A few things have recently got me considering the unthinkable. ‘What is the unthinkable?’ you ask. It is the idea of buying a computer that is not is not designed in Cupertino, California and doesn’t have a big, shiny Apple on it.
For the past few years I’ve been an avid Apple fan. Not at fan boy levels of devotion but I can often to found frequenting Apple rumour sites and posting in discussions about new Macs. I should probably point out that I’ll probably always have an Apple laptop. At this point in time I can’t find another company that builds such well built, high quality laptops. Yes you pay a premium but that’s all worth it when you compare a Macbook Pro with a similarly specced PC.
What I’m looking into is building a desktop tower running Linux. Usually I would look straight towards an iMac or Mac Mini for desktop use but the past week or so has brought up a few interesting points that are swaying me towards Linux.
Firstly, Ubuntu 10.10 was released. I’ve been fiddling with Ubuntu for years. Every six months when the new version is released I download the disk image and install it into a virtual machine. I even ran Ubuntu as a server for a few months and as a media streamer for a while. I’ve always found something missing. After using Windows for years I’m sick of having to fiddle with a computer to get it to perform simple tasks. Even now that I’m learning to program, I want to spend my time with the important stuff, not installing drivers. This why I bought a Mac. The first few times I tried Ubuntu on my old PC it wouldn’t recognise the wireless card. This was finally fixed around the time of 7.04 but there was always something holding me back from wanting to use Ubuntu full time. 10.10 is, I think, the first Ubuntu release that’s ready for prime time and can be used by anyone.
The second factor affecting this decision was the ‘Back to the Mac’ press conference held by Apple to introduce the Macbook Air and provide a sneak peak at Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. It left an uneasy feeling with me regarding the direction Apple are taking with their desktop operating system. I may just be being paranoid but this convergence of OS X and iOS (iPhone) has me concerned about the future of Apple computing.
For instance, I know that users will be able to install software from other sources beside the Mac App Store but for how long? And will not being in the App Store be comercial suicide for developers. I kind of like the App Store on the iPhone (although it could do with being a little more lenient) but on a computer, and in Apple’s hands, it could mean the end of the Mac platform as we know it.
Another example of iOS ‘features’ creeping into OS X is the idea of fullscreen apps. Why do I want a full screen application on a 1280 x 800 pixel screen? Or even worse a 1920 x 1080 screen found in the smaller iMac. Mac users have always sneered at Windows users that instantly hit ‘maximise’ on their internet browser and are left with two huge white spaces on either side on the 700 pixels of information. OS X is about taking full advantage or your screen’s real estate; smaller windows are arranged all over the so as much as possible is instantly accesible. This is how you work on a Mac. Not fullscreen.
Lastly I am slightly concerned about the deprecation of Java on the Mac. I’m not a Java programmer (although I will be taking a couple of modules on it next year for my Open University course) but Apple dropping official support for such a major language is troubling.
I hope I’m wrong about my concerns. I still think Apple are years ahead of their competitors on both the desktop and mobile devices, even with some of their bizarre decisions. I just hope Steve realises that we might be happy with a slightly controlled phone or even tablet for the sake of performance, battery life and security but this won’t fly on the desktop.