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Darwin (Mac OS X Open Source)

© June 2005 Tony Lawrence

I have a handful of Boston clients, so around once a month or so, I take the commuter rail train into Back Bay or South Station. It's usually much more pleasant than fighting traffic and trying to find a place to park.

Strangely, the last four or five times I've taken the train, I've happened to sit next to someone using a Mac. That's strange because the percentage of Macs sold would seem to make that statistically unlikely, so I wonder whether demographics would show a higher concentration of Mac use in certain areas. Maybe professionals (who are more apt to be riding the train from the 'burbs) buy more Macs than blue collar folks? Maybe the East and West coasts are Mac friendly and the heartland prefers PC's? Maybe it's even that Red/Blue dichotomy: liberal, artsy types vote Democratic and buy Macs? I don't know.. I only know that I've seen more Macs than I should. I also saw more Macs than I expected to see while walking around LinuxWorld earlier this year.

Mac should be a popular platform for the geeky crowd. It's BSD based, and Apple releases source code through Opendarwin.org/ (not any more). What's not to like? Gorgeous interface, run BSD ports with ease, compile almost all Linux software without problems, even run X if you want. There's the perception that Macs are too expensive, but considering all that you get, I don't think they really are. Sure, you might be paying a slight premium, but unless you are the type that buys the cheapest parts and self-assembles, so what? And you get a LOT of nice software bundled in. OK, OK, it's not ALL open source, so if that gets you all riled up, I can understand you not wanting those apps.

But there seems to be more to it than that. Some folks over on the Linux side of things seem to have great animosity toward Mac, and disparage it quite cuttingly? Why is that? Is there some insecurity there, or are they just ignorant of what Mac OS X is? In some ways, Mac OS X is similar to Red Hat: they are offering their version of an OS that you can get source for. In Apple's case, they are also bundling in some apps to sweeten the deal and of course are providing specific hardware to run it on. That's something that some people see as a weakness, but I see as strength: Windows and Linux both have to deal with a terrible mess of drivers for a multitude of hardware. Microsoft of course gets more information from the hardware vendors more easily, but they still have to deal with the problems that can arise when you mix all this stuff together.

Apple, on the other hand, gets to pick their hardware carefully. Their OS doesn't have to handle any old piece of junk that comes along. That's a model that a Linux vendor could follow if it wanted too: build a specific piece of hardware and tailor the OS to it. Sure, other people could compete, but if your engineering savvy is better, you'll succeed even though they could reverse engineer and duplicate everything you do.

That's all Apple is really doing. I don't see any rational reason for the rancor expressed by some of the open source community.

See Point, Counterpoint: Mac OS X Is Great for Fortysomething Unix Hackers also.

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Thu Jun 16 08:30:10 2005: 658   anonymous

"That's a model that a Linux vendor could follow if it wanted too: build a specific piece of hardware and tailor the OS to it."

Isn't that what HP are doing now? You can buy a laptop with Ubuntu Linux preinstalled and it's a custom version of Ubuntu. (But only if you're in the States, IIRC.)

I suppose it is only the "political" reason that stops more OEMs doing the same: Microsoft has the OEMs by the ****s and won't let them have licenses, if they offer something so obviously better and more secure than XP that runs out the box without issues, because the OEM sorted any that there were out prior to shipping (just as it would with pre-installed versions of Windows).

Thu Jun 16 21:37:24 2005: 660   drag

I don't think so. MS lost most of that control back with the lawsuit. They had clauses that basicly ment "If you sell computers without Windows you loose your discount". So if you sold a OS/2 computer then your competators would all get Windows cheaper then you.

Now those clauses were changed to read something like "If you sell a computer without a OS then you loose your discount". Which is why you won't find OS-less hardware from any major vendor.

After all HP does sell Linux laptops, and they did that before with Suse (the nx5000 business notebook). All major OEMs sell various versions of Redhat and such on server hardware and for workstations. Dell even sells items with FreeDos installed for Linux people that don't want to buy Windows bundled with their computers.

Personally I just don't think that there is much of a demand for Linux preinstalled. Most professionals that use Linux everyday, still usually need Windows for one reason and another.

Then you have support costs, and such. And unless the hardware your selling is well supported it would be hard to justify selling partially-crippled hardware to people. HP went thru great lengths to get a model that was supported well with Linux, and even then the odd type of flash card reader they had with it didn't work. Stuff like that is completely out of the OEM's hands.

Plus for most people Linux REALY sucked on the desktop. It sucks much less now, but its still has issues, especially if your business or whatnot doesn't have techies that know Linux very well.

However if you realy realy want Linux pre-installed you can find it. It's just much more difficult. Especially if you try to avoid resellers that buy laptops with Windows on them and then install Linux over it like most higher profile Linux resellers do.


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