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Greg Black

gjb at gbch dot net
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Tue, 28 Dec 2004

Apple is good and bad

Apple’s software and hardware both continue to be a matter of interest to various Humbug bloggers. I’m not going to recap the whole thing—those who have been following along already know the story and the players; others can research it if they wish.

However, I want to take up two recent fragments. First, Adrian said:

You can troop out the old stalwart anti-Apple crap all you like but it doesn’t make it true.

This, of course, is true. But it seems to miss the point. Just because somebody has a problem with Apple stuff, doesn’t make their opinions “anti-Apple crap”. Especially when we’re dealing with somebody who is technically astute and quite experienced.

Later, David says:

I fail to see a use for the hardware (and the price tag - although the laptops have come down), and I just can’t see what benefits the software offers anyone in an enterprise.

Of course, as always, I’m willing to be reeducated and ask those who can tell me why it is ready for the enterprise, or why exactly OS X is better than an appropriately setup Windows XP system to come forward and brain me.

I’m not going to comment on Windows systems as I refuse to use them. However, I certainly can’t see why anybody, either at home or in a corporate setting, would choose Apple hardware for general computing equipment, such as desktops and the like. The hardware is certainly costly and is probably no better than anything else in the commodity market (although I have no direct experience to back that up). And the general usefulness of OSX is nothing to get excited about.

So why do I have an Apple laptop? Primarily because it seemed, at the time of purchase, to be the least worst option. Ideally, I’d run FreeBSD on my laptop because that’s what I run on everything else and so it’s the simplest solution—and a solution that I am happy with. Unfortunately, my previous laptop was never quite right running either FreeBSD or Linux. I had to run FreeBSD-4.3 for my wireless network card to work because all later versions of FreeBSD had broken support for the weird chipset on that machine’s motherboard. I could run a very late Linux on it with support for the wireless card; but then suspend and general APM-related functions were completely broken. There’s more to this story, but that’s enough to give the idea.

For me, a laptop has limited functions: it needs to provide me with an ssh client, a browser, wireless networking, an IMAP client and an editor that I can use to write notes with. And it has to do dialup Internet for travel. Just about anything would do that (although the risks of Windows boxes and applications would make me reluctant to use them for these tasks). Getting free operating systems working properly on silly laptop hardware seems to be beyond the state of the art—unless you’re willing to put a lot of work into research and, even then, you risk problems as time passes. So, knowing that an Apple laptop could do what I needed and could be expected to work in harmony with the provided software, I was willing to forgo ease of use and general interoperability in the interest of making a simple purchase that could perform a simple set of tasks.

It has worked less well than I had hoped, although the fact that some of the supplied software works well with weird stuff that people send me has more or less made up for that. I’m happy to keep using it; but I expect to make various other complaints about it over the coming months. On the other hand, I’m much less happy that my sister bought one. She has found it very hard to get it to do what she wants. And I have found it very hard to provide her with support with her living remotely from me—and she gets no support from the shop where she bought the thing.

And, while I’m at it, I really hate the Windowsy way that all the Apple software works; I hate the difficulty of doing simple Unixy things; I hate the number of things that crash; I loathe the window manager (and particularly its lack of configurability); I detest the Apple knows best syndrome; and I really dislike being beholden to proprietary software.

Oh, how could I forget? I really dislike Apple fanboyism.

To conclude, Adrian also answered David’s question. I obviously disagree about the “grandmother” part of that post, but am generally in agreement with the rest. This is too long now, so I won’t belabour the point further.