Side-Switching

Update: Yes, this is an April Fools, but one with a point: Apple has, in fact, shown little ability to keep the UNIX side of its OS up-to-date or to polish the technical aspects of its iLife suite to where I (for one) would feel completely comfortable with it. Eye candy isn't everything and the Mac OS X environment, despite its friendliness, could do with a bit more attention where it regards to, say, mobile phone support, bug fixing and standards compliance.

And no, I'm not allowed to have a Mac at my current job - and I practically never take mine to the office. That, considering what I can do with a Mac entirely on my own, and on my very limited free time, should give you some food for thought.

As should the fact that everything written below (either regarding Mac OS X or Linux) is, to a ludicrously large extent, perfectly true, except for my having installed Fedora on anything but my test laptop - but to make this more believable, I did try most of the migration tricks you see described below over the past two weeks (this post has been a long time coming).

Oh, yeah, and the GIMP still sucks (sorry, couldn't help myself).

A number of things have conspired of late to make it plain that I need to go a step further in my "technology made simple" approach, and that despite Mac OS X's glorious user experience I have been wasting my time mentally context-switching from Windows to Linux to Mac OS X according to my needs.

So I decided to bite the bullet and standardize on a single desktop environment, anytime, anywhere. And since I'm fundamentally fed up with Tiger's flakiness and pigs will fly before I am allowed to have a Mac at the office (a niche perk that executive recruiters may wish to address, incidentally), I have rather grudgingly decided that Gnome is the way to go.

Since Fedora Core 4 has been available for PowerPC for some time and Core 5 has been a mostly smooth experience on the desktop side thanks to the extensive improvements on Gnome 2.14, I decided to take the plunge and start getting my act together by installing Fedora on all my machines.

So, after my usual quarterly backups, I moved every Mac-specific file to my mini (which will keep running 10.4.5 for the moment), made sure all my photos and media were backed up (remember, I store all my stuff on plain folders on an NSLU2 and all my mail on an IMAP server), burned a set of installation CDs, and have since spent a few hours getting everything going.

For the record, here's a few of the reasons I went for it and a few caveats regarding this sort of, er... side-switching.

  • Gnome looks gorgeous on my 20" iMac (after the usual obnoxious X configuration tweaks, some of which you'll find here). No fancy OpenGL stuff and utterly crummy fonts, but it can all be tweaked to look very good indeed.
  • Judicious rsyncing of my home directory is all it takes for me to move my entire working environment from machine to machine. No more .Mac funkiness, no more inter-machine sync issues, everything syncs locally (and fast) over SSH.
  • Spotlight has always been pretty useless for me (not to mention slow on anything below 1GB of RAM). Beagle and the new Gnome 2.14 search bar seem to strike a better balance, and I don't think I'm missing out on much.
  • The Linux Citrix client works pretty well (including seamless window support), and although I need to hop through an Intel machine to use it on my iMac, X11 forwarding just works. Just mind your keyboard settings.
  • Linux power management still mostly sucks, and Gnome Power Manager still requires some manual tweaks, but my laptops seem to be getting on with it. Mostly. My M100 still freezes when I close the lid, but it seems to work OK on my iBook so far. Smooth, however, it is not.
  • Getting Thunderbird to access all my e-mail (which has always lived on a home IMAP server) was trivial. Less so was moving my Address Book across, but at least now I can get vcard2ldap working, because (get this) neither Evolution nor Thunderbird share Mail.app's asinine LDAP quirks. They both can do LDAP properly (plus Mark's encoding detector module helps with opening Address Book's UTF-16 format vCards).
  • iSync still doesn't support (natively) any of the mobile phones I have (and we're talking about phones that are between six to twelve months old, not prototype stuff). Since I'm used to tinkering about with low-level approaches and there's no lack of Linux-based tools for mobile phones (including ones using standard SyncML), there's no point in waiting for Apple to catch up with the market (it's not like they are even trying, especially where it regards European phones).
  • Calendaring was (and still is) a non-essential function for me, but I got my iCal stuff imported into Evolution at present. I still loathe Evolution's poor take on Outlook features, but it does the job.
  • Transitioning IM was painless. I'll sorely miss Adium's integration with Address Book and Growl, but I've been using Gaim on Windows for more than a year, so I just copied across the relevant configuration files and bingo, my buddy lists were neat and clean (plus, of course, rsync made it painless to propagate them to the other machines).
  • I hate Ekiga's name and can't abide portions of its UI, but it worked with my corporate video-conferencing setup (and all my SIP accounts) out of the box on my M100. My iSight refuses to play for the moment, but I will get around to it soon.
  • F-Spot isn't as simple as iPhoto and (apparently) doesn't have RAW support, but it does EXIF and IPTC metadata management properly. For free. I can't get it to import directly from my 350D yet, but I suspect that's easily fixable. It can, however, cope with my multi-gigabyte photo archive over SMB just fine (provided I do some mount voodoo, which I'll magic away in due time).
  • Since we're talking about SMB, I'm looking for a Gnome-based music player with DAAP support (I still have my NSLU2 serving my MP3 archive using DAAP and a perfectly good Airport Extreme, so there's no point in messing with that).
  • Python is, well... Python. Same for Ruby. I no longer have to worry about Mac OS X having outdated versions or bending over backwards to get some things to compile (although there is a tendency to go out and grab bleeding-edge versions of stuff that I will have to try to curb).
  • Despite some issues with Fedora Core 5's new OpenGL compositing stuff and the utterly dismal multi-head support on my M100 (i.e., I still have to restart X11 to switch to multi-head), I'm finding using a virtually identical desktop environment saves me time (sure, moving between different environments makes you more flexible in many regards, but I'm past caring).
  • OpenOffice is still junk. About the only thing I like about it is direct PDF output from most applications, so I'll be sticking to my corporate Citrix environment for conventional work (although I'll be more careful with my PowerPoint slides to make sure I can present stuff in Fedora).
  • Oh boy, do I miss Quicksilver. LaunchBox is crummy and woefully limited, but at least it does something when I hit Ctrl-Space.

As to this site, well... We'll see what sort of domain name I can get, and of course all the content will be kept up, but the absolutely worst bit will be going through 200-odd site headers using, of all things, that blasted GIMP.