Why my Desktop is OS X

DISCLAIMER: I still use Linux on all of my servers. This paper is not a position saying OS X should be used in that type of environment. What this paper is is an outline of why my day to day desktop computer runs OS X now instead of Linux.
Read on for the full article.

Introduction

I recently made the decision to ditch my dual 19’’, 1Ghz Athlon, running Debian GNU/Linux in favor of the ultra-portable 700Mhz G3 iBook with tons of RAM and a 40GB hard drive. The main reason behind this decision was Apple’s new operating system, OS X. The short story is that I love OS X and would recommend it to any hardcore UNIX fan.

I’d like to note that when I say I used Linux I really mean it. I spent 4+ years using it both on my desktop and on all of my servers. I’ve configured everything from Samba to Qmail+EZMLM without problems. I’ve used, configured, and ran just about ever application under Linux so I consider myself well versed in Linux’s shortcomings (especially those related to the desktop).

Top 5 Reasons I don’t miss Linux

1.) No kernel recompiles
I must admit that after 4+ years using Linux fulltime on my desktop I was sick and tired of recompiling my kernel. Not only did I have to do it every time I installed new hardware I also had to consult Google, mailing lists, kernel changelogs, etc. when I set out to purchase new hardware.

2.) X Windows
OS X has X Windows. Linux has X Windows. OS X has Aqua. Linux does not have Aqua. I could spend days talking about why Aqua is vastly superior to anything Linux has put on the desktop. I’ll hit some of the sweet spots that I’ve found since beginning my odyssey. First off the dock is very easy to use. You can easily drag and drop newly installed applications into it (or right click after you have started them and click “Keep in Dock”). If you don’t like clutter in your desktop you could add links to your favorite applications in a folder, add the folder to your dock, and then right click on the folder to see its contents and launch those applications. Other than the fact that the interface is just plain beautiful, it is also function. The simple fact is GTK’s file dialog box is the worst and KDE’s isn’t much better. Aqua’s allows for favorites and is simple to navigate. I suppose these aren’t truly a knock against X Windows, but rather the state of the Linux desktop in general.


3.) Office Applications

Where are they? You can preach Open Office all you want and I agree they are making progress, but since applications in Linux don’t really talk to each other (ie. Clicking on a Word file in Mozilla doesn’t launch Open Office without screwing with mime types) it’s not very useful.


4.) Software Installation

I’m sorry, but “./configure && make && make install” is NOT user friendly. Then I have to wait 8 years for it to compile, unless, of course, I’m missing some random library, which then needs to be downloaded and compiled. Sure apt-get is damn cool and there are more and more graphic frontends for such things, but simply put most Linux distributions do not make it easy to install systems. I remember spending tons of time downloading, compiling, and configuring applications, editing config files, etc. Which is another big problem with Linux, many applications require you to edit text files in order to get them to work correctly. I’m sorry, but if I never see another rc file I’ll be a happy camper. Don’t even get me started on RPM …


5.) No fun toys

It took me days to get my old digital camera to work using a serial port (which I sacrificed because I figured it would work better under Linux). Even though Gphoto listed it as a supported camera it didn’t work. After many emails to the list asking for help (all of which went unanswered) I finally got it working with photopc. This meant that I had to use another text based tool AND there wasn’t much of anything, other than some obscure perl scripts, to easily manage my photo albums. My iBook came preinstalled with iPhoto, which works with virtually every camera on the planet. I can even save photo albums as screen savers! Forget about video editing in Linux. Playing DVD’s has only recently become possible and I can’t imagine how hard it is to set that up. Burning CD’s was never really all that easy under Linux either, unless you had somehow figured out XCDRoast or mastered mkisofs.

Top 5 Reasons OS X Rules


1.) It’s UNIX!

Yes that’s right, OS X really is UNIX. OS X is BSD variant to be exact. It has home directories, has true multiuser support, and comes complete with a terminal. In fact my usual ps auxw | grep mozilla to find crashed Mozilla processes works fine as does the kill command that usually follows. Install fink and you basically get apt-get. I’ve installed mysql, rsync, and bash without any incident. My boss has compiled PHP+Apache by following the basic PHP install howto. OS X comes standard with SSH, Perl, and all sorts of all the other goodies you have come to expect in a standard UNIX distribution.


2.) Aqua

What can I say? It’s a pleasure to work in. Enlightenment, GNOME, and KDE haven’t come close to the integration and ease of use that Apple has created in Aqua. Copy and paste works (shocking I know), the file dialog box is useful, drag and drop works (even between Mozilla and IE), and all the mime types work beautifully. It’s fast too! With Jaguar (OS X v10.2) and the introduction of Quartz Extreme it will be OpenGL accelerated, which should make it even faster. Why desktops haven’t been using my spare GPU cycles all along I’ll never know.


3.) “It just works”

Apple is notorious for their “it just works” type of attitude. Everything just plugs in and works. The thought of a driver is completely foreign to most Mac users. OS X is not different. Plug in the USB keyboard and three button mouse with scrollwheel and they work. Unplug your RJ45 and OS X switches to the AirPort card without a hiccup. When I installed my AirPort card all OS X said was “I found an AirPort card – I’m enabling it now.” No restart, no configuration, nothing! And best of all I didn’t have to recompile my kernel. When I put in a blank CDR OS X prompts me to name the volume and then mounts an ISO image as a folder on my desktop. Simply drag the files into the folder and then drag the folder onto the trashcan to burn it!


4.) Microsoft Office X

Say what you want about Open Office, Microsoft Office X is light years ahead. I’m not sure if Open Office will ever be able to catch up. There’s not much really to say here other than having a robust office suite that is the industry standard is pretty nice.


5.) iTunes

I could go on and on about how cool this application is, but it wouldn’t do it any justice. The smart playlists are remarkable to me. They automatically update and adjust after I have updated my library, etc. iTunes comes standard with a ton of radio stations, which have almost replaced my very extensive (30GB+) MP3 archive. It rips a CD in less than ten minutes and allows you to simply click “Burn this playlist” if you want to burn a CD.


Some things OS X could learn from Linux

There are a few things that I wish OS X had. It should come standard with multiple desktops for one thing. Also, my beloved ALT+Click to move windows (hold down ALT then click anywhere in a window to move it) does not work in OS X. I really wish it came standard with bash, but thanks to fink this isn’t a huge issue. There should also be some sort of xkill application to kill frozen applications. These are the biggest things that annoy me about OS X, which isn’t all that bad.


Conclusion

OS X is totally amazing. It runs fast, looks great, and is easy to use. It comes with all sorts of applications. The major software manufacturers support it. The core, Darwin, is open source. It runs and acts like UNIX when you are at the prompt. I’m hooked. The best part is it came bundled with a sexy iBook that is just an amazing little machine. If you get an upgraded version it comes with a PowerBook Titanium. Considering OS X works with native Xfree86 applications and has a valid, but slightly quirky UNIX environment, I would highly recommend it to anyone.

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