I’ve been using my new Macbook for a whopping two days now, so I think it’s time to share some of my early impressions.
First of all, I’m not a typical computer user. I’m picky, opinionated and totally unreasonable when it comes to my requirements for an Operating System. Before my Macbook my setup consisted of:
- Desktop PC, Windows XP: Used for gaming mainly, also editting photo’s and as a ‘fat client‘ for Putty
- Laptop, Ubuntu: Used for work and midnight-coding. Purely a development tool for developing Ruby on Rails webapplications, accessing icanhazcheeseburger.com and other important work stuff.
The Windows XP of my desktop PC is a necessary evil. Games for Linux and Mac OS X are rare and my girlfriend still has an emergency Windows-account she can use whenever her Windows XP laptop refuses to work properly. Simply put: I’m stuck with XP for my desktop and I don’t really mind (a lot).
The laptop running Ubuntu belongs to my employer. Ubuntu is an excellent platform to develop Ruby on Rails applications, the huge Ubuntu repository contains recent version of all necessary tools and the apt package manager is simply unmatched on any platform. To isolate myself from outside influences during coding sessions I use a closed headphone and Amarok (a rather bloated KDE program, so I can’t bitch about iTunes without being an ever bigger hypocrit). Pidgin provides me with access to nearly all IM networks, while TwitterFox keeps me in touch with fellow twitterati.
My new Macbook is supposed to replace the Ubuntu laptop and serve as an alternative to my desktop at home. Here are some of my initial thoughts regarding this migration:
It just works
Ok to be fair, a lot of stuff just ‘works’, I am however spoilt by Ubuntu 8.10 which also ‘just works’, it just fails to work on different points compared to Mac OS X. OS X fails to ‘just work’ as a Ruby on Rails development environment, sure it comes preloaded with Ruby on Rails, but it has ancient version of Rails, Ruby and Rake and this completely screwed me over while trying to convert my fresh Macbook into the ultimate web-development machine.
Multimedia support is not as good out of the box as Ubuntu. In Ubuntu all the codecs you need are in the repository and are a easy to install. To be fair, this is only since the 8.x branch of Ubuntu. For OS X I had to find a bunch of codecs from questionable vendors (I’ll never trust the DivX corporation after their bloated Windows installers) before I could get my movies and series to play in Quicktime.
Speaking of horrible failures, I don’t see how anyone could enjoy Quicktime. It’s completely inadequate compared to Zoom Player on Windows or MPlayer on Linux. I’m planning to replace it by something decent ASAP. Preferbly something pretty like XBMC or the OS X specific port of this brilliant project.
Package management? What’s that?
Mac OS X understands package management just like this girl understands “PC’s”. Not a clue. Everything application you install has it’s own auto-update function and the built-in Software Update is about as useful as “Microsoft Update”. Which is not bad, it’s just not as great as Ubuntu’s software updater.
MacPorts < apt
MacPorts is similar to Debian/Ubuntu’s APT. It provides an easy way to install and update software for your Mac. Unfortunately it’s more like Gentoo’s ‘emerge‘ and less like Debian’s ‘apt-get’. Everything you install has to be compiled first, and if you want to install something with fancy graphics you’ll have to wait for an hour while the X window manager gets compiled (ok, this is only the first time).
Fortunately it does what it’s supposed to, it just takes quite a lot longer than APT and the repository of available software is tiny compared to Ubuntu’s insane heap of FOSS. For example, something like ‘htop‘ is not available on OS X, but luckily there’s the Activity Monitor GUI to offer some compensation.
OS X < GNU
Mac OS X implements all the usual Unix tools. Things like find and grep. These are kinda different to the GNU-tools I used on my Ubuntu laptop and Debian servers. As far as I can tell after these few days of use, the Mac OS X versions are inferior to their GNU-siblings. I’ll have to get used to this or find alternative tools
So much for the bitching, here are a few things I do like:
It just works
A lot of stuff works just fine out of the box. The prepackaged software gives Ubuntu a good run for it’s money. Also, it’s obvious OS X is more popular than Linux. Quite a few software products offer a reasonable up-to-date version for Mac. Skype for example has a Mac version which is nearly identical to the Windows version, while the Linux version is lacking a lot.
Basic hardware compatibility is not an issue
If you’re the only one making hardware for your OS (or is it the other way around?) it’s easy to make that hardware supported in the OS. While the linux kernel provides support for nearly every graphics card, sound card, IDE controller and toaster made in the history of electronics, OS X only has to support the very limited set of hardware used by Apple. And to Apple’s credit, it does this very well. Unlike Linux they don’t have to work around crappy vendors breaking standards that crash your laptop after a resume-from-standby. As a result, stuff like suspend-to-ram and connecting multiple monitors works really well and quickly.
It’s a lot like Linux
Overall I feel quite at home in OS X already. I was able to set up a proper development environment during a single evening, inspite of the great efforts of MacPorts to keep compiling very large bits of software. During the coming weeks I expect to find a lot more things that are different/worse/better in OS X compared to Ubuntu but the past few days have made me optimistic about the chances of OS X being the only OS on this Macbook. I originally intended to go for a triple boot setup; Windows XP, Ubuntu and OS X, but I think I’ll settle for installing Windows XP in a VirtualBox. Not because I like XP that much, but for testing web-application in the worst browser ever made and it’s younger brothers.
That’s it for now, I’ll probably write a new post in a couple of weeks, because I’m sure OS X has plenty of annoyances and amazements left in store for me.