Laptop or Desktop: Which Would You Find It Harder Surviving Without?

The title of a recent Mac Night Owl column by Gene Steinberg grabbed me as a question that might have been more relevant 10 years ago. “Can You Survive Without a Desktop Mac?” Gene queries rhetorically.

From my perspective, and I think that of many others these days, the operative would more aptly be, “can you survive without a laptop Mac?” After all, the New York Times first reported that laptop sales exceeded desktops in May 2003, Apple notebook sales surpassed its desktops sold in July 2005, have done so consistently since April 2006, and now represent roughly three-quarters of Mac systems sold, although from time to time desktops gain back some ground, such as with the hot-selling new iMacs. Industry-wide, laptops began outselling desktops globally in Q3 2008, nearly four years sooner than anticipated.

I was somewhat ahead of the curve, making the switch from desktop to laptop as my main production platform in October 1996, when I bought a PowerBook 5300. Aside from a brief dalliance with a G4 Cube in mid-2001, and purchasing a brand-new leftover SuperMac S-900 tower clone for $300 a year before that to use as a backup machine, it’s been all laptop, all the time for me now for more than a baker’s dozen years. I honestly can’t imagine myself trying to get along with just a desktop Mac anymore.

Not that there aren’t some enticing and compelling Mac desktops. I found that Cube difficult to resist, at least conceptually. I loved the design, but in practical use I found it less enchanting and myself pining for laptop virtues, so after six months I grabbed an opportunity to swap the barely broken-in Cube even-trade for a year-old PowerBook G3 Pismo. I’ve never regretted the decision, and now, more than eight years later, I still have that same old Pismo in regular service. I’ve still got the big S-900 as well, but it’s been quite a while since it was booted up.

Meanwhile, since that first PowerBook 5300, which is also still around and in working order, I’ve owned a PowerBook G3 Series WallStreet, two PowerBook 1400s, three Pismos, a dual USB iBook G3, a 17-inch PowerBook G4, and my present number-one machine — a late 2008 model unibody MacBook, purchased last March. Desktops simply haven’t been a significant part of the picture for me for nearly a decade, and I can’t say there’s anything I really miss about them.

There’s a bit of irony I suppose in that my MacBook serves mainly as a desktop workstation, perched on a laptop stand, connected to three USB hubs, an external keyboard, several pointing devices, a printer, a scanner, a USB microphone, and an Ethernet LAN. In many respects a desktop Mac would be a more logical and rational choice for my main home office production machine. I’ve seriously mused about a Mac mini (which I’ve always admired) for years, and the latest iMacs give you an awful lot of power and display real estate for your dollar.

Never say never, but even though I keep at least two other laptops in service as utility portable/road machines, I would still find it frustrating not to be able to unplug my main axe from its spaghetti-tangle of workstation peripheral cables, drop it in a computer case or backpack, and take it along elsewhere — whether elsewhere is just another part of the house or on a road trip, with full, untethered functionality intact.

If I ever feel the need for a larger display (it does appeal), that’s easy to arrange as well. On the other hand, with a desktop, you’re limited to the availability of 110V wall current or some equivalent, and an iMac, or even a Mac mini with monitor and pointing devices, would be a lot more cumbersome to take along. Also, if the power goes off, as it does fairly frequently in my neck of the woods, I can just keep on computing — for a long time if my emergency 12V battery pack is fully charged.

For me, getting along without a laptop would involve too much compromise. How about you?

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