posted by Scot Hacker on Mon 17th Dec 2001 17:34 UTC

"Smells Like Home Cookin"
Tech workers spend all day, every day dwelling within the environments provided by their operating systems. After a while, that environment needs to begin to feel like home. Linux never felt that way for me. Never felt like a place I'd want to hang my hat. Linux just has no feng shui. No sense that all the pieces were ever meant to hang together, to work together as a unified whole. I missed that feeling I got from BeOS, that me and it were somehow destined to be together, as if I had found my dream home. In BeOS, I could have all the Unix power I wanted (or nearly) and still feel like I was enjoying myself. In Linux, I had plenty of Unix power, but very little enjoyment. And my wife was getting tired of hearing me swear at the computer.

Half a year before, I had written a piece for Byte on Mac OS X, about how pleasantly impressed I had been with my early exposures to it. My conclusion in that piece was that OS X might be destined to become the BeOS that never was. Both BeOS and OS X were designed to address shortcomings in Mac OS. BeOS was designed and built by a team of mostly ex-Apple engineers, and Be's CEO had been head of product development at Apple for many years. Both offered Mac-like grace coupled with a Unix shell. Both were committed to providing a great user experience. Both put the goals of media content creation and consumption high on the list of priorities.

In October 2001 I took one last look at the Linux box, then reached for a kitchen cleaver, cut off its head, and bought a Mac. The Linux box still hums along happily beside me, doing its work in a lightweight, GUI-free environment, never complaining, never crashing. I love having a Linux server in the home. It's quiet, reliable, and fun to tweak on from time to time. But it will be a while before I try to use Linux as a desktop OS again.

Like many people, I had always been hesitant to spend premium bread on a proprietary machine, but I decided to put my reluctance aside and go for it. I bought a new PowerMac G4 867 with 60GB HDD, a DVD-writing SuperDrive, and 640MBs of memory. MacWorld SF came up days before my machine arrived, and I was able to pick up the OS X.1 upgrade CD just in time.

I didn't know it at the time, but the next few months were going to be a weird mixture of elation and disappointment. Some of my prayers were about to be answered, and I was about to discover that the Mac could do things I had never imagined. I was about to begin discovering what I now firmly believe is the best consumer desktop and (almost) server operating system currently available. But at the same time, I was going to find disappointment lurking in unexpected corners.

There is no such thing as a perfect operating system. All of them have their advantages and disadvantages. Similarly, there are good and bad evangelists for every OS. You can tell the bad ones because they're basically apologists for the OS for which they're soap-boxing. They'll trumpet the advantages of their favorite OS 'til day breaks, but they always have a litany of excuses at their fingertips to explain away the bugs and bad design decisions (Hint: It's never the fault of the OS vendor, and all the crucial fixes are always right around the corner).

Like any operating system, OS X is a mixed bag. The only way to describe the experience of the BeOS migrant is to describe what I like and don't like about OS X. Despite its limitations, BeOS sets some very high standards in certain departments - -- expectations that are bound to be disappointed. My initial - -- and incorrect -- assumption was that OS X would have most of the modern technologies found in BeOS, but coupled with the magic of industry momentum. My thinking was that Apple had had the same opportunity that Be had had - -- to start over with a clean slate and do everything right this time. To not saddle the user with the leftovers of poor decisions made in the past. But I neglected to account for one important fact: Apple did not have the luxury of starting over. They had backwards compatibility to worry about, not to mention the responsibility of satisfying the expectations and habits of millions of Mac users and two decades of noble Mac tradition.

But I digress. This is all very simple. I'm going to jump up and down and whoop about OS X, and then I'm going to bitch and moan like nobody's business.

Table of contents
  1. "Out of the Frying Pan..."
  2. "... And Into the Fire..."
  3. "Smells Like Home Cookin"
  4. "A Lot To Like, First Impressions"
  5. "Networking Nirvana"
  6. "CD Burning, Disk Images"
  7. "Applications"
  8. "iMovie, iDVD"
  9. "Browsers and E-Mail"
  10. "Power Editors"
  11. "Community"
  12. "The Bad and The Ugly"
  13. "File System Shoot-Out"
  14. "Application-Binding Policies"
  15. "Alien Filesystems"
  16. "Miscellaneous Moans and Groans"
  17. "All Told, Life Is Good"
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