Kasperian Moving Parts

kinda like Batman, but with a wife and 3 kids

Having spent a few days with his MacBook Pro…


I recently blogged about Desktop Linux possibly having some core/fundamental problems that might be keeping it from enjoying mainstream adoption and 3rd party developer attention as compared to, say, OS X. To my immediate defense, I’ll say that it was actually more of a brain dump and rant (True Story!) than a well-thought-out dissertation on all of the issues at hand. The impetus in this case was:

  1. Frustration with a particular admittedly proprietary application that didn’t use to have any problems in Ubuntu 8.10, and since then has been nothing but trouble for me and roughly 90,000 other people. You may say that it’s unfair to fly off the handle at one proprietary application having problems and condemn all of Desktop Linux, but I do not think this is limited to only one proprietary application.
  2. A shiny new MacBook Pro in my possession and an epiphany of “this is what we’ve been working for, guys and we’ve been doing it for more than a decade and we’re still not there yet, why?”  And I’m not talking about the pretty UI or shiny buttons. You can argue all you want about OS X being the best in the UI/shiny/usability categories. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the increasingly growing market share of OS X and the (generally speaking) more polished and well-thought-out and 3rd-party-developed/supported applications. Being able to go to Flickr, for example, and download an actual client for OS X is pretty darned cool. Sure would be nice if Linux had the same mind/market share.

Now, having spent a week with my MacBook Pro in both Linux and OS X, I have a few more thoughts to add to the fire. Some of these have been results of discussions had as a result from my earlier post on this subject and others are more related to time spent with said shiny new laptop. But I think these are more constructive and less inflammatory. =:)

  1. The MacBook Pro is truly a nice laptop and Linux, for the most part, runs really well on it. The Karmic wiki page got me 95% of the way there. Unfortunately, rEFIT doesn’t understand GRUB2 at all, it seems, so to just get Kubuntu Karmic to boot, I installed the old GRUB 0.97 instead (sudo apt-get install grub). Getting sound to work requires alsa-driver-snapshot, so that’s a little painful but not too bad. More painful was the hour I spent yesterday trying to figure out why sound stopped working (and this time it wasn’t pulseaudio’s fault, but rather something weird with the ALSA driver that plugging headphones in and removing them seemed to fix). Getting click+drag to work on the MacBook Pro 5,5 (since there’s no physical buttons anymore, but just one big touchpad (WHICH IS REALLY NICE!!)) requires a custom bcm5974-dkms driver. I’m using an unjournaled hfsplus partition to share data between OS X and Linux. And “setxkbmap -option altwin:swap_lalt_lwin” (or setting the same checkbox in KDE4’s System Settings) lets me use the command/apple/squiggly key next to the space bar as my Alt key (for alt+tabbing, etc.). All in all, I’m REALLY happy with Linux on this MacBook Pro. It seems to work every bit as nicely as Linux does on my work Thinkpad T61.
  2. There is something core to my nature that must tweak and hack, and Linux is most conducive to that. Take something simple, like wanting to change the font and font size that OS X uses for window titles, system menus, etc. Apparently you just can’t do it? That kind of stuff bothers me (and this is just one example in OS X that comes to mind). I truly do love Desktop Linux, and especially KDE for this reason. I’m not saying I couldn’t survive in OS X, and I still enjoy it and its apps. And if I have problems with things I need to do (audio/video conferencing comes immediately to mind), I have no hesitation booting into OS X to just get things done. And no, sorry, I just can’t stomach the thought of using Windows because I have to get things done. OS X may not be free, but at least I don’t vomit from just the thought of using it. But if for nothing other than the challenge of trying to figure out how to get things working to my liking, I feel compelled to run Linux on this little wee beastie. And maybe after I get things working to my liking, I’ll even find a couple of itches to scratch again and start being productive again. =:)
  3. We’re (Desktop Linux) not there (3rd party developer interest, compared to OS X and Windows) yet, but I think we’re getting closer, and even so, we may just never get there and that’s not our fault, I don’t think. My original line of thinking was that we’re not there yet because we keep changing core system components that prevent 3rd party developers, etc, from taking our platform seriously. And I think that as much as possible, we should really try to stop changing/breaking stuff so that this is not the reason we don’t get there. However, we have other core values and tendencies in Desktop Linux that are most definitely contributing to us not getting there and some of them we cannot change. Let’s take an important one: Freedom. Both parts of freedom matter: both gratis (for zero price) and libre (free to do whatever I want to it). The first part means that 3rd party developers can expect to sell nowhere near as much of their software in Linux as they can on OS X or Windows. The second part means that 3rd party developers can expect to meet resistance to their very existence. I personally side with the former more than the latter on this, since I’m cheap by nature and like to not spend money whenever possible. Also, being that I have to work for a living and support myself and my family, I do not, for a second, fault companies for existing and needing to have me pay for things so they can exist. But I think I’m in the minority on this point in Desktop Linux. Lastly, we’re not a money-making machine like Apple and Microsoft, and we never will be. And that’s both good and bad. It’s bad in that we do not have a big budget to spend on advertising and cute commercials, etc. It’s good in that we’re not going to go out of business just because we’re not “profitable” or growing as fast as OS X in market share. We have and can and will outlast other OS’s and desktop environments that must be profitable to exist (OS/2, Amiga, BeOS, etc., etc.). And maybe that’s why we’ll finally succeed in continuing to gain market share. Or maybe we’ll get there by being stable and good enough for most users and having applications which live on the  Internet being more important than applications that are written for Linux (Google OS, perhaps?). And maybe we’ll still not get there for another decade. Or longer. But that’s not the point, really, is it? I mean, it would be REALLY nice to never hear “oh, we’re just not even going to bother doing XXX on Linux, but that’s okay because Linux doesn’t matter… heck, it’s only .05% of our sales anyway!” again. But we’re here because we like what we have and we like where we’re going and we like controlling our destiny. I totally get that. And maybe that’s good enough.
  4. OS X really does have some nice apps that Linux has no counterparts for, but for me, there are not that many (Tweetie comes to mind) and the good news is that we (Desktop Linux) can fix that ourselves (and we are). One of the big things that people point to in this whole OS discussion is that OS X has more polished apps than Linux. And I must agree with this. But I think the reason is less because of OS superiority and more the nature of apps on OS X. Developers actually make money selling software on OS X *shock*, so they have a vested interest in polish and user experience, and spend a lot more time on it than Linux projects typically do. Heck, they even pay people to help make their apps polished and highly usable. The good news is that we’re in control of our own destiny here and can do (and are doing) better.
  5. We’ve come a long way (baybee), and I think we’re on the right track. It’s pretty amazing to think how far we’ve come in the last decade. It seems only yesterday that Blackbox and Bbkeys were the coolest thing in the world to me, and that the big Linux Desktop Environment projects just were nowhere as fun, exciting, or good-looking. We’ve come a long way since then. I’ve always preferred KDE to GNOME, but both DE’s have made HUGE improvements–both to the core Desktop Linux technologies that we share and to UI and polish and usability on top of those technologies. KDE4 has not even been out for 2 years already and the difference between what we have now compared to what we had 2 years ago is phenomenal. I absolutely agree with the sentiment that Desktop Linux is now, more than ever, ready for the world to use and ready for 3rd party developers to start writing for. I think this should drive us to be even that much more cautious as we push out new distributions and make sure we don’t break stuff just because we want something new and shiny.
  6. I haven’t left, nor do I plan to, Desktop Linux (I know, who cares), but I think it’s important to think about what might be broken in our development model and figure out how to fix it, else we’re shooting ourselves in the collective foot and preventing all our hard work from reaching beyond our little geekly communities into more mainstream adoption, and that would be truly sad.
  7. This MacBook Pro still has problems with Linux and that sucks, but also not our fault… sorta. And I’ll figure out how to work around all of them and so can you. As an example, as I’ve been typing this blog post, I have brushed the touchpad about 10 million times accidentally and ended up clicking somewhere entirely else, and in general disrupting my work by having to keep undoing the garbage that just happened. And yes, I’ve added a HAL fdi file to enable SHMConfig and tweaked syndaemon and synclient and yes, I know I need to still do more. But here’s the point: this does not happen in OS X. It just works. It would sure be swell if we could figure out how to make this work out of the box for Linux users. Similarly, suspend seems to work just fine, but I’ve had several issues with X/keyboard/mouse stability upon resuming. Not surprising, being that Apple hasn’t tried to make sure that its hardware works well with Linux. But annoying all the same.

Anyway, life is good, and I have a new puzzle to figure out (this MacBook Pro). =:)

Author: Jason 'vanRijn' Kasper

My name is Jason 'vanRijn' Kasper. I am the ring leader of the amazing Kasper family. I am unashamedly a Christian Nerd. These are our stories....


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