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Mac OS X Switcher Stories
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Switching From Linux or Unix

There were several people who reported switching only from Linux. A common complaint was that Linux on the desktop remains a struggle.

Mark Luntzel wrote:

Like a lot of my pals (and tons of other folks as well), I switched from fighting linux on the desktop to OSX and I never want to go back (I never ever want to touch another windows box, as well). linux is a great server platform, no question, but I look back at the last couple of years of literally fighting with the linux desktop as a waste of my time.

OS X is the holy grail as far as I'm concerned. You're spot-on with what I've seen as far as developers adoption of OS X.

My wintel box gathers dust in the corner.

Developer Jim Thompson wrote:

OK, I "switched" from Linux. I was formerly with Musenki. We were building "open source" APs. (I may know as much about 802.11 as Rob Flickenger.)

These APs ran a Moto 8245 PowerPC chip. Long story short, I had purchased an old "Blue and White" G3/400 and put Debian on it for a build machine. (Some things like Perl don't like to build in a "box.")

When Musenki ended (for me, I'm with Vivato now, and the alignment between the two projects/companies is amazing) I had this B&W on my hands. So I reconfigured it a bit (256MB -> 1024MB of memory, G3/400 to G4/550, RagePro 128 display card to ATI Radeon 7000, and added a 80GB IDE drive), put the two 18" LCD panels I had on my Intel/Linux box on the "B&W," and installed OS X(.1.5).

"Well, thats cool," I thought. So I went out and bought Office v.X for it.

Then I bought a (20GB) iPod.

Then I plugged my wife's Epson 820 printer into the USB port.

Everything works. I'm not sure the power of that simple statement gets my mental state across. Everything *JUST* works. Its weird. No fiddling, no editing of files. Its a little creepy for someone who's first response is to open "" and dredge though /etc and /var for config and startup files to let the machine handle it. I guess I've seen a lot of companies try and fail to tame Unix administration with a GUI (hell, my wife was one of the first 40 employees at Tivoli.)

But here, it all works. It's pretty (lickable), it's fast (my first job was @ Convex. I think Vector processors are cool), it has Unix where I can get to it, and in a lot of ways, it's just like having a Linux or FreeBSD box, except it all Just Works.

I have a decently-fast machine with dual displays and a gig of RAM, about 100GB of disk, Office, a working (color) printer (which I never did get to work on Linux), emacs, Opera, and about every unix utility I care to think of, courtesy of "Fink."

When Vivato started talking about a high-end IBM/Intel notebook with WinXP for me, I asked if I couldn't have a TiPowerBook instead. After a bit of internal discussion, they said "Yes' (hey, it even runs SAP!) so now I also have a G4/800 with 1GB of ram and 40GB of disk in my hands for a notebook.

So, I guess I switched both ways. Does that make me AC/DC?

I'm not sure that Linux has a huge future as a "desktop" OS, thought people will certainly try. I've lived with Unix as a "desktop" OS for a long time now (since 1980, and this includes stints at Sun (building their internal network) and Tadpole (where I built SPARC/Solaris notebook machines (and IBM/PowerPC/AIX, and DEC/Alpha/OpenVMS, and Intel/Pentium/Windows/WinNT/OS-2/Linux notebooks)).

As a desktop OS, Unix, including Linux, is just not "there."

I am sure that it will grow to completely dominate the embedded market, and that the various hardware types will continue to promulgate it as a server OS, and if nothing else, the combination of these two will block a lot of the damage that Microsoft would otherwise attempt.

Now I'm waiting for Jaguar (and wondering how to get the upgrade for the PowerBook), since the reviews say it should be that much better.

BTW, the last Mac I owned was an original 128KB Mac, in 1985 and 1986. I traded it off for a 68000-based Unix machine (a Valid, one of the early CAD stations).

Mike O'Dell (former CTO of UUnet, now at Compass Rose Labs) wrote:

I'm typing this on a 1GHz twin-G4 with a 22" cinema display.

I moved back to Mac OS X after running Linux on the desktop for a couple of years (with the occassional foray into Win98 land for email attachment reasons), and early FreeBSD and BSDI before that. Previous to moving to Unix-on-Intel, I used a series of Macs as my personal machines, starting with a Mac Plus (upgraded in several unnatural ways), an LC-III, and ending with a PowerComputing PowerBase machine. As of Mac OS 7.x, it was becoming evident that the principal use being made of faster processors was reducing the time between OS crashes. Then when the clones were officially axed, that sealed its fate.

About 6 months ago I tried Mac OS X because of a project I am doing which requires some mechanical system design -- not drafting, but design. I tried numerous programs (free and *very* non-free) on both Linux and Windows and the overwhelming conclusion was that the ones that weren't out and out busted (core dumps, etc.) had user interfaces designed by disciples of the Marquis de Sade.

One day I was in a store that carried Macs and I sat down just to get a feel for Mac OS X. Lo and behold, there was Appleworks. On a whim, I tried the drawing program just to see what it could do. In less than 10 minutes I did a good draft of a drawing that I had literally spent hours trying to do on the other platforms.

That sold the machine. I gulped hard, spent the money, and have been utterly *delighted* since then.

I had forgotten what it was like to use a computer that "Doesn't Suck(tm)."

Great Unix system, great productivity apps, together at last! I've only waited 20 years for this.

And I can still use tools like troff, er, groff if i need to do something really serious, like format an Internet Draft, which is impossible to do with MS-Word.

I haven't been able to give up MH for email (still done on the home server running FreeBSD), but I guess the tools will eventually get there.

But on the whole, Mac OS X is a dream come true for a Unix user who wants to use the system, not spend all his available cycles trying to get the desktop software to work right.

And having started as a Macintosh developer back when a Lisa was required to compile code for it, I simply cannot understand why *anyone* would want to keep developing for the "classic" Mac environment. Yes, you have to learn new stuff for Cocoa, and you have suffered mightily to get a good app working under old Mac OS environments, but that was then, this is now.

Here's to the future!

Joe McGuckin of wrote:

I switched to a Powerbook from an IBM laptop running Linux.

My primary OS at work is FreeBSD and my use of Linux was due to its better PCMCIA support.

When it came time to replace the IBM laptop, I noticed that all my friends had the Titanium powerbook. At conferences (NANOG, IETF) the TiBook seems to be the laptop of choice.

OS X gives me the Unix OS I need to perform my job (I'm a network admin) and it allows me to run the desktop productivity software that I need (someone is always sending me Word or Excel attachments). It's really the best of both worlds.

Also, I purchased MS Office for X. As a vocal Microsoft critic, it really hurts for me to admit that this is a really nice piece of software. It's not the usual piece-of-crap MS software that you get for Windows.

If you asked me why I chose OS X over Linux, I'd have to say that it's just the overall fit and finish of OS X. It's really polished compared to Linux. On Linux, most hardware support "sorta" works. PCMCIA works about 90%, APM works about 90%, etc. On OS X, all hardware related features work 100%.

To put it in terms my mom would understand, I'd say that OS X/TiBook is like a Mazda Miata: Stylish, sexy, with good manufacturing tolerances. All the paint matches and the body panels have consistent gaps. Linux running on a generic PC laptop is like a typical British sports car from the '70s. Lots of engine, but it has a lousy paint job. The car "mostly" runs, but the electrical system is erratic. The hand-built body isn't square and gaps between panels vary so that it's noticeable to the eye.

By now, we're hearing quite a theme. OS X "Just Works" compared to Linux.

Alastair Scott of London hasn't quite made the switch yet, but he's ready to. He recapitulates the entire history of high-end users in quest of a better platform. He switched to Linux from Windows out of discomfort with Microsoft business practices, but is switching to Apple for fit and finish, cool hardware, a hoped-for escape from nagware, and appreciation for Apple's forward-looking stance on digital rights management. (Note that Alastair could also be considered a Windows switcher, since he continues to use Windows at work.) He wrote:

Here's someone who's just about to make the switch; I've gone Windows, then Linux, then Mac OS X. Reasons for the switch are very complex, and here are some of them in no particular order:

i. I was disgusted at some of the facts that came out of the "Microsoft trial" and those on their own prompted me to look for alternatives. Having battled the UK telecommunications industry successfully -- see -- I've seen too much corporate misbehaviour and trickery.

ii. Although Windows XP is technically very well done, the amount of nagging and cajoling from the user interface annoyed me and, I think, will only get worse.

iii. The Mac OS X user interface is excellent and the operating system keeps the best parts and ditches the principal weaknesses of Unix/Linux -- in particular X, which is an inappropriate behemoth for a desktop system.

iv. Where I work is a Microsoft shop -- 100 per cent -- and it's nice to use something at home which is completely different.

v. Apple's grown-up attitude to digital rights management is refreshing; I don't think it'll be caught sneaking in EULA changes in an upgrade or otherwise treating customers as fools at best.

vi. Although Linux is definitely ready for the desktop, the possibility that I might buy or have to use a peripheral which didn't work or was only supported in a basic manner was, in the end, too much; this is a particular problem with ADSL as, in the UK, ISPs and telecommunications operators have a fascination with ADSL USB modems that are poorly supported under Linux. To this end, Apple's complete control of hardware has its advantages.

vii. The astonishing iMac design; I've used PC flat panels that have come with completely inflexible and ugly bases, yet Apple has solved how to mount one without spending £200-£300 for a "specialised" arm.

viii. Although Macs are more expensive up front, they seem to last longer; I know people who've had Macs going for six or eight years or more, yet PCs tend to last only two or three years before either they become outmoded or crack up. In eleven years I've had four PCs; the three previous ones all had crushing failures, usually the motherboard blowing and bringing down other components with it.

ix. Quietness: I think Apple doesn't make enough play of Macs not having fans. PCs seem to be running hotter and hotter: I've seen Athlon-based PCs which are ridiculously noisy, with two or three fans needed, and would probably be illegal in an office.

Because I detest wires going everywhere the old PC (running Linux) will be given away to a local boys' club, which will make good use of it!

My new Mac, as you might have guessed from a couple of comments above, will be the 17" iMac.

Related Reading

Learning Unix for Mac OS X
By Dave Taylor, Jerry Peek

The Tale of the Book-Buying Public

In preparing this report, I looked at one other set of data points: the additional purchases of customers who bought David Pogue's Mac OS X: The Missing Manual. This book has sold faster than any title we've published since The Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog back in 1992, and has been the #1 bestselling computer book at Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble for most of 2002. I figured that if purchasers of this book were new to Unix, they might buy an introductory Unix book at the same time; if they were already using Unix, they might buy more advanced books; and if they were using Windows, they might also be buying Windows books.

My very unscientific analysis of approximately 1300 customers who bought Mac OS X: The Missing Manual directly from O'Reilly via our Web site is as follows:

  • about 29% also bought either Learning Unix for OS X or Learning the Unix Operating System, indicating that they may be new to Unix.
  • About 10% also bought a Windows-related book, indicating that they may use both platforms. This is double the number who also bought Mac OS 9: The Missing Manual (although many of the prospective upgraders might of course already own that book).
  • About 6% bought a Mac programming book -- roughly the same number who also bought a Java or Perl programming book.
  • Although I didn't analyze the title counts in detail, Web development books appeared to outnumber advanced Unix titles.

In Conclusion

Apple may be wise to target Unix/Linux rather than Windows in their switch campaign. (As the authors of Crossing the Chasm noted, it's best to dominate a niche, and expand out from there, than it is to tackle a market that's too big for you to digest right away. And capturing the Unix desktop market would likely double Apple's market share in one swoop.) Apple software vendors need to keep upgrade pricing fair. Take all of the above with a grain of salt.

Tim O'Reilly is the founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, Inc., thought by many to be the best computer book publisher in the world. In addition to Foo Camps ("Friends of O'Reilly" Camps, which gave rise to the "un-conference" movement), O'Reilly Media also hosts conferences on technology topics, including the Web 2.0 Summit, the Web 2.0 Expo, the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, the Gov 2.0 Summit, and the Gov 2.0 Expo. Tim's blog, the O'Reilly Radar, "watches the alpha geeks" to determine emerging technology trends, and serves as a platform for advocacy about issues of importance to the technical community. Tim's long-term vision for his company is to change the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators. In addition to O'Reilly Media, Tim is a founder of Safari Books Online, a pioneering subscription service for accessing books online, and O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, an early-stage venture firm.

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