Geoffrey Meredith
Thoughts on Technology


(posted on 11 Aug 2009)

A few weeks ago, serendipity provided me an older, but quite serviceable Macbook.  I've never seriously exercised a Mac in my day to day life due somewhat to the steep buy-in cost but mostly because of inertia.  In that time period I've spent quite a bit of time building up Max (the network name for the Macbook) to match my needs in a notebook computer.  In addition, I decided to use it as the host computer for my new iPhone.  I've talked before about my dislike for iTunes and other problems I've had making Max usable in my life but this is only half of the story.

I have two fairly distinct uses for a notebook computer.  The first is similar to most people's use: Firefox gives me a window to the world.  I consume various media using Firefox or iTunes and indirectly via an iPhone.  I create a few documents or spreadsheets via Google Docs or Open Office. 

The second use for a notebook is less typical.  I write software and I need a complex set of tools to allow me to do that development.  While I still do ocational support of very old Windows desktop and server software that I developed in the 90's, I have been developing for Internet platforms almost exclusively for the last 12 years or so.  (With a few side tracks into the mobile world).  That development has been targeted toward Linux centric technologies with a primary focus on PHP, Ruby, and Python using MySQL.  To do that kind of development you need a development computer that supports these technologies.

OS X, with it's roots in BSD, would seem like a great platform for this.  A slick user interface with a familiar UNIXly environment under the skin was pretty enticing.  So with that, I started the process of getting all of these technologies working on Max.  I quickly found out that many of the software packages that I tried to install would not work with Tiger, OS X version 10.4, only one generation old.  So I upgraded to Leopard, the lastest version of OS X and only a month or so before the new Snow Leopard comes out.  (Interesting: there is no free upgrade to Snow Leopard for purchasers of Leopard just a month before shipping.  Microsoft would not get away with this for Windows.)  What also prompted the upgrade was the issues I was getting trying to install MySQL-python connector.

The archive and install upgrade of Leopard went well and I was pleased with the improvements.  But it didn't solve my MySQL-python issue.  It did allow me to install Aptana, my preferred development editor.  After much experimentation and many hours lost, I did get the MySQL-python connector working.  I've long been using PhpMyAdmin for administering MySQL.  It's so much easier than using a command line MySQL client.  That took many hours more.  Should have been 10 minutes.  The only pieces that were easy were the ones that were already installed and often to get other things installed, I needed to install a different version from the default Leopard version.  That leads to many copies of almost identical software scattered over the BSD/OSX Frankenstein file structure.  Each tool that I installed, complicated the situation.

In the end, I've given up trying to force my requirements on Max.  I'm sure that with a couple more weeks of work, I'd get it working the way that I want.  The thought struck me that at that point, I'd have a computer that meets my needs only as well as my 3 year old Dell notebook.  It might be a little faster but I cannot tell.  There is no software that I *need* OS X to run and lots of apps that while not critical, will not run on OS X.  My experience with OS X has not shown me any compelling reason to use it over Windows 7.  I understand that I'm not a tyical user and that there are many for whom OS X works well and might be ideal. 

I think that if I had been coming from OS X and trying out Windows 7, I'd likely have an overall similar experience.  In a lot of ways, OSX, Windows and Linux have become quite close in terms of features but they all differ in the details of how you get things done.  In the end, it comes down to personal preferences and experience as to what works best for an individual.

So my next "experiment" is to see what Max is like running Windows 7.  Will the hardware work better for me than the Dell with the same OS?  If nothing else, I can easily install the software that I need on it in a couple of hours, and it will hold me over until I figure out my next portable computing platform.  I've got Boot Camp and Windows 7 already setup.  That was easy.  Now to duplicate my desktop setup.