Grinding the Debunking Axe | Main | Birthday Ambivalence for PuddingTime!

September 8, 2003

The iBook at One Year (Give or Take)

Posted by Mike on September 8, 2003 9:39 PM

In early July, I marked a year of iBook ownership. Seeing as how I wrote up the iBook after a week and the iBook after a month, I might as well come back to it over a year later and write a "this is pretty much what I think about the whole thing having had a lot of time to use it" summary. Since we're reminding people of things, keep in mind that my occasional Mac-love post is easily avoided by bookmarking the Mac-free pudding flavor.

At some point in the last year, and I'm not sure when, the iBook (and OS X in general) quit being a cultural experience for me. For readers who don't know me, a quick recap is in order:

From 1999 to early 2002 I was an editor/columnist at Linux Today and a few other Linux web sites. When I first took the job, it was a dream come true: I was getting paid to think about Linux all day long. The warm fuzzies, over the course of time, went away because I was also getting paid to moderate discussion forums and the like where Linux fans of just about every stripe, hiding behind the anonymity of internet interactions, pretty much let their ids run wild. I got the occasional hate mail (including one fairly overt threat to me and mine) and had to endure comparisons to everything from Nazi book censors to tobacco company executives. Eventually, I got out of the Linux biz and went on to edit slightly more "secular" technology sites about networking and servers.

For a while after getting out of the Linux sites, I would have told you I hated Linux advocates : they can be rigid, hostile, and abusive beyond all reason over minor "religious" issues. Over the course of the past year, though, as I've "recovered" from the Linux Today experience, I've come to realize (or at least internalize the fact) that almost any self-described advocate or fan of just about anything (from t.v. shows to books to operating systems) can be a real pain in the ass given suitable provocation. And that's gone a long way to soften how I feel about "the Linux scene" in general: It's attracted some lost souls who don't have much beyond their love of an operating system, and if I experience anything other than pity for them (especially anger), it's time to take a deep breath and put them back in perspective. If I find myself singling out Linux zealots for special concern, I just have to pop over to a Buffy fan board to remember zealotry is a universal condition with a lot of outlets. You'd think a former Trotskyist would remember that.

So, once the cultural experience faded, I was left with the iBook as a mere tool.

Twice in the past year, when I've been between large projects or classes, I've given Yellowdog Linux a try (just like I promised in "the iBook at One Month"). The first time, it was terrible: crashy, buggy, and essentially what I thought of as "the Mandrake Linux of the Motorola world": a shoddy repackage of Red Hat that looked nice going on but didn't hold up to use. The second time was a better experience, but I found myself missing the smooth snap-together integration of hardware and software Apple and OS X provide. I also found I'd come to depend on some applications:

NetNewsWire, for instance, doesn't have a peer in the Linux world. I've blogged about it quite a few times. It's one of the best apps I've ever used on any platform. The closest to it in the Windows world (Newzcrawler) comes close, but doesn't quite match.

Watson, similarly, is a wonderful app I use continually.

Outside of applications, there's the issue of the hardware itself: I continue to think the iBook is the nicest piece of hardware I've ever used: I still get good life out of the batteries, the OS/hardware connection is solid and reliable, and the problems I've had were handled by Apple's tech support quickly and efficiently.

Until very recently, the iBook is the only machine I would use for any work. I did all my writing for work and school plus all my editing on it. I used it for graphics work, digital photography, and day-to-day stuff. I finally relented and started using my Windows XP desktop machine when some editing work required the use of Microsoft Office macros that didn't port easily to Office X on the Mac. I also prefer the graphic manipulation horsepower of a 2.4Ghz Athlon over a 500Mhz G3 when they're both running Adobe Photoshop Elements. When it comes time for a new laptop, I have no doubt I'll be picking up another iBook, and enjoying the latest enhancements to the line, including a faster bus and beefed up graphics chips (which will finally let me enjoy Quartz Extreme).

I've also pretty much quit using the Apple X Window port. Ximian's Evolution has never appeared in an easy-to-get form for OS X, and the GIMP, while good, doesn't touch Photoshop Elements when it comes to dealing with digital photography. The only "Linux apps" I still run are mutt and an assortment of server-side tools, all of which I can get at with a ssh session from OS X's terminal app. No need to be running X11 at all, in the end. So I don't.

Regarding the Unix part of OS X, the underlying "unixness" of it stopped mattering as much as it once did, perhaps because all of my diddling with Cygwin, my general reliance on file management on my Linux server, and the overall smoothness of Aqua have made it seem like a "cheaper" component. Make no mistake: Apple's commitment to using and honoring open standards in a way you tend to find in free unixen makes me very happy. I dig having bash as a shell for when I need to open a terminal, I'm glad understands IMAP and plays well with it. I'm happy iCal uses icalendar. It's good to have something like rsync under the hood. At the end of the day, though, I've got to admit that it just doesn't matter as much as it used to: Aqua and I understand each other, and I get as much done from the OS X GUI as I ever did from Unix command line. The primary benefit of those Unix underpinnings is now a question of interoperability, not interface.

There are still some nags with the machine:

It's not fast enough by a long stretch for anything other than text editing or web surfing. I think anti-OS X Mac people have a legitimate beef about OS X's overall performance on G3s of my iBook's vintage and older. My understanding (and I've seen it borne out) is that the 600-900Mhz iBooks are substantially faster thanks to better graphics chips and faster buses.

Airport and Samba are a poisonous combination. I've come up with a hack/kludge/workaround to fix that, but it's one area where there's no "click-snap" feel to the whole experience. OS X loses its mind when it loses a Samba share unless you plan ahead for the event.

There are evidently wide-spread engineering problems in the displays on this series of machine (which is, in fairness, two years old at this point). I had to take mine in twice to have the display repaired. It seems to be permanently fixed now, but it's an issue nonetheless.

Overall: I know my next laptop is going to be another iBook, and I know it's going to run OS X. I've bought or built a lot of computers since my first VIC20 in 1984, and the iBook is the best combination of form, function, and design I've owned to date.