Giving in to Temptation

    January 11, 2007

This analysis was conceived when the coauthors discovered we’d each been independently seriously tempted to buy a Mac Mini, and realized what that temptation implied.

Eric Steven Raymond and Rob Landley at World Domination 201

That article is about what Linux needs to do to “win the desktop war” and is worth reading. While written for and with prejudice toward Linux, it intelligently examines Windows and Mac OS X and their possible future.

As much as I would like to read this and have hope for Linux desktops, I think it actually inadvertently makes a stronger argument for Mac OS X. It’s not just the quote above, though I do think that is an extremely telling admission: both of these authors are strongly tied to Linux and Open Source politics and yet they were tempted by Mac. That’s roughly comparable to a Vatican Bishop confessing that Wiccan theology has a lot to offer or a right wing conservative Republican saying that he’d been tempted to run as a Libertarian. Mac’s are tempting, but it is more than a little surprising for Eric Raymond to say so.

But it’s more than that. Their analysis of who is in the best position to take advantage of the coming switch to 64 bit desktops seems to argue much more strongly for Apple Mac’s than anyone else. Not that there aren’t negatives mentioned, of course: it just seems to me that the overall pictures is strongest for Macs.

There’s another interesting snippet here:

Our biggest problem can be summed up in one question: “What are we going to do about iTunes?” Apple’s iTunes is a service that has become lifestyle-critical for tens of millions of people. Try selling Linux to any end-user under 30 and one of the first questions you’re likely to hear is “Will it play with my iPod?”

Of course Windows has iTunes also, but the authors are right: even I, a person with close to no interest in music, use iTunes. I’ve even bought music from the iTunes store and of course have ripped what little music I do enjoy off my cd’s and into my computer. Media in general is a problem for Linux and the authors recognize that. They also seem to recognize that Apple is very strong here:

We can choose to fail. If we don’t support the media formats that contain the content users want to see, we lose the 64-bit desktop. It’s that simple. Doing nothing guarantees that we lose, probably to MacOS X.

Well, Linux isn’t really going to lose. Linux already is taking over the server market, and that’s probably going to continue: Apple doesn’t have much traction there and Microsoft is skidding as usual.

I’ve said before that a world of Linux servers and Mac desktops has a lot to offer: the Unix underpinnings of both OSes complement each other beautifully and would simplify support tasks enormously. That’s a very pretty picture from everyone’s point of view: both unsophisticated and highly technical users love Macs, the geeks in the server room have their Linux servers but are quite comfortable with the Mac command line because it’s exactly the same as Linux, programmers have a very similar environment and interfaces that work together well, and support folk have a lot of knowledge cross-pollination. What’s not to like?

So, I suggest that Eric and Rob give in to temptation and do what I do in my home office: Linux servers and Mac desktops. It’s an easy, painless switch, and I actually think it could have benefits for Linux: if more Linux programmers started concentrating on that Mac desktop/Linux server model (and vice-versa), it would hurt Microsoft and help strengthen both Linux and Apple.

*Originally published at

A.P. Lawrence provides SCO Unix and Linux consulting services