posted by Jon Atkinson on Tue 20th May 2003 18:14 UTC
IconI entered the world of Apple hardware about 3 months ago now, with a second-hand iBook2. It was a 500mHz, 256mb, ATI Rage 128 model, with a standard CD-Rom drive. I spent the first few days trying to tweak Mac OS X to my liking, then a few further weeks installing and learning to use the applications I thought I'd need. Chimera, BBEdit, the developer tools, even the Fink X server so I could use Gaim.

But OS X just wasn't stacking up for me. For my uses, Mac OS X isn't all it claimed to be.I'd read the hype about OS X, indeed it would have been pretty hard to miss. I was led to believe that great swathes of Windows users (and a few Linux users) were biting the bullet and changing to OS X because of it's performance, usability and stability. Maybe this situation is a little exaggerated given the nature of the pro-Apple press, which will pounce upon any morsel and claim that the Mac revolution had finally arrived (albeit maybe 15 years too late). But eventually, using OS X was, for me, a bit of an anti-climax.

The graphics card that was incorporated in my iBook wasn't up to running the new QuartzExtreme features, so I had to make do with standard 2D rendering. I experienced small amounts of graphical lag right from the start with OS X.

Yellow Dog Linux 3.0 - Click for larger version

Scrolling a Finder window with more than 10 or so icons in it would produce skipping and visible refreshing, something I thought died with Windows 3.1. I certainly wouldn't have expected such poor performance from from a 256mb system, when my Amiga 500 managed such tasks and performed better, at least in terms of responsiveness, than this in 1991. Maybe this could be rectified. Maybe the configuration panel hides an option to increase rendering performance; but I shouldn't have to find it, such simple system performance issues should not exist. OS X on Apple hardware should just work well out of the box.

In addition, the 1024x768 maximum resolution of my iBook simply didn't seem enough for OS X. Maybe technology has evolved so much recently without my noticing that 1024x768 is now the working minimum, but consider the cavernous expanses of desktop you get in Windows 9x at that resolution. My mother uses Windows 95 at 640x480 resolution, and is quite happy with it. I can't see how Apple can justify the cramped feeling of OS X on such a high-resolution display.

I laboured with it for the first months of my iBook use, telling myself; "This is just the way Macs are, you'll get used to it" and "You've just got to think differently", but waiting for my computer to catch up to me just isn't the way to be productive. In an age where Moore's Law proves itself every 6 months or so, I should never have to wait for tasks to finish when using simple desktop productivity applications. Simple little things can kill your computing morale; I don't want to watch an icon bouncing up and down while an application starts; I want those extra cycles put to use to make said application start faster in the first place. Even simple applications like the terminal were taking around ten seconds to load; unacceptable when all I wanted to do is issue one command (and yes, opening the terminal, waiting, then issuing that command is still faster than using the Finder).

Don't get me wrong, I do like some aspects of OS X. This article isn't a flame. I think the enforcing of the Apple HIG on application vendors generates truly stellar usability levels, and represents the way forward to functional, 'just works' computing. I think out of the box, OS X is the prettiest OS out there, and while they may impact on performance, you can't deny that large, clear icons and well-worded dialogues and menus help out novice users more than any 'tool-tips' or help files. However I feel that Apple have concentrated on getting OS X running nicely on their top-end hardware and ignoring those of us who can't afford or just don't want to upgrade to something a faster. I'm sure the same accusation was raised by 386 owners when Microsoft released Windows 95, but my iBook is just 18 months old, and certainly not ready for the scrap-heap yet.

I think the OS X concept is great, and given a few more version revisions and a truckload of optimisations and I'm sure they'll be on to a real winner (and if the occasional x86 port rumours are true, I know for sure who will win the 'desktop battle' for Joe Sixpack, and it certainly won't be Microsoft).

For now, and more importantly, for me as a power-user, OS X just isn't good enough for doing the things I need to do.

Table of contents
  1. "The problem"
  2. "The Alternatives, The Installation"
  3. "Using Yellow Dog, Conclusion"
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