Tuesday, 30 October 2007

A Linux user fights Mac OS X Leopard. Day 1

So, I finally have a laptop. I bought a brand new Macbook Pro Santa Rosa yesterday morning. I choose it as a laptop mainly for the hardware combination: decent screen width (15"), low weight (2.4 kg), good battery life (4-5 hours). Definitely not a cheap gadget, but once in a lifetime...

This Macbook is my first meeting with the Mac OS world. I have used DOS and Windows machines like everyone, and it's almost four years I use almost exclusively Linux on the desktop, both at home and in my laboratory (Gentoo at home, Kubuntu at work). So for me the Mac OS is the new thing, but I guess my perspective is a bit different from the usual Windows-to-Mac transition.

To be honest, I plan to install Gentoo Linux on the Macbook quite soon. No prejudice against Mac OS, but I like to run an open source operating system, and the customizability of Linux cannot be surpassed. But I want to dip my toes in Mac OS.

I fired up the feline beast and used it for about three hours yesterday. These are just my very very first impressions, so take them for what they are. Biased, ignorant, emotion-loaded.

0) Boot time. Incredibly fast. Being accustomed to minute-long Linux boots, I'm very impressed.

1) The graphics. Shiny, smooth and slick as much as possible. Everyone knows that. I like the icon design, even if it's maybe a bit too detailed -maybe equally good but less baroque icons could be made. On the contrary, the folders icons are so minimal to be almost useless. The "special effects" are light (nothing as fancy as CompizFusion can get) but well made, and Exposé is something really useful, as I found using Beryl/CompizFusion. A pleasure for the eye.

2) Finder. I have some beginner perplexity on the usability of Mac OS X Finder. To me, the finder sounds like a retarded concept. I understand it must be something like a desktop manager mixed with a file manager, but worse. For example, I expect that right clicking on the desktop brings up a menu. Ok, let's forget right mouse buttons in the Mac world. Apple+click. Well, it does nothing. To get to what we would call the desktop menu, you need to get to the Finder. Why?

The file managing part also looks quite terrible me. The Itunes-like preview is cool but pretty useless. The system seems at first sight to go to every length possible to hide what for me is a basic information: filesystem hierarchy. I want to see where is everything. I want control. I want to reconstruct paths of my things blindly. OS X seems to mangle this all. I am sure that applications are not in a folder like my music and pictures are. So, why putting them together? What's gained by doing that? And I'm sure the "Pictures", "Documents" and "Music" folders are somewhere in my filesystem hierarchy, they are not dangling. Why don't you show me where they are attached?

Actually, you can see it all clicking on "Macintosh HD". Still looks like a bit dumbed down information, but at least now I know there's a Unix-like hiearchy with Users/Massimo/ being my home folder. Good! That's what I like. Why don't you allow to show me a damn old good folder hierarchy tree on the left, Mr.Finder, instead of "Places"?

Problem is, I am accustomed with Konqueror. Konqueror, the default KDE file manager, is probably one of the applications that hooked me definitely to Linux. It's incredibly easy to use, customizable and powerful at the same time. It's one of that open source miracles that should be advertised much more. I am accustomed to switch between filesystem hierarchy tree view, list view, my storage media, Windows connections etc. all at one mouse click. I can split the Konqueror window in two, with two completely different locations together, or I can use tabs. Or both. I have immediate access to ftp, sftp and smb connections. I'm not sure Finder manages half of this all; I'll look for it.

3) Accessing to applications. Mac OS X , as far as I can see now, has no concept of an application menu. You get the dock, or you have to look for the application in the Applications folder, which mixes everything together. What if there are things that you don't want to see everyday in the dock, but you want to find easily when needed? Probably there's a way out, but I've still not found it (nor read about it).

4) Application menus. This is a well known Mac idiosyncracy: application menu bar is on the top of the screen. Period. I suspect there's some usability theory behind that, and after fifteen minutes it becomes indeed not so bad. Unless you have a little window on the bottom right of the screen and you need a menu on the top left, in which case you have to move the mouse in diagonal through more than half screen. Why, oh why?

5) Installing applications. I still believe that THE way to install applications on a system is using a package manager. Luckly Mac OS X has at least three available, so this will be no problem. However, I didn't dislike the .dmg approach too much. Download a disk image, copy application to Application folder, voilà. Easy enough (and much better than Windows), but I would like a lot to have an official package manager. Imagine looking for "Office" on a search bar, finding office apps you like (maybe even ones you would have never suspected about!), clicking on them, and voilà -they get downloaded from the net and installed. On Linux, this is commonplace. For proprietary apps, a PayPal button could be easily added.

6) Safari. Used it the time needed to download and install Firefox, so I can't really comment on it.

This is enough now, but I'd like to hear about opinions by Mac users and Linux users too. I'm sure I'm missing a lot of the picture, so I'm open for advices!