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What is a professional tool anyway?

One weekend in 2017 I was using my Macbook Pro when all of a sudden the screen turned black and it started spewing white smoke like it had just elected the new Pope.

Luckily, it didn’t catch fire. Later that day I opened up the laptop to see what happened.

To my surprise it wasn’t the battery, but it was the hard drive - the only replaceable component in a 2013 Macbook Pro.

I ordered a replacement, and a week later the laptop was working again. I even upgraded it’s storage from 512GB to 1TB.

But this problem got me thinking - was the MacBook Pro really a professional tool?

I always think of a DSLR camera when I think of a professional tool.

Its parts are mostly replaceable, and the parts that aren’t have redundancies.

You can switch out lenses, flashes, microphones. You can look through the view finder or the LCD to see what you are shooting. All settings can be changed using the buttons on the device or through the on-screen menu. The lenses, flashes and microphones are interoperable with newer and older camera bodies.

All of these functions give the tool a long service life and make it reliable and dependable. Therefore a higher price is justified and still a good investment for a professional user.

Yet there still exist cheaper point-and-shoots which offer similar image quality but without the modularity for less money.

As a developer, my most used tool is a computer. And for a long time my go to computer was a laptop.

In the laptop space modularity and repairability have been dead and buried long ago.

The ability to add more memory or space to your machine, to repair parts that break, has been sacrificed in the name of “progress” and “design”.

The question is the progress of what? And what design?

The hardware was never smaller and more reliable than today. Machines that were thin, slick, and modular yesteryear are just thin and slick today. The original MacBook Air was a few millimetres thicker than today’s and had a replaceable battery.

The only progress I see here is the progress of companies maximizing profits.

The simple truth is that it’s cheaper to make hardware this way. And it forces people to buy the more expensive model up front out of fear that they might outgrow the cheaper one.

It used to be normal to buy a machine with moderate specs and upgrade it later if you wanted more memory or space. Hell, I upgraded my old 2007 iMac with more memory and an SSD back in 2009 - these machines used to be user-upgradeable.

Today it’s becoming harder and harder to find a computer that allows you to fix or upgrade anything.

Some companies even go out of their way to make repairs and upgrades difficult. Probably to up-sell you a more expensive model or to sell you a new device when the first one fails due to a banal problem.

I wouldn’t call these devices professional.

Sure, they have a lot of features, and they have cutting edge specs. But just like with the point-and-shoot camera, you get what you get and once something breaks the whole machine becomes a paperweight.

In the last few years a few companies that offer upgradeable and repairable laptops did appear, and I wish them the best of luck. We could use more companies like these, and more devices that aren’t designed to fail, that are repairable and upgradable.


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