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Life outside the RDF

Sad Mac

I got my first Mac back around 2000, a cheap-as-chips iMac (Bondi Blue) that was just about fast enough to run the beta of OS X 10. Once I’d got past licking the screen and watching all those lovely dock icons zoom in and out, I was pretty much sold. OS X was the exact combination of things that I’d been looking for since being forced away from my Amiga: a version of Linux that could run Photoshop.

Prior to that I’d been running NT4, dual-booted with various flavours of Linux - primarily Red Hat, from what I remember -  although the Linux side wasn’t getting much use professionally, just for the open source stuff I was contributing to (Civil & Pygame). Work, back then, was a combination of design and coding, some bespoke, but mostly for the web, so NT was the best option. Stable, fast, but without much in the way of games. OS X, in comparison, was like a dream come true.

By the time I had my TiBook (best laptop ever, btw) I was working in a predominantly Solaris environment, which OS X lapped up. My laptop would detect which network I was on, auto-mount the servers over NFS, and I’d have everything I needed at my finger tips. No more PuttySSH. No more Cygwin. Sure, Photoshop was running in Classic mode (only vaguely worse than the eventual Carbon port), but it was there. Darwin Ports was starting, so any missing Unix tools were normally easy to obtain, or failing that, I could compile them from source. The only significant problem to being a Mac owner at this time was the lack of media codecs, DivX videos being notoriously fickle.

I’ve such fond memories of that early Mac ecosystem that it’s close to how I feel about my Amiga. When I got Bluetooth the Mac was there to sync my contacts and hook into my Sony (T69?) and give me a GPRS internet connection. I abused this in every way imaginable. 100mph down the M4, with Rik at the wheel and me on #llamasoft springs to mind. As do the numerous War Driving sessions me and Wayne conducted. Stuff ‘just worked’. ADSL had landed and it seemed like the Mac was born for this life of high-speed internet. As long as you didn’t want to play games. Or download DivX files. I even set up an eMac to act as a roll-your-own NAS, which we filled to the brim with my ripped DVD collection and whatever hooky stuff we had loitering on our HDs, all well ahead of XBox Media Centre’s arrival.

Much of how I have myself setup today, from a technical standpoint, is down to those years of messing about with OS X.

So I’m kinda sad that the Mac really doesn’t fit in with how I work or much of what I do, day-to-day, since I’ve moved to Finland. It feels like a chapter’s closed. There are a few reasons why this has happened (in no particular order):

Work

I used Unity for Lumo, which is fine on the Mac, except I was rocking a Retina Macbook Pro when I got here. The machine’s fast, but it’s not made for games, and it’s definitely not made for Unity. Retina support has been on Unity’s roadmap for the better part of 2.5 years and it’s still not landed. It’s currently scheduled for Unity 5.4, which is March 2016! (My Unity rant will be along shortly..) This meant I either couldn’t see a fucking thing in the Inspector, or I had to run it in chunky-pixel-o-vision. The latter is OK, but it didn’t fix the Mac’s lack of grunt for moving stuff about on a Retina screen at full-resolution. Final builds are ok, in-editor is definitely not. Even worse, after 30 mins of use the machine was ROASTING. Tbh, summers in Finland are hot enough without resting your hands on a 35deg piece of aluminium for 10 hours a day.

So I ended up moving Unity over to the PC. I’d built a gaming PC for Battlefield the year before, which was nicely specced, and this has been my devrig for the last 2.5 years. Despite Windows 8 it’s been stable and just about fast enough. It’s also meant that I can use 3DS Max (which I vaguely knew from years back) and Visual Studio. The latter has been such a massive productivity improvement that it’s now the sole reason that I wouldn’t want to use Unity on a Mac again. You just can’t beat UnityVS (now built-in), Visual Studio and Visual Assist. I don’t know how much time this has saved vs Mono Develop, but for debugging alone, I’d say it was considerable. When you’re living on a budget, these things matter.

Eyes

I’m blind as a bat. I mean, I literally cannot see the letters on the keyboard without my glasses. Eye-strain has increasingly become an issue the older I’ve got. I run Flux on Windows & OS X (Redshift on Linux), and live in the kind of rosey-pink world that Ringo Star inhabited for much of the 60s. Without this I seriously cannot work at certain computer monitors for more than a few hours. On a bad day it can take less than 30 minutes for my eyes to give up and go so dry that I can hear myself blink. (Hat-tip to Billy Thomson for that gem).

I’ve bought the special blue spectrum filtered lenses for my glasses, I’ve tried the eye-drops. It’s just not happening.

Glossy monitors? You might as well slap me in the pupil with a red-hot spoon. Absolutely fucked. Complete no-go. An hour on the train, hour in an office with over head lights, or an hour with any vague reflection on it, and my little eyes just give up the ghost. If I know I’m going to be on my Macbook for any length of time, I push it’s output through the lovely matt Asus monitor I have. I’m now so sensitive to this stuff that even an hour using an iPad causes it.

They may look nice, Apple, but those glossy monitors can get to fuck. I’m keeping my old 2009 Macbook Pro with the matt screen until it dies, but the Retinas will be getting moved on, just as soon as.

Price

After moving to Finland I’ve primarily been living on my savings and I’ve made those savings stretch to 2 years. The biggest hit (after losing much of my social life) is how much I spend on software. Some licenses I can’t avoid (Unity), some stuff I just can’t upgrade (Photoshop). Being price conscious about software and hardware makes most things that Apple make seem a bit out of reach. The first thing I did when I got here was pick up a cheap Android phone, and not only has it been good enough, but with the Moto G, it’s actually been a great experience for the money. Obviously I’d love to have the iPhone 6’s camera in my pocket, but not enough to spend that amount of cash on an iPhone again. The thing wouldn’t even fit in my fucking pocket, for a start.

I still think the Macbook Pro laptops are pretty hard to beat from a price/performance ratio - build quality is easily the best you can buy - but until Metal is being used across the board and the Mac catches up with the PC in some way for what I do, then I can’t see me buying another. The first thing I’d do is install Windows on it.

Of course, if I decide to do a couple of mobile games then that’ll change through necessity.

Quality

Various people have written about the state of OS X and I have to agree with them. OS X has never been perfectly stable - the early versions all had some random issues - but we have been blessed with some truly rock-solid & fast releases over the years. Since Snow Leopard, for me, it’s been a steady downward slope. And I’m not just talking about the Finder (Pathfinder to the rescue). Aside from the bugs, OS X seems to have forgotten what it means to be a connected operating system.

I still run a roll-it-yourself NAS. It’s a Debian install with 16TB that’s up and running 24/7 and is rock solid. Every machine in the house is connected to it via Gigabit ethernet, with the exception of my consoles. Every machine can find and browse the contents with zero problems, except for everything Apple makes. The NAS never appears on the Finder. I have to manually connect whenever I start the machine - gone are the days of auto-mounting NFS drives, it’s SSHFS or bust, as far as my machines are concerned - which takes forever. For example: my music folder contains 765 directories. My windows machine brings up this directory in less than a second. Unbuntu (in a VM on the same machine) mounts and lists in around 1.5 seconds. I’ve just timed the Retina Macbook Pro and it took 38 seconds. 38 actual earth seconds, just to show the directories. In 2015. My Amiga 1200, on the same network (without gigabit, natch) takes 14. That’s a machine from 1993, and the majority of that time is Workbench drawing that many icons. This isn’t because it’s a first run and the Mac is caching it all (oh, if only). This is every time I open that folder. The Movies folder, the one that contains my DVD and BluRay collection? lol.

I just find this unacceptable. I’ve run this sort of setup for the last 15 years and the Mac has never struggled so much. Sure, I could mount the drives as iSCSI and it might speed things up. But really? Do I have to?

The AppleTV was, essentially, my ‘actual TV’ from when it was released. Right now the AppleTV can’t see the Debian shares. I have no idea why. It crashes. It can’t rewind through anything it’s playing (you have to go back to the start) and Airplay drops out at random, making it next to useless. The iPad can’t share it’s screen to it, no matter what.  Essentially it’s a Netflix box, and not much else.

The upgrade to iWork fucked up the 2 things I used Pages for. iCloud deleted all of my Keynote presentations, of which there were about 25 - every lecture I’ve written for the two classes I’ve been giving - although I had back-ups on my NAS. Aperture is now dead and I have various iPhoto libraries stretching back to 2003, which I was basically forced to export everything as loose files stored on the NAS when the upgrade to Photos failed.

And then there’s iTunes…

Oh, and the fact that I have two Apple IDs, one of which is permanently locked out of the Developer centre for reasons Apple do not understand and cannot fix.

I’m 100% for software evolving and improving, but right now I can’t trust my data to Apple and more importantly, I need to access it from more than just the Apple eco-system. Which brings me to…

That Walled Garden...

To be fair to Apple everyone seems intent on moving in this direction. We had a few years where things were getting standardised and computing devices were communicating more freely with each other. Apple actually drove a lot of this - while they were struggling to become relevant to the market again - but since the App Store arrived we’re all steadily moving back to the bad old days of proprietary formats and stupid lock-in. Not to mention the state of DRM. Apple did a good job getting rid of this for music, but would Jobs have been likely to remove DRM from Pixar movies? Would he fuck.

I’ve bought over 100 movies through iTunes and God knows how many TV box-sets over the years. Can I play these on my Android phone? Or Windows? Or PS4? Can I fuck. Fortunately, I grabbed Requiem via Tor and was able to manually remove all the DRM from these, but it took weeks.

And my iPad? I have to install a file manager just to be able to copy a PDF off the NAS to read in bed. All those Magazine subscriptions? Stuck on iDevices. And like I say, it’s not just Apple. Kindle purchases get shoved through Calibre within seconds of landing.

And this is really my whole problem with OS X and iOS right now. I’m old enough to know that I’m likely to move between machines and OSes at some point. I still carry data from my original Amiga HD, back from 1995. I don’t want to have to go through long and lengthy export and sorting process just to make sure something as important as my photo collection isn’t glued to a certain vendor or piece of hardware, or worse, locked out because of an OS or Software Update.

I need my machines to talk to each other, and my phones. Not turn away and stick their nose up because one of them might not be running the right OS.

Circle of life...

So, after all of this, where have I ended up? Right back at the beginning. Windows for development. Linux for everything else. After 15 years I’m basically back where I was, albeit with more data, and more applications.

There’s a bunch of things I miss from the Mac. It’s a lovely machine to do dev on, but the negatives all out-weigh the positives, at least for me. I like having a mix of Android and Linux so I’m much more careful that my data isn’t tied up in proprietary formats, and I’m wary that what I buy will need to last and potentially move machines with me.

I’ll probably never drop OS X entirely - I’ve invested too much in soft-synths and DJing stuff for that to be the case - but it’s increasingly likely that I’ll be doing this in a VM a couple of years from now, rather than on shiny Apple hardware.

I’m sad, in a way, because OS X gave me some great years of computing. I salute you, OS X, and all that sail with you, but you just can’t be my daily driver anymore.