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So my work laptop is a MacBook Pro. The hardware is great, lives up to Apple's fame. But OSX? I never understood the recent popularity of Macs with software developers; and after a couple months of daily usage, I'm still not enlightened.

Linux (in some form--from datacenter servers to Android) is Google's primary OS, so the Mac's GNU toolchain and Unix kernel are convenient. But this is not a big deal (it's not like Google lacks resources to port some dev tools to Windows...). Certainly not the reality of a typical company either; I easily got away using only Windows in every previous job, even as 90% of my projects targeted Linux/Unix. Maybe I'm not much of a Unix guy; on Windows, Cygwin with all its limitations was usually good enough for me, and if I needed more I'd spend time with PowerShell.

Even at the "core OS" level, OSX is by far not pure win. It's got the Mach & NeXT pedigrees, but it's dated. When you think about ANY foundation of an OS - filesystems, network stack, security etc. - in a competition only to the "PC league" (against Windows and Linux), OSX is never the best and very rarely not the worst. My reaction to OSX improvements is always Meh. Hebrew localization only in 10.7.3? Decent ALSR only in Mountain Lion? Color me unimpressed. The last time Macs had the better PC OS, Windows was in the dark ages of v3.x. When I read my Twitter stream, I am always appalled by the problems reported by some of my contacts who are Apple power-users, including high-profile iOS developers--their most popular hashtag is #lionsucks. (I am on Lion, but I can't judge it as I didn't come from previous versions; the SSD masks general I/O dumbness; and I don't use things like TimeMachine, Safari, iCloud/iTunes/iAnything, or XCode.)

Usability is not flawless either. The Finder is a joke, but no beating a dead horse. So what about the stupid keyboard layout: where is the Home key, for one? I have to use Command+Left. It's worse when mapping key bindings from PC apps, e.g. if you were used to Ctrl+Home for some operation, now you need a three-key combo or a completely different two-key combo. Next we have the position of the left Fn/Ctrl keys, so Ctrl is harder to access especially in Shift+Ctrl+<Key> bindings. Fn is rarely used, certainly not in accelerators, so placing it in the privileged corner position is broken ergonomics. Worse, we have "Control" and "Alt", but these are not always equivalent to the keys with same name in PCs. Most of these problems may be meaningless for common, Mac-only users; but not for multiplatform power-users / developers who memorize a hundred key bindings just for their IDE or other complex apps. There's more, but let's put this way: the PC-style keyboard is The Fucking Standard; not just on PCs with Windows (or Linux), but on Sun, HP, AIX, every computer I used since the PC-XT. The Mac should just go with the core layout that all the planet uses since the dawn of the 8/16-bit micros of the eighties (remember? each with completely different keyboards, BASICs, and everything). The Mac's keyboard is at best a bad legacy, and at worst, purposeful gratuitous differentiation: "Think Different" for the sake of being different.

I will finish with the "tabletization" of the Mac. Apple has abandoned XServer, which means its investment in core OS technology will be even more mediocre; power users who need something like a modern filesystem, keep dreaming. The hot product line is just laptops and iDevices. And OSX is quickly being absorbed by iOS, a trend announced Lion but really strong with Mountain Lion. And it's not just the good stuff like multi-touch and new APIs; it's the full walled garden. I already hear Macheads worrying that if this goes on, the next release will need jailbreaking your Mac to install any non-App Store application, or using any programming language / library / runtime not blessed by Apple. Yeah Microsoft may dream to do the same with Windows 8 onwards, but the Wintel platform is way too open, and its legacy colossal--especially in the slow-moving corporate world, where Microsoft rules and Apple does not exist--so MS can certainly make the "Metro Experience" privileged or default, but they just cannot shut the doors in any significant way to the "classic" application environment, even if Metro is a big hit.

So, I wonder how can so many developers--mostly a "techno-liberal" crowd who loves open source and open standards, fights stupid patents and IP laws...--to keep justifying their preference, considering not only the Mac's underwhelming core OS tech, but also its clear position as the least-open desktop OS, soon to become an Orwellian nightmare of tight-ass control? What's the fucking point in hacking Java (or Python or whatever), or using LibreOffice (or Chrome etc.), on top of a platform that's clearly and increasingly opposed to open-anything?
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4 comments
 
You are so right about the direction of Apple. I have a MacBook Air - great hardware, but I almost never use OSX - I dual boot Linux. Linux was a bit hard to get on there, and Apple will likely make it harder/impossible in the next iteration of the hw. Its a sad dirction that company is moving in.
 
+Antonio Kantek I'm not using any virtualization or dual-boot. I can VPN/remote-log into my work Linux PC, so that allows me to use a real OS when I need :) and speaking of Linux, it's also the first time in many years that I use a Linux desktop, which would deserve another wall-of-text rant... but that would be too cheap and easy... so, if one needs a great OS with a great UI/desktop, it's really a monopoly of Windows, which is a sorry state of things. I miss old times when there was real competition in that space. Today we have great competition but it's all in the "non-PC" devices.
 
You're right Osvaldo. For instance, the only way to to get gcc installed in your mac is by buying an apple's developer account. This is very sad...
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