Hardware Platforms: Worth a Change?

There were an amazing number of people (around 300,000) who visited OSNews recently to read Scot Hacker’s article on MacOSX. As part of the camp of BeOS refugees, I have been searching for some time for a suitable replacement. Many come close – FreeBSD is fantastic, but still complicated, the new school of Linuxes are very close to ready for me, even Windows XP has come a long way. My x86 machine is pretty fun – it gets a new OS every two weeks or so. But what does that say – that I like variety or that I can’t find what I want? I’d suggest most of us still feel that we’re missing something – otherwise, why read osnews.com?

Editorial notice: All opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of osnews.com

Surely, OS X is far from perfect. But with Mac backing it – it’s likely to get a lot of attention and enhancement over the next few years. In fact, based on BSD, it seems like a dream come true – it’s Unix that your grandmother could use. With all this hype, I’ve already thought about whether it’s financially feasible – and judging by the comments, I’m not the only one. It brings up an interesting debate: is it worth changing hardware platforms for an Operating System?

On one hand, x86 OSes have been getting better with amazing speed. First off, most of the comparisons that have been drawn between ‘other’ OSes and Windows have compared the newest shiniest, version of their OS to Windows 98. In truth, Windows XP has made great strides over previous versions of Windows. The interface, once I completely obliterated Luna – the fisher-price looking default interface, is easy to use and manipulate and is as fast as any OS I’ve used lately. Boot time is less than 20 seconds. Recover time from a cold boot is barely noticeable. The new version of NTFS even uses attributes like those found in the Be File System (admittedly, not the same way, but they are there). XP includes a firewall that I have found to be extremely effective. Seems like a great piece of software. The problems?
(A) I was using a pirated copy, which didn’t thrill me. And I don’t want to cough up the 300 dollars to buy a real copy.
(B) Microsoft is no doubt aware of (A), and tracking my every move, thanks to the integrated Passport system, a Redmond spy that reports back home every few seconds. I’m confident it tells a big SQL Server what I’ve been up to.
(C) XP seems, at times, to eat more system resources than it offers.
(D) Most importantly, though I respect their products, I think their business practices SUCK. And yes, for my own reasons, that means I really don’t want to use their OS.
That’s why Windows XP had to go from my system.

Linux is attractive to me as well. The gorgeous look of GNOME 1.4 compels me to put up with the tempermental X Windows system. KDE 2.2.1 is finally at a point to compete with Windows’ functionality. But with both of these desktop environments, there is still a lack of functionality – dependancy hell (*), no standarization, printing, PPPoE… the list goes on. Plus, although I can use the command line, I really prefer not to. Some may call it blasphemy, but I think a full OS should have a graphical interface for eveything. So Linux, though getting very close, still leaves something to be desired.

FreeBSD is a fine piece of software. A complete, uniform OS in it’s own right, it’s the most stable and reliable OS I’ve had the pleasure of using. SoftUpdates make for a strong, time-tested filesystem. As a server, it’s tough to match, let alone beat. But as a workstation, command line experience is a prerequisite. I’ve said before, FreeBSD ain’t for newbies.

QNX, AtheOS, OpenBeOS…while there are prospects on the horizon, none really are suitable as a full time OS. Dual-booting is certainly an option, but not a desirable one for me. My OS of choice should be able to fulfill all of my needs, not just a few. That’s why I’m not still using the BeOS; I simply can’t reboot everytime I need to use another application. In truth, if you frequent a website called OSNews, there’s a good chance you still feel that your OS is still lacking something.

A few months ago I had the chance to test out Mac OS X. The BSD at the very center of this beautiful OS make it a genuine flavor of Unix (some will argue, of course, but it is built on Unix). But there’s a GUI front-end for everything. It only took a few clicks to give me a functional FTP server. iTunes appeared to sort data by file-system attributes (can someone verify this?). It’s got the power of the command line available but never gives you a reason to have to use it. The stability of Unix is present beneath the layers of well padded interface, and it’s evident. With the propritary hardware specs, there are never driver problems – you know the system works because Apple developed all of it! Sure, we’ve all heard complaints about the speed of the OS or the cost of the hardware, but I haven’t heard major complaints about the functionality, interface, or usabiity of the system. The complaints that have come up are likely to be addressed without remodeling the existing structure. In fact, most people who use it seem to love it.

Apple might be attempting to segment the PC crowd. If they can keep Mac lovers with backward compatibility and feel as well as attract the hardcore computer lovers who run *nix and/or hate Microsoft, they will have tapped into a segment of the community that companies like Be failed to capture. With the cash Apple has in the bank, it’s a safe bet that OS X will mature, become faster and easier, attract developers, and gain a more defineable percentage of the computer market. Some say the “Ooh-and-Ah” of OS X wears off within an hour, but I must be an exception – because I really want a Mac now!

What do you think: is it worth changing hardware platforms for an Operating System?

About the Author
Adam Scheinberg is a Systems Administrator for the US Naval Sea Systems Command. He uses Windows XP, Red Hat Linux 7.2, and the BeOS at home, and Windows NT/2000 and Novell NetWare 5.1 at work. Adam can be reached on [email protected]


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