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Have your cake and eat it too?

At Ken Hess's Linux Blog (link dead, sorry) , a recent post asks "Are you smart enough to use Linux?". The author explains that he really means "Are you smart enough to make the decision to use Linux and keep that technical edge?".

He makes the obvious point that most Windows users are not very technical. That's not hard to agree with. He also says that he used to think of Mac users the same way - presumably now that Mac has an accessible Unix base he thinks that has changed.

I ask this: Why can't you have it both ways?

I think Mac DOES offer this today - a powerful BSD base for those of us who want it and simple ease of use for those who don't.

I use a Mac as my daily desktop. I feel some guilt about that because I think Linux is important for political reasons, but I'm as lazy as the next guy so I chose Mac.

As is common in articles like that, the author brought up the issue of cost. Macs are expensive when compared to Linux, but not when compared to Windows. Considering all that you get (and the problems you DON'T get!), Macs are a far better deal than Windows.

Against Linux, well, it depends. If you hit the right hardware and your software needs match, Linux can be very simple too. If you hit the wrong hardware or want software that happens to be troublesome on Linux, then it can be not so much fun. But that can be true anywhere. You won't run into hardware mismatches with a Mac on the base machine but accessories can certainly run into problems and that's true for Windows also.

Although I chose Mac because I thought it gave me the best combination of ease of use and available raw power, I think I could easily make a similar case for choosing Linux. Probably my overriding point was my desire for a laptop; Linux laptops can be more troublesome and limiting. As a counter argument to that, what could be more limited than having to choose only from Apple's laptop line?

There is the tinkering aspect. The author and several commenters make the point that they enjoy that. Ken Hess says "I like to configure, enhance, tinker, tweak, and build something that's better than what's handed to me".

At one time in my life, I enjoyed tinkering. I'm past that now, so that aspect of Linux doesn't appeal to me as much as it once did. Of course when it does, I can just reach over to the keyboard of my server or fire up one of several Linux VM's I have here on the Mac.

I wouldn't think too many of us "tinker" with our main desktops anyway. Tinkering runs the risk of breakage; that's for VM's or unused boxes, isn't it?

One comment brought up the idea of efficiency; that you can get more done with Linux. I agree, but that's also true for Mac OS X. It's less true for typical Windows users, but I think a savvy Windows "Power User" type could justifiably argue that they can be every bit as efficient as we are - they just have to use different tools.

Why am I thinking about all this? Well, it's because my desktop is three years old in a few days. I usually don't keep systems even this long so it is way past time to think about replacing it. I'm thinking that I will probably keep it as a laptop for when I'm out, but it's time to put something new on my desk. The question is, what should it be?

We all know it won't be Windows, but I'm honestly torn between Mac and Linux. On the one hand is the very obvious fact that only with Mac can I have it all: Mac, Windows and Linux all on one box. That has a lot of attraction for me - if I put up a Linux box, I'd have to switch to a different machine for OS X (no, I am NOT going to hack OS X into a VM !). On the other hand, not using Linux does bother me at a psychological level and there's also the matter of "keeping your hand in" - while I have Linux VM's, that isn't quite the same as using it daily.

Another argument in favor of Linux is a change of pace. Getting out of comfortable habits helps keep your mind sharp. I've been using Mac OS X as my daily OS for more than six years now; maybe it's time for a change.

I don't know what I'll do. It's a tough decision. Understand it's not a matter of just buying one or the other: I could obviously buy both. This is a question of what I will USE daily.

By the way, Dell has seen the Linux light: Dell selects Linux to keep enterprise IT costs down reports that Dell is planning to use SUSE Linux Enterprise on their new OptiPlex FX160 thin clients.

Not that this has anything to do with me, of course. But it does indicate that Linux continues to grow. But then I come back to OS X, which is also growing.. aaarghh.. I need to clone myself!

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© Anthony Lawrence

Fri Feb 6 18:29:30 2009: 5319   anonymous

Why limit your choices to Linux when it comes to free software? You should also consider the various BSD's: FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD all have a lot going for them.

Especially if you're putting some value on getting out of your mental ruts. :-)

Fri Feb 6 18:31:42 2009: 5320   TonyLawrence

Well, I've had a lot of BSD experience. I did a lot of SunOS before Solaris and of course Mac OS X has BSD roots. My website also runs on BSD so I don't feel very detached from that world.

Fri Feb 6 21:54:24 2009: 5322   BrettLegree

I guess I figure I'm smart enough to use whatever works best for me.

So I use OS X on my personal laptop (with Fusion for tinkering and/or the odd Windows program), and Linux on my fileservers (though I've used various BSD's in the past, and do dip my toes into the waters with the VM's to stay sharp).

I have to use Windows at work - I know that Linux would work better on my work laptop too (hey, I'm running Ubuntu on it right now...) but our IT department has other ideas!

I'm with you Tony - before I had four kids (!) I had a lot of tinker time but now it just has to work for me.

Fri Feb 6 22:22:24 2009: 5324   TonyLawrence

I can't use the kids excuse.. long time behind me!

Fri Feb 6 22:47:09 2009: 5325   BrettLegree

I have to admit, the "kids" excuse is starting to wear a bit thin as they are getting older now... perhaps I'm just lazy :)

Re: the right hardware combo and Linux - my last laptop (a Dell 640m) shipped with XP Home - after a few too many "random events" I ran through the gamut of distros at the time (Fedora, Ubuntu, openSUSE) - at the time, the only one that worked with the wireless and could hibernate (but not sleep) was openSUSE, 10.1 I believe.

Now on this machine (a Compaq 6710b) only Ubuntu does everything right out of the box. I could make anything work if I put the time into it, but why bother, I figure. (Plus with Wubi I don't have to muck with the partitions, which will make it easy to remove if I have to give it back...)

Fri Feb 6 22:52:19 2009: 5326   TonyLawrence

The problem is that someday an update may break stuff. That can happen with Mac or Windows too, but it's a bit less likely.. I feel myself reluctantly leaning toward a new Mac.

Somebody talk me out of it!

Fri Feb 6 23:00:45 2009: 5327   BrettLegree

Oh yes, I kind of forgot to mention that too...

Update to openSUSE 10.2 and... wireless stopped working. Yeah, yeah, if it ain't broke, don't fix it - but eventually we do have to update.

I agree, on Windows and Mac we can have updates break stuff. I had that happen when I first used a modern Mac (a Ti Powerbook with 10.3 on it) - the repair was easy though. Pop the original system disk in, do an "Archive and Install" and then re-apply updates except for the one that caused the problem.

That had to be the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen - all my programs and files, back where they were before.

I'll admit, I was pretty much sold then and there.

I was sad when I left that company and came to my current one. Traded in the Ti 'book for a Compaq desktop running NT4 - which blue screened about 6 times the first day.

(It did need some help, in its defense - but even when it was upgraded to XP it never touched the 'book for reliability.)

Mon Feb 16 02:17:26 2009: 5435   ScottCarpenter

Hi, Tony -- I won't try to talk you out of whatever decision you might make about your personal OS, but it always surprises me that you go with the Mac for ease of use reasons. You have so much more Unix experience than me that I tend to think it shouldn't be that hard for you to use something like Ubuntu full-time as I've been able to do for the past year.

However, it's possible I'm more willing to live with less in some areas where free software is lacking. (Although I don't want to portray myself as pure or anything -- I make my fair share of compromises with non-free software and formats.) I don't feel like I'm missing much, but I'm not really into gaming or graphics intensive stuff, which I suspect are areas where I'd be confronted with the most deficits.

Mon Feb 16 12:04:36 2009: 5441   TonyLawrence

I think it comes down to the Mac being the one place I can run anything. If I go with Linux, I can run anything except Mac and of course the same is true if I used (shudder) Windows. Mac is unique in not being able to be legally deployed other than on Apple hardware.

Mon Feb 16 13:12:13 2009: 5443   TonyLawrence

And there is one more small thing. It's silly, but I really dislike Linux cut and paste.

I'm sure eventually I'd get used to it, but every time I use Linux, that annoys me.. as I said, silly, but sometimes small things matter.

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