Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Switching Season ↦

Alex Payne writes about his occasional temptation to leave the House of Apple:

Once, maybe twice a year, I do this stupid thing. At least I’m not alone in it, as friends get the same itch, but I have to do it. I think about switching away from the Apple platform.

There is no shortage of reasons to consider leaving the House of Apple, especially for geeks technology enthusiasts. Of particular concern to many of us is Apple’s tyrannical mishandling of the iPhone’s application ecosystem and the lack of appealing alternatives:

The woeful performance and usability of Android is precisely the reason that Apple can treat developers (and consumers) however they like; it’s not even playing the same game, much less on the field with the iPhone. That Android is a mobile Linux platform is sadly apparent. Android suffers from the same issues that have plagued Linux on the desktop for years: the lack of integration between software and hardware, buggy and under-featured applications, a lack of attention paid to user experience issues. The encouraging openness and bits of innovation in Android are overshadowed by mediocrity.

Mac desktops/laptops are fortunately free of such despotism but many of us are nevertheless frustrated at the lack of (what we consider to be) viable competition:

Assuming I can justify the expense to myself, I could get a ThinkPad, familiar and homely and built like a tank. Then what? Run Ubuntu on it? Sure, Linux has evolved to the point that there’s not much tinkering required to have a functional laptop (if you do your research before purchasing), but it also boasts no marked improvement over OS X. I could run a tiling window manager and not have to fuss with manual software updates, but those niceties are traded for pervasive rough edges and inconsistencies, not to mention the loss of the near-seamless integration of the iPhone with iTunes, Address Book, and the rest of the Mac experience.

Having been denied a Mac at work, I’ve learned to make do with Ubuntu Linux on that computer. I’ve been very encouraged by how comfortable a computing platform I’ve been able to extract from the latest version of Ubuntu. I’m content to use it as a primary desktop operating system, which is not something I’ve been able to say about previous experiments with Linux.

In spite of the progress that Ubuntu has made, however, it still took considerable effort (much of it non-intuitive and requiring significant research) to get my Linux Laptop to a point where I could use it frequently. And even then, I still long for my Mac at home by the end of the day. I desperately want Linux to be a practical alternative in the desktop arena and while it is tantalizingly close, it is still so far away.

Switching Season is about a desire to tinker, to play, to explore other possibilities for the tools that dominate my life as technologist. That’s why it comes on, strong and regular, grabbing at my attention and pulling me away from more measurably productive pursuits. It takes me back to age 14, installing Linux on a terrible old PC for the first time, trying to get things working, learning something new in the process. It’s about computer usage as a creative act, something that becomes harder and harder to experience the more proficient one gets with a computer.

I can’t say that I experience a particular period when switching is especially tempting, but I do identify with many of the sentiments that Alex expresses.