Leopard, Macbook Pro: First Impression From The Trenches
At long last I made the switch from being a Windows user to one of those nose-in-the-air snobs who carry those beautiful laptops with leftover apple on the backside. The reasons for the switch were simple enough. I gave up my old laptop somewhere in the recent chaos and had to get a new one. Most of my options involved running Vista and it basically boiled down to the new Dell XPS M1330 and the Macbook or the Macbook Pro. While the XPS was an incredibly amazing deal at its current prices of Rs 64,000, even with the graphics card slapped on, the nagging question was that of having to run Vista.
Now, I am not a rabid anti-Windows person or a great Linux fanboy. I live by the quintessential “horses for courses” adage and have run almost everything (with the exception of the Mac, other than a stint during the journalism school days), including variants of Windows from the 3.x days, DOS, Netware, Linux, BSD, AIX etc, during my time. In my daily dalliance with computers over the past four years, Windows XP has dominated every part of it (other than the servers) and I have a pretty intimate knowledge of Windows XP by now. That said, keep XP clean of attacks, viruses and various infections is a dark art and a game of cat and mouse that never ends.
The question thus (with a Rs 30,000 mark up on it) was if I wanted to spend my time on yet another learning curve wrangling Vista to behave to my liking. From what I have seen of VIsta, it is a major upgrade that will require me to relearn jumping through the myriad hoops involved in learning any Microsoft OS. On the other hand, I am very comfortable with the command line, though for using a desktop it is not my ideal choice on any given day. Thank you, but I shall keep my point-and-click sensibilities with me any day. And as you know by now, the lure of the shiny Apple won.
In terms of a regular desktop experience, Apple and OSX has been a delight. I will not reiterate what’s been said so many times before: that things just work on the damn thing. A network printer that normally takes me about 15 clicks to add on XP took just three clicks on OSX. It looks and behaves like one of those stunning supermodels – what you get to see is more or as equally tantalizing as what is being very thinly hidden from your eyes. On the other hand, most of the trouble I’ve had are with my development platform. More on that later.
My current desktop stack includes Adium (instant messaging), Firefox (184.108.40.206, not the 3.x beta), Freemind (mindmapping), Fugu (SFTP), SVNX (Subversion client), VMWare Fusion (for Microsoft Office and Outlook, I know, sigh) Ecto (blogging, oh yes!) and JellyfiSSH (SSH client front end). In terms of performance Adium is lovely, Firefox is pretty similar to how it behaves in Windows, Freemind has been spotty (Leopard Java issues, I presume), VMWare Fusion is absolutely awesome, though Outlook is patchy. In short, it has been pretty nice to me till date.
Incidentally, I run only Microsoft Office under VMWare Fusion. Initially, I had dedicated a whole 700 MB of RAM to the VM, then chopped it to 512 MB and now it is running at a healthy 256 MB. In the long run, I do intend to see how Office for Mac 2008 holds up and move to it. Irrespective of whatever RAM I end up giving to Fusion, when it does run, I get less than 200 MB of RAM to spare. I do not know if it is any better if you run it as a real VM than a Bootcamp version, but this is only a stopgap arrangement.
Things have been different though on the developer side. I am one of those people who love to compile my development stack from source and YUM on Centos has throughly spoiled me on that count. The shortest compile instructions that I’ve seen for any OSX software runs into several screenfuls and there seems to be no sane way to get the dependency libraries in place (nobody has a straight answer whether FInk or Macports is the better option).
OSX Leopard itself runs with Apache 2.2.x and PHP 5, but it does not have the Postgresql module complied in and I have not been able to get the Entropy distribution to start up with PHP enabled for some bizarre reason that I’ve not had the time to figure out yet. I grabbed the Postgresql binary from Entropy and MYSQL server from, well, MYSQL.com. My other dependency, on Eclipse PDT, has currently hit a wall with the PHP situation and I have not taken a look yet at what major hara-kiri it would take for me to get it running with Xdebug on OSX. So the jury is still out on that one.
In conclusion I am happy that I made the switch. In terms of both hardware and software Apple and OSX is an elegant combination. I have no idea how much pain the development set up would give me, but even in the worst case scenario I could run a server install in a VMware Fusion session and forget all about it. But the most important point is that the Mac has allowed me to take my time off from maintaining my desktop environment and till OSX worms and viruses are a commonplace occurrence I think that should hold. As far as Vista goes, I’ve helped a couple of my lads in my team with it and I want to stay as far away from it as possible.