posted by John Yanosko on Wed 26th Jan 2005 21:24 UTC

"Mac Mini, Page 2/2"
click for a larger view MT-NewsWatcher ($0) was very basic. Instead of one program window like Pan it had many, like the Gimp, each with its own function. I wasn't used to that. It also had no quick way to find newsgroups - just a long tree list of them. To read a post, you double-click on it and it opens up a new window every time. I tried another program.

Hogwasher ($49) has most of the features of Pan and them some, such as combing several news servers to ensure completion. It follows the apparent Mac tradition of lots of windows, which I arranged roughly into place as if they were pieces of Pan's main window.

I finally started to like Hogwasher, but I still missed Pan, so I decided to install Pan under Mac OSX using Fink. Fink is an installation of Debian PPC. It replaced the Mac XFree86 that I had just installed. There was a problem setting up pango at first so I apt-getted some more Gnome stuff. Eventually I got the twm window manager running alongside my pretty Mac apps. Pan worked, the scroll wheel worked, but the primitive appearance was jarring. I could have run Gnome or Kde but I felt that would be too much overhead just to run a single non-native program, so I went back to Hogwasher.

The real stars of the Mac OS, of course are the native apps from Apple. I'll mention a few of them:

Itunes

I tried Itunes under Crossover Wine once, and it was unuseably slow. They've improved it since then, but it goes without saying you can't beat Itunes on a Mac. The radio works, the store works, sharing over a network works, syncing with an Ipod works. Burning to a CD works too.

Garage Band

Garage Band is very polished. I had to unplug my printer to plug a midi keyboard into the Mini, as it has only 2 USB ports. Unlike Rosegarden (I haven't tried Muse) Garage Band doesn't have notational input, which is what I prefer. Alas, the professional music notation software Noteability Pro for Mac OS X costs $225; Finale costs $600, PrintMusic costs $70, and so on.

IDVD

Unlike a certain open-source disk-burning program, IDVD does not pop up a diolog box assuring you that the default settings are correct for most people - of course they are, it's a Mac! You make a DVD by dragging files onto the DVD screen. There are plenty of templates. It even makes scene menus for you automatically. Wow, it works. I've made video DVDs under Linux using command-line tools, but I never will again!

AppleWorks

'That file could not be converted to an Appleworks Document' is what the Mini told me when I tried opening an Excel file, even though the Excel Win file type is listed in the open file dialog. The word processor has tables, outlines, and styles, but few advanced features (like generating indeces). Of course you can buy MS Office ($399 for the Mac Standard Edition) or install Open Office, or wait for Apple's upcoming new office suite. If your needs are more than basic, you will have to get something besides AppleWorks.

Conclusion

So what can a (relatively) cheap Apple offer desktop Linux users? Linux already has stability, beautiful desktops, and at least as much software.

Ease of setup of course makes the list. Things just work on the Mac. Software installs just by downloading it. Your digital camera unloads just by plugging it in.

Cool software also makes the list. Many open-source equivalents are still behind Apple in terms of features and maturity. But some of it will cost you money, even more than the Mini itself. That's especially painful for someone accustomed to apt-getting software for free. A lot of open-source software is available for the Mac, just a recompile away, or with Fink. But if you decide to use non-native open-source stuff then the ease-of-use advantage of the Mac begins to melt away.

What the Mini Mac does not offer is a pure open-source environment, unless you wipe the drive and install Linux or BSD. If you're a software-libre evangelist, or If you enjoy the game of compiling and modifying and endlessly fixing your own computing environment, then you won't be happy with a partly closed system that's already done it all for you.

The relatively small and slow (4200 rpm) hard drive and lack of audio input prevent the Mini from being a Tivo-killer. This box also doesn't offer heavy computing power for large databases, scientific programming, heavy-duty graphics, or gaming. For that you would need a G5 or an AMD 64.

On the other end of the scale you can get cheaper, albeit uglier and noisier, boxes. But they don't look uber-cool on your coffee table.

In the end, although I'll still use Linux on my laptop and server, I have to say I'm extremely satisfied with my Mini. It does everything a desktop user like me could want. And it does it without hassles and how-to's and RTFMs. And if I can talk my relatives into buying Mini Macs, I won't have to fix their computers any more.

Now to see about partitioning this drive and installing Ubuntu...


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