It’s a shock to me, too.
For years — almost a decade now — I’ve been using Linux almost exclusively at home. I’ve downloaded and installed countless distributions, and have lived with nothing but open sourced and free software, which has served my needs as well as any (Well, I will admit to the guilty pleasure that is the Opera browser. Not open sourced, but man, is it sleek!) And unlike most folks who download and install Linux, I’ve actually paid for open sourced software, paid for the operating systems, paid for support, and donated to the incredible work being done by people bringing all manner of modern functionality to GNU/Linux (including the marketing geniuses who figured out that “Linux” looks and sounds better than “GNU/Linux”) and the free software and open source movements.
The fact of the matter is that free and open sourced software has served me well for 95% of what I normally do. For most people, this would easily be 100%, since 95% of my work is made up of things like browsing the web, getting email, syncing with my MP3 players, viewing DVDs, streaming and recording music, using word processors and spreadsheets, and even doing a little programming. In fact, my productivity on Linux is higher than on Windows because I can tweak the system to work exactly as I want it, and to react to me when I want it to do so. Most people wouldn’t do two-thirds of what I do. They wouldn’t need to, nor would they have the patience to.
But it’s that other 5% that has truly become a hindrance.
See, much of the work I do is design oriented. I’m not talking about graphic design: I’m sure you can see by the look of this site that graphics aren’t exactly my forte. I’m talking about document design, since my documents are more often than not more complex than simply writing a bunch of text on a page, pasting a bunch of pictures, and printing it out. You can’t do that if the tools most people use aren’t available to you, and if they refuse to use your tools.
Another issue has been whether things “just work.” The fact is that on Linux, most stuff does. It really, really does! But that depends on whether you’re willing to give up something for it. Here’s what I mean:
If I’m using Windows, 9 times out of 10 things will “just work” because I wasn’t the one to touch the installation. I wasn’t the one to put the hardware together, to wrestle with the hardware drivers, to spend hours updating all the security patches, or to install all the extras. That last time out of 10, when I’m the one doing the work, installing Windows is pretty much a nightmare. (I may be wrong when it comes to Vista.) In other words, Windows doesn’t “just work”, despite what hardcore Microsoft fans will say. (Note that this does not include the Microsoft development tools, which are another matter entirely. If everything MS did was that effective, it would be dominant without needing to resort to monopolistic practices.) However, when things don’t “just work”, there is usually an easy enough installation route. For example, if I run into a page which requires Flash and I don’t have it installed, a little pop-up will ask me if I want to install it, regardless of whether I’m using Firefox or Explorer (or Opera, or Safari, et al). Click, install, restart the browser and I’m done.
If I’m using Linux, 9 times out of 10 things will “just work”. I mean truly “just work”: printers, scanners, cameras, USB thumb drives… the list goes on. Even with video and sound cards, things will usually “just work”, unless you want to get the high-end stuff going, then you’ll need to do some work. Sometimes this is relatively painless, as is the case with most nVidia video cards. Other times it’s like pulling teeth, like in the case of most ATI cards, or like some browser plugins. With web browsers, however, it’s not always that easy. Because of the diversity inherent in the Linux world — a world where you can pick up an operating system tailored for a brand new user, and where at the same time a more advanced user doesn’t have to acquiesce to it — installation of some software isn’t always guaranteed, nor is it simple. That, of course, depends on whether you can even find the software you need for your platform. Don’t get me wrong, equivalence is great, and if using, say, PDF creation software which does not require complex document security requirements doesn’t get in your way, then by all means, use it. But what happens when you need a certain software, or two, or three? You could, of course, start with virtualization services, such as Parallels or VMWare, which would run the OS you need in order to run the software you need. Or what about something like CodeWeavers Crossover, which will allow you to run some software natively on Linux? Again, for most scenarios this is fine, but then there’s that last 5% where virtualization isn’t really an option. In short, in the Linux world, when you have complicated, specific needs, things can get down-right complicated. You can always get it to do what you need, however, if you’re willing to get your hands a bit dirty.
But what if it isn’t that your needs are complicated? What if it’s just a matter of you trying to punch a nail in with a screwdriver? What if you’re using the wrong tool for the job? Isn’t getting your hands dirty then simply a waste of time?
Enter the Mac. I’ve wanted one for as long as I can remember, but have never been able to justify paying for what I believed was overpriced hardware. Now, I’m in a position to buy pretty much whatever system I want, within reason. Imagine my surprise when I spec’d out a Dell system (running Ubuntu) similar to a MacBook and found out that they cost about the same. I guess they’re not as overpriced as I’d once thought.
I need a system that won’t get in my way, which will allow me to work with the software I need, and that is aimed towards my particular field. Linux does this about 95% of the time. But I need this 100% of the time, and a Mac, I believe, will do that. (I’m not at all interested in using Windows: I use it every day at work and I have not intention of using it at home.) I need a system with a strong community, something both Linux and Mac have in common, so in case I do have questions I have somewhere to go for answers (and because I enjoy being a part of a community, I’d also help others out whenever I could). I also need a system which will allow me to split my time between the command line and the GUI, since I work fastest when I have access to and can control the system with both. Again, something both Linux and Mac have in common. And I need a system which will allow me to run the software I need, natively. Linux and Mac, in this case, don’t have this in common.
As you can probably tell from the tone of this piece, I’m not really dissatisfied with Linux. It has served me extremely well, and I will heartily recommend it to just about everyone. But for me, I need something more, which is why I’ve bought a Mac.
Now, will this be my long term solution? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows, I may wipe out Mac OS X from this thing in a year and use nothing but Ubuntu again. After all, Mac OS is beautiful and useful, but it doesn’t even come close to the Beryl/Emerald combo available for the GNOME interface. (Spaces is a piece of crap compared to Beryl/Emerald.) But I’m more interested in working than I am in playing, and if a Mac will let me do that, then that’s what I’ll chose.
I expect to get my Mac this Monday. I picked up a refurb MacBook from Apple.com for $1164.00 (including tax, with free shipping), so hopefully it’ll get here with at least almost all the parts. I’ll blog about my experiences with it.
As for Linux… well, that’s an interesting question. I’ve bought the MacBook to be a complete desktop/laptop replacement, so I now have two computers leaving my house. The first is my desktop, a small form factor PC I put together about 3 years ago. It’s currently running Fedora 8, but I’ll probably end up installing Freespire on it, since it’s going to my in-laws, who are in their late 60’s and early 70’s. The second is a Dell Inspiron 8000 I’ve had since 2001. It still runs well, though it is definitely showing its age. I’ve installed PuppyLinux on it, though I may install Antix instead. That one’s going to my own mother.
After all is said and done, this will be the first time in a decade I haven’t run Linux at home as my primary computing platform. Weird. Mind you, I’ll still be keeping up with the Linux world, just not as much. I expect, however, to still be using more than my fair share of open source software, and donating my fair share to these groups. But I what I expect to happen and what will happen may end up being two totally different things.
So let me ask, has anyone reading this used Linux and switched to Mac? What where your experiences? What did you like or hate? Did you switch back?