Switching to Macintosh

Two weeks ago, I got my first Macintosh. It’s a 12” Powerbook: one of the cutest, most sensible laptops I’ve ever seen. But I don’t think I’ll ever be a Mac head.

I have never trusted Apple. They have always played games, from the old look-and-feel lawsuit to crippling external displays on the iBook and “upgrades” which limit features on the iPod. Their current persecution of Think Secret is pretty much par for the course (John Gruber misses what Dan Gilmore explains: intimidating one party to get at another is unethical).

I laid the groundwork for the move months ago when I switched my email to Thunderbird and my documents to Open Office. The state of Open Office on Mac was nearly a deal-breaker for me, and no alternative will do: I depend on a decent XML file format. Fortunately, NeoOffice/J seems to work well enough; I’m using it to write this blog entry.

But all of this worked just fine on Windows. The critical feature for me is UNIX. I’m sick and tired of being a second-class citizen when it comes to hacking around. Now I can write scripts in Perl, Python, Ant, and use piped commands on my main machine without having to jump through hoops, which I would have had to do with Windows.

Three things were almost deal-breakers. The first was Open Office. The second is the keyboard. I use a dvorak keymap on an ergonomic keyboard, and I’m unwilling to give it up. Finally, Apple’s famous sense of design purity too often overshadows their good sense: the keyboard is missing a delete key, the touchpad has only one button, the dock mixes everything up together. In the end, I decided that connecting a PC mouse and keyboard would solve the important problems.

As for the machine, it’s great. The best feature is the rapid sleep and wake-up, which is so convenient it changes my relationship to the computer. Occasionally, OS X feels a little rough around the edges with inconsistent support of keyboard commands for things like text selection and deleting objects. I’m not a great fan of iTunes or iPhoto: I find the interface limiting and quirky, but they do “just work”, and well enough that I use them.

Why not Linux? I was using Linux back in 1993, when it was at version 0.99pl14 (pl stood for “patch level”). Unfortunately, Linux support for graphics applications (and associated hardware) is weak, and in my experience Linux suffers from an advanced form of DLL hell. I recently installed Debian on an old machine in the hopes of finding a remedy, but the experience was not pleasant – Yggdrasil was easier to deal with a decade back.

I have faith that Linux is the future, even though I don’t have the patience to mess with it for my day-to-day machine. The Linux community is essential to the infrastructure of applications like Thunderbird and Open Office that enabled my move to Macintosh. One day, Linux will pull it all together, and we all be free of corporate lock-in. For now, I’m content to be free of Microsoft.