The Mac Notebook-to-Desktop Conundrum

I’m one of the lucky few who can carry their MacBook Pro to and from work each day, and use the same machine for everything computer-related. Still, I’m not always happy with my current setup. My day job issued me a small Dell (s dell) laptop, which has one major advantage over my MacBook: the docking station.

Apple (s aapl) spends a lot of time on industrial design and usability, so it amazes me that the process to hook up a Mac to an external keyboard, monitor, and mouse consists of five to seven steps, depending on if you’re using a Bluetooth keyboard or not. As I look at the mess of wires coming out of the side of my MacBook, I’ve got to wonder why there isn’t an official Apple-branded docking station.

Docking stations seem like an idea that should have come out of Cupertino, because they reduce clutter and encourage simplicity. All the cables that would normally plug into the side or back of the computer go into the docking station instead, and there’s a single slot that the computer plugs into. Plug it in, and the notebook is now a desktop.

Apple has a patent for an interesting iMac-like dock for a MacBook, which would be amazing if the price was right. However, actually producing docks has been left to third-party manufacturers. Some have avoided the docking station idea by designing holders for the MacBook, and some have designed docking stations that look absolutely ridiculous.

The best bet for a real docking station so far seems to be Henge Docks, which mount the MacBook vertically.  They look gorgeous, but are only available in a 13-inch size as of this writing, with 15- and 17-inch versions in the pipeline. I’ve signed up to pre-order the 15-inch.

I’ve tried just about every combination of desk layout I can think of. I’ve tried MacBook in front, monitor on the side, no keyboard; MacBook on the left, monitor on the right, keyboard and mouse in front (and vice-versa); MacBook in clamshell mode on the side of my desk where the Dell’s docking station used to be, monitor, keyboard, and mouse in front (what I presently use), and a few other setups that just didn’t seem right.

From Apple’s point of view, the solution is to drop a grand on one of their gorgeous LED Cinema Displays. The display doubles as a docking station, providing power, monitor, and USB ports for the MacBook. It’s beautiful, and certainly reduces the cable clutter, but at a cost that’s hard to justify for consumer-grade use.

Browsing through Shawn Blanc’s “Sweet Mac Setups” I find that most of the setups featured go for the “MacBook on one side, monitor on the other, keyboard and mouse in front” rig. For some, this seems to work, for many others the cabling and accessories start to clutter the desktop. This is the point where I become distracted and want to start moving things around.

One of my favorite “setups” remains none at all. I simply open my MacBook wherever I want to work and start doing what needs to be done. But I’m still left wanting a more complete solution. How do you use your MacBook? If you’ve got a setup that works for you, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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