In response to Back with Mac again – And Here to Stay by Simon Royal.
Such an odd word. Upbringing. But in a strange way it fits. When you analyze it, you would eventually find that it all boils down to exactly this: Your own „IT youth“ so to say. What were the systems, computers and operating software, that you were brought up with? With what (brand of) hardware and software did you start your computer use, and continue to use them up until this very day?
In my case it was PCs with some version of DOS at first: a 386SX with 25 MHz and DR DOS 5.0. And Windows 3.0. I remember this because it was my first computer. So I am a Windows guy, right?
In school we also used DOS and NetWare from Novell for the school network. Later the school had some version of Windows, but at this time I had already graduated and left my school for good.
IT – Information Technology – was since not my area of expertise in my professional life other than the common use of computers at the office. Those were PCs, the software was and is Microsoft dominated. In fact, we only had Windows from the start. NT 4.0, which I liked, then XP and later Windows 7.
The servers ran Linux though. Not all of them, I guess, but most of the network backbone was Linux-based. As an office guy that just uses the software provided I didn’t get to see this infrastructure though, so no fiddling with Linux at the work side of my life.
In private life I got in contact with other operating systems early on. In my youth I used to play on my friends and neighbors Commodore C64 and Amiga 500. On my own PCs I briefly tried Windows NT 4.0 and 2000, but my main system was Windows 95, later 98 and 98 Second Edition. I gave up on DR DOS with Windows 95, even though I preferred DR DOS over MS-DOS. I never tried IBM’s version of MS-DOS though, PC DOS, but I had a brief look at PTS-DOS, which was rocking fast and the full system fit on only one 1.44 MB floppy disk! Amazing! Windows 95 then ended all this broad variety of Disk Operating System options to choose from…
In the late 1990ies I started to look into Linux for the first time. I also tried OS/2 Warp 3.x, but it was complicated (especially the hardware support). I think my first Linux was around early 1997 and the Linux Distribution was S.u.S.E. Linux 4.2. The installation procedure was so complicated, there were so many new and unknown packages to choose for installation, and the Unix shell, bash or any other – I honestly don’t remember, was so confusing that I soon lost interest. It was too much for me, information overflow so-to-say, being used to the easy way that Windows 9x supplied in comparison.
I finally took off with Linux in the early 2000s, after a short-lived period of using Mandrake Linux – a very easy-to-use and user-friendly Linux of its time. But Mandrake Linux became Mandriva Linux, new releases were being delayed, and I found myself looking for alternatives. I tried Fedora (RedHat) as well as SuSE (OpenSuSE, Novell) and finally came to Gentoo Linux. Although I remember also considering Arch and Debian…
For me, the reason to dig into Gentoo Linux was that I really wanted to understand how things were made to work in Linux. I wanted to get acquainted to Linux, if you will.
Gentoo Linux really made me love Linux. I was finally understanding how things worked a lot better and I was in the position to decide and control the whole of my operating system. Almost every aspect of it, except for the source code itself. But that would have been accessible too. Even more, with Gentoo Linux I had to configure everything myself, because there is no real preconfiguration like other distributions offer. Everything is controlled, decided and configured by the user (or admin).
The installation of a Gentoo Linux based system, up to getting a working desktop, still takes a few days. I just recently set up my new system, an AMD Ryzen 7 1800X, 2017. It was about a week until I had a desktop running. Not at all like Windows or macOS, right?
Mac OS X
I never used classic Mac OS or Macintosh System Software. I touched the first Mac in the year 2005 or so, and Mac OS X 10.3 aka Panther was still current then, Tiger was soon to be released. I was impressed by the quality of the hardware: It was a Power Mac G4 MDD, original, Dual-1 GHz model.
I also installed Gentoo Linux on that machine and was very impressed how well the Power Mac was supported. Everything worked. Fact is, I went from a Pentium III 800 MHz to a G4 MPC 7450 dual processor system, just copied the /home directory, and was back in business. Hardware-wise this was a migration from a little endian x86 platform to a big endian PowerPC platform, and Linux let me do it! Amazing!
And then Apple did the same in the opposite direction: 2005 was the year Steve Jobs announced that Apple was going to replace PowerPC processors with Intel x86 processors… And, yes, Mac OS X, based on Rhapsody, based on OPENSTEP/NeXTStep let them do it quite easily too!
Anyway, my first Apple operating system was Panther and I found it quite intuitive to use, but I came from Linux and Windows and DOS, so maybe it wasn’t very hard for me to understand how Mac OS X worked. Also, Panther was a very solid and stable operating system. The only thing I had to get used to was the Finder. At first I really preferred the command line, I even installed the Midnight Commander on Mac OS X to use it in Terminal. After a while though I started to like the Finder, even more than the Windows Explorer. I still don’t like the Explorer, but find working with the Finder okay… and still prefer the Midnight Commander on a terminal on Linux.
So, I upgraded to Tiger and found little difference. Yes, Spotlight. Okay. I never used this and also not the Dashboard. Too fancy for me. I used and still do use Terminal.app a lot though! In a way, I guess you can say, that I love Unix, and the Unix shell. Especially bash is very nice to use, with command history and so forth.
I did not like Mac OS X Leopard 10.5 so much. It was heavy, slow and blown on a Power Mac. Tiger and Panther rocked, but Leopard was just all about the graphics polish, not about the performance. Also, Apple killed the Classic Environment with Leopard, so I wasn’t happy about that either, since I was just beginning to experiment on using older applications and games.
I now ask myself, what my relationship with Mac OS X really is? What I came up is my very personal perspective, and this is what I can say:
I really liked Tiger. I think with 10.4 Apple created their masterpiece. It was very polished, solid, had a wide support for older and newer Apple systems (it ran on 1999 Macs as well as on 2006+ Intel-Macs, and it had Classic on PowerPCs) and in my opinion it is what Apple wanted to accomplish with Mac OS X when they started it in 1998. This was it! How can such a perfect system get better?
And here lies the tragedy. I had come from Linux and appreciated the possibilities of a true Unix system. Apple, on the contrary, decided to go more for the iPad-way of doing things: hide the Unix base, make the OS all shiny but more and more uninteresting for people who like the command line. At least that was my impression. I could be wrong. But nowadays, in High Sierra and Mojave, it’s all about the App Store, isn’t it? Device drivers (kexts in Mac OS X) have to be signed, and installing a simple open source application lets macOS ask „Are you sure? It could be malware, since I (Apple) didn’t approve it!“ My very, very personal response to that: That’s just sh*t!
As far as privacy goes, I also have my second thoughts. It’s not that I distrust Apple, but at the same time also „Why should I trust Apple?“ in the first place? It makes no sense. I take my responsibility serious, and by doing so the only option I have is to use an open source operating system. Like Linux. Or FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD.
Darwin, the open source core of macOS, isn’t freely available by the way. You cannot get it installed on a Mac, because it lacks all the fancy device drivers that are needed to run it on a Mac. Apple used to be different, but now they don’t even provide an installer for Darwin. Darwin, as a free and open distribution, was on the decline since Mac OS X and Apple became a success, so Apple wasn’t really interested anymore.
I now own a couple of older Power Macs, a G3, G4s and G5s, and I also bought myself two Mac mini’s. Intel-based. Yes, I know. They are the 2011 models and they are the last ones that are unofficially able to run Snow Leopard 10.6.8. I use them with Snow Leopard and run all my old PowerPC software on them through Rosetta. I refuse to get anything newer because… Why would I? I wouldn’t be able to use my old software, which I still use, and my old devices, like my 2006 iPod nano.
Still, the Mac mini opened up the opportunity to look into macOS up to High Sierra. And what can I say? Well, I don’t like what I see.
I get it that it is important to support high resolution displays. And quite frankly, this support came way too late. I remember that I had trouble reading stuff even on Mac OS X Tiger when I used a larger monitor, like full HD 1920×1080. Instead, they tweaked the look of the Dock. All new and pseudo-3D it came with Leopard – and now look: With macOS the Dock finally looks 2D like in Tiger again!
And why must it integrate in social networks so much? I don’t appreciate that at all. I’m not lightly giving away my identity, so I don’t enter anything into those fields. As much as macOS is concerned, I don’t even have a Facebook and Twitter account. And all the rest. I don’t even have an e-mail address!
In other words: I only truly trust myself, so as a result I can only trust the Linux I configured, which is Gentoo Linux in my case.
I can understand that people like macOS and like to work with it. Like I can understand how people like to work with Windows. But that’s not for me.
In essence, it all boils down to trust. Who do I really trust? And if you trust a billion dollar company, that’s fine with me. But be aware that their main business is to make money, not to protect you. Because that’s your job, your own responsibility. Even if it is convenient for you to out-source this responsibility, to Apple if you run macOS, or to Microsoft if you run Windows 10.
But to get back to my initial statement: The full title really should have been: You stay where you started… At least most of us do… Sadly.
The big companies also know that. And they promote it by supplying schools, collages and universities with almost free student licenses. Sometimes such licenses are even completely gratis. But in reality they aren’t, because they influence your upbringing, your IT youth. You start with this system, and guess which system you will prefer later in life?
Don’t get me wrong. Apple has made it quite clear that they do a lot to protect the privacy of their users (equals customers). But for me that’s not enough.
As for working with macOS, for me personally, I just now found that the most fancy version for me to use actually is – get seated, otherwise you might fall due to either shock or laughter – is: Jaguar! Yes. Mac OS X 10.2. I just started to appreciate its retro-look and the small little details, almost flaws, in its design. It is not yet the finished, stable and perfect GUI that Tiger has, but it has some kind of (to me) appealing charm so that I keep using it, despite the availability of Tiger and Leopard on Power Macs.
On the Mac mini, sadly, I have to use Snow Leopard, but this is still way better for my taste than the new macOS (High Sierra and Mojave at the time of this article).
That said, on my main computer, a PC, I use Gentoo Linux, and it will stay that way. On some of my Macs I run Debian GNU/Linux, just because it is way easier and quicker to get installed. It doesn’t have to compile the source code for days and weeks… 😉 But it’s getting harder and harder, because support was already dropped and it is now an „unsupported“ platform, which means that it can be installed, but no guarantees. And that’s what you get: Some things simply don’t work out-of-the-box, and some software recently stopped working. Thus I’m considering Gentoo Linux on the old Power Macs as well, maybe with a binary repository so I only need to compile the packages once and can install them on all the Power Macs I own.
So, what do you think of my hypothesis? Is it true? Do you also see it that way too? Or was this complete rubbish to you?
I’d be happy to read your comments.