Saturday, November 19, 2005

Mac OS X vs. Linux

A friend of mine, whom I convinced to switch to a Mac is now switching back to Linux on an Intel-based laptop.

Although it took me a long time to come to this conclusion, but I find myself agreeing that with his requirements, Linux wins hands down in favour of OS X. Since I've pretty much recommended the Macintosh to anyone and everyone who's ever bothered to listen, I thought I should post this legitimate argument about the other side.

He works extensively with terminals and likes to live completely in the UNIX suburbs of OS X, and that is what kind of bit him quite badly in sensitive spots.

First issue - he keeps his home directory on a different partition. This is possible in OS X, but only with a hack, and updating to 10.4.3 broke the hack. Suddenly, his home folder permissions were screwed up, and he couldn't write to half his files, including things like his iTunes library. Half the icons on his dock were replaced with ugly-looking question marks. Reinstalling and remounting the home partition did not solve the problem - the only way that we could fix it was to move the home folder back into the System partition. Important fact to remember about Apple - their system is UNIX-based, but its not exactly UNIX. More importantly, they modify critical functionality with each update with impunity - after all - most Macintosh users don't even dream of hacking around with UNIX-level files and directories. A prime example is that with Tiger, Apple has deprecated crontab in favour of launchd. Putting jobs in crontab will still work (for now) but there's no guarantee that it will continue to do so in future versions. If you like playing around with the system structure to suit your needs - be wary of moving to OS X. I personally use a lot of the *nix in Apple but I don't play around with the system structure, so I'm OK for now.

Second issue - Applications. This is actually the reason a lot of Linux users switch to OS X. Some very popular applications for Linux though, are either not available for OS X or are available as hacks which aren't very reliable. I will say that I definitely miss the Linux Konsole application. OS X, iTerm, AquaTerm are all usable, but at best can be called second-class imitations of Konsole. Plenty of Linux hackers work exclusively out of the terminal (even starting GUI applications from the terminal), but Apple has never been used to this idea. If they're serious about luring away the *nix crowd, they better start thinking about it. Another thing that comes out just as a temporary hack is gVim. gVim exists as a port on OS X, but updates keep breaking it.

Lastly - Linux on a Powerbook sucks. We installed Kubuntu 5.10 on the Powerbook 15" and it was slow, clearly revealing the limitations of the PPC G4 CPU. I guess OS X has been so heavily optimized to work well with G4 that it is actually possible to forget that you're working on what is a four year old architecture - unless you also work with OS X on a G5. And PPC Linux I guess is still a babe when it comes to G4 optimized builds. Bootup, program loading, mouse trails - you name it - every action on Linux installed on the G4 was horribly slow. Worse, Apple offers almost no support for Linux and you can't have utilities like wifi support, 3-D acceleration for ATI cards etc.

So at that point, my friend had to take the decision, and he did - sold off his 15" Powerbook and is awaiting a Intel centrino-based notebook.