Made the move to Mac

As a follow-up to Why I might switch to Mac from Ubuntu, I did actually get a Mac… or, more precisely, my wife got a new Mac, and I inherited her old one.

Clarifications
Unfortunately, it seemed some of the commenters on that entry brought their own agendas and grudges without actually reading what I wrote. I have tried other distros, many of them, in fact—probably at least 20 distros over the past five years. You can read about some of my more recent failed attempts at trying non-Ubuntu distros. Two of my reasons for switching had nothing to do with Ubuntu specifically—that there were hardware regressions in the Linux kernel (and bugs in other upstream packages), and that the whole approach of the operating system development being wholly independent of the hardware development is a flawed approach if you want to increase adoption (which, incidentally, Ubuntu is trying to do, and not all Linux distros are).

To those who claim Macs “just work,” I have to disagree. For more details, read Macs are just computers, not magic and Macs are computers, not magic (part 2).

In terms of what happened in getting the new Mac, it’s been an interesting mix of positives and negatives (Can you believe it? Macs are not the holy grail, nor are they the devil incarnate).

The Apple Store
One of the nice things about the Apple store is that there are a lot of display models of various Apple products you can try out. So my wife and I got to spend considerable time playing around with the new Macbook Pro before we decided on purchasing it. More importantly, the sales staff appear to be trained on finding the right balance between being unavailable and being oversolicitous. A few annoying things about the sales staff, though:

  • They assume you know nothing about Macs, even if you are a long-time Mac owner (as my wife is).
  • They aren’t overly pushy, but they do try to upsell you (AppleCare, training programs, iWork, etc.).
  • They take every opportunity to bash so-called “PCs” in side comments (and by PC, they mean Windows PCs, because, as we all know, Macs aren’t personal computers, and Linux just doesn’t exist, nor does FreeBSD). Want to know where the stereotype of Mac users as being snobby zealots comes from? It comes from the Apple store employees (and from the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials). I like Mac and Linux and Windows. Is that a crime to like all three?

The Migration Experience
At home with the new Mac, we used the Migration Assistant to move my wife’s files, settings, and applications over to the new computer. I don’t know who at Apple is in charge of the Migration Assistant, but that person needs to be replaced. First, it prompts you to make the transfer via firewire. The new Macbook Pro doesn’t come with a firewire cable, though. We had an old firewire cable from an external hard drive, but apparently that’s the wrong kind. We tried to do the transfer via ethernet. We soon realized that was a mistake, as the transfer was going to take three hours. Unfortunately, Migration Assistant is set up so that you can’t do anything else on the computer while the migration is happening, and the time remaining arbitrarily goes up, stands still, or randomly drops. At one point, it said it was going to take four hours. So we canceled it by killing the Migration Assistant on the source Macbook Pro and then forcing a shutdown on the destination Macbook Pro. Then we did the Migration Assistant again but this time with just the settings and applications (not the files). The files we copied over manually from an external hard drive backup afterwards (during that copy, my wife could actually use her new computer).

Apart from the Migration Assistant process being godawful, the migration result itself is pretty good. The setup was exactly the way she had it on her old computer. Wireless keys remembered. Dock configured in the exact same way. Mail with all IMAP accounts set up. Wallpaper the same. It was an exact replica of her account on the old Mac. All the programs worked, including CS3 (I thought maybe that might need a new activation key or something).

Unfortunately, one thing that didn’t work (and this points to a major usability issue with Mac OS X, which is being able to resize windows from only one corner) was her window setting with iTunes. See, her old Macbook Pro was 15″ and this new one was 13″, so the iTunes window extended beyond what the screen could display. We couldn’t figure out how to drag the window past the universal toolbar (I thought maybe there might be an equivalent to Alt-mouse-drag in Linux, but couldn’t find one). Clicking the + button (which usually zooms in other applications) just toggled between full iTunes and the iTunes mini player. Finally, I did a Google search and found that you could go to window > zoom in the toolbar menu to get it to zoom (since the + button in iTunes acts in a way inconsistent with other OS X applications). Solved that. Annoying to have to solve.

Meanwhile, I was tailoring my wife’s old computer to suit my needs. I deleted all her design and font programs (she’s the graphic designer; I’m not). I got rid of Mail, Safari, and iCal. Put on Firefox, Chrome, Thunderbird, Transmission, and some other programs I found at Open Source Mac. I love the smooth animation (when importing photos in iPhoto, when switching applications) that I just never could get in Ubuntu, even with Compiz. I don’t like that I can’t toggle hidden files with Control-H (or even Cmd-H). I don’t like that Finder is an always-on application (meaning, when I’m switching applications with Cmd-Tab, I want to switch between only actual applications, and not the file browser if no file browser window is open). I had to install a third-party application to turn off the annoying boot-up noise.

Really, though, the main draws for me to my wife’s old laptop are not any OS X–specific features per se. What I like most are

  • The magnetic power cord, because I am a klutz and actually broke my HP Mini power cord recently.
  • The larger hard drive. Since the HP Mini was my main computer, it was kind of tough to deal with having only a 16 GB SSD, and the upgrade options for a 1.8″ 5mm PATA Zif hard drive aren’t wonderful.
  • The ability to do Netflix streaming (the PS3 fake-Bluray experience isn’t as good as the web browser experience). I guess you could argue that’s OS X–specific, in the sense that Netflix supports Mac OS X and doesn’t support Linux. It has nothing to do with the usability of the operating system design.

Unlike most Linux users, I have always been a fan of iTunes. I’ve used Foobar, WinAmp, Songbird, Exaile, Rhythmbox, AmaroK, JuK, Banshee, and all the rest. I still think iTunes is the best. But I’m going to keep buying songs through Amazon’s MP3 store, since I want to be able to easily port the music to my Sansa Clip or to Ubuntu, should I decide later to set up a dual-boot. I’m also going to be sticking with Android, even after my phone becomes “obsolete” (obsolescence is subjective, I guess). I do like the iPhone, but it’s a bit too restrictive. I like the xScope web browser, and I don’t see any free web browsers in the iTunes app store like it. I like having a rooted device without worrying that updates will constantly break my installation. I like being able to send certain contacts straight to voicemail. I like the Google Voice app (which Apple has rejected for the iPhone).

In Conclusion
Yes, I will continue to update my Ubuntu documentation on Psychocats. Don’t worry. I plan to have Ubuntu in VirtualBox on Mac OS X. I also still have my HP Mini around with Ubuntu on it. My wife and I don’t travel often, but when we do, a 10″ netbook is far more convenient to travel with than a 15″ laptop. So even though Mac OS X is now my main OS, I will continue to document and test Ubuntu. And, mpt, I don’t know if you got my email, but I would be interesting in helping the Ubuntu experience design team if that offer is still good.

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14 Comments

  1. I guess this is as good a time/place to ask a question I had earlier this week: A lot of blog space is taken up by how great the Mac OS & software is, but what about the (relative) quality of the hardware itself?

    If I someone gave me a Mac laptop, is it possible to wipe the hard drive and install Ubuntu on it? Difficult? Worthwhile?

  2. Hi, Ted. I don’t think the Mac OS X software is really that great, to be honest. I like iTunes and iPhoto. There is one feature in Mail I like (the universal inbox), but Thunderbird now has that with its “smart folders.” As you can see from the iTunes window size problem, the OS X interface, despite zealots’ claims to the contrary, is not intuitive or easier to use than other interfaces.

    In terms of the hardware…

    I think the exterior hardware is a work of art. The apparent seamlessness and the easy curves of the chassis combined with the quality of the speaker sound, the picture quality in the webcam, the wonderful anti-klutz magnetic power cord… those are all wonderful things.

    The internal hardware, however, is nothing special. Macs have the same internals as any non-Apple PC would have. In fact, the biggest problem I see among Mac-using friends is failing hard drives. It’s not that Mac hard drives are more prone to failure than non-Mac hard drives. It’s that they are as prone to failure, since they are basically the exact same hard drives. The hard drives aren’t engineered any better. And the optical slot drives can be very fragile and often do lose functionality over time. For years, my wife has done Mac RAM upgrades using RAM from NewEgg (much cheaper than from the Apple store), and that RAM has performed just fine.

    So, basically, if you like the exterior hardware, sure, you can install Ubuntu on it. The interior hardware is nothing special, though. At this point, I haven’t actually set up a dual-boot yet, so I don’t know how difficult it is to set up. From the few guides I’ve skimmed, it seems basic functionality is there, and you may have to do some special tweaks to get the hotkeys to work. More details here:
    https://help.ubuntu.com/community/MacBookPro

  3. Thanks… I’ve wondered about that as an option. It appears to be feasible, but maybe not cost-effective (if the internal hardware is nothing special).

    A friend of mine had a bad experience with Macs while looking for a way to end his frustrations with Windows. Got a Macbook Pro but had motherboard problems, hard drive problems, back & forth from warranty repairs three times… He concluded Macs were expensive pieces of junk and went back to Windows. I then showed him Ubuntu, which he likes, and he’s been using it since. (Even migrated most of his business to Ubuntu.)

    However, he also like iTunes… and though I’ve gotten it to ‘mostly’ run in Wine, it fails at some essential things he needs, such as creating a CD from library selections. I’m not a music app expert. Of all the different music apps you’ve tried so far, which do you think are worth looking at in Ubuntu for an iTunes substitute?

  4. Not surprised about the motherboard and hard drive problems. My wife has never had motherboard problems, and she didn’t have a hard drive die on her Powerbook for years. Nevertheless, as I said before, they are just standard internals, not special Apple-engineered ones.

    As for iTunes substitutes, that can be difficult. What appeals to me about iTunes is the actual interface, and I haven’t found anything in Linux that mirrors that interface and full functionality (what iTunes haters in the Linux communities call “bloat”). It’s possible your friend likes iTunes because he has an iPod Touch or iPhone? Or because he likes the iTunes Music Store?

    I think your best bet is to really look at the exact functionality he needs and try to target that. Maybe AmaroK for most things? Amazon MP3 store for music purchases? There are even complicated hacks to get the iPhone working on Ubuntu:
    https://help.ubuntu.com/community/PortableDevices/iPhone

    iTunes is definitely the biggest problem I face when thinking about moving friends and co-workers over to Linux. They all use iTunes, and many of them have iPhones or iPod Touches.

  5. My friend, Tom, has a Tmo MyTouch, and does not have an iPod. That may make it simpler. What he does have is about 50 GB of music that he likes to listen to while he works (doesn’t buy from the iTunes Music Store), and he burns custom CDs occasionally for road trips.

    Tom’s like you — he likes the iTunes interface. Didn’t like Rhythmbox. When iTunes didn’t work 100% in Wine, I had him install Exaile (too lightweight), then suggested Songbird. (Kudos to you for your install script & icon, BTW.)

    He likes Songbird… The interface apparently has good features (sorting & the like), but it won’t cut a custom music CD unless you’re using Windows. Arrgh!

    Maybe I was too hopeful thinking that the FOSS community has been busy over the years making full-featured iTunes clones — only it doesn’t appear to be the case.

  6. Hm. That is a lot like me (I even have a T-Mobile MyTouch)… except that I don’t burn CDs any more, since I just listen to music on my Sansa Clip. Not sure what the issue is there. AmaroK is no good either? Or Banshee?

  7. Haven’t tried AmaroK or Banshee… yet. I was hoping to ‘cut to the chase’ and not have to wade through all of them.

    OTOH, knowing each would help me when making suggestions to others in this situation, so as long as Tom’s patience holds out…

  8. Glad to hear you will be continuing to update your tutorials. They are well written and a staple to everyone I introduce to Ubuntu.

    Thank you!

  9. I was expecting it was a early April’s Fool :(

    Well, good luck then :) Let’s see if you miss having to report bugs in 6 months when we all are excited and annoyed with Maverick Meerkat MUAH MUAH MUAH ;)

  10. Hey Aysiu,

    My friend Tom finally went full circle: After taking a look at Rhythmbox when I first loaded Ubuntu on his machine, then segueing to iTunes, Exaile, Songbird, and Banshee, he finally went back to Rhythmbox and found that:

    “With Rhythmbox, I simply slide the songs I select into Brasero and click burn. Simple–the way it should be. It would be nice if Brasero had a link within Rhythmbox. If I was a computer whiz, I would write the code as an add-on–but of course I’m not!”

    …Of course, I pointed out that this being Linux, one *could* actually do that.

    He also is now using Amazon’s music store (and likes it). He purchased songs from Amazon “to see if I indeed can burn them to CD (or if they have any DRM hidden in the files). It worked. iTunes never let me do that or do anything else except play it on the machine it was downloaded to. With their restrictions, I can’t believe that Apple has by far the largest share of downloaded songs.”

    He mentioned another useful item: “7digital has a feature called ‘The Locker’ which stores all your downloaded songs you get from them so you can access them at anytime in case your HD crashes or some similar catastrophe. Slick idea.”

    Now he’s bought a Sony music player. I anticipate maybe doing some Wine tweaking for him shortly… :^)

  11. We changed our whole house over from a mixture of Jaunty and Karmic to Lucid a week ago. Lucid is working great – no major problems at all and we hope to be running it until the next LTS release comes out in two years time.

    I am not keen on the window control buttons on the left, even though Mark Shuttleworth has given some detailed plans about why they did that http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/333 so I just changed the theme to “Dust Sand” and that puts them back on the right. I didn’t like the new desktop image either, which my wife said “looks like when you hit your head”, so I found a better one on Gnome Look.

    No complaints about Lucid here.

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