Oh, Really?

I have been a huge proponet of alternative operating systems for a very long time. I started on a Mac, and will always consider myself a Mac user, but in reality, I cannot afford to buy a spiffy desktop Mac as it stands now. I use one of three Mac laptops, with an iBook G4 as my primary laptop, but this comes with a few caveats. The PPC architecture prevents me from running Windows or Linux on it in a sane manner, so it makes things a bit harder.

I have filled this void up until now using Ubuntu on my primary desktop. Linux is a whole lot of awesome. It’s beautiful, sturdy and fast, but once again, there are issues.

A Little History
I began my computer-using life with a Mac Plus, when my father had the foresight to acquire a usable machine that would do everything we needed. Indeed, this was my primary home platform for 10 years after its purchase. To say that the old Plus got its fair share of use, and helped me on countless projects and learning adventures, is to sell it short.

In school, we had always used Apple computers, first the IIgs, then later a Performa in middle school. I was very much at home on this platform, and even with its flawed operating systems, everything was easy to pick up and put into use.

Then, in 1995, a change happened. My father purchased a 486 Dx PC for use with his dental office’s patient records. I had never used a PC before this, and it was a completely new realm for me. He then purchased a Packard Bell Pentium 75 for his use in the back office. This was an entirely new experience for me, as I had come to be at his office more and more.

The internet then came into my life, and at the time was much restricted to local chatrooms and message boards. Using Windows 3.11 always seemed like such a giant leap back from the Mac Plus, but without having to swap floppies to start a program, and with the amazing power of the internet, (albeit on a 14.4kbps modem) I was ingrained into this new platform.

I still used the Mac Plus at home until around 1998 when the dental software began to require Windows 98 for the upgrades. My father then purchased two new Dell Dimension desktops for the office, and I was given the hand-me-down PCs that were once in their place.

What a crazy thing happened then. I started using the internet at home, and was even given a second land line so that I didn’t tie up the main phones. This was so awesome. Windows 3.11 was my playground. I preferred actually to use DOS, as at the time all of the good games were limited to the pixelated fun that is inherent.

A Big Change
Even though at the time the internet was quite young, I was still amazed at how easily I could find information out there, as wells as communicate with other tech-savvy friends. I just had to have more, and at the expense of my Mac Plus, I switched over completely to the Windows side.

In 2000, I got a job busing tables at a local restaurant, and was able to save up enough money to purchase my own PC. This beast had an 800Mhz P3, 768Mb of RAM, a 40Gb HD and a 32Mb video card (this computer still runs quite well, and is actually serving a purpose so late in life). Oh, I was in heaven. I used Windows 98 for a short period of time after buying this rig, but quickly found its limitations and was turned on to Windows 2000, due to our high school’s own library computers.

Windows 2000 was a complete and utter joy to use. Everything worked the way it was supposed to, and things were rock solid on a machine such as that. There was always this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that there was much more to be found out there in the world, and that I was limited by what I had come to know as my platform of choice.

There wasn’t much to speak of on the Mac side, as the operating system and software had changed little in the past few years. Linux was still just a baby compared to the all-knowing Windows demon. So, I pressed on.

The XP Enigma
I’ll admit that I was super slow in adopting Windows XP. I think it had a lot to do with the hype surrounding its missteps and flaws.

It wasn’t until 2004, while working for InfoSpherix, that I finally embraced XP, and got into the groove. By then, XP was a fairly stable operating system, and I was able to come on board without much fear.

Around this time is where I discovered the world of modern FPSs. I hadn’t played anything newer than Unreal Tournament, and really didn’t know what I was missing. In-office games of Soldier of Fortune, Medal of Honor and finally Call of Duty broke out like mad, and I was quickly addicted.

Steam was released some time after, and I was an early adopter, purchasing the Valve value pack which contained Half Life 2, and all of their previously released games. That was it. I was now a Windows user for life, or so I thought.

College and Thereafter
While Windows was nice for gaming, it left a lot to be desired in terms of productivity and general daily use.

While I was taking a C++ class at our local college, the instructor turned me on to Fedora Core 2. This was a whole new world for me, and I embraced it whole-heartedly. I also began running a dedicated, collocated server with Gentoo. From then on, I was no longer a strictly Windows user.

I ran Linux at home for a very long time, always keeping Windows around if only to feed my addiction to gaming. After getting married to an intelligent, beautiful, tech-savvy young woman, I began to see that we were in need of another PC for home life. I was faced with a choice, and one which I will never regret the outcome.

Return to the Fold
My first problem was my complete disdain for Windows that grew out of a tech support occupation, and every little thing that began nagging me from the Redmond campus.

I remembered how easy life was with the Mac, and decided that I would be able to pamper my wife with the newest OS X incarnation. I purchased an iBook G4 just after Apple announced its intentions to jump platforms to Intel. I wasn’t bothered that I wouldn’t have the latest and greatest Mac out there, as the prices of the PPC laptops were plummeting.

Wow. Just Wow. What little remained from the Plus days came very naturally to me. But I soon discovered just how great OS X was, and how powerfully it performed on modest hardware. I was once again a Mac user, and loving every minute of it. And, I even brought my PC-only wife into the fold along with me.

Modern Times
A few PCs later, I kept Windows around for gaming, and began to embrace Linux more freely. I started running Ubuntu (Feisty, Gutsy then Hardy) on my main machine, and felt right at home. I even started to pay attention to the news surrounding this great movement, and listen to the best damn Linux Podcast out there.

I recommended to other people without trepidation to run Linux, and even helped my father purchase a Macbook. Everything was going grand.

That is, until the S hit the F. After a series of unfortunate hardware meltdowns, frustrating all-night recovery missions, and just general pissed-off-edness, I began to see past all of my previous allowances of the Linux platform and become annoyed at its inadequacies.

The Main Issues
I am a huge proponent of free and open source software, and always will be. That being said, I’m not sure that I will be using Linux for a while, at least until some of the issues are addressed. Now, one thing I need to declare before I get started.

Due to the lack of polish and feature-completeness of the open source alternatives to proprietary plugins and drivers, I’ve had to use their not-so-free brethren to get all that I can out of my hardware that I payed so dearly for. This most likely is a cause to at least a few of the problems I’ve had in recent times, and I’ll freely admit it. The point is that until companies open their drivers and plugins, there will always be this strange divide between the open community and the rest of the corporate world.

I love that there are thousands of software providers out there, with a multitude of competing programs for me to choose from. But with this comes a serious thorn in my side: updating to newer versions.

Synaptic does a wonderful job of taking care of dependencies, and making sure that all of my software is up to date with the latest stable versions. But when updating certain pieces of software, such as the kernel, I find myself retrogressing the slightest, and having to sit and work for 20 minutes just because I wanted to stay on top of things. Once again, this is due to nVidia’s drivers, which are proprietary, but the concept still pains me.

I know I could just sit back and keep an old version of most if not all of the software I run, especially if it works well for me, but that’s not the kind of person I am.

The True Retrogression
Because the past few months have been such a pain in my arse in regards to the Linux platform, I set out to change things up a bit.

I’m so into using OS X as a platform that it really pains me use anything else on a daily basis. This is all well and good, but I am forced to use XP and even Vista at school, and some things don’t mesh well in this respect.

I though: “Oh, well, why don’t I just use OS X on my desktop PC then?” Wonderful Idea. Terrible results. I loaded up the installer for osx86, but some of my hardware is not supported, which throws the whole idea out of the window.

As much as it pains me to say it, I’ve returned to using XP on a full-time basis.

Wait, What?
Yes, it’s true, I’ve returned to the dark side.

Here’s how I see my needs at this time:

  • I need a platform that performs well
  • I need a platform that won’t force me to do work arounds for getting things done at school
  • I need to be able to play games
  • I need to stop fiddling around with little inconsequential details when I should be getting work done
  • I don’t want to waste the hardware that I have sitting under my desk that is just waiting to be used
  • I don’t want to waste the screen real estate that I have on top of my desk

All these points lead me back (although hopefully temporarily) to Windows XP. I really, really wish I could deal with an alternative, but as it is now, I’ve spent way to much time fiddling with Linux when I should have been getting work done.

I’ve changed things up a bit with the use of nLite. This allowed me to streamline my XP installation, and remove all the extraneous crap that keeps startup times long, and annoying little popups from happening constantly.

The ideal situation would see me using a shiny Mac desktop, but my G4 Mini and iBook G4 just can’t quite cut it when multi-tasking is a major hurdle.

As you can see, I’m passionate on this subject, to the point where I wrote 2000+ words on a blog that never exceeds 1100 per post. I am convinced that the future holds better things for me, but as it is now, I need to be able to get my work done, stop being hassled by everything under the sun, and simply DO things.