Friday, November 14, 2008

Debunking some Mac is Better Myths

Fanboys Calm Down

Sorry, I always feel when I'm going to attack one of the sacred cows of the computing industry that I had better take -- at least -- that precaution.

So for the fanbois: The Playstation 3 will be the end of Sony electronics, the Wii is for Children and the fact that geriatrics like it isn't "a good thing". And the Xbox 360 is owned by the most evil corporation in the world. In addition, Google is Evil. Apple is too. And Microsoft writes fantastic software. There, now you're sufficiently distracted (or your head has exploded), you can happily ignore the rest of my post and be angry about one of the former statements (none of which are actually my opinion) :)

First, Why I care

I love tinkering with operating systems. I've messed with Mac OS X in the past (even on non-Apple hardware), and have been impressed.
At home, my wife runs Ubuntu, but due to her desire to use some media services that require either Windows or a Mac (read:DRM requirement), she was stuck. So I upgraded her (is it upgraded? Lateral move maybe?).

I am neither a Steve Jobs worshiper nor a Steve Ballmer hater. In fact, I don't generally look at technology as anything more than utilitarian. I like Open Source and Free Software, but ultimately, I'm going to pick the best solution. Frankly, I've seen very few articles or posts that do little more than drool all over Apple products, so I thought I'd provide some of the less than great parts.

Reboot, again, again, again...

A two-year old is less repetitive. Once considered the defining characteristic of Windows (and, though better, could still be improved a lot). Apple's Mac OS X 10.5.5 takes the cake here. Am I crazy or does almost everything you attempt to install require a reboot? Why does upgrading QuickTime, when it's not in use anywhere, require a reboot? Contrast this with Ubuntu, which despite having eighty or so components requiring updates every few weeks, rarely required a reboot to actually apply an update. Application or service restarts might have been required, but rarely did I have to reboot the whole box.

One thing that I have to mention, though, is rebooting a Mac is nothing like rebooting Windows or Ubuntu. It is by far the fastest OS from Power On to USABLE. By Usable, I mean, after logging in, the point at which the hard drive has stopped churning and you can actually click on something and have an application launch.

Hardware Support

Awful. By design. You run the version of Mac OS on the hardware provided by Apple, or you hack it up using the OSX86 Project, but run the risk of violating the Terms of Use.
Lets assume you've taken the high road and purchased a Mac. Peripheral support isn't great. For instance, I have a wonderful USB Wireless adapter that gets spectacular range (much better than anything built into any laptop I've ever owned). I was able to find a driver for it, but only from the chipset maker. It barely works, so I muddle by with the built in Wireless.

OS Bugs

You may be surprised to learn that despite the press reports to the contrary, Mac OS has bugs! Real bugs! And some of them are nasty.
I was spoiled by Ubuntu. On my hardware it worked out of the box. The applications rarely crashed and I had not once encountered a Kernel Panic.
Day one on the Mac involved copying data from a thumb drive. Insert the drive: Kernel Panic. Get the right file system driver for the drive, insert the drive, it doesn't mount. Insert any other USB device, it doesn't mount. Pull hair out, reboot, swear a little, try again, and it works.
Over several days of getting this thing up and ready for my wife, I've had file systems that have their permissions get corrupted for what seems like no reason at all, Bouncing icons that do nothing, random wireless and wired network disconnections and all sorts of silliness. It's pretty stable now, though the wireless performance could be much better.

The Dock

The dock is a great tool. But to me it feels like the Frequently Used Applications, or Quick Launch tool more than it feels like the Start Button. Perhaps it's my ignorance of the OS (which I'll certainly take blame for), but having to launch a Finder window aimed at Applications to see everything installed and run it isn't exactly ideal.

Apple Update

It works. It's slow. I'd equate it with Windows Update. The worst part is that it seems some applications include incremental updates (meaning, install the update, reboot, launch Apple Update, install the patch to the update, reboot, rinse, repeat). Ubuntu's update tool much nicer simply because managing and installing 80 updates at a time in a matter of seconds is pretty impressive.\

Software Installation

Perhaps its more intuitive and I just haven't caught on, but I don't "get" the process of mounting an image file to install software. Again, Ubuntu reigns supreme with apt-get and the GUI equivalent.

Eject, Eject

I don't think twice about removing a pen drive from Windows or Linux as long as the write light isn't on. In OS X, I'm given a nasty alert that I must "put away" the device. There's no Put Away option, but there is an eject option which brings me to point #2: Since when did having a hardware eject button on a dvd drive become 'evil'? I remember day's past of having to find the right sized paper clip in order to free a 3.5" floppy from an older mac. Stop it! I want my eject button back.

That said, it's a small list compared to annoyances I had when I first sat in front of a Linux box. And it's an even smaller list than the one that contains my many gripes about Vista.

There is plenty to love about OS X, but you can find plenty of good resources on that topic, I won't waste your time with another gushing piece about the OS. I also don't want to give the impression that I hate the OS. It's fantastic in many ways and a pleasure to use. It's also helped by the fact that the hardware is fantastic.

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