Running on Air: Eric Lawson

Eric's home office setup

I first met Eric through this blog and a series of emails we exchanged about our computer needs. I shared some of my experiences and told him I had yet to run into any issues and I was using it as my primary computer. Eric explained what he did and I was intrigued that he was moving to the MBA and asked him to participate in the interview series.

1. Who are you? What type of business are you in?

I am a freelance data architect specialising in business intelligence solutions. In that role I define strategy, produce roadmaps and use Windows inside VMWare Fusion to create databases and code ETL. I also run a Tandem (HP) NonStop server running an ancient COBOL ETL suite. So its quite a mixed bag of design and coding tasks that I expect of my personal computing hardware.

2. Which model MacBook Air are you using?

I have been using a 2012 13-inch model with a 2ghz Intel Core i7 processor, 8 gb of RAM and a 512gb SSD for about a month now. So the highest spec possible at the moment.

3. Why did you select the MacBook Air over other Mac models?

I have been using various 15” Macbook Pro models over the last 5 years, the latest configured with 16gb of RAM, an SSD in the main drive bay and a 2nd large capacity 2.5” traditional disk in a caddy in the DVD bay. Most of my work was conducted with the MBP plugged into dual 24” cinema displays (now a single 27” Thunderbolt display).

The last 12-18 months has seen my career shift from less coding work into more design and increasingly I am travelling, so mobility is very important. The MacBook Pro is quite light considering what is packed inside but I began to find I couldn't take my computing kit and a small overnight bag on a train or plane without suffering aching shoulders and or getting all red faced (not ideal when arriving at a client site).

I knew the latest generation MBA had overcome the issues of earlier models (my wife had one of the 1st gen MBA’s) so I started some research a few months back (this blog was very useful - thanks Austin). I also had a serious look at why I needed to have a terabyte of onboard storage and 16gb of RAM. It turned out I didn't.

I have offloaded all my large Windows VM’s to external USB 3 drives and had a good cleanup of every other folder structure. I also use iPhoto Library Manager so I only keep about 6 months of media on board, then create a new library and archive the existing one. The new photo stream feature makes this process seamless.

The switch to the 13” MacBook Air has been brilliant. The reduced weight is really noticeable and it has to be the most luxurious piece of computing kit I have ever owned. When I am heading off to a customer site I just pop it into my Moshi sleeve and it fits into my messenger bag along with all the cables and bits (in a Cocoon Grid-IT) - plenty of room left for my lunch, headphones and power charger.

4. How are you using your MacBook Air to run your business?

My 27” Thunderbolt is the hub of my business computing platform. I have various G-Tech firewire drives connected to it (Time Machines, media archives & clones), plus other USB peripherals. Connecting and removing my MBA from this is very simple and quick.

To ensure business continuity Time Machine is useful for recovering document versions, but I rely heavily upon Carbon Copy Cloner and always carry a USB 3.0 SSD drive with a bootable clone of the crucial parts of my system.

Essentially I still operate as before, but everything is now much easier. My system runs as well and perhaps a bit better than on the 2012 15” MBP, although I suspect this is likely due ot the big clear out of non essential gubbins. The process has been a bit like down-sizing your house when the kids move out.

The main software packages I use for getting on with the job are

OmniGraffle Pro - this is a great bit of design / diagramming software that I use exclusively to communicate ideas from programmers through to senior executives.

VMWare Fusion 5 - this runs the production Windows clients I need and allows me to spin out new dev VM’s very quickly from baseline copies.

Keynote - delivering presentations using Keynote on a MBA is excellent. No worries about connecting to projectors, battery life (if no spare power points) and the iOS Keynote Remote app is a great addition.

Tweetbot, Pocket and Springpad - Research and networking via TweetBot is increasingly important to me and sending items into Pocket for reading later and filing of useful items in Springpad is very productive for me.

and recently Filemaker Pro 12 - this product is as different from SQL Server as you can get but its a great solution for SME’s and it gives me a good range of options.

5. Which has been the best thing about using your air to run your business?

The weight of the machine has put pleasure back into doing my work and this enables me to get my whole office into a small messenger bag.

To learn more about Eric check out his website here or you can follow him on twitter @ericjlawson.

Thank you so much Eric for taking the time. If you know anyone else who is using their MacBook Air to do something great please contact me.

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