Zen of Mac

by Noah Gift

After reading one of my favorite blogs this morning, it got me thinking about the Zen of Mac. In the article that I linked to, Shannon mentioned that one of his hangups is not using OS X because it isn't Open Source. The topic of smart people with hangups is very interesting actually and I would love to talk even further about it, but I am going to talk specifically about the Zen of Mac in this post.

Back in 2002, I was a systems administrator for the administration building at a Caltech, and I was solely responsible for providing support for Dr. Baltimore. Dr. Baltimore is smart. He received a Nobel Prize in his 30's, he went to MIT, and he was the President of Caltech at the time. He is a mac guy, and that is partially why I was hired to do that job, as I have been into Mac computers for quite some time.

For those of you that remember, it was a huge deal to switch from OS 9 to OS X. It was my responsibility to design and build his OS X laptop and make sure that it was an easy transition. When the time came for me to actually deliver the laptop, things worked reasonably well and were intuitive as he would expect them to be. The punchline of this story is when I finally decided to show Dr. Baltimore the terminal. I think I mentioned something like, "One of the nice things about OS X is that it has a terminal and you can do nice things like......".

The look on his face was priceless. I don't remember the exact specifics of the conversation, but it was roughly, "Why would I use a terminal, it is a mac, that is the whole point!". That taught me quite a bit, as here was one of the most successful and intelligent people on planet earth and he "got" Mac. He didn't want to think about his computer as his thinking time was spent in other areas like making sure Caltech continued to be one of the top Science Universities and doing research on curing AIDS.

That is the Zen of Mac. You don't think, it just works. As software engineers, systems administrators, or people that are very technical, it can be difficult to just not think about your desktop computer. The reality is that you are more productive on solving your other problems when you don't think about your computer, it just works.

So as far as I am concerned, even though I work literally all day on linux machines from a shell, my desktop experience is OS X because it just works and I don't have to think, my thinking can be devoted to solving my problems. Finally, for those people that are switching from a Linux desktop to an OS X computer, I would give this advice. Don't think about how you used to do it on Linux, just forget what you know and try things out. OS X is designed to be intuitive and effortless. Fighting it to make it do what Linux does is not the proper approach. You must submit your will, relax your mind and float downstream on the white glow of the macbook pro monitor. Once you surrender your desires, and realize that desire leads to suffering you will truly appreciate the mac.


2007-08-25 10:52:57
Agreed. I was a very "technical user" as you mention, and I spent most of my time *maintaining the system* (which in my case was NetBSD) instead of doing real work (whatever that was). It was fun at the beginning but got exhausting after years.

I switched completely to a Mac just half a year ago (a MacBook Pro as you mention :-), after having used intermittently an iBook for a year. No regrets so far. You really can't appreciate this without actually having used Mac OS X for a while, and then can't go back! If only it were free...

dave sisley
2007-08-25 11:00:25
While GUI's work for the vast majority of people, it's interesting when intelligent people don't 'get' the advantages of working in a terminal environment. I find it faster to move around the file system, easier to process multiple files, and as an administrator it makes working in remote machines much easier.
I've spent enough time learning the shell in Linux that it 'just works' much better than the gui file system browsers - and I don't have to think much about it either. When I need to solve problems, I find the Unix command line is an excellent place to get stuff done. Different strokes, I guess.
I'd also suggest to those switching from Linux to OSX not to forget that, thank god - it has a terminal! :)
2007-08-25 11:06:28

I don't use OS X much as a server really except for Open Directory which is quite nice. I agree package management is an issue as well. It would be nice if OS X could standardize things like fink, darwin ports etc. For the desktop though, if your just shelling to a server it works quite well. The desktop is really about the GUI, and OS X is the best at this point in time. Once you get VMWare running then it becomes a moot point as you have linux running inside OS X and you get the best of both worlds...a great GUI and a great unix development environment.

On the SNMP front, I have done a bit with OS X, but I have not tried to enable Processor Utilization. I forget which MIB that is in off the top of my head. I am unsure of how OS X compiled net-snmp, but I can't see why it would be that bad to just compile a client service with the MIBS that hold Memory Usage and Processor Usage.

2007-08-25 13:26:47
After using some form of Mac almost exclusively throughout my life, I can whole=heartedly disagree with almost everything you have said.

Some months ago I switched the Linux and haven't looked back. Macs don't "just work", my PowerBook's partition table was severely knackered by OS X and OS 8. The only partition OS X or OS 8 recognised was a 1.9GB partition right at the end of my hard disk, which meant OS X refused to install on it as it was more than 8GB from the start of the disc. I needed boot from a Gentoo disc and fix my partitions using that.

Another problem is why do files on my iBook keep on disappearing, or why sometimes it refuses to boot? If Macs truly "just worked" there would be no need for sites such as macfixit.com, or even AppleCare.

When working in OS X I found it very limiting, not letting me "get technical". Despite having their own proprietary standards for their own hardware, they still lack the ability to make their operating system run flawlessly.

OS X still lacks some of the major features of other *NIX operating systems (package management, etc.) yet only offers features that are feeble at best.

Noah Gift
2007-08-25 14:11:43

How old are you, I wanted to put "whole life" in perspective as I noticed you had some references to teenlinux on your website :) I don't think you really got my point, but keep hacking regardless!

2007-08-25 19:55:46
Hm, so the reason I couldn't make Mac OS X work for me wasn't that it didn't support virtual desktops, installing software was much more difficult than with a decent package management system, the interpretation of POSIX was... awkward, X11 applications didn't "just work", there were insufficient options to customize the UI to the way I wanted to work, the GUI imposed a 30% speed penalty over Linux on the same hardware, security and other updates are opaque, and there's no source code for anything interesting, but instead that I just didn't shut off my brain and go with the flow and hope that six to nine months later I'd stop feeling as if I were trying to use the computer while wearing oven mitts?

Sorry Noah, I just don't see it that way.

2007-08-25 20:34:33

I LOVE linux and I mean, I LOVE IT. I LOVE unix too. I love any *nix based OS. I love to fiddle and tweak and write scripts and boot machines off of networks operating systems, BUT not on my box anymore. I have built an ever expanding lab in my basement that I do all sorts of nasty and freakish experiments with.

I think of OS X like the cockpit for my jet. The jet is my lab at work or at home, but the controls, the experience and the readouts are my OS X laptop. Another analogy might be that the OS X UI is like a Lexus or a BMW. A homegrown 1968 Camero that you tricked out in your garage might blow the door off a BMW going in a straight line 0-60 or on the freeway in a 60-120, but the experience in a BMW is much different than a 1968 Camero.

In a BMW there is no noise, the ride is very smooth, the handling is tuned just right for sharp turns and the inside is plush and comfortable. Compared to the Camero it might not have the raw tweaks, but the overall experience is better and this is due to the maturity and quality of the integrated engineering design. BMW has high paid Engineers working full time on making the "whole car" work not just the engine fast etc.

So, in terms of the OS X UI, Steve Jobs literally wrote the book on the UI of today. His companies have been focusing on it for the history of the modern computer almost exclusively. It is his life's work. He has some of the smartest, high paid software engineers in the world working on one of the most mature software products of the current era. Cocoa has been around for 10+ years now, it is very stable. I just don't think the Linux desktop can match that package at this exact point in time. Perhaps if Mark Shuttleworth really focuses effort on doing what Steve Jobs did for Cocoa it could happen in the future.

I would agree with you though that getting used to the OS X UI is going to be a fight as you need to turn off your brain. On the other hand, if your a really, really hard core geek like yourself maybe you really DO need to spend the energy on fighting your OS every day and tweaking the hell out of it and writing code to get it to do what you want. I think if your say a straight software engineer like I am nowadays it doesn't pay to fight, but if your a Linux sysadmin that would be a real tough call as you need to know that stuff.

To wrap up, I can't publicly say anything about Leopard due to the NDA that I signed. The public information out may hint at some resolution of the issues you spoke of though.

2007-08-25 21:03:47
@Noah, I tried, I really did. I gave Mac OS X six solid months of trying to use it for everything, and it was only "better" in two ways, wireless networking and connecting to external displays.

the point is that I was fighting Mac OS X for six months. When I switched back to GNU/Linux, suddenly my OS was working for me again, not against me. I stopped having to think "Oh yeah, X11 apps don't really work here." I stopped having to think "How does copy paste work between applications again?" I stopped having to think "I'm typing in the wrong window, again, because of click to focus."

I'm sure Apple does staggering amounts of research, and I'm sure some people absolutely love the Mac OS X defaults--but I'm not one of them.

Maybe that makes me a bad person. Maybe it makes me unthoughtful, or a Luddite, or just shows that I have bad taste... but I suspect that maybe Mac OS X really isn't just intuitively and globally somehow better in ways that people who really do get the Zen of Mac, as you do, can't explain with anything better than "It's like a really nice car, and other smart people like it too!" I find that a little bit insulting and a lot dissatisfying.

2007-08-25 21:25:24

I am not sure if you had a chance to read Shannon's post yet, but it was really a great article. In a nutshell he brought a bunch of examples of not just smart people, but really smart people and said they all have hangups. Since this article was a followup in a way to that article then by definition, your in the really smart category :)

My intention isn't to say if you use Linux on the desktop your stupid, it is to say, you might have a hangup UNLESS you really need to be an expert on the details of your OS. Many of us geeks need to be Linux tweaker experts. In that case, the Linux desktop is a no brainer.

Another scenario might be too, that your brain has been molded around the way Linux works. It could be impossible to untangle your neurons. It isn't the worst thing in the world either. I have some hangups. I am not a huge fan of OO. I see its virtues, but I really do prefer to just bang out Procedural code. This is probably because I cut my teeth on Bash as a sysadmin.

I also have a hangup with Microsoft ANYTHING. I know it is passe to dislike Microsoft, but I just can't stand any product they make as they are so horribly made. I would rather use pine or mutt than have to use Outlook. I would rather use lynx then use Internet Explorer. I had a job once where I had to fill out a shift report using a horribly designed ASP application that only worked on Internet Explorer. I spent weeks working on a script in twill just so I wouldn't have to "touch" Internet Explorer or use that nasty UI.

I am so anti-Microsoft that I would never accept a job where I was forced or mandated to use their products. I think if it was Microsoft or roof houses, I would roof houses. So yeah...I have some hangups too :)

2007-08-25 21:51:38
@Noah, I'm with you on Windows... after a decade of Unix-like systems, trying to do anything that requires more than one application in Windows feels awfully frustrating.

Still, I'm not sure you intended to imply that I prefer Ubuntu over Mac OS X because of a weird hangup or that I need to be an expert in an operating system. It's just difficult for me not to read this as Yet Another Mac Fan saying that Mac OS X is the obvious, tasteful, and intuitive choice. That's not fair to either one of us.

2007-08-25 22:03:53

"Still, I'm not sure you intended to imply that I prefer Ubuntu over Mac OS X because of a weird hangup or that I need to be an expert in an operating system."

Well....yes...your a little weird for using Ubuntu on the desktop, but aren't all of us geeks weird :) I think Ubuntu is pretty cool and for a brief period used it as my only desktop OS. It was ok, especially when I needed to do stuff from shell, but it wasn't as good as OS X on the desktop. Of course, that is just my opinion. I like Ubuntu quite a bit as a server though.

"It's just difficult for me not to read this as Yet Another Mac Fan saying that Mac OS X is the obvious, tasteful, and intuitive choice. That's not fair to either one of us."

Well, ya, that about sums up how I feel, I won't deny it :) Of course that is my opinion and what is that really worth. One of the other cool things that you might want to take a look at is XCode. The Dev environment on OS X is pretty fun. That is another reason I like the UI. Cocoa development tools are sweet!

Titus Brown
2007-08-25 23:34:53
I use Mac OS X on my laptop (because it "just works" everywhere, with good battery life, nice hardware, and interoperates well with Windows and other Mac files). I do all my development work under Linux, from the command line & within emacs, because I hate IDEs.

To each their own.


2007-08-26 05:10:48
Noah, does my age really matter :) 16 years is still long enough time to get to know an operating system.
2007-08-26 05:40:15

"Noah, does my age really matter :) 16 years is still long enough time to get to know an operating system."

Do I really need to answer that? Lets me pose the question this way. Would you let a fellow 16 year old operate on your brain :)

On the linux front though, I think it is great your so fired up on Linux. Playing with an OS is how you learn things if that is your goal. If you want to dig way down into OS X and tinker it will be a lit bit harder, but there is a model for it. I vote for knowing as many Operating Systems as you can. Use VMWare or Xen and have Open Solaris running, FreeBSD, Ubuntu, Fedora, etc.

2007-08-26 06:11:49
I don't think I have the authority to express an opinion on how to practice brain surgery, but I do think I have a worthwhile enough stance when it comes to opinions on software.

The problem is with OS X is that I would need to read a specialist book like Mac OS X Internals to get any sort of grasp on how it all works. Linux (and most practically all free software) however allows me to idly browse through some documentation either distributed with the software, or readily available in manageable chunks on the internet.

Robert B
2007-08-26 08:22:43
Intuitively graphical, Macs engage your brain's right side. Dominant verbal thinking represses creativity. Macs liberate your creative juices with pleasant surprises the result. All this and more effective work the result.
2007-08-26 09:36:46
@ FoPhillips -
Your experience with losing files and not booting are rare. I work with about 15 different macs of different form factors, running 10.3 - 10.4 intel. I have never had a file simply disappear on me. I would get your computer checked out, because it may have a more serious problem.
2007-08-26 10:01:40

You make a really good point. When your using the left side of brain too much it becomes a depressant. This is why I make a habit of playing the piano or guitar everyday and even more so when I am thinking heavily that day. I find that if I don't, then I get depressed and apparently this is quite normal. Playing the piano is a lot like using the Mac for me, but YMMV.

2007-08-26 12:00:59

I agree. This sounds like some "tinkering" was done, which is fine, but not really in the spirit of the article and certainly not an accurate representation of a Mac. One thing a lot of people don't take advantage of is Disk Utility. If you create a symbolic link of your /Users directory to another partition and make a backup of your OS it takes minutes to completely restore your machine. No OS is that easy to restore. If I waste even a few minutes troubleshooting something I just restore the whole OS in a few minutes.

On Leopard the publicly available information refers to Time Machine which will make this process even easier. Again, mac gets even more reliable.

2007-08-26 12:03:39
"Some months ago I switched the Linux and haven't looked back. Macs don't "just work", my PowerBook's partition table was severely knackered by OS X and OS 8." - Fophillips

"Some months ago... OS 8"? WTF? Are you still using Windows 95 too? OS 9 was discontinued some years ago and your complaining about a 1990's era OS 8 installation? How old is this PowerBook? Is your PowerBook black? Does it still have an AppleTalk port on it? Were not talking about ancient history here.

What version of OS X even runs on a G3 PowerBook? Having problems? Really? I wonder why?

"{Another problem is why do files on my iBook keep on disappearing, or why sometimes it refuses to boot? If Macs truly "just worked" there would be no need for sites such as macfixit.com, or even AppleCare." - Fophillips

Maybe your files are disappearing and your Mac refuses to boot because your using unsupported hardware. Who knows?

"When working in OS X I found it very limiting, not letting me "get technical". Despite having their own proprietary standards for their own hardware, they still lack the ability to make their operating system run flawlessly." - Fophillips

OS X is certified UNIX. What part about the "command line" are you having trouble getting technical with? "proprietary standards"? You mean the INTEL hardware? Other than EFI which is the coming standard for all PCs, what are you talking about? The only thing non-standard about Mac hardware these days is that its not plastered with "INTEL Inside" stickers.

"Noah, does my age really matter :) 16 years is still long enough time to get to know an operating system."

Apparently age does matter if your still using the same Mac you had when you were nine years old.

2007-08-26 13:00:50
'"Some months ago... OS 8"? WTF? Are you still using Windows 95 too? OS 9 was discontinued some years ago and your complaining about a 1990's era OS 8 installation? How old is this PowerBook? Is your PowerBook black? Does it still have an AppleTalk port on it? Were not talking about ancient history here.'

Yes, it's a PowerBook Wallstreet. But since when did age of the software or hardware matter?

"What version of OS X even runs on a G3 PowerBook? Having problems? Really? I wonder why?"
All of them. But 'officially supported' are 10.{0,1,2}, are you telling me that version previous to 10.3 couldn't even partition a disk correctly?

"Maybe your files are disappearing and your Mac refuses to boot because your using unsupported hardware. Who knows?"

A completely stock iBook G4.

"OS X is certified UNIX."

What are you talking about? Who certified it? You?

"What part about the "command line" are you having trouble getting technical with?"

Writing kernel modules, patching the kernel with improvements, struggling to get any kind of verbosity when working with things like Apache.

'"proprietary standards"? You mean the INTEL hardware? Other than EFI which is the coming standard for all PCs, what are you talking about? The only thing non-standard about Mac hardware these days is that its not plastered with "INTEL Inside" stickers."'

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm not talking about Intel Macs. Please point me in the direction of any operating system other than Mac OS that I can easily install on any of the machines I have mentioned.

But even Intel Macs aren't as 'standard' as you would like to believe. You try telling that to mactel-linux.org guys. If Macs were so unabashedly standard, why can't I just pop an OS X DVD into any EFI PC and install it?

"Apparently age does matter if your still using the same Mac you had when you were nine years old."

But if I was 29 when I had it, that would be all right?

2007-08-26 13:23:26

The reason I mentioned your age is that you have completely missed the entire point of the blog entry. I don't think I can explain it either as there are life experiences you haven't had yet. That is as nice as I can be. While Chromatic and I disagree he instantly got the point I was trying to make. You can reread the article again along with the link to Shannon's article and give a try at another response, I feel patient this weekend.

2007-08-26 14:08:52
More back on point. Another really smart and interesting professor at Caltech, Christof Koch, likes Macs so much he got the logo tattoed on his shoulder. His home page is here.

Ian Graham
2007-08-26 14:09:30
Great article and proves a point I have been making for years. I want to DRIVE my car... not be a mechanic. I think it's great that the *nix guys hack their computers etc. but for me, I am an audio/video professional and I CAN'T take the time to THINK about my computer and why should I? I want to get a job done and be creative. While I understand that alot geeks don't like the limitations on the "tweaking" of OSX, I don't see it that way. I think limitations are good and keep things in check. Quite honestly, I DO NOT understand why people and corporations use Windows... VIRUSES GALORE. Corporations are all about profits yet Microsoft has created this "franken"IT industry which threatens the company..."if you don't have us, this will happen. But even basic people who want to check email, surf, etc... WHY WOULDN'T YOU GET A MAC? or do you enjoy driving a "car" that breaks down every 20 miles, can easily get broken into and does "what it wants" whenever. The argument of Macs have a less user base so no one to make viruses makes no sense... there are millions of us "smart" people... so that being the case you would think that there would be at least 100 viruses. Again, great article!
Neil Anderson
2007-08-26 17:51:00
"Why would I use a terminal...."

Simple can be complicated, and complicated can be simple.

2007-08-26 18:49:44

Yes, you get my point completely. Intentionally not doing something is the revolution in thinking. I know a problem/trap I fall into at times is "sharpening the tool". I will need to write software to do something and then it turns out I am writing tools to help write the software, or writing a general purpose library that will help solve the problem.

If you point is to do task "X", then fiddling with "Y" is counterproductive to "X".

2007-08-26 20:04:43
It's great to have all of you software engineers out there taking the boulders off the information super highway for us Homer Simpson dolt's who use it for joy riding. I began my computer experience with the Windows that came before '95. Then '95, then '98, then NT. Somewhere in '96 I got a Mac for my personal use. I don't know the nut's and bolt's that lurk under the GUI, and don't want to. That's why universities turn out guys like you. I love my Mac. I hate my wifes Windows XP laptop. Hate it!
I think most of us thank the Japanese and Germans for building such great cars; that's obvious from the sales figures. Why? They just work. I drive and enjoy a '98 Nissan Maxima. I work on my '74 Triumph TR 6. I won't even touch an American car. I get in my Maxima and go from point A to point B without care. In a Zen like state if you will. My TR. To drive to the grocery is always an adventure because it is a car that has so many quirks that you have to know how to negotiate them. Kind of like what Unix or Linux must be like for the Homer Simpson's in the world. Oh yes, I was a "computer operator" for a major bank in the early '90s. I never got the hang of those few simple commands in a year of trying. Fortunately for all, they were bought by an even bigger bank and I was put out of my misery:)
I only touch non Mac's when I can not avoid it. That is my Mac user "Zen"experience.
Dick Applebaum
2007-08-26 21:13:08
Mmmm... If you were at CalTech during OS 9 - OS X migration, then you knew Sal Cordero owner of Di-No computers (old friend of the family).

As to the Zen-- it manifests itself in very simple ways: I just bought a SDHC card reader to ease capture of video from my Panasonic HDC-SD1 VideoCam. The card reader came with a CD, a 30-page User Guide, a 3-page Adobe PhotoShop Album Starter guide, and an ominous (and cryptic) sticker covering the USB connection on the reader that says "STOP First Install application for button (see guide)".

Aaargh, Windows cruft... being a Mac OS X user, (possibly risking explosion, sterilization, or Barry Bonds toleration) I just peeled off the sticker, plugged the card reader into my Mac, inserted the SDHC card into the reader... Up pops iPhoto to capture the pics and iMovie to capture the video... A few minutes later all was done... as expected!

BTW, this is the latest AVCHD camera format... no fiddling with drivers, transfer apps, security warnings.. it just did what was expected-- no fuss, no muss, no bother.

A Zenista, since 1978!!!

Dick Applebaum
Pasadena resident circa 1950-1963, 2001-2003

2007-08-26 21:33:18
oops, forgot to add this link for fophillips: http://www.macnn.com/articles/07/08/02/leopard.unix.certified/
2007-08-26 22:01:08
I couldn't have said it better ! As we've said for years, " IT JUST WORKS ! ", which confuses the heck out of Windows users.
Ron Robertson
2007-08-26 22:01:43
Noah, your comments, the article you linked to, and the subsequent comments you put in about playing the piano were quite fascinating to me. I'll have to remember to play the piano when I get too bogged down in things and start feeling depressed. I did learn that I have to disengage when I'm trying to solve a problem. Churning it just doesn't work when you need to be creative.

I started using Macs about 10 years ago, and at first didn't like them at all (a lot probably had to do with the machine I was stuck on at the time, a Performa that just tended to freeze up a lot). My home computer at the time was a Windows '95 machine, and was much more reliable. Then one day I found one of the Mac clones (with a dual processor no less) at a local computer store at a surprisingly good price, so I bought it and started to work with it. Partly I think that just buying something makes one want to feel good about it, but after a few months of using it I suddenly realized I was actually just getting work done, and not thinking about the operating system or hardware much at all. That, after all, was the whole purpose in getting a computer, at least for me. Sometimes I think that gets forgotten, that the ultimate purpose of computers is to get work done. I understand software engineers or those interested in how internals work on a computer can get into wanting to tweak all they can, that can be quite fascinating, though I think too often engineers can get so involved in how they do things, they forget what the end purpose of their work is to accomplish.

I used to do certain programming for data entry (now that goes back a ways), and being very fast at typing, but lazy in some ways at the same time, I always wanted every keystroke to count, so I'd set up the entry process to be as efficient for the user as possible. I was very good at it. But my programming days are so far gone I hardly remember any of it now (late 70s to early 80s). Still, I know what it takes to write good code, and appreciate obsessiveness in getting things done right. There's an elegance to it that is good to see and experience.

2007-08-26 22:13:46
"OS X is certified UNIX." [James]
What are you talking about? Who certified it? You? [Fophillips]

Fophillips: OS X 10.5 Leopard is certified by "The Open Group" who oversee the standards for UNIX(TM) systems (UNIX is a registered trademark of The Open Group in the US and other countries). Referring to their site it seems the only other certified OSs to the "UNIX 03" standard are versions of HP-UX, AIX, and Solaris. A link to the OS X certification is: www.opengroup.org/openbrand/register/brand3555.htm.

Found the article randomly browsing - and presently agree with the 'Mac for productivity' concepts. While currently using XP at home, along with more XP and a couple of AIX 4.3 and HP-UX 11i workstations at work, I haven't had many road blocks with the machines holding back productivity due to 'making the OS work, so I can start working'. However the interfacing on OS X is less distracting, and less intrusive, than XP or from what I've seen of Vista for that matter.

We are at the time now where instead of the first statement being 'I need a computer', and the second one being 'now I will do something', the first is the question 'what tasks do I want to perform', and the second being 'which computer does that'? In that perspective, if you want to manually optimize every nuance of the system, or just enjoy playing with and learning about obscure areas of the OS, a hands on UNIX or Linux variant install could be the ideal system and you're happy. If you're looking for a system that is easy to use, has a relatively friendly, straight forward OS that can ignore as much as possible and run the productivity software you like - a Mac or Win interface gets you there, and you're happy. End result is that both people are happy doing different things. That happens, and is the point.

For me, the next system will most likely be a 24" imac in Oct with the new OS. Once it was possible to run Windows on the same system it was a big plus - I don't loose any of my old software. I like the musical potential - something my PC doesn't really have now. That potential task (and it's ease on OS X) is partly driving the system choice.

Al West
2007-08-26 23:00:30
When we used System 7.X.X we evangelized it; same with MacOS 8 and 9. I still have MacOS 9.2.2 on my G4 do I use it NO! Once you have gone OSX you find fewer and fewer reasons to go back. Noah's right my 24in iMac just works, get on with it. The zen of the Mac is more doing what you want rather than thinking about doing what you want and then maybe doing some interesting stuff before doing what you want. Macs you get them or not - it's ok, we do...
2007-08-27 02:37:43
I spend my time building databases for my use (and a few select friends).
I use a Mac with OS X...........it just works!
64,000 songs
10,000 photos
32,000 contacts
all at the click of my mouse!
2007-08-27 06:43:39
I think Noah is right in regards to age (I full heartedly disagree with James though). I think this article was geared mainly toward professionals in the computer technology realm. Not saying that your abilities aren't on par or even better than many professionals. Where this article hits home is the fact that we don't have time to troubleshoot things when 80% of our time needs to be billable. Deadlines (homework doesn't count ;p) are stressful enough without having to worry about allocating extra time needed to fix/tinker with your OS. This may not be something you are completely aware of yet assuming you haven't worked professionally in the field. But I could be wrong.

If you spend the majority of your time tinkering or messing with kernel modules when your on your machine then a Mac probably isn't for you. No OS is a be all, do all solution. Despite what Noah/Steve says or tries to imply, no *nix style OS means you're smarter than anybody else. It's all a matter of preference.

2007-08-27 11:05:56
Penster, I do have a job in computing albeit part time. I work for a web development business, I know all about deadlines.
2007-08-27 12:48:59
Fophillips, you mention "Writing kernel modules, patching the kernel with improvements..."

I think to get at the point of the original post here, the key question is WHY are you looking to do these things?

Noah's key idea I think revolves around a distinction between accomplishing something within the machine, vs. accomplishing something through and beyond the machine, and in the latter case whether the machine can become "transparent" enough for that to happen readily.

If you are hacking the kernel as an end unto itself, which is not a BAD thing (it certainly is quite educational at the very least, and could be key if your job is a systems engineer or operations support), OS X is probably not where you'd want to be.

But, if your goal is to find a cure for cancer, or discover the grand unified theory of physics, or write the next great novel, or build a building, or anything else beyond the machine, chances are that tweaking kernel modules and apache logs is likely to be an obstacle and not a help.

It's an issue of whether the machine is a means to something else, or whether it's your livelihood (or hobby) in itself. Neither is automatically superior to the other, but Noah is talking about the former case here, which is where most of the world's population falls.

Bobby Lea
2007-08-27 13:17:11
I could not survive or be as productive in my job without OSX. I am responsible for many post production editing systems (Avid Media Composer/Final Cut Pro) and audio finishing stations (Pro Tools), 3d stations (Maya) and every other computer at my company.

I really am platform agnostic as I manage Linux servers and Windows systems also but the OSX server interface is so easy to use it has helped me to fill the gap between media systems support - my bread and butter - and the IT realm - pretty much a neophyte when I began.

I can get to the terminal if I need it but I love how easy it is for me to find what I need and get the job done in the short amount of time that is expected in a totally irrational Hollywood system where people yell first and think later.

I really don't like the KDE and X11 Linux GUIs that I have tried. They are awful as you have to fight the interface. I just go to the terminal but it's nice to have an intuitive gui that helps me to get where I need to go.

I had the pleasure of working with Noah at Disney in Feature Animation and he really helped us to come up with a system where we could replace the OS with a custom build when the Avid system would start failing - bins disappearing, playback issues that were obviously software and not hardware related - in 10 minutes or less. Noah is a UNIX master and could easily be terminal guy but he prefers the gui. The beauty of it is that if we have to get under the hood, we can, but if you don't have to, then why bother?

Some implementations of NFS and Samba are goofy on OSX server but there is always someone out there who writes something better. The beauty of open source!

Great article Noah!

Jon T
2007-08-27 14:48:57
Fophillips, having read to the bottom of this thread, I think you need to amend your style and manner somewhat. You come across as a star level jerk, who is in dire need of having his nose rubbed in the dirt to remind him that he he isn't at the centre of the universe.

Your points are quite lost in your sea of arrogance.

2007-08-27 18:33:37
One of things I find very fascinating about blogging for O'Reilly is that often the original post can turn into a subplot. In this episode we had a fairly deep subject and an equally trivial subplot. This is a good website with a description of many common plot devices.

I am equally torn between it also just being the classic Drama Triangle. In the classic Drama Triangle, which is pretty common in many families, there is an every shifting role of PERSECUTOR, VICTIM, RESCUER.

2007-08-27 21:45:51

Thanks for the kind words! One other think to point out is that Greg Neagle was truly the mac guru at Disney. I learned a great deal from him and based some of my auto-restoration scripts off ideas he gave me. He is a true innovator and Disney FA is lucky to have him! He might just be the best Mac sysadmin ever. Not sure...but he could be.

2007-08-27 21:51:05

I do remember going to Di-No computers quite a bit, but never had the pleasure of meeting Sal. It would be safe to say that Di-No will be around for quite a while though as there is a MASSIVE collection of Macs at Caltech. Caltech people love macs....and I mean love them!

Actually the way I met Dr. Bogen, who later became a dear friend and mentor, was fixing his mac for him. I was the only person at the IT Help Desk that would go to a Professor's house to fix their computer. It was great, I went over...fixed his computer, then stayed for dinner. Ahh...the good old days. Working at Caltech was a special time in my life, and I can truly say it changed my forever.

2007-08-28 20:01:17
I see a lot of petty bickering about each other's OS going on and that is just redundant. Come people grow up. I use PC-BSD as my main machine now and also have Fedora 7 running my webserver/mailserver. My wife uses the powerbook with OSX 10.3.9 on it. She doesn't complain because she is only interested in her music/certain websites and email. She is not technical and doesn't think too hard about what she is doing. And that is the point of this 'opinion' that Noah is expressing. Just remember that not everyone is a techie like you may be. I am to a point but know the ups and downs of each system. I like the ports on FreeBSD. I like yum on linux. I like the GUI on OSX and yes I agree with those that complain about it too. Try moving a couple hundred photos around from the GUI. That's a guaranteed beachball. I'd prefer to use the Terminal at that time too. But not everyone is comfy with that. My wife would use the GUI and that's her choice. I don't dislike her for it. If I do it via the Terminal and she sees that she is just impressed but would never open it herself. We have no problem with how each other uses that computer. And I guess the good thing is that she sees my other boxes as 'too technical' so I get to keep her away from them. It all works out fine. I think many have missed the point of Noah's opinion. He just said he found a really smart guy that was satisfied with doing things his own way even though there is 'technically' a better way to do them. And they are happy despite the shortfalls that many of you see in each OS.

2007-08-28 20:07:38
Too much petty bickering. I use 3 different OSes. OSX, FreeBSD, Fedora7. I like and dislike different things about them. I'm not complaining as I don't expect one to be better than the other. Those of you complaining should stick to your one way of doing things and realize that just because you can't get used to another system that it doesn't make your system better than any other (except anything MS may put out.). Accept the good with the bad and just get on with life. That's Noah's point I think. Some people just get on with doing other things than worrying if their OS works properly or not and are happy with the default way of doing so. That's why they have 'default' don't you think? So users who don't want to customize everything can just accept what is there and get on with other work like this opinion's Dr. Baltimore.
Félim Whiteley
2007-08-29 05:08:09
Noah I'd be interested in the fact you love Linux so much, how you feel about using a proprietary OS. I do understand your like of it etc. and you points are clear etc. But how does it make you feel when a company has sway over your computer use of choice. I'm not being confrontational, I'm just curious to know how you rationalise it. The biggest thing for me when using Linux is the fact if they change the way it works I'm not restricted to do it their way. And I do totally see the point being made about cars etc. not wanting to be a mechanic... But then again a car doesn't restrict the way you do your driving, or anything you put in the glove box stays locked in their and is non transferable unless to the same model of car (yes I know I'm stretching it here ! :)

With respect to SNMP.. being a Mac I was expecting not to have to go in and fix pretty basic features. It's actually a bug in OS X bug database that it is non functioning it doesn't create a whole bunch of MIBs. I just would have expected such a simple feature to be incorrectly done. I figured this was the point of a Mac... I do expect these things wit Linux but I've yet to come across a base SNMP install on any Linux that didn't do the basics right. Although I know you were talking about the Desktop so I get your point!

Anyway good luck to all and their OS choices, it really is a personal thing. I just wouldn't recommend anyone to use a Proprietary OS if I could help it, I've seen so many burned when their favourite apps get shelved as they no longer make commercial sense etc.

2007-08-30 18:29:03

I use the best,most efficient tool for the job, as I am a pragmatistic and not an idealist. I don't do things because I am "supposed" to do them. I do things because they make sense to me personally. I will always refuse to do things because "it is the right thing to do". I will do things because I have thought through the problem and decided personally on the best approach.

I believe it is dangerous to get caught up into a process of thinking where you let anyone tell you the "moral choice". It think the moral choice is your decision, and your decision alone. I do not see using GNU/Linux as a moral decision, I see it as a great tool that is not there yet on the desktop. If it becomes the best desktop OS then I will use it for everything.

This is also why I don't own an electric car. I am not persuaded by "moral" decisions of using an electric car. I applaud the effort to decrease pollution, but I will not buy a less efficient and costlier vehicle because it makes me look good or feel good.

If it works I use it, if doesn't I don't.

Félim Whiteley
2007-09-05 06:53:16
Noah I do agree with using the right tool for the job and I'm certainly no zealot. But then again I do feel people do have to take an ethical/moral side at some point, ie. Greenhouse effect etc. And high on my list is the fact that so much of current history may well be unretrievable for future generations if we don't start standardising on Open Formats. I just can't see the proprietary world wanting to bite the bullet as it takes away their only advantage.

Anyway as you say it's a users choice and I agree. But just to lighten this discussion and lower the tone a little, http://www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=macs_cant

It's very tongue in cheek and probably not Safe For everywhere (Not my views either !). Thanks to your fellow O'Reilly blogger for pointing me there in the first place.


BTW I like your follow up Noah

Noah Gift
2007-09-14 21:05:35
Félim/I am more interested in the Ethical discussion. I am unsure why this term keeps coming up with free software. Is it unethical to use it, produce it, or buy it? Or are all three bad? I guess I keep hearing "ethical" thrown around with Free Software in the same sentence, but no one has made an argument that makes sense enough that I understand what and why is unethical about Proprietary software.
Félim Whiteley
2007-09-15 16:03:13
I believe in the realm of any Government or Educational service, Library, Hospital, University etc. it is unethical to use closed file formats, and to a lesser extent, non Free Software where there exists something already good enough to do the job.

Money is a very finite resource especially with health and education, Open Office isn't perfect but if someone is going to spend my tax money I expect it to not be wasted on MS Office which quite frankly is not worth the Money for the minor, and in my opinion lack of improved quality. Along with that a file format which is not open despite how many people are bribed to make it so.

If people want to buy/make/sell proprietary software that in itself is not unethical, what is though is when companies use underhanded tactics to keep a monopoly running (MS OOXML and ISO), have software inside breathalayzers (NJ I believe, lots of people convicted when may well have been innocent and now going to court) that drop errors when they shouldn't and voting machines that should not be trusted. This is where I believe it to be unethical....

I am not a zealot but I do force myself to take a harder road not out of blind faith or Stallman-like worship but because I want to help make FOSS better by promoting, working, building and living it as much as I can. Otherwise I'm only paying it lip service.

With a Mac you have a piece of hardware with Proprietary pretty much everything... the only monopoly worth having is an open one were people get to choose what they want to use rather than what they have to use in order to be "compatible".

Félim Whiteley
2007-09-17 00:46:37
I think this shows the way proprietary companies work. It's in theirs and their shareholders interests to lock you in.... but not the customers. If it's a publicly funded project then as I say it would be grossly unethical in my opinion to spend public money propagating a vendor lock-in situation.