One year of Macintosh and Mac OS X
Sat Apr 19th 2003, 4:57pm
Just a little over a year ago I did something impulsive, shedding years of unfounded prejudice against an entire computer genre: I bought a Power Macintosh G4. Now while it was impulsive, I'd been hearing from Will (to whom I owe thanks) for a while bits and pieces about the new face of Macintosh, and Apple's new sophisticated operating system that supposedly combined the best of proprietary operating systems with open source. It's hard even to remember my exact state of mind when I did this, though I remember the reason finally pushing me over the edge was a posting on Slashdot comparing the rendering abilities (esp. regarding fonts) of various browsers on multiple platforms. Of course, at the time, the various Linux/BSD browsers sucked (Opera and Konquerer were probably the best, with at least some degree of anti-aliased fonts through QT), and IE under Windows was second only to... IE on the Mac.

The screenshots didn't lie. The Mac was clearly king.

Now as a DOS user growing up, then a Linux user in college (I call this conversion "enlightenment"), then a FreeBSD user, then mostly back to Linux and Solaris after working in the industry a while, Macs had never been on my scope--at all. In fact, in the typical way one fears that which one does not know, I'd even been somewhat anti-Mac all this time, though I couldn't really tell you why. But after 9 years of using Linux, Free/Net/OpenBSD with X Windows, TWM, E, Gnome, KDE, even WindowMaker for a brief stint, and whatever else, even I, one who normally doesn't go out of his way to look for change, saw this new, interesting, and powerful and beautiful technology and decided it could in fact be something very interesting.

It has, in fact turned out to be very cool, interesting, and refreshing. There's a lot of stuff going on in Mac OS X. But basically here are the highlights, from someone used to Linux and BSD:
  • Web browsing is absolutely gorgeous, it's the best looking web surfing experience you've ever had. Other than the occasional annoyance of a site that doesn't work right (see negatives), everything looks absolutely spectacular. I never realized how much I'd appreciate this until I had it.
  • Multimedia works out of the box. Videos (Windows media, Quicktimes, etc) on websites just work. No more messing around with Xine or CodeWeavers plugins to get basic videos to work. My digital camera just plugged in and worked, and with iPhoto I actually now have a decent photo library.
  • The userland utilities (ls, find, chmod, etc) and networking stack were basically ripped verbatim from FreeBSD. This was very comforting since it is already very familiar.
  • So many packaged applications that all work beautifully together, iPhoto, Mail, Safari, make sending scaled photos to friends a two click job, make burning a DVD as simple as drag and drop, etc, etc.
  • Anything you used on Linux is probably ported to OS X, and X11 apps work great with Apple's X11 display server (e.g. Gimp, Evolution, Emacs). The only problem with this is I tend to dislike running most Linux apps since they look so terrible compared to everything else on my desktop :-).
And now, the downsides:
  • I still have trouble getting used to the fact that Home and End take you to the beginning and end of a document, not the line. Between working on a Mac at home, and Linux and Solaris machines at work I often find myself hitting the wrong keys for the first few minutes of every session.
  • Occassionally web sites do not render correctly, in either IE or Safari.
  • Being used to "focus follows mouse", and available keybindings for raising/lowering windows, having to use the mouse more often than I'd like is still a bit of a minor annoyance.
  • For as rock-solid a core OS as OS X should have, I still feel like I end up rebooting the machine more often than I'd like due to lockups or software upgrades. For example, to upgrade Quicktime 6.1 to 6.1.1 requires a reboot.
  • Because of the zillions of zany effects going on, the machine seems slow at times (933MHz G4).
  • And I can't make a downside list without mentioning the price. Yowzers. Did I mention it's the best web surfing experience ever? :-)
There's so much more to say, this barely scratches the surface. In summary: the Mac is cool, it's fun, powerful, advanced, and beautiful, and I'm glad I got it. But have I "switched", per se? Considering I use Linux and Solaris at work, and FreeBSD, Linux and sometimes my Windows PC here at home, I'd say not completely, since each platform still has certain unique strengths that outweigh the others. Use the right tool for the job.

Visitor comments
On Mon Apr 21st 2003, 12:39pm, will posted:
Well, I for one have been VERY happy with my mac decision. Currently I'm in the process of moving computers, data, operating systems and such around in the house, so that I will have a decent video server, a windows PC, and my mac both working off of a KVM, and a system for video conferencing in the living room. Over all, I basically just need to get off my ass and take care of everything.

On Mon Apr 21st 2003, 2:54pm, Steve Kehlet posted:
Will, your powerbook is pretty sweet, I've been a bit jealous of it ever since you got it... :-) Maybe some day I'll get the 12" pb, when they've worked out the kinks.

On Fri Apr 25th 2003, 6:58pm, mkindig posted:
Hee hee. I bought my first Mac awhile ago -- the mac Cube. Since then, I bought an iBook for Regina and a PowerBook G4 for me. I like OSX, even though I probably don't utilize the full Unix potential. "Hybriding" a network has been easy. I have an Apple Airport (bridge) and a Linksys router (firewall). I'm not happy with the WiFi range. I'm getting around to building one of those "Pringle's can" antennas. Steve -- get your amateur radio license! Erik, Chris, and I have one. Then, you can do APRS! :)

On Sun Apr 27th 2003, 8:42pm, Steve Kehlet posted:
Michael, though of course I wasn't into Macs at the time, looking back I like the looks of the cube. Fanless, right? I think they're pretty neat looking, nice and compact. I wonder why they didn't take off more than they did.

You know I have thought about getting the amateur radio license, I think the APRS stuff you guys are doing is really cool.

On Fri Oct 15th 2004, 1:01am, Big Mac Daddy posted:
Well, well, well...All the bad mouthing rants about an obsolete system waiting to die during those harsh months at NI are starting to come back and bite all of you in the kernel!! Hee!! Hee!!! Sorry, just had to harass you about that. The G4 wasn't the machine to use for performance testing. The 17" iMac 1Ghz would be the minimum machine to use for OS X. I'm loving what I have now, though I understand the new G5 flat panel machines are SWEEEEEET! Glad to hear the dark side is shedding some light!!!!!

On Mon Oct 18th 2004, 1:05am, Steve Kehlet posted:
Yeah, Jim, I totally eat my words from back at NI :-). I wrote this article a year and a half ago, and since then have grown to like them even more. I've been very happy with each new release of OS X, and find the i-apps quite suitable for all my digital needs. We have three Macs now in our house, the PowerMac mentioned in this article, and a laptop each for my wife and me. They're great!

On Sat May 7th 2005, 1:08am, Julio posted:
Hi Steve, let me just say that I've been reading your articles since the first one came up, I bet you didn't know you have an avid reader of this page wich uses "english as a second language :)" anyway, just wanted to ask you if you are still using the Mac and/or an update on this article, I bought a Mac Mini (1.42/512) two months ago and all I can say is wow!. what a piece of work, and the python bindings (my soup) on 10.3.9 (somehow I've been reluctant to go to 10.4 mostly due to the horror stories in the apple forums) keep me using it probably as much as I use my Linux box (centos), anyway is always nice to have an opportunity to wish you the best. blessed be.

On Sat May 7th 2005, 6:48pm, Steve Kehlet posted:
Hey Julio! It's great to hear from you, I'm glad you posted something to let me know you're reading! Yeah, since I got that first Mac I've added two more to the house: a Powerbook for myself, and an iBook for my wife--and we both love them. Also, just on Monday I started using a Mac at work (a Mac Mini like yours) and let me say it's awesome to finally get to use a Mac at work after years of using Linux. I really don't consider myself a Mac fanatic--I certainly have a few complaints about them--but overall they're so pleasant and easy to use I'm finding it increasingly difficult to understand why not everyone uses them :-). Anyways, thanks and best wishes to you too. Hopefully I'll be adding some more content soon...