Watts (chipotle) wrote,

Macs and geek toys

I’ve had a habit of naming my machines for nearly as long as I’ve had computers; the only one that escaped that was the Intertec Superbrain I found abandoned in a break room at New College. (I tracked down its owner and got permission to rescue it.) The TRS-80 was named, for no good reason, “Fred”; for years I used “_bat” where the blank was the operating system: “winbat,” “bebat,” “slackbat” and “bsdbat” were all actually different incarnations of the same machine, under Windows 2000, BeOS, Slackware Linux and FreeBSD respectively.

The Macs I’ve owned have all followed a naming scheme based on their appearance:

  • Habanero (tangerine clamshell iBook)
  • Peroxide (titanium PowerBook)
  • Parmesan (PowerMac G5)
  • Frost (MacBook)

Yes, as tugrik alluded to, I bought a MacBook. The PowerBook I was using—actually revar’s—was getting progressively flakier in some respects, and when the wifi cut out completely at Barefoot Coffee Roasters a few days ago, I did a quick in-my-head calculation and decided that (famous last words) barring unforeseen circumstances I can afford this.

Is it an amazing computer? Well, I’m happy with it so far, at least. Many of the complaints people have made about it are things that either don’t bother me for my uses (no Firewire 800, no PC card slot) or that seem to be overstated. The Intel 950 graphics processor doesn’t bother me; it’s better than what the PowerBook had and I’m not a gamer. The glossy screen is, despite all the reflexive bitching, easier for me to read in bright light than the PowerBook’s was. The keyboard looks odd but it has a surprisingly nice feel to it so far.

So, what am I likely to do with Peroxide, you may ask? Last week, when I was trying to debug some other problems it was having, I reinstalled its OS from scratch and took the opportunity to leave a free space partition on the hard drive for another OS. I filled that space with Ubuntu Linux.

I’m really more of a FreeBSD fan than a Linux fan, although I don’t make it into the religious issue that ketrien does. But I wanted to see how far Linux has come in the last few years. Ubuntu’s “Live CD” booted without any issue on Peroxide, I ran the installer, and it basically said, “Hey, you have free space on your hard drive! Should I fill it?” I said, “Sure, why not?” and it did. And that was that. It did whatever extra partitions it needed to do silently, installed the boot menu (adding Mac OS X to it correctly) and did all the proper configurations for sound, X11, and other fluffery transparently. The only issue I’m having is that it doesn’t seem to work with my Airport card, even though some of the documentation I’ve found says that it should—although since I’ve been having issues with the Airport card under OS X, it may not be Ubuntu’s problem.

In other words, it behaved like what I’ve come to expect from a modern OS installer. I’d forgotten just how much that was not the norm for free Unixes, and still isn’t the norm for many of them, until I browsed the installation instructions for FreeBSD/PPC, Gentoo Linux and NetBSD (whose install process can only be described as “horrifying”). I believe if you put Ubuntu’s installer into “server mode” it will let you configure all the fiddly bits yourself, but it’s made the critical leap that a lot of Unix-heads seem to actively object to: 90% of your users will follow sane defaults if you make them available, and of the 10% who want/need the extra control, 90% of them will not be offended at the existence of the sane defaults as long as you can drop back to nerd mode on demand. The 1% who will be offended need to get over themselves.

Nonetheless, I’m considering putting Gentoo on Peroxide now, taking over the whole partition. It’s not nearly as an easy install, but it’s a similar philosophy to FreeBSD, and I haven’t done anything excessively geeky in a while.

Although maybe putting that energy toward a web application or two would be a better idea.

Meanwhile, off to find more Intel-specific binaries for Frost. It’s remarkable how many of the programs I’m using already have them available.

Tags: tech

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