Apple appears to have come to the conclusion that FireWire Target Disk Mode is now just a Pro feature. I’ll explain why it’s essential for everyone… and how Apple can still pull it off.
For those of you new to the Mac, Target Disk Mode is a revolutionary feature which takes advantage of FireWire’s ability to directly connect two machines together. When you put a Mac into Target Disk Mode, it puts the machine into a special mode, which basically converts the Mac into an external hard drive (it also works with the optical drive as well).
This is critical if you have a sick Mac in the field. Especially with a Mac portable, fixing problems can take minutes with Target Disk Mode, even if a Mac won’t start up! Essentially, with Target Disk Mode, you can run repair tools from another Mac, and fix a sick Mac without having to take it apart. You can rescue files without needing to pull out the hard drive. You can even check the drive for bad disk sectors.
When I say that this is “critical”, I’m not joking. When I used to do IT consulting, this saved my clients hours in billing. I was able to repair damaged directory and filesystems within minutes. Without Target Disk Mode, I would have spent an hour diagnosing, before being resigned to taking apart the computer… which would have taken hours as well. Finally, fixing the problem, and putting the Mac back together again.
Now, Apple does have a point: FireWire is no longer a consumer tool. USB 2.0 replaced FireWire even in digital and HD camcorders. Fine. But, Apple still needs to innovate a solution to Target Disk Mode, and I’m about to tell them how.
See, you can’t just plug two computers together via USB. There are, however, some special Data Transfer Cables, which Microsoft tried to use to promote Vista. Apple even sells one at their retail stores, bundled with software which will let you migrate your Windows files to a new Mac.
And, that cable would work perfectly for Target Disk Mode via USB. Simply sell a special USB cable (similar, if not identical to one of the existing data transfer cables), with custom firmware on the controller in the cord. That cord could communicate with updated EFI/TDM firmware on the slave Mac. The result? The master Mac would “see” (and mount) the drives just like any other external hard drive or optical drive. Just like FireWire Target Disk Mode.
And, we wouldn’t have to wait for new revisions of MacBook Air and MacBook to support this… it could be added right now, to every single Intel-based Mac, with a simple firmware update. That’s the beauty of EFI… if only Apple would take advantage of it.
I know just about every Mac technician would buy one up… just for repairing the new MacBook and MacBook Air. Every IT department that handles Mac would keep one on-hand as well. At $49/cable, just think of the revenue potential right there.
Now, down the road, I would like to see Apple innovate in FireWire again. I think that there is plenty of room for innovation (and yes, profitable innovation), especially since the SIG has indicated that they could embrace using the RJ45 connector as a standard port. Think about it… that Ethernet port that goes relatively unused on MacBooks, could one day be used not just for Gigabit Ethernet, but for FireWire 400, 800, and S3200. But, then again, that would actually be… downright logical, so I doubt it will be implemented.