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Subject:   I just added a G4 to the mix here...
Date:   2002-09-17 18:26:21
From:   malor
I haven't had that much time to tinker yet, so take this with a grain of salt. I am running Mandrake Linux 8.2, Windows, and OpenBSD here, and I manage about a hundred Debian Linux boxes at work from my Mandrake workstation. (I don't run Debian on any desktops, so I will limit my comments to the Mandrake distribution.) I have a pretty wide exposure to a lot of different things. The G4 is a new addition, but I'm not totally ignorant on the BSD underpinnings.


My impression is that the G4 is really gorgeous, but not very well-integrated into its Unix guts. Some examples:


A) The Mac filesystem (HFS) isn't case sensitive, and this causes some very strange problems from the command line. Case-inensitivity is undoubtedly better from a people perspective (I remember what a hard time I with case issues coming to Unix from DOS), but trying to remove case sensitivity from Unix is a Herculean task, and probably impossible. You don't casually change an underlying assumption that has thirty years' worth of software written on top.


B) You can't, from what I can see, launch a command-line program from the Finder, and you can't launch a Carbon/Cocoa app from the command line. That's exceptionally poor integration. Even the 1985 Amiga did this better.


C) Getting external Unix programs to work well is a lot harder than it is on Unix. Vim is an example... I run that on all my servers. It runs the same way on every variant of Linux I've used in the last two years. But the Mac version doesn't recognize pageup/pagedown keys (possibly because the Terminal is remapping them, not sure), and seems to be stuck in some older emulation mode that I haven't figured out how to switch away from. It still works, but it is painful... it reminds me VERY much of the early Linux days. This sort of thing was extremely common way back when. (note that this is possibly an issue with Fink instead of with VIM itself; I haven't tried downloading and compiling the package myself.)


D) There are no Mac drivers for my Lexmark Z51. This is a fairly common printer and isn't that old. Z52s are supported, but Z51s are not. For an operating system that claims 'it just works', this was a major failure from my perspective. It was the ONLY piece of external hardware I wanted it to drive, and it failed utterly.


And the mid-level stuff is all wonky on the Mac. Instead of rc scripts, they use this strange utility called SystemStarter. SystemStarter isn't very well-documented, and I have had very intermittent results getting things to run. There's a file called /etc/hostconfig that will supposedly let you turn on additional services. It claims that there are graphical utilities to adjust it, but I couldn't find any. I'm wondering if those tools are only included with OS X Server. I didn't have much luck getting services to run by manually adjusting it... in a couple of cases I had to create duplicate startup scripts that ran the appropriate utilities without checking that file. Definitely a hack.


SystemStarter itself looks like a good idea, and it's probably more extensible than System V runlevels; it'll make it much easier to ship new custom services and expect them to work on every OS X installation in existence. That would be really hard to do with rc scripts or System V runlevels. Improved or not, I'm suspicious it has some bugs still. I haven't yet spent enough time with it to be sure.


It feels like maybe Apple is trying to lock down Unix and make it proprietary so that they can charge extra for some bits of it. That is a strategy doomed to backfire, I believe.


I think maybe people aren't giving Linux enough credit for how far it has come. Mandrake is an incredibly polished distribution. It's not as pretty as Cocoa; it's not even in the same league. KDE, after looking at Aqua, is ugly. But while the surface is rough, the stuff *underneath* is extremely polished and well-put-together. Everything *just works* from an administrative perspective. It took about three minutes to set up my Z51 on Mandrake. (For a long time, in fact, Mandrake had better Z51 drivers than the official Windows ones provided by Lexmark! ) Ssh-agent is all set up properly ahead of time so that all you have to do is type ssh-add ONCE instead of a zillion times. (I had done this manually myself a few releases back.. it's not that hard but it's nice to see it integrated right into the default setup.) They need work on their GUI, but the polish on their utility layer is impressive.


Maybe Linux is being fixed from the bottom up instead of the top down. The G4 is gorgeous and has a great undercarriage and comfortable seats, but the controls are rudimentary and sometimes just don't work at all. As long as you want to drive on Apple-approved streets, it's easy and beautiful, but beware venturing off the well-paved roads.


Mandrake appears ill-built by comparison, but the undercarriage is equally solid, the mid-level stuff is well thought-through, and the interface is usable. Using the car analogy, it's sorta dirty and ugly when you sit down, the seats don't quite fit and you have to spend awhile adjusting them.... but once you get used to it, the 8-cylinder engine with the 4 wheel drive will let you go ANYWHERE. You DON'T spend all your time fighting it, like you always did with the older versions of Linux. The Mandrake team is doing an amazing job.


What I would really like is something with Mandrake's polish underneath and Aqua on top of that. I imagine I'll get it in another couple of years.


Right now, from a functional perspective, I'd have to give Mandrake the nod at the moment. I'm sure both will steadily improve, but if you are primarily a Unix user, and don't have a huge raft of Mac apps you need to run, OS X isn't quite there yet. It's fun to play with, and it is just amazingly lovely, but it is way behind Mandrake in terms of actual Unix functionality. Tread carefully.


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Showing messages 1 through 5 of 5.

  • I just added a G4 to the mix here...
    2002-09-17 20:25:37  guyrand [View]


    "Right now, from a functional perspective, I'd have to give Mandrake the nod at the moment. I'm sure both will steadily improve, but if you are primarily a Unix user, and don't have a huge raft of Mac apps you need to run, OS X isn't quite there yet. It's fun to play with, and it is just amazingly lovely, but it is way behind Mandrake in terms of actual Unix functionality. Tread carefully. "

    This echos my feelings exactly. I'm a hard-core Linux and Unix fan, and I recently bought an iBook so I could do my hacking wherever I liked. First off, I love the hardware. I bought an extra battery for the thing, but I rarely have the need for it -- the battery life is amazing. And the glowing apple is cool, too. :-)

    But "in terms of actual Unix functionality" it can be rather aggravating. After installing fink and bash it became somewhat usable, but there's *still* no Java 1.4. And I'm still used to using F-10 to get the menu in emacs (which now crashes consistency on Jaguar), I haven't had to use Esc-` for years.

    Compiling PostgreSql was a real chore, requiring (a now seemingly simple) patch that I did myself. And I can't tell you how annoyed I was to learn that I can't update /etc/hosts without issuing an niload command, although I guess you can say I've since made peace.

    By far the worst is the lack of OpenOffice. Sure it has a new rootless X build available, but it crashes on Jaguar.... It still requires X, which is dog slow running atop Aqua. The Mac office crashes regularly when importing rtf files, leaving me with only the ever humble Abiword to edit files.... (No Microsoft Office here, uh, ever. :-)

    All that said, as soon as I get word there's support for the radeon mobility card in X, I'm switching back to Debian at the drop of a hat. The Mac is nice and all, but I need some more of that four-wheel drive power to get my work done. And I sorely miss WindowMaker. :-)
    • Just added Debian to the mix
      2002-09-24 19:32:28  guyrand [View]

      Just to prove I wasn't fooling around, I'm posting from my iBook running a brand-new Debian install. :-)
  • I just added a G4 to the mix here...
    2002-09-17 19:50:59  anonymous2 [View]

    B) You can't, from what I can see, launch a command-line program from the Finder, and you can't launch a Carbon/Cocoa app from the command line. That's exceptionally poor integration. Even the 1985 Amiga did this better. Do your homework better, first. One error has already been corrected. And here's how to launch shell scripts from the Finder.
    • I just added a G4 to the mix here...
      2002-09-17 20:39:54  malor [View]

      That's a pretty lame way to do it... renaming anything you want to run from the Finder as ".command"? That's really a kludge. I can't believe you'd consider this a good solution. What if you want to call a system binary? You could probably make a symbolic link or a short script wrapper, but that's still way kludgy.

      The Finder has the 'file' utility available from Unix. It should just call that utility or integrate the code... if it realizes that this is an executable file, it should open it automatically, possibly firing up Terminal to do so. Obviously I don't have access to the Finder code, but I just can't imagine that this would be difficult to do.

      The 'open' command, on the other hand, is pretty slick, I appreciate the other poster mentioning it. It seems like an 'open .' alias will be really useful; cd into an app directory, poke around, and then maybe 'run' to launch it.

      I stand behind my premise that Aqua and the Finder are not well-integrated with Unix. I have heard nothing but praise for NeXTStep, so I'm assuming the reason the marriage here is so bad is because of legacy Mac compatibility issues.

      I think OSX would be a BIG deal for a Mac user who wants to run existing apps on a real OS, but for a Unix geek... it's just not that hot. Yet.

  • I just added a G4 to the mix here...
    2002-09-17 18:45:13  hysterion [View]

    > you can't launch a Carbon/Cocoa app from the
    > command line. That's exceptionally poor
    > integration.

    open is your friend.