the macbook experiment, day 2

The last time I regularly used an operating system other than Linux was fall of 1997. Windows 98 was all the rage; Mac OS/X was not yet (publicly) a glimmer in Steve Jobs’ eye. So this means I have a fairly dysfunctional view of desktop software- I basically really don’t know what Linux and GNOME are competing against. I’ve read reviews, and played with the competitors from time to time, but I’ve never really seriously forced myself to use them- to learn the keyboard shortcuts, the quirks, and their real benefits. And I think that is a problem- it makes me a less effective part of the software ecosystem if I don’t know how most people experience computers.

'An apple a day', by angermann, used under CC-BY-SA
An apple a day, by angermann, used under CC-BY-SA.

So when my new employer offered to get me a new laptop, I decided to get a mac, and set myself to using it for a year so that I can learn how the other half lives. It will also have Win7 installed (probably mainly in a VM) as well as Office.

Some thoughts so far:

  • OS/X is nice, but has not really jumped out at me as particularly awesome. It gets the job done, and is very polished (very consistent; low effort required), but by and large my experience with the core OS hasn’t felt that radically different than from any modern Linux distro- the differences are (so far) probably smaller than I expected.
  • that said, there are definitely nice touches- the multitouch trackpad is definitely leaps and bounds above any other touchpad I’ve ever used, though I’m going to miss the Lenovo/Thinkpad nipple a lot. The hardware in general is just awesome- solid like a rock.
  • the mac software ecosystem seems to be a mixed bag; I’d heard good things about adium, for example, but I’m not very impressed so far, and in my very limited playing with mail.app it seems roughly on par with thunderbird; that is to say, well behind gmail in usability.
  • but some of the software is brilliant- a friend pointed me at scrivener, which may be imperfect (time will tell) but so far impresses me as a rare piece of software which truly seeks (and may actually achieve) fundamental reinvention of a class of software; it just seems like software dedicated to the process of writing rather than primarily to text layout, and that feels to me like a huge, huge leap. The only reason I don’t look forward to using it is because I don’t want to get hooked :/

Anyway, I expect this will be an interesting, and potentially very troubling, year, as I get a better grip on what was accomplished, software-wise, during the time I’ve been working on the Free Software desktop.