posted by John Yanosko on Wed 26th Jan 2005 21:24 UTC
IconThe following is the experience of a user of Linux for the desktop who got a Mac Mini. Is he making the switch?

The box arrived at my home in the Southern US two days after leaving Shenzhen. It was light, as if I had orderd a new hard drive. When I opened it, the package was neat and trendy, with a cute little setup book I didn't need. For the first time since the power supply in my beloved Mac Plus had gone wonky back in ‘93, I had a Macintosh.

After the Plus died I was lured over to the Windows world by the promise of cheap multimedia, and was bitterly disappointed by the horroble gui of Windows for Workgroups 3.11. I upgraded to Windows 95 but was still unhappy with the instability of the OS, so I switched to Red Hat Linux, and have been using Linux ever since, although like many of us I still fix my relatives' Windows machines every few months. Currently I have a box with Fedora Core 3 and a laptop with Simply Mepis.

So how does the Mini compare to desktop or laptop Linux?

First there's the machine itself. My old box was noisy like an old hoover. The Mini is quieter than many so-called 'silent PCs.' The fan came on briefly (and quietly) when I turned the heat up to test it, but other than that there is only the faint chirp of the hard drive - my monitor is louder. I have room for my feet, and I don't have to reach under my desk to stick in a CD. There aren't even any keyboard/mouse wires to get tangled up in, as mine are wireless. You can buy small crappy PCs, or small expensive PCs, but you can't buy something this small and elegant and stylish except from Apple. Especially if your PC is in a public space like a living room or kitchen, this is not an irrational consideration.

The Mini recognized my HP printer and I only had to click a box to share it. It set up my monitor properly with better refresh rates than Xorg ever managed. After one polite soft-sell (for .Mac, $99 a year, no thanks), reminding me that this is indeed a proprietary system, I was on my way.

The gui differences between OS X and the Gnome and KDE desktops I'm used to are not overly significant. I have two complaints: First, the Dock doesn't stretch all the way across the screen. When you launch another program its icon is added to the Dock and makes the Dock stretch slightly. This ruins any chance of using motor memory to launch apps with the Dock. You have to look for and interpret icons every time. What are we supposed to do with that empty screen area on either side of the dock anyway? I finally just set the dock to autohide. And the program menu at the top of the screen makes more sense on smaller monitors than it does on my 1792x1344 one. Sure the target is infinite, but it's also sometimes very far away. And I have found myself looking for menu options when the wrong window is active, forcing me to have to go click the correct window to activate it, and then back up again to the menu. I wish top-of-the-window menus was an option.

I also had to install a pager program right away. I used the freeware Desktop Manager for OS X. Exposé is very handy, but it does n't let you group windows into organized 'work stations' like seperate desktops does.

Overall, though, the desktop is beautiful, fast and very smooth. It's more responsive than a Gnome or even a KDE desktop on a much faster machine.

So I moved my old loud workhorse ('black') downstairs and turned it into a server, planning to run X apps on it using ssh from the Mac. I installed an X server on the Mac (XFree86 is included on the install CD. It installs with a click.) You run X by double-clicking the Xtools icon and then you can start an xterm from the file menu. I opened port 22 in the built-in firewall by clicking a checkbox under 'Sharing' in the System Preferences utility. I also enabled windows sharing (cifs) in the same dialog. I added the name of my server to /etc/hosts manually. I enabled X11 forwarding in the Xtools preferences menu. Then I started up an X program - Pan - by typing ssh -X black.

It worked, but running X programs over ssh is somewhat sluggish, and mousewheel scrolling doesn't work. There are other options, but I decided to go looking for native OSX apps.

I'm used to downloading whatever I want from Fedora or Debian repositories, so finding software for the Mac was a trip back in time to my old Windows days. The Mac's apple menu has a link to a good download site hosted by Apple. Some of this software is free, but most of it is shareware. And there is less of it available than for Windows or, say, Debian. The good news is that installing is usually just a matter of dragging an icon into your applications folder, after downloading it and watching it uncompress. I found and installed some familiar stuff: Mplayer for Mac OSX and Firefox. I've heard the quality of Mac software is better on average, so what did I find to replace Pan?

My Mac Mini

Table of contents
  1. "Mac Mini, Page 1/2"
  2. "Mac Mini, Page 2/2"
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