, this is clear to everyone). They don’t bring any new information on this subject and don’t offer new perspective or insight.

    The dearth of replies to this thread also indicates that there aren’t as many anxious contributors to this subject anymore. I’m just curious about TMO’s criteria for selecting a discussion thread to be featured on the TMO home page.

         
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    Posted: 16 December 2008 04:55 PM #6

    Honestly I don’t miss FW. Once I got through the transition from my G4 PB to the MacBook, the one time I really would have liked to have FW, I don’t need it. Target Disk Mode is useful but I don’t use it as much as I did in years gone by.

    I love the new MacBook. In monitary terms the gains far outweigh the losses.

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    Courage is not the absence of fear, that’s insanity.
    Courage is knowing the risks and dangers.
    And doing what needs to be done anyway.

         
  • Posted: 16 December 2008 06:23 PM #7

    Is there some technical reason why USB 2.0 couldn’t be used as a port for target-disk mode? Is this a software fix, or is there something inherent to USB that would preclude using it in that manner?

         
  • Posted: 16 December 2008 09:43 PM #8

    To me, the new Macs =
    (1) lose of choice to preclude glare (via non-glossy screens),
    (2) lose of faster and wide-spread cabling connection (via firewire).

    That’s two steps backwards!

    It’s OK to revisit these issues.  In fact, we should not be letting up on these issues!
    We all should be YELLING to Apple to correct these issues!
    (Maybe this is why Jobs is avoiding Macworld….so he can avoid the criticisms.)

    Apple:
    It wouldn’t have been hard to offer an option of non-glossy screens.
    It wouldn’t have been hard to include a firewire port or a faster eSATA port (with the possibility of a fast FW adapter?).

    I won’t be recommending Macs until these items are resolved somehow.
    (As for the MBPros, I’m afraid they’ll drop their FW ports in the future as well.)

         
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    Posted: 17 December 2008 12:39 AM #9

    This topic should stay front and center. The loss of FW on the MacBook is a substantial downgrade, and it will be a tragedy if this downgrade cascades through the Macintosh line. MacBooks, which are the most portable Macs, can no longer be used for low-latency audio. Target disk mode provides a superior method to rapidly sync large volumes of data among Macs, and no worthwhile replacement has been offered. While some users may not be affected, a significant part of the user base is affected and has every right to repeatedly cast scorn at Apple for this omission.

         
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    Posted: 17 December 2008 10:09 AM #10

    This is a real opportunely. Someone will come out with a FireWire box. It would plug into the wall for power, FireWire devices plug into it, and it would translate the connection into something the MacBook can access, USB seems the most likely. Come up with a box that would do that for $29 and you will be able to ride out the current economic troubles in style.

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    Courage is not the absence of fear, that’s insanity.
    Courage is knowing the risks and dangers.
    And doing what needs to be done anyway.

         
  • Posted: 17 December 2008 09:23 PM #11

    Since, I started the discussion, I will respond. When the decision was made to remove Firewire nobody reacting to the news was basing their opinions on actually adopting the new Macbook and what that experience was like. That is because it was the first machine since Apple started offering Firewire to abandon the standard. At the time, many people defended Apple by saying things like, USB and Ethernet works just as well. Based on my recent first hand experience, I can tell you they don’t. I offered my experience to people, who like myself, were hanging on the fence about trying the new machines out. I took the plunge and I love the new machine, but not having Firewire is a real step backwards. It is a shame Apple would give up a superior technology with nothing comparable to replace it.

    Moreover, contrary to what some suggest here. Apple listens to customers. People complained about the iPhone price reduction on the first generation. Apple responded by giving a store credit. People were upset about how poor the mobile me roll out was. Apple gave extended trials and fixed most of the issues. I complained to Apple about a logic board on my old iBook that failed for the third time three years out of warranty. My reasoning for thinking Apple should fix the machine free of charge I thought were valid. Steve Job’s assistant called me after corresponding to him, agreed and fixed my Mac free of charge. This computer was almost seven years old. Any one who suggests Apple doesn’t listen to customers doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. It might be the case that Apple doesn’t reverse course here, but if this is the case it will be because it either has a solution to people like mine’s problem (e.g. better technology) or not enough people complained. Apple doesn’t solicit feedback through it’s feedback links just for the sake of having them.

    Further, the OSX to OS 9 example is not a valid comparison. First, APple eased the transition there by allowing users to first boot into either OS. It then allowed users to use Classic for a couple of years to come. THis gave Apple time to listen to customer concerns and greatly improve OSX. THis brings to mind another example of Apple listening. With the first version of OSX many people complained about a lot of the various ways the OS was set up. For instance, originally Apple wasn’t going to let users store folders and files on the desktop. Developers rebelled and Apple redesigned the OS. With Leopard people hated the new stacks feature in the Dock because it did away with the hierarchal menus. After the OS was released, enough people complained that Apple released a patch to reinstitute the option to have that type of menu.

    The bottom line is Apple is a smart company and will listen if enough customers tell it to and therefore it makes good business sense. I think it especially important for people actually using the machines to give constructive feedback.

    vasic - 16 December 2008 05:00 PM

    The new MacBook line has been released about two months ago. The FireWire issue has been discussed extensively back then.

    What has happened since that has caused this discussion to crop up again? Is there a reason we have to hear all the arguments for the millionth time?

    As we all know by now, there are many Apple fans/users who are less than thrilled by the omission of FW on MB. Judging by the enormous popularity of the new MB, however, there seem to be infinitely more people who actually don’t care about the omission of the FW on these.

    From Apple’s point of view, the FW issue is a non-issue. Much like there are still people who believe System 9 is better than Mac OS X, and continue to keep their old G4s in order to boot from it, there will always be people who will miss one thing or another that Apple used to have and no longer offers.

    I don’t see anything of additional value contributed here to the discussion of the subject of FW on MB that hasn’t been already said many times over.

    [ Edited: 17 December 2008 09:33 PM by Terrin ]      
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    Posted: 20 December 2008 01:04 PM #12

    Well, after using it for a couple of months now, I can honestly say that I have not “missed” FW on the Macbook.  I’d like to have it, sure…but I don’t miss it.  I came off of the last iteration of the black Macbook and I use a Lacie Rugged as external storage.  With my old machine, I used FW because it was there and it was faster (more, better, faster right?).  Now that I don’t have the option, the only thing that has changed for me is the cable with which I connect the drive.  True, the data isn’t reading and writing as quickly…I guess.  But I haven’t noticed an appreciable difference in my “day-to-day” use of the machine.  True, I haven’t had occasion to need to use target disk mode since getting the new machine.  However, in the past 6 years I’ve needed TDM exactly once and that was for migration purposes.  Now that I am using time Machine/Time Capsule as part of my backup solution, I did my last migration over ethernet, and the migration before that wirelessly.  Something tells me that Apple has something coming to replace the lost functionality of TDM.  I’m willing to be patient and have a little faith.  Also, with the advent of eSATA and USB 3.0, it is likely that in 2-5 years we will have new connectors and cables for most of our devices, so I’m not going to get wrapped around the axle about this.

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  • Posted: 20 December 2008 10:09 PM #13

    Another example of missing Firewire came up. I have an old G4 Tower with lots of stuff on it I wanted to migrate over to the new Macbook. Problem is my monitor for the computer just died and I don’t’ have any others. I can’t configure Ethernet Sharing properly because I don’t have a monitor to see what I am doing. Yet, I started my old G4 Tower in Target Disk Mode connected to my old iBook. With target disk mode I didn’t need a monitor or to configure the computer, it just appeared as a second hard drive on the iBook. I ended up connecting to the iBook with the Macbook with Ethernet and then accessing the G4 Tower from the iBook. It worked, but a real pain.

    I had a friend a while back who dropped his Powerbook and broke the screen. I used Firewire to save his data and he got a new Macbook (with Firewire).

    You can get by without Firewire, but it is definitely harder to do so.

         
  • Posted: 20 December 2008 10:10 PM #14

    There is a technical reason. USB is technologically inferior to Firewire.

    mactoid - 16 December 2008 10:23 PM

    Is there some technical reason why USB 2.0 couldn’t be used as a port for target-disk mode? Is this a software fix, or is there something inherent to USB that would preclude using it in that manner?

         
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    Posted: 20 December 2008 10:18 PM #15

    Terrin - 21 December 2008 02:10 AM

    There is a technical reason. USB is technologically inferior to Firewire.

    True, but ‘technologically inferior’ doesn’t answer the question.
    Outside of the slower speed is there some reason why USB couldn’t be used for TDM, albeit somewhat slower than FireWire? Apparently you can boot to a USB connected startup volume.

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    Courage is not the absence of fear, that’s insanity.
    Courage is knowing the risks and dangers.
    And doing what needs to be done anyway.