My Adventure with OSX


I recently bought a Mac.  I’ve had it now for a couple of months, and my opinions about it have stabilized enough for an essay on the topic.  The summary: it was a mistake.

It isn’t my first Mac.   I’ve owned, used, and programmed on several different OSes in my life: Apple ][s, MVS, Amiga OS,  NeXTSTEP, Windows, MacOS 9, and Linux.

Now, the Apple ][ OS was outstanding for the fact that, with a little experience, you could fully understand all parts of the system.  DOS sucked, and still does.  Amiga OS was OK, but while I used it for several years, it didn’t have any particularly outstanding characteristics – the thing that made the Amiga great was that it was really the first microcomputer to have every subcomponent as a separate processor.  It had a CPU, a GPU, and sound chip… that’s pretty common today, but Amiga pioneered that.

NeXTSTEP was the first truly great OS.  It was what OSX tries to be: cohesive, integrated, simple, and powerful.  Programming in NeXTSTEP was a joy.  It clearly separated the view from the model/control through a drag/drop GUI builder that built resources, which you then loaded and hooked in to.  Again, this (to my knowledge) was has generally been ignored by other technologies (Java, in particular, although Gnome does this right, and yes, I’m aware one’s a language and the other’s a GUI toolkit.  Java is inseparable from its own GUI toolkit, though, and a platform as much as NeXTSTEP was, so I think it’s a fair comparison).  Steve Jobs killed NeXTSTEP through incompetent marketting – he focused entirely on the business market and ignored the personal computer market, and if Steve had been less dense, NeXT could have killed Windows right then and there – it was that much better.

For the past thirteen years, we’ve been a Linux house.  For the past ten years, we’ve been a laptop house; both my wife and I use Linux – for most of that time, running KDE.  However, I’ve become increasingly pissed off with Linux.  In the past two or three years, the kernel has been unstable and unreliable.  Every release of Ubuntu should be called “Rampant Regressions,” and even the Gentoo server (my old tower desktop, now full of disk and server processes) is a pain to upgrade because of a lack of clear migration paths for so much of the software that’s running on it – although, I don’t have any problems with stability of the overall system.  KDE4 was a nightmare – if ever a piece of software should have been witheld for quality control, it was KDE4.  It was so bad, we had switched to Gnome, which deserves its own rant, but at least it was stable.

I’d been looking for a new laptop to replace my aged TC4200, and was about to buy an Acer Timeline to match my wife’s, which I got her for Christmas and which has been an outstanding little computer.  However, I was seduced by the siren call of the MacBook Pro, which is an extremely attractive package.  I went for the 15”, and that was my first mistake.

The 15” MacBook Pro doesn’t fit in anything.  Tumi doesn’t make much that it’ll fit into (and I only buy Tumi), and while thin, it is simply too cumbersome to carry around.  I’d probably have been happier with a 13”, but the 15” was definitely a mistake.  Comparatively, my wife’s 14” Acer Aspire Timeline 4810T has a slightly smaller screen, but it fits in everything and is noticeably more portable.

There are several nice things about the MacBook:

  • It starts up really quickly.  That login prompt is there in a dozen seconds; Linux can take up to a minute to start.
  • It resumes from a sleep super fast.  I mean, super fast.  Like, suspiciously fast.  Like, moving your mouse to un-blank your screen fast.
  • I’ve never had a problem with the wifi.  Computer wakes up, computer connects to the internet.
  • The hardware itself is pretty.  I like the backlit keyboard, and the control keys for brightness, media control, and so on all work.
  • It is pretty dead-quiet, and doesn’t get very hot.
  • I like some of the software on it.  iBank is pretty nice, and it is a relief to finally have software support for some hardware, such as the Logitech Harmony remotes.
I have had quite a few problems with it, though:

  • The first laptop I got had a busted DVD-ROM.  The Apple store replaced it, but I got the distinct impression that had my laptop been more than a day or two old, they’d have given me more trouble about it.
  • I’ve had the video camera lock up, such that the cam software isn’t able to acquire an image.  The only fix for this is a reboot.
  • I’ve had the bluetooth stop working, and the only fix for this is to reboot.  I mean, seriously: reboot??  What is this, Windows?
  • I hate the OSX key bindings.  Who the hell at Apple decided to ignore the defacto standards and change the bindings?  CTRL-C/V/X doesn’t copy/paste/cut – no, you have to use  Apple-C/V/X keys.  Want to select a work in your editor with the keyboard?  Is it CTRL-Shift-LeftArrow?  No, no… that’d be too standard.  On an Apple, it’s Option-Shift-LeftArrow.  What we need is a YouTube video of somebody repeatedly kicking the idiot who made the decision to have the OSX key bindings be different from every other fucking OS in the world in the nuts.  Repeatedly.  For an hour.
  • The mouse pad is stupid.  Apple really needs to stop being idiots and finally put a second mouse button on their mouse pad.  Seriously.  Having to CTRL-Click to get the secondary functions is user-hostile, not user-friendly, you idiots.
  • There’s no focus-follows-mouse.  That’s the second-most stupid thing about OSX (right after the key bindings).
  • All of the photo-editing software is expensive.  Actually, all software for OSX is expensive, and I don’t see much that’s better than the free software equivalents on Linux.  I don’t think that Aperture is any easier to use than Bibble, and actually feels less powerful (and Bibble is available on Linux, too).  It’s better for managing photos than the Gimp, but Gimp is more powerful.  And if you start looking at the Photoshop line of software, you’re looking at serious money.
The battery life isn’t quite as advertised.  In fact, I get significantly less, and it isn’t like I’m doing anything more than just browsing the web, most of the time.

The MacBook is nice hardware, although, as I’ve said, the 15” is awkward, and was a mistake.  The 13” might have been OK.  But, for less than half the price, you could get an Acer Timeline (or any of a number of similar laptops available today), with similar battery life, as good a screen, as much memory, albeit less CPU (most laptops this use scaled down CPUs; the MacBook has a pretty hefty one).

I won’t be buying another Mac; in fact, I may be installing Linux on this one.  At this point, I don’t think OSX really offers any advantage – and has several disadvantages – to Linux.  I don’t think it is any easier to use, although it may be easier to maintain.

Apple is doing well, but I suspect that it’s because they’re successfully pulling off what Microsoft got away with in the 80’s and 90’s: they’re suckering people into buying overly expensive products that are actually technically inferior to less-well-advertised alternatives.  And I’ve been one of those suckers.

Fool me once, shame on me.  You won’t fool me twice, Apple.

Copyright © Sean Elliott Russell

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