My job exposes me to a large variety of computing systems and I regularly use Mac, Windows and Linux desktops. My main desktop environment at home and work has been Debian GNU/Linux for over 10 years. However every now and then I take a little "holiday" and use something else for a few weeks. Often I'm spurred on by some niggle or other on the GNOME desktop, or burn-out with whatever the current contentious issue of the moment is in Debian. Usually I switched to Windows and I used it as an excuse to play some computer games.

Last November I had just such an excuse to take a holiday but this time I opted to go for Mac. I had a back-log of Mac issues to investigate at work anyway.

I haven't looked back.

It appears I have switched for good. I've been meaning to write about this for some time, but I couldn't quite get the words right. I doubted I could express my frustrations in a constructive, helpful way, even if I think that my experiences are useful and my discoveries valuable, perhaps I would put them across in a way that seemed inciteful rather than insightful. I wasn't sure anyone cared. Certainly the GNOME community doesn't seem interested in feedback.

I turns out that one person that doesn't care is me: I didn't realise just how broken the F/OSS desktop is. The straw that broke the camel's back was the file manager replacing type-ahead find with a search but (to seemlessly switch metaphor) it turns out I'd been cut a thousand times already. I'm not just on the other side of the fence, I'm several fields away.

Sometimes community people write about their concerns with whether they're going in the right direction, or how to tell the difference between legitimate complaints, trolls and whiners. When I look at conferences now, the sea of Thinkpads was replaced with a sea of Apple Macs a long time ago now, and the Thinkpads haven't come back. I'd suggest: don't worry about the whiners. Worry about the leavers.

What does this mean for my Debian involvement? Well, you can't help but have noticed that I've done very little this year. I've written nearly exclusively about music so far. the good news is: I still regularly use Debian, and I still intend to stay involved, just not on the desktop. I'm essentially only maintaining two packages now, lhasa and squishyball. I might pick up a few more (possibly archivemail if the situation doesn't improve) but I'm happy with a low package load; I'd like to make sure the ones I do maintain are maintained well. The sum of all my Debian efforts this year have been to get these two (or three) ship-shape. I have a bunch of other things I'd like to achieve in Debian which are not packages, and a larger package load would just distract from them. (We really are too package-oriented in Debian).


Comments

That's one reason I don't use Macs: To prevent me from switching to it.
Comment by Julian Andres Klode

I am writing this on a Mac Book Pro that is currently booted into Wheezy. I have a desktop environment based on Enlightenment that I find very satisfactory. Of course I am familiar with the Mac OS, when I first got this computer I said everything you have said in your post.

As Gabriella Coleman has discussed in her excellent (and free as in GNU/Beer!) book "Coding Freedom", there are contradictory motivations in the Linux world. The same person who insists Linux would solve their (gramma's, spouse's, child's, etc) computer problems because it's so perfect takes great satisfaction in being able to fix esoteric problems or do technical things that are of no interest to said family members. The contradiction between this idea of perfect and easy Linux and how "l33t" someone is because they know how to use crontab is explained in Coleman's book and quite interesting.

The fact is that a lot of what you say is true. The Linux desktop experience is not as nice as the Mac's , or maybe even Windows'. I would say I really prefer my current Wheezy/Enlightenment setup to booting into OS X, but I've gone to a lot of trouble to get it to that point. And someone else might not like what I like. I think GNOME 3 out of the box is pretty terrible (last time I looked).

But the point of Linux and especially Debian is not that the end product is better than X, for use by Y - for any X or Y. The point is that when Linux gives us GNOME 3, we can give back MATE (or Enlightenment). If we want to change something, we can. When Apple changes iTunes, or the Finder, in some way you don't like you will not be able to do anything about it.

Also, I take a certain satisfaction in fixing things to be more to my liking.

I will say my wife's aunt who is 80 boots into Ubuntu more than Windows now.....

Comment by John Holland

Cinnamon 2.2 is actually something I can live with so far. I get the tray where I expect it, reasonable window manager behavior and it looks sufficiently OK to not be bothered by it. But GNOME, Unity, and KDE all caused me sadness.

If OSX would not be bound to hardware...

Comment by Philipp Kern

I'm working on an open source project that also runs on Mac OS. Unfortunately, we don't have any Mac machines to do testing and none of the other committers uses a Mac. So I was thinking of buying a Mac to be able to do some testing but they're not cheap and I've never used Mac OS before.

So I'd like to know why you bought a Mac and stayed with it.

Also, do you happen to know a service that provides access to Mac development environments? I don't need access often so something with hourly rates would probably best.

Comment by Anonymous
From your description I take it your thousand cuts were related to user experience design. Have you taken a look at what KDE is doing now?
Comment by Beluga

i'd like to know how you deal with the lack of coherent packaging on OS X? native packages, homebrew, fink...

after a few hours of trying to get rails installed without success on one machine left me with a very bad taste for OS X.

it may come with a nice GUI, but for me, the ability to easily install from a large choice of packages is more important.

greetings, eMBee.

Comment by eMBee
There is no mention anywhere in your blog entry of freedom. Why were you even using Debian in the first place?
Comment by Anonymous
You know, there are more Desktops, other than Gnome...
Comment by Anonymous

I can understand.

I'm a loyal Debian user myself (stable on my laptop at that!), but I often work with OS X at my job and my wife is a OS X die hard. And Macs are great desktops (The OS X server I maintain: not such a great experience). People who don't use them don't understand just what kind of role quality control plays in the desktop experience. It is a bunch of minor conveniences. Stuff that you can live without, sure. But all those little conveniences combine into a whole greater then the sum of it's parts.

I still prefer KDE. But I get it. It is easy to fall in love with the care that goes into the Macs. Don't sweat it. You're still on a proper OS rooted in Unix. Adopting Windows... that would be unforgivable.

Comment by Andrew
GNOME and Ubuntu made me switch. But I switched to Arch and XFCE. True Linux is not as easy/user friendly as Windows or Mac, but what about freedom? If we judge Linux on ease of use, convenience, branding, style, fashion etc, we lose the key factor that makes it important to stick with it; Freedom. Plus there will always be some deep proprietary pockets who can out compete Linux on mesmerizing the consumption-trained masses with shiny boxes.
Comment by emk

Good for you. I don't blame you one bit for getting tired of it. A problem that has been endemic with FOSS for many years, is their inability to see past their own nose.
This is not a Debian flaw, so do not think that I am criticising them.

FOSS developers do good work, and I respect that, but they also solve problems not for anyone else's benefit, but for their own gratification. While this is a good motivator, it also means that for the majority of FOSS developers they have no interest beyond their own concerns. They miss the fact that their solutions probably do not fit the rest of the population as a whole.

This can be avoided with clearly defined project goals and quality assurance testing, but very few projects actually expend that level of effort. The last few years of fracas with Gnome comes to mind as an example of how losing direction also makes the software less useful.

I respect your decision to take your life in another direction while maintaining some ties to Debian.

Comment by T.J.
I never got interested in Free Software because it was technical superior. In some cases it is, in many cases it is not. So it does not come to a surprise to me, when you and many other people prefer OS X over GNOME for technical reasons. However, for many practical and ethical reasons I avoid non-free software.
Comment by Martin
You're not the only one. I'm spending a lot more time with FreeBSD 10 server-side and MacOS/Windows client-side. The Linux desktop has been on a steady decline for a while now, and the current state of GTK+ with its continued API breakage is just unacceptable.
Comment by Roger Leigh
comment 11

I'm going to try and respond to some of the points raised.

Beluga wrote:

From your description I take it your thousand cuts were related to user experience design. Have you taken a look at what KDE is doing now?

I hadn't until now, thanks for sharing!

emBee wrote:

i'd like to know how you deal with the lack of coherent packaging on OS X? native packages, homebrew, fink...

after a few hours of trying to get rails installed without success on one machine left me with a very bad taste for OS X.

It would seem that source-based packaging approaches work best on OS X, due to API changes with earlier versions. (I'm not sure how API-stable OS X is now). Therefore I've skipped Fink. I tried homebrew over macports and it works for the things I've tried to install. I think they're a bit slapdash with security, though, I've seen things like patches fetched over HTTP and applie to tarballs without checksum checks, etc.

That said, I'd never try to install something like rails on my desktop. I use VMs for that sort-of thing, and Linux ones at that.

Anonymous wrote:

There is no mention anywhere in your blog entry of freedom. Why were you even using Debian in the first place?

Freedom was never the primary reason. It wasn't even a factor when I first tried it out in 1998 or 1999. Over the years it became more important, but two things have fatally compromised it for the desktop: the first is that there is virtually no hardware around that can actually be driven by 100% free software. If you're using non-free graphics drivers or firmware, then neither of our OS's are free: your's is just a bit nearer than mine.

The second is the unneeded complexity of some of the stack. This isn't just a factor of size. There is a great deal of effort made to make contributing to the Kernel or Libreoffice accessible to beginners, for example. However, trying to fix a bug in a component of GNOME 3 or add a feature to GTK+ etc. is way too difficult I think. (I've tried all four examples.)

emk wrote:

Plus there will always be some deep proprietary pockets who can out compete Linux on mesmerizing the consumption-trained masses with shiny boxes.

OS X hasn't won me over for being shiny. It won me over by being more functional. (I wrote a bit more about freedom earlier in this comment.)

Comment by Jonathan