Category Archives: Apple

Leopard for me so far

I recently read Dave Thomas’ recent post titled “The Canary Benefit“, and it reminded me that I had never made note of my switch back to OS X as my main operating system. My attempts to run my accounting and contact management on GNU/Linux over the past few years have been pretty dismal. The several options I tried to use for accounting led me to end up having to enter a year and a half of business transactions into QuickBooks from scratch, the tipping point being when I couldn’t even pull a meaningful profit and loss report for my accountant. Over time some Multisync failures had decimated my contact database as well, and that started to cost me.

Deciding to switch back to Mac was a no-brainer, but with the advent of Leopard I can say for the first time that I seem to be experiencing a bit of cruft like I have from other operating systems. Weird lockups, less-than-smooth transitions from sleep, goofy resume behavior when switching to an external monitor, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love several features in Leopard enough to put up with the annoyances. They do, however, give me pause.

The missing ingredient in commercial desktop OS options; a package management system

Having spent the better part of two days provisioning my new MacBook Pro’s OS X, Debian, and Windows XP instances, I am keenly aware of how much the Debian distribution’s package management system and its volume of packages have spoiled me. In that two days, the amount of time required to provision Debian was negligible, even though it is configured to completely match my Lifebook’s Debian Sid instance. In fact, the sum total of time to set up Debian, including every application I use, was about 45 minutes of my involvement. Those who know Debian (and Ubuntu, Linspire, Xandros, Mepis, or any other Debian derivative) are coolly nodding their heads, while others are probably thinking I am a lying, biased Linux zealot.

It’s no lie; here are the steps I had to take:

  • Run the Debian Installer business card image and perform a stock Sid installation, choosing Desktop and Standard System options in the task selection step. If you weren’t wanting to run Sid, the netinstall image would be fine as well.
  • Generate a package list on the current Debian installation via # dpkg --get-selections > dpkg-selections.txt
  • Copy the package list file to the new installation; I have copied it to my home directory in this example.
  • Set the package selections for the new installation via # dpkg --set-selections < ~/dpkg-selections.txt
  • Run aptitude or synaptic and choose the install action, then go do something else. Thousands, literally thousands of software packages are being installed for you. Everything from your email client to your office suite to your software development tools are being pulled down from package mirrors. In my case, this was over 850MB of compressed package files.
  • After the package download, answer any configuration questions aptitude (or synaptic) poses.
  • Copy your /home directory contents to the new installation.

Compare that to what it takes with either Mac OS X or Windows XP to get all of your applications installed and configured. Even if you don’t know a thing about Linux or even the more technical side of those operating systems, you can tell from the brevity of that set of steps that the Debian setup is remarkably simple.

Now, some will already be keying in their comment posts with exclamations of “Hey! There’s DarwinPorts/Fink/Cygwin!” Yeah, each of those is a nice start; however, they pale in comparison. Fink at least has the robust apt/dpkg foundation, but even it has a relatively meager package selection. I am sure I’ll be writing more on life with Fink and DarwinPorts in the near future.

I still don’t have half the stuff installed on XP that I plan to use. I get tired just thinking about the installs. 8^)

OK, so I lied…or did I? MacBook Pro in the house

I can hear the comments now; the next AJUG meeting I show up at with my MacBook Pro (MBP, the short acronym for “those in the know”…sigh, I must admit it is easier to type, even if it comes off as pretentious) will probably include a few comments along the lines of “Heeeyyyy…what happened to the Linux thing?” I have been pretty public about my distaste for Apple’s switching to Intel, mostly because of the amount of PowerPC-based Mac hardware I owned at the time. Shortly after that I pretty much shelved my PowerBooks and ordered my first ThinkPad. The Lenovo ThinkPad T42 has been a great machine, and since about mid-July I have been running Debian on a Fujitsu Lifebook P7120, an amazing 2.5-lb. ultra-portable. So, why plunk down the cabbage for a new Apple top-of-the-line MBP?

It all started with World of Warcraft, which my wife and I have been playing together for several weeks. I only have two PC laptops in the house, the ThinkPad and the Lifebook. The ThinkPad runs WoW great; the Lifebook running WoW is an exercise in tolerance. I consider my early WoW learning to be like unto those martial arts movies where the pupil must do typical tasks with large stones tied to them, so that toward the end of the training montage (it’s always a montage) they are suddenly capable to carry water and do laundry with amazing proficiency, as well as fight 25 ninjas simultaneously. My wife’s iBook and my old TiBook do a pathetic job of running WoW, making the Lifebook seem tolerable. So it’s basically a hardware problem. 8^)

When I started surveying the PC laptop market for units that are portable and have high-end graphics hardware, I was floored at the cost. Units that are 8-12 lb. behemoth start at US$ 4K. They’re also ugly. The build quality is also shite. Now consider that a decked-out 15″ MBP goes for under US$ 3.3K, and that’s with the 3-year Applecare warranty and support, and extra battery, and an extra power adapter.

When you also consider the leaps forward in virtualization and multiboot options for MBPs, it quickly becomes a no-brainer. Parallels Desktop for Mac is amazing, and their embrace of more than just Windows is welcome respite from the tragedy that was Microsoft’s acquisition of Connectix and their flagship product VirtualPC. The performance of Parallels has thus far surpassed VirtualPC, and its networking support works as expected for host-to-guest communication, which is more than I could ever say for VirtualPC.

I now have Mac OS X, Debian, and Windows XP all running well on a single machine. Oh, and WoW runs quite well, too. I have a Mac, but it’s still x86 architecture, so it’s not so much that I lied, but my wounds over Apple’s switch have had time to heal, and I too now see it as having been a great move.

Mark Pilgrim switches back to Linux from Mac OS X as well

Blog commenter James pointed out to me that the esteemed Mark Pilgrim has recently moved back to Linux for his desktop OS as well. Since Mark’s blog post doesn’t have to be conformed to fit conventions of a major technical publishing site, the style is more conversational. His take on the faux openness of the Mac platform is insightful. My favorite two paragraphs from the entry are the following:

I would like to point out that it is entirely Apple’s choice that their operating system does not run on my new Lenovo ThinkCentre. I’m not saying it was a bad business decision — they are a hardware company, after all — but it is particularly galling to realize that if I bought a new Mac, I would be subsidizing the development of an operating system that contains code whose sole purpose is to lock me into a specific hardware platform. I realize that most people don’t look at it that way, but there it is.

In many ways, the tale of my switch is more of the same old story. Mac OS X was “free enough” to keep me using something that was not in my long-term best interest. But as I stood in the Apple store last weekend and drooled over the beautiful, beautiful hardware, all I could think was how much work it would take to twiddle with the default settings, install third-party software, and hide all the commercial tie-ins so I could pretend I was in control of my own computer. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to my eye Apple isn’t beautiful anymore. I’ve worked around it or ignored it for a long time, but eventually the bough breaks.

Spot on, Mark. I still kick myself for thinking it perfectly normal at one time to have to own a PCMCIA network card just to be able to use WLAN with my Aluminum PowerBooks equipped with “Airport Extreme”. Deciding to “switch back” was almost like realizing I was in this relationship with someone who was taking without giving back, and using manipulative schemes to win my allegiance.

Oh yeah, and more Mac zealot whinging in the comments, apparently enough for Mark to have turned off comments on that post.

chromatic writes on switching back to desktop Linux from Mac OS X

Every now and then you come across an article or blog entry that makes you exclaim “Yes, I know exactly what you mean!” I try to only do that with my inside-the-head voice. I spotted an entry from chromatic on O’Reilly’s LinuxDevCenter RSS feed this morning on switching back to desktop Linux from Mac OS X. This is an excellent writeup that captures all the reasons I had for moving to Linux on my laptops instead of Mac OS X.

Desktop Linux is not for everyone, but neither is OS X. Judging from some of the Mac zealots’ whinging, that’s hard for some folks to accept.

Apple Mail in Tiger can kiss it

Man. So I’m migrating my data from Mac OS X to Debian, right, and it is time to move my mbox files over. Wrong! Tiger silently upgraded my mail files to some bastardized, proprietary format Apple has invented for use with Spotlight. Each message is in a single file (maildir, anyone?) that has this proprietary, undocumented format.

Thanks to Google I found this one solution to convert the .emlx files back to mbox, Emailchemy. Heck yeah, I’ll give some guy US$25 to get my years of mail data back into an open format.

Good grief, I cannot wait to have everything back in Debian. The funny thing is, even users wanting to move from a Tiger install to any previous OS X version would face this same issue.

The move back to x86 architecture

I know, some of you are going “No way, Barry is moving off of his PowerBooks?” Well, Apple is moving off of PowerPC chips, so yeah, the whole choice of laptop is up for discussion. As some of you may remember, I may have been saying for a couple of years that if I ever bought an x86 laptop it would be and IBM Thinkpad. Well:

1 – IBM Thinkpad T42 SMB Centrino -1.7G5 XPP 15-SVGA 60GB DVD/CDRW BLUGBE

That baby is on order from Looking forward to its arrival. Meanwhile, I plan on moving everything back to a native Debian install on one of my Titanium PowerBooks this weekend. This trying to work through an x86 Virtual PC Debian instance is ridiculous.

Service Oriented Architecture; the latest final solution

At this month’s meeting for my Java(TM) user group, we had a presentation from the CEO of Blue Titan Software, a leading company in Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). In the presentation he and his associate insisted that the craftsmanship aspect of software development was a thing of the past, replaced by SOA based solutions. It was an impressive presentation, with impressive customer names being dropped and everything.

If things do ever get to that point, then I may have to find a new profession.

And I think they’re full of it. If anything, SOA is a concept that calls for master craftsmanship, and it’s not something they have a monopoly on.

On a separate note, using OS X to attempt to redeem the time was frustrating compared to when I had native Debian running. Just changing my wireless settings was a hopping around through settings panels, a browser, back to settings, back to browser; all of it happens in a shell script when I’m in Debian. Grrr…

Breaking the silence

Wow, almost a month with nothing on the weblog. It is not that I haven’t had stuff to write about, but there was a sort of inertia after getting back from vacation that was not limited to blogging.

I think part of the inertia has come from feeling disconnected from the Debian community. Just before going on vacation, I reverted my PowerBook to having only OS X on the drive, with the plan to use Virtual PC to host an x86 emulation instance of Debian. With Apple’s move to Intel, I have little to no interest in carrying the PowerPC Linux architecture banner anymore. It was already a hardship when PowerPC was in the foreseeable future with Apple hardware.

While I was away the dpkg changes broke java-package in a pretty major way. If I had been more watchful just before going on vacation, I probably could have prevented that. I guess that’s where my “newness” as a new maintainer really showed.

When I got back, there was a huge backlog at work and setting up the Virtual PC instance has been a less-than-stellar experience. Week 5 back on OS X, and it’s feeling a bit tenuous. So, I am behind on what I want to get done in Debian and swamped at work and home, and how fun is that to write about?

So will we still call them PowerBooks?

One rumor I had totally blown off about Apple was the potential switch from IBM’s PowerPC processors to Intel processors for their Macintosh product line. I even thought the Slashdot post may have been a hoax. I am out of town in Baltimore this week, so I will try to catch the stream of the WWDC keynote later. I will probably wait a couple of days; this is a bit of a shock to me. Perhaps after I have had a couple of days to process this the keynote will be more digestible.

This makes me even more angry with the jerk that fraudulently subverted my 17″ PowerBook auction.