Tuesday, October 9, 2012

As if I needed another place to write...

Actually, I do. None of my existing journals and the like seemed appropriate for this purpose.

This blog will be about my experiences in setting up and using a Linux desktop system. I've used Mac OS X on the desktop and laptop for the last decade now, pretty much exclusively. I like OS X for one simple reason: it Just Works. You can take a Mac out of the box, plug it in, and be productive in 15 minutes. It's a Unix-based system that anyone can set up and administer, and I do mean anyone.

Before that, I'd used Windows, and Linux, and even SGI's Irix on the desktop. My first Mac blew them all away. My experience with Linux was that I spent more time fiddling with the system than using it. My primary desktop system is a tool, not a toy, and so is my laptop.

Over the years, OS X has evolved out of the niche it started out in, to become a fully accepted part of the mainstream of computing. Nobody says "we don't support Macs, you should be running Windows" any more who expects to be taken seriously in the business world. The most widely used software out there now has Mac versions. I use Microsoft Office and Photoshop CS 6 extensively. The same goes for Safari: I haven't run into a web site in a long time that didn't work with Safari as well as it did with Firefox.

The same goes for Apple's mobile hardware. There are three iPhones sitting on my desk: the original, an iPhone 3G, and an iPhone 4. As with the Macs, they Just Work. No weirdnesses in setting things up, no quirks in operation, no scrambling around.

I've also gotten used to the way OS X does things. Stuff like nice smooth-looking antialiased font rendering: whenever I look at a Windows system, I just say "ewww!" because it looks so primitive by comparison. Multitouch gestures on a Magic Trackpad (or a MacBook Pro) are how I navigate, not only two-finger drag to scroll, but things like pinch to zoom and three finger drag to change desktops and two finger click to right click.

Unfortunately, Apple's pushed me to start looking at migrating away. The catalyst is my Mac Pro: it's a bit more than four years old, and it's one generation too old to run Mountain Lion. I'm not on Mountain Lion yet, and have no intention to do so even on the MacBook Pro that can run it for a while yet. Even so, I know the future is going to pass this system by at some point.

There are a few other considerations. I now have a Google Nexus 7 tablet, and it's actually quite usable; Android seems to do what I need of it as well as iOS. I'm also a heavy user of Second Life. The Mac Pro wheezes along there, despite being what is still a quite powerful system (dual-quad 3 GHz Xeons, 10 GB of RAM, and an ATI 5770 graphics adapter). I've come to the conclusion that the culprit is the machine's 667 MHz front-side bus, and that's one thing no amount of upgrades will fix.

Le me be explicit about one thing. I do not consider Apple evil incarnate. I have no problem with the way they compete in the marketplace, and I also have no problem with their enforcing their patent rights - yes, including, maybe even especially, their design patent rights - in court. I refuse to deprive myself of the tool I find makes me most productive just to make a political statement.

I also don't give a fuzzy rat's ass about "software freedom". I don't recognize the concept as being a valid one, and find the Stallmanite redefinition of the word "freedom" to mean something that's in direct opposition to it to be dishonest and odious in the extreme.

But...with all that said, I'm looking at using Linux on the desktop.

I first started thinking about it when I kept looking over at my roommate's Linux system and watching him have a far smoother experience on Second Life than I did on a much less expensive system. Then he got a Toshiba Satellite L755D-S5104 laptop from Best Buy for $429, and it performed about as well as the Mac Pro.

On top of this has been Eric Raymond's argument that I am "funding the enemy". Eric and I have been friends for two decades now, and we agree and disagree about many things. Still, his telling me that I was an enemy of freedom for buying Apple products hurt, and still does, both because I disagree with him and because I consider freedom to be the highest ideal to which man can aspire. It is as close to a holy concept as I recognize. (This is another reason that I despise Stallmanites and their redefinition of the word.)

If I were still as well off as I was when I bought the Mac Pro, the decision would be simple: I'd get a new Mac Pro. Unfortunately, Barack Obama's economy has had something to say about that. I can swing a new machine, but it has to be cheap. That means Macs are right out, as I can't get a Mac with anything but Intel graphics for less than a couple of kilobucks.

I refuse to run Windows on a desktop system that's not carefully sandboxed, preferably within a virtual machine I can snapshot. It's just too insecure.

That leaves Linux. So, I decided to build up an inexpensive Linux system. The primary goal is to run Second Life on it, but it'll also be used as a testbed for trying out other things that i use a computer for - ones that make me money.

This blog will talk about my experiences building up the system and putting it to work.

Ground rules: Please feel free to comment. However, comments on how eeeevil Apple is - when I mentioned the Nexus 7 and how it had me thinking about an Android phone next time around, it turned into an Apple bashfest - are right out. So are comments on the Stallmanite philosophy and how the Four Freedoms are the most important concept in computing, as Stallmanites seem to believe. As I said above, I don't care the tiniest bit about that, and I view Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation as the biggest hindrances to adoption of open source software in the world. Finally, I reserve the right to take shots at Barack Obama and the Left, as I did above. This is my blog, dammit, and I get to do that. I will not, however, be drawn into discussions about that here. Those who are persistent in pursuing such topics will be unceremoniously shown the door.

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