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Putting the Mac Aside in 2005

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Something has been bugging me for the last few months. Though I got my nice new Mac and switched to using it has my main personal desktop/laptop machine, it’s been a frustrating experience at times.

Back in 2002 when I reviewed a Powerbook for Linux Magazine I was quite impressed with the hardware and the software. It seemed like the best of both worlds and months after that I began using it more and more-eventually deciding to buy a more modern version and make the switch.

But it’s become apparent that my logic was flawed. I was comparing the Powerbook and Mac OS X to Linux. My old Linux setup was, well, old. A modern desktop experience such as Knoppix running KDE is actually quite more usable in many respects than Mac OS X. For starters, I don’t find myself grabbing for the damned mouse nearly as often.

Class Warfare

More importantly, the open source software I want to use (vim, emacs, firefox, thunderbird, gaim, the gimp, etc) are all first class citizens on Linux. On the Mac I always feel like they don’t quite belong-they are second class citizens. It’s very difficult for me to articulate why this is or exactly why I feel this way. I’m hoping someone else who’s had this experience can do a better job than I can.

Uncle Bill

I’ve recently started using the Compaq nc6000 laptop that I got at work. It runs Windows XP Professional and is a very nice little machine, though I’d prefer something with more than 512MB of memory. (Mental note: get a RAM upgrade in this notebook). It has 802.11g, Bluetooth, and very good battery life so far (on par with the Powerbook). And the keyboard kicks ass. Do not underestimate how important a good keyboard is!

The funny thing is that I spent quite a bit of effort making my Powerbook work on the Yahoo network as seamlessly as possible. Through quite a bit of SSH port forwarding magic, I got it 90% of the way there. I was able to access mail, LDAP, printing, CVS, TWiki, and so on. If any Yahoo’s want to know what it takes to make your Powerbook work well on the corporate network, let me know. I’ve seen a more and more of them around campus.

Dog Food

But it never felt quite right. The Mac felt slow and awkward for daily “office” use. So I decided to begin using the Windows box for my work related activities in 2005. Instead of hauling the Powerbook to Yahoo each day, I now take the Compaq. A nice side benefit is that I can finally start eating our own dog food.

The vast majority of our users are on Windows. When product folks ask for my feedback on our internal Desktop Search betas, I want to be able to provide some meaningful input. New features in LAUNCH? Same thing. The newest Yahoo! Messenger? Ditto. (Though I do disable all the avatar, search, and random content bullshit. Sorry, I simply want an IM client. I’m so not the target audience in this case.)

I still lobby hard for increased Firefox and Mac support because I still use both. But it’s stupid to let that get in the way of really understanding many of the products we’re offering the world.

I don’t run Outlook or Internet Explorer on this machine and can’t imagine a situation that will change that. Microsoft has a lot of work to do on both products.

Open Source on Windows

Here’s the funny thing. I’ve found that nearly every one of the Open Source applications I’ve installed seems to work better and significanly faster on this machine than on my nearly new Powerbook.

In other words, open source applications feel better on Windows than on the Mac. This was quite a surprise at first.

If you’re less lazy than I am, you might look at The OpenCD for a collection of useful Open Source on Windows tools.

The Mac’s Role

The Mac isn’t going to collect dust. I still use NetNewsWire daily. iPhoto and the Flickr plugin are still my preferred way to deal with digital photos. iTunes, my iPod, and the iTunes Music Store are still the center of my personal music world.

I’m toying with an eval copy of FeedDemon, but I’m not sure if its style suits me yet.

But Office on the Mac just doesn’t compare to Office on Windows. And does anyone seriously use The Gimp on OS X? Having to run stuff under X11 just feels so awkward and… dirty. And don’t get me started on Open Office on the Mac.

The Mac is my media computer. I see it handling my audio/video/entertainment needs for the forseeable future.

The iPAQ Factor

I expect to be getting an iPAQ in the next month or two. I’ll mainly be using it as a portable flight computer when I fly (probably with SeeYou Mobile or maybe WinPilot), but I want to play with other stuff on it as well. Since it runs Windows 2003 Mobile Edition, having a Windows box for it to talk to will make life easier as well.

Not Linux?

Even if I could run the applications I need on Linux (several are missing), that wouldn’t be enough. Linux still has poor support for hardware-especially in the laptop world. I had hoped that by 2005 this wouldn’t the case anymore, but the sad fact remains. Linux on a modern laptop requires a lot of effort.

The only viable choices (for me) are Mac OS X or Windows XP. And Windows lets me:

  1. feel like I’m getting more out of the hardware
  2. stop fighting the Mac’s usability problems (the tab key being useless in most dialogs, the lack of hotkeys in most apps, the X11 requirement for some apps)
  3. have decent power management-almost as good as the Powerbook
  4. get full IT “support” at work (meaning that I get on the “real” network and don’t need to do all that tunneling crap)

I’m not sure what it will take for Linux to get there. Microsoft wins this round.

Jeremy Zawodny is the author of the popular Jeremy Zawodny’s blog. Jeremy is part of the Yahoo search team and frequently posts in the Yahoo! Search blog as well.

Visit Jeremy’s blog: Jeremy Zawodny’s blog.

Putting the Mac Aside in 2005
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