September 24, 2002

Why I chose a Mac

Posted by Scott at 07:52 PM

People may remember that way back before Windows95 became entrenched ("dial up the wayback machine, Mr. Peabody...") I had Apple Macintoshes. At work I was using Unix workstations. Using unix at home was inconceivable. As I was leaving the Air Force there were a few co-workers who were mentioning that this new thing called Linux was making their PCs into pretty capable Unix machines. At the time Linux was still pretty much a hacker toy with small but devoted set of users and developers. Over the years it made steady progress and Microsoft did enough improvements that Windows95 made tremendous inroads against the Macintosh.

By the time I left Sanders, my second Mac was getting ancient. I started at J-Squared and used WindowsNT workstations for a few years — all supplied by my employer. When I started up a VAutomation, it was time for me to buy my own machine again. My family in Chicago had also just picked up a computer for the first time. I bought an HP Pavilion PC with Windows98. It could run all the CD-ROMs that Claire (and later Abby) would use. On the side I started to tinker with Linux on that PC's second hard drive partition, which at this point had become more stable. For many Unix is one of those things that once you get used to, you just can't seem to shake. You fingers get muscle memory and get used to the sequences. The commands, programs, and way of doing things becomes ingrained in your head. That Linux partition exists to this day on the Tarpey's PC.

Nevertheless it bothered me to have this dual role. Boot the machine one way and it runs standard Windows applications — Office applications, CD-ROMs with "edutainment" for the kids, etc. Boot the machine the other way, it becomes a powerful Unix workstation. The machine seemed to have a mutually exclusive split personality.

A year ago I wanted to do some upgrades. I investigated doing things like processor and motherboard upgrades on the HP. At the time my friend Ed told me about his new Apple laptop running MacOS X (pronounced "ten", not "ecks"). Like me he was used to working in a Linux environment. With his positive feedback about what a nice blend it was between an intuitive desktop computer with typical office applications and industrial strength Unix, I took the leap. I've not regretted it since. My daughters can quit out of their CD-ROMs games and I can drop right into a Unix shell.

One of the writers at Byte online has written a recent article entitled "Flirting With Mac OS X" which echoes my sentiments pretty well.

“If you have been using Linux for some time and just love its stability and performance, and find it a natural platform for development, you'll feel right at home on the Mac OS X. On the other hand, if you feel at times frustrated by the difficulty with which modern devices (like wireless, DVD, or FireWire devices) work on Linux, then you might find Mac OS X to be what you've been longing for. I for one, am convinced: I am switching my laptop to Mac OS X. And best of all, you don't have to be ashamed to go to a Linux guru meeting with Mac OS X, because it's just a UNIX with a very nice GUI.”
The beauty of it is that if you never want to learn a single line of Unix, with MacOS X you need not. It reminds me of a Linux computer without the configuration hassles. All the devices you need to use "just work". On the other hand if you want to "dig in" and do some scripting, coding, or tinkering, it's all in there, just waiting to be tapped.