After another foray into desktop Linux, I am back to OS X. I have burned 18 hours this week just getting my email to work at a mediocre level without junk mail filtering and failing to get Bluetooth GPRS working on a Linux 2.6.7 kernel that seems to be all set to go for Bluetooth. I was searching for some resource links for a guy when I came upon an entry in Jeremy Zawodny’s weblog entry titled “I’m sick of doing things the hard way”.
Yeah, me too. I am sick of it after only a couple of weeks.
You know, alpha geek tendencies toward doing hard things even when they are unpractical reminds of some of my vegetarian friends. When I first moved into the city, I found that lots of the new people I met were vegetarians. At first I thought this must be something with a really great health benefit. So I asked them, but most of them said that they have to eat things to supplement the protein they do not get by eating meat. Some also informed me that their diet starves their bodies of other key things that it needs like amino acids, etc. So, they have all these quite convoluted ways to supplement the very thing they are abstaining from, with no direct benefit.
Desktop Linux is alot like that, especially when you are running on a hardware platform other than x86. If you don’t believe me, browse on over to the Debian PowerPC port mailing list archives. Mac OS X does everything I need in open source development, and most of what I need for Java development except WebSphere. And, like Zawodny says, it “just works”. Do not underestimate the value of an operating system that is powerful, highly open source friendly, and does what it is supposed to do.
There have been several points where I tried to move to Linux as my primary operating system. Once was in the Spring of 2001 when I bought my first PowerBook and Mac OS X was not out yet. Those were some of the early days for PowerPC Linux; nightmares with the XFree86 installation finally led me to give up. During a season of great frustration with my Mac hardware and agreeing to try and get on the .Net bandwagon and be happy about it, I had purchased a PC laptop in January 2002. By Spring I had begun to try dual-booting and running RedHat Linux. Things started well; I had actually moved to Ximian evolution as my primary email client, etc. One day my Red Carpet package manager really messed up some library dependencies and I spent several days trying to back out of the problem. It got to where Mozilla and Evolution would either crash or not come up at all, then my menus started getting all wacko. I bailed.
By that time, OS X had made great strides. MySQL and PHP could be compiled from source without any special gymnastics, and each revision of OS X became more Unix-savvy, right down to the choice of default shell (bash instead of tcsh; it felt good to finally have a shell that agreed with most code samples found on the Internet) with the advent of Panther. And that was great for a while, but the call of Linux still tugged at me.
And now here I am, once again at the point where I have turned back in the past. Overall my Debian experience has been vastly superior to the distributions I used in the past. However, some library dependency has got my current Mozilla and Evolution installs freaked out. I am also unable to get my Bluetooth adapter working with my current kernel. I have also been having so XFree86 wierdness that is tenuous but livable. These types of issues have always been the point where there was enough pain to make me turn back. Yet, I always return to try again.
What will this time bring? Will I persevere and pass these obstacles, or will I once again flee for the safe cover of a proprietary operating system? Time will tell.
For the record, I don’t really like that phrase. It’s unnecessary. Doesn’t time always tell? It’s not like there is an alternative.
I have been toying with the idea of switching to Linux as my primary operating system for some time now. Mac OS X has many of the features of a Unix-like system that I want, but there are still a number of things where it greatly differs from Unix, FreeBSD, or Linux.
In the past few weeks I have found myself booting into Linux on my PowerBook more and more lately. While I prefer FreeBSD from a principal standpoint, I have to admit that its PowerPC port is nowhere near close enough. It’s also impossible to ignore the momentum behind Linux. My distribution of choice is Debian, primarily because its PowerPC port and several open source leaders I look up to also use it.
I know that some folks reading this are thinking something like “why bother with all of that; why not just use Mac OS X or even Windows?” Well, I suppose I can say it’s like asking a skydiver “why jump out of a perfectly good plane?”, or asking a rock climber “why not walk up around the side of the rock face?” There are some things people do because they have a passion for them, and expediency or simplicity play a less-important role in their evaluation. There is a reward that comes from the struggle that cannot always be easily explained. The gain is power and flexibility that Linux and/or an open source system offers to me is worth far more to me than it would be for a number of people.