Tuesday, November 17, 2009

MacOSX - yet another average Linux distribution

Already for some time I have known that I am physically incompatible with Microsoft's products, including Windows operating system. For years I blamed Microsoft for it, but it was only a while ago when I started to realize that there must be something wrong with me. After all, there are many people who use Microsoft's software day by day and are happy with it, it's just me who is able to crash vanilla WinXP in 5 minutes after the first boot.

One way or another, I can't use Windows. I have been a devoted Linux user for 10 years, but this only means I know it's shortcomings all too well. I can say I've had enough of it for a while, especially after the last upgrade, when my fonts started to disappear pixel by pixel.

And since my good old IBM T42 needed a replacement anyway, I decided to by a MacBook Pro. I have numerous colleagues who have switched to Mac more or less recently, and all of them share a common characteristic -- they are all happy about their computer. So I thought I might get happy as well.

I was wrong.

Of course I had done my homework. I knew that some older versions of MacOSX shipped with a non-standard Estonian keymap, e.g missing the circumflex symbol (^) badly needed for TeX typesetting. I had some hope that this would have been fixed in Snow Leopard, but I was of course too optimistic. Luckily, I have a good friend and colleague, a long time Mac-happee Sven Laur, who pointed me towards a keymap modification tool called Ukelele. That did the trick. So far so good.

Another peculiarity of MacOSX I was somewhat prepared for was the absence of a decent package management system. Of course, it is very convenient to install programs by just dragging them to the Applications directory, and later uninstall by dragging them onto the trash bin. But what happens if the package does not really contain an executable program?

For example, when looking for a solution for my above-mentioned problem, I found an Estonian keymap prepackaged for MacOSX on the Estonian Mac user forum. After downloading and installing, it of course turned out that it was packaged for some older version of the OS and that the old keymaps do not work any more. Oh well, let's try something else and uninstall this one first ... but uninstalling something that was not dragged onto the Applications directory turned out to be impossible! I asked for help from our local Mac store and the canonical way of resolving this issue was just deleting one file from the file system. But what happens if there are more files spread around everywhere, configuration files, dependencies ..? Steve only knows.

Then all of a sudden, the lot-advertised 3- and 4-finger trackpad gestures stopped working. I did some forum digging and it turned out that this was a known bug that can be resolved by logging out and back in again. Indeed it was. Is this the standard way of work of an operating system that is born ready? I don't know. You tell me.

But my latest-and-the-worst experience on MacOSX is connected to the fonts. I knew that it was very hard to change the fonts that Mac designers have chosen for you. I asked about this issue from our local Mac store before buying my laptop. The guy behind the desk did some googling (!) and calmed me down saying that there exists something called TinkerTool, a program that reveals some hidden configuration options, including font configuration.

Since my eyes get tired quite fast when I need to read small fonts, I downloaded the tool and tried turning every single font listed there to 14pt. The only visible difference was increase in the window title text, everything else remained the same!

Yes, some applications allow increasing some fonts independently of the system settings. So I was able to play with the display font of Safari and text output field of Skype, but not with the Safari UI font nor Skype's text input field! The worst of all is Thunderbird with the UI font so ridiculously small that it hurts. Browsing the forums reminded me of the good old times under Linux some 5 years ago, when one manually had to change the contents of userChrome.css file. I searched for it -- no such file exists in Thunderbird distribution for MacOSX as of the end of 2009. I created it in the correct directory, but it did not have any effect. And by the way -- I did not buy a Mac to start fiddling with the configuration files by hand!

Oh well. There are many other things to tell about (how Cyberduck FTP client hanged so badly that it even blocked shutdown, or how you have to go through 32 (thirty-two) easy steps in order to get MSN working under iChat), but I guess it is a good time to end this post here. What can I say in conclusion? MacOSX really does not work out-of-the-box, and as such, it is as good as your average Linux distribution.

It's only that exactly half of the Linux distributions are above the average.

1 comment:

Kristjan Jansen said...

For package manager try Homebrew