Things for linux users to bear in mind when starting to use a mac (part 1: hardware)

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So I (finally) agreed to see what the fuss was about. I must confess to being a little, um, underwhelmed. I'm not going to write off something on the basis of less than a weeks' experience, but my initial impression hasn't been wonderful. In short - if you don't mind messing about with libraries, installing many things by hand and generally being prepared to do a lot of learning (the kind of learning that doesn't help solve your problems), by all means use a Mac. If you want it to 'just work', stick to Linux.

Some caveats; there are really three exeriences for me to have first impressions of here: hardware, software, and the integration between the two. We will consider OSX in a separate article, which will be imaginatively titled 'part 2'. I am using a 2007 15" macbook pro with OSX 10.4 (Tiger). It should also be borne in mind that I am only interested in it as a software development laptop; the ease with which one can back up their iPod is not relevant.

Having said that, I can report that as expected the integration component of my first impressions was excellent. With almost complete control over the hardware environment, apple can restrict what kernel development needs to happen to the essentials, and get them right, much like Sun did with sparc Solaris. I was expecting to find this wonderful as this has always been the weakest part of the Linux user experience. Other things which linux isn't great at like proprietary codecs and JVM implementations 'just work' as well. It's worth pointing out that in fairness there are economic and legal forces outside the Linux kernel developers' and distribution creators' control here.

The hardware is of excellent build quality, but very quirky. I am very impressed with the power connector - so many otherwise functional laptops are lost to damaged AC connectors which nobody will admit to being able to repair.

The lack of a proper mouse at first seemed to be an infuriating hinderance, but later the OSX environment obviates this by making impossible most of what you'd use one additional buttons for. The keyboard is bizarrely laid out - requiring 'Alt-3' to get a hash symbol (the § and ± are conveniently located where the escape key normally is, for some reason). The enter key is so small that I regularly hit several of my fingers off the side of the keyboard trying to press it. The caps lock key is much larger and more conveniently located (this is a bad thing). Inexplicably there is second enter button concealed between the left-arrow key and one of the two logo keys - which have replaced ctrl in most of the software. The keyboard warms up rapidly, to the extent that it is actually uncomfortable to use. In fact the whole machine warms up the room quite considerably.

Replacing the keyboard and mouse with external usb devices is better, but leaves no free usb ports (though there are two flavours of firewire).

00:47 09 Sep 2007 /articles/systems/ apple_imp1

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