A colleague of mine is preparing to travel to the Congo to conduct fieldwork on the local design of messages for disease prevention and conservation. Coincidentally, her trusted laptop (a PC) is on its last legs and she’ll need to replace it before she begins her fieldwork. Working on a limited research budget means that whatever computer she purchases will be her primary machine for some years to come. It will also have to be durable and reliable enough to sustain intense fieldwork in places that are far removed from the next Genius Bar. Would now be a good time to switch over from a PC to a Mac? She posed this question to the trusted Technorati over at DiaryProducts and this was their answer:
- The Macbook Air is a very good and portable machine. (A plus for ethnographers doing fieldwork that requires them to carry their machine with them.) On the other hand, there are also decent ultra-portable PCs.
- If you get a Mac, there will be a learning curve. Some things on OSX are done in a way that makes a Windows user ask, “Why on earth did they do this?” Ultimately, a lot of thought went into the usability of the Mac apps and the OS, more thought than went into Windows, IMHO. But Mac is a cult and the attitude of the new convert should be to just go with the flow and not to question the guru.
- A Mac unfolds its full potential only with other Apple products. You’ll get the best experience if you stay inside the Apple ecosystem. You will end up paying more for Apple products than for comparable ones from other vendors, but you’ll save time by not having to trouble-shoot interoperability issues. Time is money after all.
- Get AppleCare with your machine. Even though they’re well engineered, Apple products do break and AppleCare gives you peace of mind.
- The screen of an 11″ Macbook Air is very small and is not suitable for prolonged work. Get an external display if you want to use it all day at home or the office, or get the 13″ version.
- Don’t operate more than one computer. Get a single computer that serves all purposes fairly well. (An important caution to ethnographers working in the field.) Transferring content/data between machines is a constant pain, error prone and tedious.
- Finally, get an external drive (USB3, Firewire or Thunderbolt) for backups. TimeMachine, OS X’s built-in backup mechanism, does a very good job but it needs some sort of external storage, of course. Don’t go into the field without backup!