Why I Use a MacBook Air for Web Development

MacBook Air

One of aspects of the web that I really enjoy are all the meetup groups you can go to. I love the chance to get together with other industry professionals and talk shop. I work on a remote team so I really appreciate every chance to chat with other developers. One of the questions that came up recently in my Appleton WordPress meetup group was on the subject of what computers everyone uses. What I recommend to everyone else is exactly the same thing that I use myself. I use a Macbook Air, 13″, with an external keyboard, external mouse, and a standing desk.

Mac or Windows

I'm not an Apple fan boy by any means and I've actually used 2 different Windows machines in the past and they worked just fine. The main reason that I recommend a mac is because every other web developer uses a mac. Go ahead and call me a lemming about to walk over the edge of a cliff, but there are actually sound reasons for choosing a popular piece of software or hardware over less popular options.

Tutorials Made for Macs

If you've ever seen video tutorial or read a blog post walking you through something you'll notice the vast majority of the time the presenters themselves are mac users. That means that everything is from the point of view of the mac. If you want to use a windows machine you'll have to put forth extra effort to translate the mac features to the windows features.

Software Written for Macs

The same logic applies to software. Many web developers move from client work to product work. They find some area of web development that's a pain and they make a piece of software to fix it. The classic examples in the web world are TextMate & CodeKit. I heard about both of these pieces of software at conferences from other developers but it took me another year or two of using DreamWeaver shudder before moving to a mac and being able to try these out.

Laptops Are More Mobile than Desktops

One of the best aspects of the MacBook Air is that it's compact and light. I really value the ability to move around during the day. I like to spend my mornings at my apartment getting the vast majority of my work done and in the afternoon I like to go to a coffee shop to chat with other developers, designers, business people, or just the barista. The value of being able to work anywhere and meet new people at the same time is huge for me. I can't ever imagine going back to a desktop.

Use a Stand & External Keyboard for More Comfortable Typing

If you do decide to use a laptop I encourage you to make it as comfortable as possible. My standing desk raises the laptop up to my eye level and then I have a keyboard right at my elbow level which is perfect for typing. I know a lot of other developers that have similar types of stands even if they aren't using a standing desk. Check out my buddy Sean's new computer stand:

Happy MacBooking!

35 thoughts on “Why I Use a MacBook Air for Web Development

  1. Thanks Patrick! Great info. This is exactly what I wanted to hear. Now I can buy that new MacbookAir, I’ve had my eye on knowing other’s feel the same way. Watch for it at the next meet up! Fingers crossed…

    Another great detail, is that I’ve had my MacbookPro for 3+ years and found similar ones selling for $700-800. Great resale value on those Macs!

  2. Great post Patrick! I really enjoy reading about other developers preferred dev setup. I’ve been thinking about making myself a standing desk myself. Have you noticed a lot of benefits from your standing desk? Also how does your MBA handle intensive processes like Photoshop? I’ve been thinking of switching to an MBA but have heard a lot of negatives about it for development.

    • Hey John – I’m glad you liked it! I’ve been meaning to do a tools series for a while and I finally pushed out the first article. I hope to have a whole series covering hardware, software, and WordPress plugins that I use for my day to day job.

      I’ll talk about my standing desk a bit more in a follow up article but I use the Ninja Standing desk and a mat for cushioning. I’ve been doing that for half a year and it’s great. I feel so much more productive while standing which is probably just because it’s hard to zone out.

      As for the performance, I had to use Photoshop often at my last job and the air handles it fine. This definitely depends on your photoshop files. I know some designers that pack thousands and thousands of layers into a PSD and then it’s going to run slow on any machine. For anything that could be intense I would either get an air with upgraded processing power (I’m running with stock processing power), or getting a MacBook Pro.

      • Yeah I’ve been using a mid 2010 MBP stock for the past 4 years but it’s starting to get slow. When I upgraded to Mavericks is when it’s started getting really sluggish with ps cs6. Thankfully I quit using Dreamweaver a year ago, since running DW and PS at the same time was taxing my 4gigs of ram to the limit(plus I don’t like Dreamweaver)

        So I’ve been thinking of getting a MBA 8g ram with an i7 processor, though I’ve never had a chance to talk to any web devs who use one.

        I wod love to read a post about your work setup, been thinking about writing one myself lately since a lot of people ask me why I use Sublime text as opposed to DW.

        • I’m currently using Atom over Sublime Text but they’re both great. I’ll take something lightweight and fast over Dreamweaver which is a behemoth. I’ll have to do another post on Atom. 🙂

          • Yeah I love Sublime Text. I’ve been reading a little about atom though and been thinking about checking it out. I pretty much like any text editor over using bloated software like Dreamweaver.

  3. Hi, Great site and a great article for helping me make up my mind. I am a Desktop user but now stationed far from home and wondering what spec MacBook air to go for. I have a friend who regularly sings the praises of his stock mid 2013 i5 with 8gb Ram. Just wondering what your specs were and what you would recommend, used to work on a bunch of virtual machines so ram would be useful but not fully essential. Wondering if i could go fully stock and save a bit of cash. Any help greatly appreciated.

    • Macs have pretty good internals right from the get go. If you’re coding and you aren’t opening up photoshop or doing a bunch of unit tests you don’t need upgraded internals. I have a stock Air right now and it’s great. You can upgrade if you want extra performance but not necessary.

      • Thanks for the reply, that is refreshing to read!! I owned a MacBook pro 13 inch from 2011 and upgraded the ram to 8gb but found this not to meet my needs. I have friends that rave about the new (circa June2013) MBA and have been trying to work out whether it is right for me. I think i will give it a go and see. Might upgrade to 8gb Ram tho and a slightly larger SSD as i think i might find it slightly restrictive in the upcoming months.
        Thanks again for the reply.

  4. Hi Patrick,

    I’ve been developing mostly on open source project and using open source programming frameworks such as rails and django, I’ve been using a 15inch Dell laptop with Linux on it for some time now. I am from Europe and the prices for macs here are very expensive but the macbook air 13inch with 8GB of RAM would work for my pocket, I am not sure if the screen is enough for me to work ? I mostly have sublime open, and use tab to switch to my browser to see my result, I see you are using a second monitor which I also do sometime but I’d prefer to work with only the laptop cause I like being able to work from any place. What are you suggestions ? I may visit the States in some months and could afford a macbook pro 15 with 16GB of ram. Thanks a lot for the article.

    Kindly,
    Besnik.

    • Hey Besnik,

      I’ve used two monitors before and it is quite nice for some tasks. But I’ve really enjoyed focusing on just one thing at a time with my mac. It’s less distracting. It’s really up to you and you can always use another monitor with your mac if you like.

  5. Hi Patric. I’m also planning to buy a 13.3 inch Macbook AIR. The only thing which is stopping me right now is the strain a small screen might put to my eyes. Do you feel any eye strain because of the 13 inch screen?

  6. Hi Patrick, thanks for the article. I’m a beginner, and taking some c# classes right now, that use Visual Studio and Microsoft SQL Server. My old laptop that i was using to do my homework was a tiny HP laptop, and it is dying, so I need to buy something new. Was wondering, do you run dual operating systems on your MacBook Air? If so, which ones, and have any advice or tips? Thanks again, LC

  7. Do you have 4gb of ram or 8gb. I am think of getting the new 13″ Mac Air and wanted to hear your experience. Also, I would love to hear more about the tools you use and if there are any other nice apps like CodeKit so I can hit the ground running if do decide to get the Air.

    • Hi Erwin – I have the 4GB but I’ve recently been rethinking that decision. My computer has finally started slowing down. I’d probably upgrade either the RAM or the processor. This is the only post I have in the ‘Tools’ series at the moment. I’ll add a few more. I don’t do a lot of front end development so I rarely need CodeKit. I’ll probably focus on tools for backend development. I hope that helps! 🙂

      • That did help. I actually decided to get a Macbook pro. Can’t really pass up a little more power and a better screen for a few hundred more and I dont travel that much. I’m always looking to learn about tools from every part of development. Thanks.

  8. Should 4GB of RAM be enough for app coding (Android SDK)? I am planning to purchase MacBook Air 2013 with stock processor (Core i5). Will 4GB of RAM suffice my need?

  9. Can I know what mouse are you using? (Magic Mouse?)
    I just bought a macbook air, and trying to setup a comfortable work environment.

  10. Thanks for the post Patrick 🙂 I recently picked up a Macbook Air and really love using it for web design. I have actually been more productive on my Mac than my previous Windows machine.

  11. John Schnettgoecke

    Patrick, would you recommend 128 or 256gb SSD for a front-end developer?

  12. Hi Patrick, do you still use an macbook air ?
    If so what are the specs of your macbook air ?
    And what do you think of the retina macbook 13″ ?

    • I do still use it. I got a stock Macbook Air 13″ about a year ago now. Still very useable unless you’re doing a ton of unit tests or video/photo editing or something like that.

  13. Nice blog, what configuration would you suggest for someone thats doing python programming in pycharm or another editor. along with the basic email web and downloading / watching video’s . ?

    I was seriously thinking 8GB ram and 128 or 256 but staying with the base processor.

    Any and all suggestions appreciated

    • Hey Michael. I’m not a python programmer but from what I know you wouldn’t need much. You’re mostly coding in a text editor right? You don’t need a full IDE like Xcode to run emulators or anything like that. It can probably be pretty light weight.

      Best of luck!

      • Good Day Patrick

        I’d be either in Pycharm (IDE), Sublime or something else. My only concern is the memory 4 or 8 gig. Storage I use allot of cloud plus external drives if needed. I like to keep the OS and Applications on the SSD and everything else separate.

        Thanks

  14. Hi Micheal,
    I read your article its very informative. I am looking for MBA with 8GB, will it be sufficient for Android and iPhone app development using native or Xamarin libraries? I know you are not into app development but I would appreciate if you can help in this. I can buy MBP 13″ but I dont want to invest that much money and weight/portability will be my major concern.
    Thank you! All the best!

    • Good Day,
      You should check on the system requirements for the IDE’s that you want to use for starter’s , then you can goto the refurbished section on Apples web site and check to see if there is something there that will meet your needs. Also keep in mind what you see in the Macbook Air selection you should look at the 13″ Retina MBP. With Apple supposedly bringing in the skylake processor this year (nothing solid just rumors) allot of people are on the fence of buying now. Allot of people recommend 8Gig Ram, especially if your going to keep it for a while, also look at it as an investment, are you going to be writing apps and making money? Retina Screen vs MBA screen there is NO comparison you can see the difference for sure.

  15. Hi Patrick,
    The article, really helpful tips for me. However, I have a question.
    I plan to start up e-commerce online shopping website. (Like brathwait.com / DW) and using online cloud web design search as Shopify.com or WIX.com, do you think that MacBook Air with 8gb ram and 128/256 SSD drive is great machine or should I invest in Mac Pro. Please do advice.

    • Are you going to be doing any heavy theme development or app development for your store? Most people don’t need to. And they’ll be fine with an Air. If you wanted to do custom app development and run unit tests and things like that it might be nice to have extra power. But for e-commerce you don’t need a fancy computer.

  16. Nice blog. I recently picked up a Macbook Air and really love using it for web design. I have actually been more productive on my Mac than my previous Windows machine.

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