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My venerable MacBook Air

KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonderThe Continent Veteran
edited October 2020 in General Banter

I don’t know if anyone here has an older computer, but I have a venerable and much cherished MacBook Air from mid 2011 which is about to go out of support. I have installed macOS High Sierra on it, which is the most recent OS it will run, but the last security update for what is now a three-year-old OS has just come out. I’m not yet ready to buy a new computer, and I’d like to keep this machine as my working laptop for a while yet.

So I am looking for tips how to keep this older machine secure and in working shape, and thought I’d ask to see if anyone has any advice in working with older Macs? One good tip I have had is to move from Apple’s Safari to Google Chrome, which offers an up-to-date and secure web browser even for older OS revisions.

It’s a shame that a machine which is still in good shape — I recently cleaned it, and it looks shiny and still only weighs about a kg so it’s light and is fast enough for my modest needs — is getting limited by security concerns. It wouldn’t usually be a big deal, but I do my online banking on it.

Comments

  • howhow Veteran Veteran
    edited October 2020

    Is it really a concern for security or just a business model that promotes new purchases?
    I think that even if there wasn't a security concern then some other cause would be manufactured to mandate the need to buy the latest company offerings.

  • KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonder The Continent Veteran

    Well it’s a good question. I have to say, anyone who gets nine years’ use out of a computer is doing pretty well. The laptop had six years of yearly OS updates, and has had three years of patches and security updates beyond that. So it has had a good run.

    But the thing is, I don’t really need a faster laptop, and the machine has only seen light use, so it’s in very good shape. If it wasn’t for the security concern I’d still be using it for light work such as writing, doing my taxes and online banking for a good while.

    So how bothered am I really about security? Well, I don’t go gallivanting off to the dark corners of the internet, so I don’t need super robustness, but an accident can happen to anyone. My stepfather once accidentally installed malware on my mother’s Mac, and that was not easy to get rid of. So I don’t think concerns are totally unfounded.

    I will install Chrome, but I wonder if there is anything else I should be doing.

  • You could run Linux on it <3

    or at least use the Brave Browser
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brave_(web_browser)

  • KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonder The Continent Veteran
    edited October 2020

    I have quite a lot of old-but-good software on my MacBook Air, so I don’t really want to install another OS, but thanks for the suggestion @lobster. I was looking at some installer hacking that people have done to get the more recent macOS Catalina to run on older Macs, but I’m not sure I want to go down that road, at the risk of making things less stable.

    I recently booted up my old Dell laptop from 2008 which was still running Windows Vista, it gave me a series of ‘out of support’ warnings when I got it running, surprising that I still remembered the password.

    But I am surprised that all these old computers are still so serviceable after all this time. There has really been a sea change, I remember the days when computers would basically double in speed every two years and you’d buy a new one. Not anymore.

  • WalkerWalker Veteran Veteran

    Heh,
    The RAM on my late '08 MacBook Pro went kaput a couple of days ago. Had to pick up a used one today, don't have the cash right now for new. CAD440 for a Mid 2014 13".

    Hopefully I'll get a few years out of it. I will need a new battery sometime soon.

  • KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonder The Continent Veteran
    edited October 2020

    Yeah there is a decent market for second hand Macs, a friend of mine just picked up a 21” iMac from 2017 for 498 euro’s. You can do a lot with tablets, but sometimes you still need a computer with ports.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if this second-hand market had something to do with the slower pace of obsolescence of computer hardware. After all, twenty years ago you bought a computer and two years later it was half the speed of a new model, and nowadays with a new computer you only lose 10-20% speed in two years compared to a new one. It just means that today’s computers last longer, and do better second-hand.

  • KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonder The Continent Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    I was looking at some installer hacking that people have done to get the more recent macOS Catalina to run on older Macs, but I’m not sure I want to go down that road, at the risk of making things less stable.

    I found out that under Catalina my old Microsoft Office 2011 package would no longer run since it included some 32-bit code. Another good reason not to upgrade, because all my taxes are done in Excel spreadsheets with that software.

    But I have enabled the built-in Firewall in High Sierra, which should help make my laptop a bit more secure. Surprisingly it was switched off up to now.

  • KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonder The Continent Veteran
    edited October 2020

    @Kerome said:
    Yeah there is a decent market for second hand Macs, a friend of mine just picked up a 21” iMac from 2017 for 498 euro’s. You can do a lot with tablets, but sometimes you still need a computer with ports.

    This turned out to be an iMac from 2010 with an SSD upgrade... she was not pleased. There is a big difference between a machine from 2017 which is still getting os support and one from 2010 which is already a retired model.

    But it just goes to show how careful you have to be when picking a refurbished computer. For example, I was helping one of my uncles, who was looking at an auction site for refurbs, and he thought he had spotted a bargain, an Intel core-i7 PC going for 190 euro’s. He asked me to take a look, just as well because the CPU was a Core-i7 840 from 2009. Its easy to get confused, especially with cpu’s which have maintained the same branding for a decade.

  • KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonder The Continent Veteran
    edited November 2020

    I am now visiting the site on my macbook air... I usually pop by on my iPad. I had forgotten how much faster it was to actually type on a keyboard... maybe I will use the opportunity to make some really long posts, mwhuahahah.

    It's also nice to see the site in some different fonts. The font my MBA uses to render the text here is rounded and just nice, a kind of very civilised Garamond... my knowledge of web fonts is woefully inadequate for someone who used to do typesetting for a living (for a short while).

    On another note, I must admit to being very tempted by the new M1 Mac laptops. They are very fast for the money you spend, and should be good to last quite a few years. The way I see it, I could spend 2000 euros on a new iMac with a big screen in a year's time, or I could spend 1000 on a new M1 MacBook Air and have 1000 left over for a new 4K HDR tv and a playstation 5 right now.

    The problem is, you can't do much programming on a MacBook Air. Choices, choices...

  • The problem is, you can't do much programming on a MacBook Air. Choices, choices...

    Why?
    Swift or Python not available? What other languages?

  • KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonder The Continent Veteran

    @lobster said:

    The problem is, you can't do much programming on a MacBook Air. Choices, choices...

    Why?
    Swift or Python not available? What other languages?

    I’m not running an up to date OS anymore and so there is no support for Xcode. I suppose I could try and see if Visual Studio for Mac is still supported, as application developers tend to support old Macs longer than Apple themselves.

    But I tried it for a while and due to the smallish screen it wasn’t a great experience. It just felt very fidly working with a trackpad and limited screen space. I’m used to big screens, a keyboard and a mouse for programming, I guess.

    lobster
  • KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonder The Continent Veteran

    Some enterprising folks have gotten Ubuntu for ARM working under the macOS Big Sur hypervisor in a simple virtual machine, so some basic virtualisation is there now. This is all ARM code running on other ARM code so it is very fast...

    lobster
  • LincLinc Site owner Detroit Moderator

    Personally, I wouldn't have any qualms continuing to use the computer for another year or two.

    I suggest Firefox over Chrome. The latter increasingly suffers from its allegiance to Google. The shine is long gone.

    lobsterKerome
  • KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonder The Continent Veteran

    @Linc said:
    Personally, I wouldn't have any qualms continuing to use the computer for another year or two.

    You’re right and I will of course. Security updates are important but you can still use an older machine without necessarily immediately doing something as drastic as updating it to BSD. As long as you don’t go probing the dank corners of the internet where viruses run rampant.

    I am also wondering about support for a new machine. A new Mac traditionally receives OS updates for something like seven or eight years, then security updates for another three years, and then it’s out of support. I think that a new computer might last me a long time, since that amount of compute power won’t soon be outdated, and it will go out of support long before I stop using it.

    If you are really looking to buy a computer for the long term you have to look into other things too like repairability, or whether you want to keep components like the screen after the computer is obsolete. There is a lot to be said for the old windows PC model of separates and a user-repairable system.

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