Linux & Mac User Experience

I recently “upgraded” my pc work machine to a nice Thinkpad (R40) I got from ebay (from a local mail order place called Laptop Enterprise).

It’s very nice. Needs more drive space for me to be able to play with & truly have fun, but it’s comfortable to work with.

First thing I put on it was a pre-release copy of Ubuntu Breezy. It did weird things with my wireless network card names. I decided to try Fedora Core 4. It handled my wireless network card names just fine, and I enjoyed it for a couple days. It’s a very slick, easy to use distribution. The one thing I miss badly on a Linux PC is the easy nice suspend/resume that an iBook has. I tried playing around a bit with Software Suspend 2, for which I found some Fedora Packages. Though I’ve heard other people have had great luck with these, I managed to inadvertently, in the middle of a work day, annihilate my hard drive. I have never seen a partition b0rked so badly. I couldn’t boot to it, I couldn’t even mount it with the Fedora Core 4 Rescue Disk or my handy System Rescue CD. It was, as the kids today say, fuX0red. (With it I lost a whole Violent Femmes album I’d downloaded from too!)

I put Fedora Core on again, with some trepidation. I decided to avoid Software Suspend 2, and stick to “ACPI S3 sleep.” Sleep-to-memory. That caused disk access error messages that frightened me even more, in light of what had happened to the previous install. (I later learned that sleep-to-memory on Linux is supposed to be even flakier than Software Suspend 2). I decided to leave Fedora Core 4 to braver souls, despite how slick it was overall.

I went back to Ubuntu, using the final release of Breezy Badger which had come out in the meantime. I learned to deal with the network interface name weirdness, and I found that Ubuntu’s built-in suspend-to-disk actually seemed to work fine with the Thinkpad!

Despite “suspend” and interface name woes, the the user experience of a modern Linux on a quality machine like a Thinkpad was really nice. So much good software is available; interface standards are very high on distributions like Fedora and Ubuntu; it was just good stuff. An amazing amount “just worked.” An amazing amount of high quality software at your fingertips. Some open source stuff I need for work which is clunky and barely there on the Mac (I’m thinking of wxWidgets, especially wxPython as used in the wxGlade interface designer) is smooth and lovely on Ubuntu and Fedora Core 4.

During the day I find myself thinking, “this is so pleasant, so smooth. I could just live in this Linux world. Everything I need is here. Easy to use. No proprietary crap, no iTunes in an arms race with software developers who want to free your purchased music from their crazy proprietary schemes… If you work with free software tools, it’s all there for you and it works the way it’s supposed to because Linux is the target platform for 95% of free software developers… I’ve got lovely Firefox doing everything I need on the web, and Thunderbird for my mail, and all that… Man, what a life! I’m just going to live in Linux from now on!…”

And then I come home and if I pick up my ibook, I say, “what was I thinking?”

For all the proprietary crap, for all the lack of configurability, for all the nonsense, Macs are still Macs. OS X may not be the pinnacle of usability that Mac OS was in the glory days of Tog, but oh it’s a pleasant place to be. Such a happy thing. Beautiful fonts everywhere. Interface so smooth, so easy, everything working so well.

I could stay here and never come back. If I didn’t need to come back, for work. It’s a good place to be.

Now I just want a nice fast Powerbook to replace the ibook, and give me that “this is SERIOUS, man” power feeling that I have when I use the Thinkpad.

I guess it’s a good thing that when I’m using Linux at work I think it just totally rocks. (I never get that feeling using Windows.) But I get back at a Mac and realize what I was missing.