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Freedom and convenience

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By Jake Edge
June 23, 2010

It is frustrating for free software folks to see their friends and family disappear into the maw of Facebook's walled garden, seemingly unable to communicate via any other means. Looking around at Linux conferences and seeing lots of Apple laptops is equally frustrating—disheartening even—especially given Apple's draconian policies that seem to be hell-bent on creating, and enforcing, its own garden. And let's not forget that Apple is currently pursuing a patent attack that could do quite a bit of damage to Linux and free software. When looking at those things, it's important to remember that the struggle for freedom is rarely convenient. There are entrenched interests—and enormous sums of money—arrayed against software freedom, but that hasn't halted the movement's progress.

While it's clear that Apple, Facebook, Google, and others have made compelling platforms for users, it's equally clear that they have also ignored, or actively thwarted, user freedom. They have their reasons for doing so, not least the profit motive, but those with long memories have seen this kind of thing before. After all, 20 years ago one would have been hard-pressed to find a usable free operating system. The reasons were much the same then as they are now: money and power.

That particular obstacle has been overcome, with a lot of hard work by a lot of people, so it's a little early to be overly concerned that Apple (or Facebook or ...) is somehow siphoning off the energy of the free software movement. There are lots of Windows laptops at Linux conferences as well, but one would guess the percentage has drastically decreased over the years and only a small part of that has ended up in Apple's lap (or with an Apple in their lap).

Companies like Apple and Microsoft have huge advantages that are extremely difficult for free software to overcome, yet we still make progress. Anyone who has been a part of the community as a developer or user for 10 or 15 years—or even less—should be astonished at the advances made. But in order to do that, some folks will have to take the less convenient path, whether that means foregoing the latest user interface enhancements from Apple, or missing out on the über-cool (and trendy!) social networking widgets and games from Facebook. So far, fortunately, we haven't really lacked for people willing to make those choices.

It is probably quite obvious to most LWN readers, but it still bears repeating: the freedom to use hardware, software, and data as we desire—rather than as the purveyors want us to use them—sometimes comes with a price. Inconvenience, fewer capabilities, and sometimes being ostracized are some of the possible costs. But, as we have seen, the payoff is huge and the cost can be amortized over not only years, but also over a large number of users and developers.

The alternative, while perhaps convenient, is, in the end, bleak. It is no surprise that various mega-corporations are constantly trying to distract us with "shiny", because if they can just get past these pesky freedoms that some clamor about, they can get on with the profit-making tasks at hand. If they can redefine users as strictly "consumers of content", with that content controlled by the corporations and their allies, they can push more and more restrictions (a la the DMCA and the ACTA treaty) and further perpetuate their control.

By walling themselves off from the rest of the computing world, while enticing as many as possible to move inside their walls, Apple and Facebook (and others, those two are just today's high-profile offenders) are doing those users a grave disservice, at least in the long run. The battle for software freedom—really, any freedom—is a war of ideas, and ideals. Software freedom may be the pragmatic choice given a long enough view, but it often runs counter to the conventional thinking, which is why education needs to be a big part of the effort.

In the conflict between free and closed systems, there are many fronts. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has generally been in the forefront of the battle to help people understand software freedom and why it's important. Other organizations and projects, including things like the Linux kernel and the FSF's own GNU project, have taken on other parts of the struggle. There is plenty of room in our movement for different approaches. Just as we don't require a single choice for editor, desktop environment, or distribution, diversity in how we work towards software freedom is important and useful.

Like my colleague, Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier, I am not always impressed with the campaigns that the FSF comes up with. I don't, however, see them as any kind of impediment to achieving the free software goals that we all likely share. Some of the phrases that have come from the FSF's campaigns (DRM == "digital restrictions management" and the lesser-known but still perfectly descriptive "defective by design" for example) have been exactly what was needed to help in the education process. Sometimes, negative campaigns have their place; what alternative to DRM should the FSF be pushing? In that case, "Gno" seems like the right answer.

None of that is to say that providing alternatives is not also important. Projects to make the Linux desktop more "usable" and user-friendly exist. There are various nascent efforts to create freedom and privacy-respecting alternatives to Facebook as well. These things will take time, but we will get there. Just look back a decade or two.


(Log in to post comments)

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 24, 2010 2:10 UTC (Thu) by dskoll (subscriber, #1630) [Link]

+1 on the comment about Apple equipment at Linux and Free Software conferences.

I find it sad that so many people are seduced by glitz and Apple's marketing machine. It's unfortunate that a presenter at a Linux conference is looked down upon for using PowerPoint, but nobody is bothered if he/she uses an Apple notebook or an iPhone. Apple is far worse than Microsoft when it comes to restricting freedom; Apple's name should be mud in the Free Software community just as Microsoft's is.

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 24, 2010 3:37 UTC (Thu) by Trelane (subscriber, #56877) [Link]

I wonder how much of this is due to people installing Linux on Windows computers instead of buying a Linux computer (e.g. zareason, system76).

Are Ubuntu-only notebooks really better than Apple notebooks?

Posted Jun 24, 2010 4:52 UTC (Thu) by ndye (guest, #9947) [Link]

buying a Linux computer (e.g. zareason, system76)

Every time I've looked at these two vendors, I've seen reasonable prices for ... only Ubuntu? ... non-specific part names?   This assembly is unique to this vendor, and might change from week to week?   So I worry about being unable to run Debian, Fedora, *BSD, etc.

OTOH, emperorlinux has offered to support several distributions on a variety brands and models, but all I can see there is the high prices.

Have I missed any other Linux-notebook vendors who stick to FLOSS-compatible parts?   Is this simply another example of getting what one pays for?

Are Ubuntu-only notebooks really better than Apple notebooks?

Posted Jun 24, 2010 13:32 UTC (Thu) by Trelane (subscriber, #56877) [Link]

zareason will install a number of mainstream OSes: some Ubuntu variants, Fedora, Debian, and Mint. There's a no OS option. s76 is Ubuntu-only.

The two netbooks I'm looking at:
http://www.system76.com/product_info.php?cPath=28&pro...
http://zareason.com/shop/product.php?productid=16261&...

to give you an idea what their pages look like.

"non-specific part names?"

I've no idea what you mean here. It seems to have more specific names than the big-name vendors, plus they don't have the self-branded and self-modified crap (e.g. the radeon card that identifies with a slightly different ID since it's a Dell variant, the "Dell wifi" and things). and they're very very responsive to email/phone, and will tell you exactly what's in there.

"assembly is unique to this vendor,"

I'm not sure what you mean here. They have products that they sell that are different from the products that other vendors sell? That doesn't sound at all unique to me.

"might change from week to week"

Mmm, no. They have specific product lines that they sell; they don't change 'from week to week' as far as I've ever seen.

Perhaps you could explain what you mean better?

"OTOH, emperorlinux has offered to support several distributions on a variety brands and models"

all Emperor does is buy Windows boxes and put Linux on 'em. They're not really an OEM like Dell, HP, System76, and zareason. (zareason, for instance, goes to the hardware vendors (ooem? like dell and hp, they don't directly manufacture the laptops themselves) to select hardware that works with Linux, and to help guide the ooems to produce linux-friendly hardware.) Perhaps this is the source of your confusion; they don't just resell Dell/HP/Lenovo; they *are* the OEM.

Are Ubuntu-only notebooks really better than Apple notebooks?

Posted Jun 24, 2010 14:19 UTC (Thu) by musicon (guest, #4739) [Link]

I've been in the market for a new laptop for about a year and a half, and have only seen one so far that comes close to meeting my needs: the Dell M6500 -- and it's ridiculously overkill in some areas (3 hard drives? really?)

My needs (to me) are simple: quad CPU, 8+ GB, 17" 1920x1200 screen, 6+ hour battery life, docking station, completely free drivers. I write code and support multiple environments keeping several test VMs running.

I've looked at multiple vendors, and repeatedly at the "Linux friendly" OEMS like you referenced, and they all continually fail at a few major areas. For instance, the highest-end zareason system (Verix 1656) has Nvidia graphics, only a 15" screen, no docking station, no extra battery to replace the dvd drive.

The System 76 Bonobo does better on the chipset, but has equal failings: why in the world would I want a 17" screen at only 1440x900? Why only a 6-cell battery? Etc...

In the meantime I'll stick with my old laptop that has a docking station for easy use at home and work, lets me put a battery in the dvd slot, has an all-intel chipset and network, etc...

Are Ubuntu-only notebooks really better than Apple notebooks?

Posted Jun 24, 2010 14:47 UTC (Thu) by Trelane (subscriber, #56877) [Link]

Have you talked to them about it?

Are Ubuntu-only notebooks really better than Apple notebooks?

Posted Jun 25, 2010 2:18 UTC (Fri) by musicon (guest, #4739) [Link]

Yes. Apparently it's too "specialized" of a request. Also, from what I've been told, normal users don't want docking stations.

Are Ubuntu-only notebooks really better than Apple notebooks?

Posted Jun 25, 2010 20:16 UTC (Fri) by socket (subscriber, #43) [Link]

Ah, the mythical "typical user."

For what it's worth, I don't think your request sounds unreasonable. I personally haven't used a docking bay, but that's probably because I don't have one single office or desk I spend most of my time at.

Are Ubuntu-only notebooks really better than Apple notebooks?

Posted Jun 28, 2010 16:48 UTC (Mon) by maco (guest, #53641) [Link]

That's interesting, since two of ZaReason's laptops have optional docking stations.

Are Ubuntu-only notebooks really better than Apple notebooks?

Posted Jun 27, 2010 15:46 UTC (Sun) by nix (subscriber, #2304) [Link]

17" 1920x1200 screen
On a laptop? It seems to me you'll need either a projected display or TARDIS technology if you want that thing to be portable in any meaningful sense.

I mean, I love big screens as much as the next geek, but there is a stage at which you must say 'this giant screen belongs in a docking station'.

Are Ubuntu-only notebooks really better than Apple notebooks?

Posted Jun 28, 2010 14:22 UTC (Mon) by musicon (guest, #4739) [Link]

Yes, that screen size and additional weight is perfectly acceptable. I'm already carrying a 20lb satchel of paperwork and tools when traveling to remote sites, what's 2-3 more lbs for a far more productive system? (Of course, I used to have several different Compaq luggables, so maybe my perspective is skewed.)

Also, I tend to use the laptop as a second monitor on my desk, so the more I can fit on it the better.

See my previous comments about the docking station dilemma.

Are Ubuntu-only notebooks really better than Apple notebooks?

Posted Jun 28, 2010 16:46 UTC (Mon) by maco (guest, #53641) [Link]

ZaReason will install just about any distro you want. They list Fedora, but they always have a comment box for special requests. Even if you want Slackware, they'll do it, but Earl says "doesn't that take the fun out of it?"

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 26, 2010 22:58 UTC (Sat) by miketrim (subscriber, #54570) [Link]

Unfortunately most of the companies that sell computers with Linux seem to be US-based; in the UK the only supplier I am aware of is Linux Emporium, who have a small range of Lenovo laptops that don't really meet my needs. I have previously bought Ubuntu desktops from Dell (UK) and EfficientPC, however Dell are no longer selling computers with Linux and EfficientPC have closed due to the (allegedly) "widespread availability of pre-installed Linux computers from mainstream retailers".

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 28, 2010 14:34 UTC (Mon) by Trelane (subscriber, #56877) [Link]

zareason will ship to many international places, if that's any help: http://zareason.com/shop/pages.php?pageid=17

system76 is only us/canada, iirc.

Of course, supporting your local computer vendors is usually a good idea, if they exist and are decent.

UK Linux vendors

Posted Jul 2, 2010 20:06 UTC (Fri) by roelofs (guest, #2599) [Link]

Unfortunately most of the companies that sell computers with Linux seem to be US-based; in the UK the only supplier I am aware of is Linux Emporium

Aleutia is UK-based and sells Linux computers. (They're not laptops, and the model lineup changes every few months, but I'm pretty happy with the two fanless ones I bought.)

Greg

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 24, 2010 7:46 UTC (Thu) by epa (subscriber, #39769) [Link]

There may be two forces at work: desire to use a free system, and mere dislike of Windows (or the wish to use a Unix-like system). In the past those coincided: Linux was the most common free OS, and also the default choice for a Unix-like environment. Now that Apple offers a seductive alternative to Windows that also lets you compile most free software applications without too much trouble, those who are less concerned about freedom for its own sake may well choose Apple instead.

(Linus's wife uses a Mac Mini, but it runs Linux. I do wonder why more of the Apple laptop crowd don't do likewise. It still looks like a Mac from the outside, so you can still try to look cool.)

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 24, 2010 9:34 UTC (Thu) by euvitudo (guest, #98) [Link]

I first came to Linux because of a dislike of Windows. I also wanted to play around with something that doesn't intentionally have barriers preventing me from doing so.

Years passed since my first install, and I had been using Linux as the primary choice for all my systems (both at work and at home). My development platform at work has always been Linux.

In the past couple years, I changed jobs; the new employer gave be a bare desktop (yeah, no OS--awesome!) and a windows laptop. I honestly gave it a good trial as a development platform, but my unix-based needs were hardly filled by cygwin. So I wiped the disks and installed linux. Have been happy ever since.

Now, a few months ago, I decided to purchase a new system for my family. The choice was obvious: Apple. The reasons include the following: first, I no longer have time to dedicate to update the family's main computer (Mac updates? easy!), neither do I have time to be tech-support when something didn't work (with the Mac, things mostly "just work").

The realities of a busy life (with my oldest child now a teenager) keep me away from maintaining a Linux system for my family. Sure, I could teach the kids how to maintain it, but none of them have any interest (though one of them does have an interest in programming that I certainly encourage and provide help when needed, but maintaining a Linux box?).

So, fact of the matter is: the Mac works most of the time without much interaction from me. I was happy to work with it, as I now can have (in my desktop) my UI and eat it with command-line too. :)

Having said that, I agree that I've given up some of my freedoms with the OS. However, I don't have to, e.g., do anything to get my iPod Touch working with the system. Yes, I know there's a trade-off, but it was a conscious one; a 'business' choice (the 'business' here being that which is required to fill the needs of my family).

Will I ever use the mac as a development platform? Sure, for some things. No for others. Will my child-programmer use Linux? Sure--he uses an ancient, minimalist system that he knows is not going to have the bells and whistles; he's happy because he can get his python code running and display some graphics. He's at least learning the concepts and techniques.

Now, I'd like to say something about the current state of the Linux desktop. I've grown extremely tired of dealing with the memory hogs that are Gnome and KDE. I stick with (yeah, laugh if you want) Enlightenment 0.16. It stays out of my way and doesn't eat up the 4G RAM that I have on the system. My requirements are different from those of my family; I don't require eye candy in my face, but I do require consistency.

Finally, I've also grown tired of the sheep mentality that leads to things like the let's-copy-windows-UI-and/or-mac-UI-but-only-horribly results. I don't like the Windows UI, and am only a bit less apathetic about the Mac UI. Needless to say, the state of the desktop needs someone to come in and innovate or invent some new as a concept for a user interface. Apple came out with something that at least looked fresh, and it was based on Unix--what could be better! But in the end I still want Linux, and I'm happy to run my ancient window manager because it's consistent, lightweight, and allows me to get my job done.

Enough for now. (Apologies for the lengthy monologue.)

Cheers!

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 24, 2010 10:45 UTC (Thu) by fb (subscriber, #53265) [Link]

> So, fact of the matter is: the Mac works most of the time without much interaction from me. I was happy to work with it, as I now can have (in my desktop) my UI and eat it with command-line too. :)

You seem to talk about Linux (on a desktop) as if you were using Debian in 2002. Those days having a Linux desktop required "maintainance".

I use Ubuntu throughout the house, and I would like to share with you that the whole thing "mostly just works without any interaction from me" -- just like your Apple!

> Now, I'd like to say something about the current state of the Linux desktop. I've grown extremely tired of dealing with the memory hogs that are Gnome and KDE. I stick with (yeah, laugh if you want) Enlightenment 0.16. It stays out of my way and doesn't eat up the 4G RAM that I have on the system. My requirements are different from those of my family; I don't require eye candy in my face, but I do require consistency.

I sincerely don't get the point of your complaint. The way I read it, you have a problem with what you perceive as memory hogging of Gnome/KDE. Honestly, why should an end-user care if Gnome wastes ?150MB? of out 4G of memory? The only answer I can think of is if the user is being precious.

I have an old laptop with 1G of RAM. I run Ubuntu the way it comes out of the CD. It "just works". Memory is more than enough unless I open 50 tabs on the browser. I also have a 8G of RAM desktop, and I can tell you it is frustratingly hard to put all that memory to use (keep in mind I run Eclipse).

Ubuntu

Posted Jun 24, 2010 12:53 UTC (Thu) by tajyrink (subscriber, #2750) [Link]

I agree. I "maintain" several people's Ubuntu machines, basically one-time install since there is not much availability of off-the-shelf Ubuntu machines around here, and then years of usage with maybe one or two easy questions per year. Eventually now I've started to upgrade 8.04 LTS to 10.04 LTS when visiting, mostly for the fun and glossiness of it, although officially upgrades from 8.04 LTS via Update Manager will be started to be offered in July-August timeframe.

I wouldn't recommend Apple hardware to others mostly because it's a bit waste of that amount of money and a quick look at a latest laptop review in a magazine usually gives a good, cheaper option. I would recommend Dell if they had more than that one business mini laptop Ubuntu option here.

I myself as a technology geek could consider Apple (PC) hardware some day, but only when the software <-> hardware separation will be enforced so that software for the PC will always be purchased separately.

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 24, 2010 8:36 UTC (Thu) by elanthis (guest, #6227) [Link]

When someone makes comparable hardware, let me know. 10 hours battery life on a 17" screen with moderately high-end graphics is a combination you literally cannot find from any other manufacturer. Frankly, some of us actually _need_ that. Say, those of us who work on high-end graphical apps (of the non-Free entertainment variety, say) and fly or travel a lot, for example.

You can call it "caving to convenience" if you want. With that logic, though, you had better not go anywhere near a hospital again ever in your life. Those evil bastard doctors use all kinds of proprietary software, proprietary hardware, and even medical practice patents while getting rid of the inconvenience of letting your illnesses and injuries heal on their own.

Software is a means to an end. The people who make software the goal of human civilization have utterly and completely lost touch with reality and need to hang out with more regular people and less programmers. The same goes for hardware devices.

The people who think Freedom actually matters to real people are just as out of touch. The Four Freedoms of the FSF are utterly irrelevant to anyone who's not a programmer, other than perhaps the right to share with a neighbor (because that makes it free-as-in-beer, and everybody likes to save a buck). If you want Free Software or Free Hardware to actually be relevant outside of nerd circles, it needs to appeal to the merits that real people care about. They don't care about open standards, but they do care about document portability. They don't care about the ability to inspect and fix code, but they do care about having a bug-free experience. They don't care about having the right to get source, but they do care about the ability to get free copies from friends. They don't care about hackable firmware, but they do care about carrier independence. They don't care about being able to learn from the source, but they do care about not being forced to look at source code at all (and shell prompts are basically the same damn thing as source code to most people; just a bunch of techno-gibberish that some lazy programmer didn't bother to abstract away).

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 24, 2010 9:18 UTC (Thu) by lbt (subscriber, #29672) [Link]

The freedoms are indeed utterly irrelevant to ignorant end-users.

And ignorant end-users are what corporates love... ask Nike; or today, Apple.

Isn't that the point of this article? That if we want people to understand why FSF-type ravings *matter* then we need to educate them. People just don't *know* what's wrong with Apple and their ilk.

One way of doing that is to engage in the reasons *why* you're not being 'cool'.

Incidentally, when having those discussions I don't think enough is made of the economic model of free software from an end-user (individual or corporate) point of view.

Free software is significantly about directing your money/scarce resource to where *you* want it to go. As long as your business is not "making software" then that's crucial.

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 24, 2010 10:59 UTC (Thu) by fb (subscriber, #53265) [Link]

> Software is a means to an end. The people who make software the goal of human civilization have utterly and completely lost touch with reality and need to hang out with more regular people and less programmers. The same goes for hardware devices.
> The people who think Freedom actually matters to real people are just as out of touch. The Four Freedoms of the FSF are utterly irrelevant to anyone who's not a programmer, other than perhaps the right to share with a neighbor (because that makes it free-as-in-beer, and everybody likes to save a buck).

Thank you so very much for voicing this so clearly and rationally.

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 25, 2010 17:29 UTC (Fri) by vblum (guest, #1151) [Link]

Having defended the practicalities of owning a Macbook further below, I am a bit surprised by the harsh assessment of both previous post.

The only reason why freedom does not matter for most here is because we are not now effectively locked into single corporate solutions.

As much as I value my Macbook (see below), the reason I do is that it does not restrict me in what I choose to do with it - even if that is locking myself into Keynote for an important visible part of what I do.

However, without free software around, the machine would be significantly less useful to me, and the free software that it has comes because someone utilized the FOSS community's approach correctly - make sure that software is developed collaboratively under license terms that are inclusive and guarantee the "freedom" of contributors. Examples would be Linux for development (now on a virtual machine but anyway), anything provided by the fink project (git, scientific visualization etc. etc. etc.), Latex, ...

But much more importantly:

If it wasn't for the existence of completely free alternatives, there simply would be no credible threat to force Apple or M$ to treat their users with respect. Remember IE? Apparently its development picked up only after Firefox was finally marketed as an adequate alternative. Without FF, M$ would have been happy to keep us locked up and make money a little longer. Likewise, Apple. If they started to lock their more tech-oriented users into Apple-only software (rather than trying to win them over through quality work) - well, those tech-oriented users would be gone in a blink.

So in short: Freedom may not actually _mean anything_ to real people. "Matter", it does. Who else is going to ensure that the use of the machines that we own will not be deliberately restricted to make sure we pay more money to the right people?

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 27, 2010 17:11 UTC (Sun) by tdwebste (guest, #18154) [Link]

fb, I don't think everyone caught your sarcasm, because there actually are a large number of small minded people who do not think beyond the moment.

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 27, 2010 21:54 UTC (Sun) by vblum (guest, #1151) [Link]

Yes, I did not catch the sarcasm. Shouldn't have written late at night. The "small-minded" bit could be construed as unfriendly, though - was that intentional?

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 24, 2010 13:51 UTC (Thu) by felixfix (subscriber, #242) [Link]

"The people who think Freedom actually matters to real people are just as out of touch. The Four Freedoms of the FSF are utterly irrelevant to anyone who's not a programmer"

Just as freedom of speech, of assembly, of religion, of the right to petition government, and so many other freedoms only matter to a very few people.

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 27, 2010 15:43 UTC (Sun) by nix (subscriber, #2304) [Link]

Exactly. Why would freedom of the press matter? You're not a newspaper baron!

(now look at the places that don't have it. want to live in one of those? exactly.)

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 24, 2010 14:22 UTC (Thu) by tshow (subscriber, #6411) [Link]

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 24, 2010 14:04 UTC (Thu) by foom (subscriber, #14868) [Link]

> Apple is far worse than Microsoft when it comes to restricting freedom

Indeed, and this saddens me. (Typing this from a mac laptop) I think it just hasn't quite sunk in with many people how control-freaky Apple is these days -- people think of Apple as an underdog which is somewhat friendly to Open Source, not as a maniacally controlling mega-corp. They're switching course so fast, it's a bit hard to keep up.

Prior to the iPhone, I think things were actually going rather well in that regard... Their software wasn't all open source, for sure, but MacOS X had an open source kernel, and much of the low level infrastructure is open source...and they didn't attempt to prevent people from running whatever code they wanted on their hardware. It was pretty friendly to hackers, and shipped with lots of familiar tools familiar for people used to Linux/BSD OSes. (That's pretty-much all still true for OSX, btw, except that they use outdated versions of any software that's switched to GPLv3.)

And at first with the iPhone, it wasn't clear yet that they'd push the controlled-garden philosophy so hard. But it now is. Especially as they extend iOS, along with its user lockdown, to other devices like the iPad. And why wouldn't they, after all? This way, they get $100/developer/year + 30% of all app sales on the platform, and all they have to do is roll some dice every time a developer submits an app for distribution to decide whether to reject it or not. That's a pretty awesome deal, for them.

Oh well.

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 24, 2010 17:46 UTC (Thu) by Alan_Hicks (guest, #20469) [Link]

Speaking as the proud owner of an Apple notebook, I can say that there's good reason to own one primarily because they are the best fit for my needs.

As some one who uses a laptop computer in his lap, Apple notebooks have always been superior. With a smooth flat bottom and vents out the back, the Apple notebooks are more comfortable to use for extended periods of time without a desk around. Most PC laptops have fan vents on the bottom and large pointy feet on them to keep the notebook bottom up off a desk for proper ventilation. This makes them very uncomfortable to use simply holding them in your lap. Not only do the feet jab into your legs, but they don't cool as well, so the laptops tend to get warm. This can shorten their service life as well.

Also, Apple laptops have all the ports on the side of the laptop. This is much more convenient for me. There is no awkward reaching-around to plug in the power cord. They tend to have other niceties such as a magnetic power cord that snaps right off if some one trips over the cable.

The biggest drawbacks to them are the nasty EFI, making use of newer hardware (particularly 802.11 NICs) that aren't necessarily well-supported in Linux, and price. Once you get over the sticker shock and get Linux installed and working, nothing else is as nice to use. The one-button touch-pad takes a little adjustment, but once you've configured the synaptics driver properly, you won't want to use the tiny touchpads on most PC notebooks.

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 28, 2010 17:50 UTC (Mon) by maco (guest, #53641) [Link]

Yeah, but I saw you getting all interested in the nice smooth bottom on that ZaReason Hoverboard...

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 24, 2010 18:55 UTC (Thu) by rillian (subscriber, #11344) [Link]

I'm one of those people you see with an Apple laptop at conferences. For me it's more nuanced than just "shiny". I'd like to say a bit about my motivations.

First, I like the way the hardware looks. There are a few other vendors which produce nice-looking hardware; Sony is another example, but not exactly a better choice in support of information freedom.

Second, it is much more difficult to buy a laptop with no OS (or Linux) than it is to buy a desktop. So I've generally not had the choice of not paying for a proprietary OS license. Given the choice between Microsoft and Apple, I've generally chosen Apple. As others have mentioned, MacOS isn't been as locked down as the iOS, and MacOS X offers a much friendlier environment than Windows for a Linux-oriented user.

Third, hardware support issues have been a huge problem. ACPI has been a disaster for suspend/resume, which for me is an essential feature when attending a conference. I don't think that's worked properly on any laptop I've used since my G4 Powerbook. Likewise with video drivers, where the external video port often didn't work, or work correctly, under free drivers, which is very embarrassing when giving a presentation. For those reasons I've often chosen to use MacOS X when travelling, even though I'd prefer to use GNU/Linux as I do on my desktop system at home.

Since I've had one anyway, I've also done commercial work on MacOS which has been a useful advantage, and for me was preferable to doing the same thing under Windows.

Fortunately, while Apple has become less friendly (or at least able to exert more control as they've gained market share) the the issues with Linux distributions on laptop hardware have improved, so I doubt my next laptop will be an Apple machine. It will probably be ugly though.

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 24, 2010 21:50 UTC (Thu) by boudewijn (subscriber, #14185) [Link]

Suspend/resume has worked fine for me ever since I started buying Thinkpads. And the Dells before that resumed fine as well -- pity they broke down because a ridge on the bottom of the plastic palm rest scratched away the surface of some essential chips. Also... I've had a 17" powerbook for some time, and it did not resume faultlessly: it needed a reboot about once a month because it couldn't come back from suspend. Though that might have been because I suspended it while compiling something. My X61t running OpenSUSE never had that problem, though.

Apple notebooks

Posted Jul 1, 2010 12:13 UTC (Thu) by bryanlarsen (guest, #26230) [Link]

As a counter-example -- my wife's MacBook Pro, which runs OS X, does not reliably suspend. (well, it suspends, but then spins up the DVD drive every thirty seconds or so killing the battery quicker than if you left the lid open) OTOH my ThinkPad running Linux suspends fine.

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 26, 2010 13:29 UTC (Sat) by emk (subscriber, #1128) [Link]

I ran Linux laptops for years, and still have several friends who do so to this day. In fact, I would love to migrate back.

But here's my litmus test for laptops: If a laptop doesn't perform a clean, reliable sleep when I close the lid, and a clean, reliable suspend-to-disk when the battery runs low, I want nothing to do with it. In the past, this has generally taken me on the order of 20–60 hours make work on Linux. If I'm going to run Linux, I want this to work out of the box.

Even my friends who still run Linux on (relatively reasonable) laptop hardware figure that upgrading to the latest Ubuntu will require 10–20 hours of messing with drivers to return to the status quo ante. This is utterly unacceptable to me: I have a toddler at home and a startup to run.

Oh, and while I'm being greedy, I want at least 3 hours of real-world battery life (when coding), good looking hardware, and build quality which isn't totally horrible. I'm willing to spend about $300 more than I would for an equivalent Windows laptop to get this, or the price of an equivalent MacBook Pro (if the looks and build quality are the same).

Do any of the Linux laptop vendors currently offer a product like this? If so, I'll consider it for my next upgrade. Apple has gone over the edge with iOS restrictions lately, and I'd like to stop giving them my money. But this is exactly the wrong time in my life to be patching kernels to make suspend/resume "work," for values of "work" that include "the kernel panics 20% of the time."

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 26, 2010 19:01 UTC (Sat) by boudewijn (subscriber, #14185) [Link]

Works fine for me with *buntu or OpenSUSE on any Lenovo I have bought in the past three or four years, about five or six.

Lenovo, Fedora

Posted Jun 26, 2010 19:32 UTC (Sat) by dmarti (subscriber, #11625) [Link]

The Lenovo T400s all worked out of the box for me (running Fedora 12) except for the Qualcomm mobile broadband card, which required a little dorking around to get working. And of course the Apple machine comes with the patented codecs pre-installed, and an all-Free distribution can't. But overall I'd have to say the Linux setup time was less annoying than the hassle factor of having to install software packages one at a time instead of using a proper package manager.

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 28, 2010 11:35 UTC (Mon) by nye (guest, #51576) [Link]

Lucky you - I've still never seen Ubuntu hibernate successfully[0] :'(

On this Dell (Vostro 1510 to be specific) I found that suspend works about 95% of the time, as long as I don't try anything crazy like closing the lid and then opening it before suspend has completed, or the converse.

Certainly it seems one needs to choose the hardware with care, and still have some risk on OS upgrades, which supports the GP's point.

[0] Well technically I'm sure it hibernates just fine. *Resuming*, on the other hand...

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 28, 2010 14:44 UTC (Mon) by Trelane (subscriber, #56877) [Link]

" If I'm going to run Linux, I want [suspend and resume] to work out of the box."

"I want at least 3 hours of real-world battery life (when coding), good looking hardware, and build quality which isn't totally horrible."

"Do any of the Linux laptop vendors currently offer a product like this?"

Yes. both system76 and zareason should Just Work. zareason emphasizes upstream compatibility and purchases their hardware accordingly. system76 seems similar, but I've had less of a dialog with them (see below about zareason's irc channel). system76, however, provides extra drivers when necessary to make the hardware work (is perhaps also why they don't ship anything outside Ubuntu). So it should Just Work now and in the future. In addition, they're a Linux shop. If you call them up, you can talk directly with them about the issues you're having and you don't have to pretend to be running Windows.

They also offer very good battery life on the systems I've looked at online (6-8hrs on the terra hd with 6-cell; 4hrs with the 4-cell on the Hoverboard). I recall similar battery times with the others. (If you have specific questions, they are very responsive by email. zareason has a support person (MarkDude) on Freenode in #zareason. He's even taken extra photos (alan hicks wanted to see the bottoms of the laptops) and things when requested.)

The other two (aesthetics and "build quality") are highly subjective and/or very hard to quantify. You might want to poke around a bit to see what you think. zareason at least is at several large Linux conferences (latest was SELF) if you want hands-on before purchase. I'm not sure which shows/conferences, if any, system76 is at.

HTH.

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 28, 2010 16:59 UTC (Mon) by maco (guest, #53641) [Link]

The Ubuntu Ohio LoCo Team usually has System76 machines at OLF, and MarkDude says ZaReason is working on getting a booth at OLF as well.

So, visit Ohio in September!

Apple notebooks

Posted Jun 28, 2010 16:57 UTC (Mon) by maco (guest, #53641) [Link]

ZaReason doesn't release a system unless it can reliably suspend/resume & hibernate/resume. I've had one of their systems for just over 2 years now, and it is GREAT! I'm planning on buying another system from them soon, so I can have a nice little netbook with a full size keyboard. And see what I said about them not releasing without reliable ACPI? That netbook is currently in preorder only mode while they await a kernel update that'll enable those features on that hardware.

I'm told by Canonical's Kernel Bug Triager that ZaReason works well with them to ensure the hardware is all functional. They really do a good job of working with Ubuntu developers to get everything going--well enough that they offer new Ubuntu releases the day they're released (taking preorders for weeks prior), unlike Dell who doesn't offer new Ubuntu releases for months.

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 2:38 UTC (Thu) by ralphdegennaro (subscriber, #35718) [Link]

Bravo! There is a quote (paraphrase) from some movie (can't remember which) I like: "there comes a time when we'll have to choose between what is right and what is easy." Not exactly the same, but similar sentiment.

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 3:41 UTC (Thu) by ccurtis (guest, #49713) [Link]

There are some good quotes out there like that:

"There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right."

This is a bit ethno-centric, but also hopeful: "I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom."

Many more can be read here: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King,_Jr.

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 4:15 UTC (Thu) by alfille (subscriber, #1631) [Link]

I hate to speak during the sermon, but was there a novel point to this article?

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 6:43 UTC (Thu) by ekj (guest, #1524) [Link]

I was about to ask that. What did this article intend to convey ? "Freedom good, even when sometimes inconvenient" ? We know that.

Also, what's up with: 'Projects to make the Linux desktop more "usable" and user-friendly exist.'

Is that supposed to be tongue-in-cheek ? "exist" is a huge understatement, and frankly an insult to the enormous amounts of good work put into this area by thousands of people over the last decade.

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 9:50 UTC (Thu) by madhatter (subscriber, #4665) [Link]

> What did this article intend to convey ? "Freedom good, even when
> sometimes inconvenient" ? We know that.

Judging by some of the comments above, especially
> The choice was obvious: Apple. The reasons include the following: first,
> I no longer have time to dedicate to update the family's main computer
> (Mac updates? easy!), neither do I have time to be tech-support when
> something didn't work (with the Mac, things mostly "just work").
and
> The people who think Freedom actually matters to real people are just
> as out of touch.
we don't all seem to know that. Even those of us who believe that freedom has value in and of itself like to be reminded of it from time to time. And I've not seen an article previously that specifically picked on facebook, which is one of my huge bugbears (putting your graduation/wedding/party/holiday photos up on facebook is *not* the same as sharing them on the internet, damn it).

I thought the article was useful and well-written. I'd be sorry if all this week's LWN was so tech-light, but I definitely have a place for an occasional article like this one.

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 12:40 UTC (Thu) by sflintham (guest, #47422) [Link]

Noting the very unusual use of "I" in the article, I wonder if it was a kind of counterbalance to Zonker's article last week, nothing more. Not that I had a problem with this article or that one, but the thought crossed my mind when I saw this comment.

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 7:47 UTC (Thu) by epa (subscriber, #39769) [Link]

+5 Insightful?

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 7:38 UTC (Thu) by busman (subscriber, #7333) [Link]

This "GNo" seems like a good start for another campaign :) Just say GNo!

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 11:17 UTC (Thu) by mgh (guest, #5696) [Link]

I switched from a Windows / Linux dual boot machine to OSX 3 years ago for the simple reason that it gave me the CLI + X environment that I like, plus the ability to run the apps I need to do my job. (e.g Office).

I came across a young guy some years ago and he was totally committed to open source (and still is). However, when he tried to send a simple form letter using open office he spent 3 hours trying to make it do simple run. In the end I encouraged him to try MS Office - 15 minutes later he had it done. His latest laptop purchase took 2 weeks to make it work with his preferred distribution ...

I am sorry, but its not about convenience, its not feasible to use open source software for SOME tasks. As for "Free and Open" I tried to turn the blinking cursor off on a modern Gnome environment terminal - not easy; I am sure its possible, but life is too short. The fact is that for SOME workloads Linux is miles away from being efficient and its because usability is often rubbish. I use an iPhone; but I gave an android phone to a developer the other day - someone who builds software with gcc for a living... even with Android 2.2, for SIMPLE tasks like dialing a number it took TWICE the number of interactions to achieve. In short he doesn't rate it.

Want to compare usability? Try counting the number of interactions to do simple tasks where an interaction is a key press, mouse click or drag. Apple beats most other platforms by a factor of better than two in many cases.

On the other hand, mail servers, web servers, web based apps - I use Linux every time. But for my laptop I use a MAC, OSX and I will by another one - one of the main reasons is because when I get it, I can migrate my entire environment in less than 2 hours. Another colleague spent 1-2 DAYS migrating his windows apps to a new laptop.... Linux? can be 2 weeks

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 12:34 UTC (Thu) by nye (guest, #51576) [Link]

>I use an iPhone; but I gave an android phone to a developer the other day - someone who builds software with gcc for a living... even with Android 2.2, for SIMPLE tasks like dialing a number it took TWICE the number of interactions to achieve. In short he doesn't rate it.

Interestingly, my biggest complaint with my Android phone is that it's far too *easy* to dial a number, and I wish it took more steps.

I wish I could remove the big 'phone' button that takes up screen real estate for something I'm more likely to do by accident than intentionally. (There is an app that pops up a confirmation box when you try to call somebody, and that helps somewhat in preventing accidental calls.)

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 13:07 UTC (Thu) by nye (guest, #51576) [Link]

It's occurred to me that this is probably because I'm using HTC Sense.
Possibly the standard Android UI you're talking about is actually closer to what I want.

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 16:01 UTC (Thu) by bronson (subscriber, #4806) [Link]

Definitely, sounds like bad branding. See if you can install Cyanogen. Dialing uses a plain icon, it's a two step process with a small button to dial out, and answering requires a finger slide.

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 18:43 UTC (Thu) by mgh (guest, #5696) [Link]

Yep - random dials seem to be an issue with touch screen devices - its one of the things that bugs me about the iphone as well. To clarify, I was referring to making a call from the phone book / contacts.

On the Apple = closed / Android = open point HTC /android devices seem to need to be jail broken to update the OS - not exactly open. The media often seem to parrot company marketing strategies without actually doing any research.

Interestingly, Nokia E90 doesn't seem to be able to connect to IPSEC servers unless you purchase Nokia remote access soln. Loading the vpn sw can be done; but the config file cannot be signed and so it cannot be used. The iphone however works instantly with IPSEC to a linux machine. Yet somehow in the media Nokia are riding an "open" strategy in the media.

Incidently, the iphone is the worst voice device of any phone(radio) in my experience; poor coverage, failed calls, dropped calls etc - but its the best computer/smart device by a long way.

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 25, 2010 9:25 UTC (Fri) by fb (subscriber, #53265) [Link]

> even with Android 2.2, for SIMPLE tasks like dialing a number it took TWICE the number of interactions to achieve.

*wonders how many interactions does that take on the iphone*

I think it is a sign of being biased, when you spend 3 minutes using a a second device (or program) and upon finding that the thing doesn't work right away as you expect (i.e. like your "default" device), one concludes that the second one is inferior.

Since Android 1.0 my G1 has a "phone" icon. It is a blue icon with a "telephone" on it. Hitting that icon takes you to dialer (1 interaction), N dialing hits, and then the "green phone icon" that actually dials (2 interactions).

(FYI The physical "phone" button takes me to the "call log".)

[...]

I removed that icon from the home screen as I almost never dial. I have a "contacts" icon in the home screen, which is what I always use. That button is particularly useful because it also allows me to go to the "dialer" if need be. I suspect this is what your friend used.

Since you are touting the iphone as a usability champion. How many interactions does it take to visualize your next calendar appointment?

My phone has a calendar widget right on the home screen, all I need to do is to *glance* at it.

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 30, 2010 12:20 UTC (Wed) by mgh (guest, #5696) [Link]

>I think it is a sign of being biased

I wasn't the one doing the evaluation - I am reporting on it. The big difference seemed to be access to the phone book. The Nokia and the iPhone seem to have short routes to find contacts (contact list > 400 users). The Android phone seemed to need a 2-3 character entered search via keyboard and that made the difference.

Yep, an iphone summary display would be welcome - its one press to reach a list of current appointments. Of course, if the phone has locked then I need to unlock it too.

Just to be straightforward - I didn't test the Android phone - the person who tested it showed me their methods of navigation and I compared it on the iphone and nokia(their normal phone).

I would love it if there was a better device - esp one which has the obvious benefits of open source.

The point of my post was that for my work loads open source works extremely well for some tasks and not as well for others. The cost of the loss of productivity far out weighs the cost of the device and software for certain tasks. For others workloads, open source is more reliable and cost effective. We use Dovecot for IMAP and sendmail for SMTP - the killer feature I have been told is 100% availability.

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 30, 2010 13:52 UTC (Wed) by fb (subscriber, #53265) [Link]

> I wasn't the one doing the evaluation - I am reporting on it. The big difference seemed to be access to the phone book. The Nokia and the iPhone seem to have short routes to find contacts (contact list > 400 users). The Android phone seemed to need a 2-3 character entered search via keyboard and that made the difference.

I have to confess that while I have ~150 contacts (I had to check), I only use a handful very often. So the "favorites" screen normally suffices. The problem of having to type 2-3 characters to reach a certain contact-list position is real.

One *potential* solution for that (in Android) is this "Gestures Search", where you draw letters in the screen, and search the entire phone. I normally can reach "non-favorites" contacts faster this way than through the Contacts app. I call this "potential" because -at least in my G1- the application is slower than what I wish it to be.

> Just to be straightforward - I didn't test the Android phone - the person who tested it showed me their methods of navigation and I compared it on the iphone and nokia(their normal phone).

I guess I have no choice but to add this to the list of things that the iphone does indeed better than Android. Apologies for my hasted biasedness claim.

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 16:50 UTC (Thu) by RobSeace (subscriber, #4435) [Link]

> While it's clear that Apple, Facebook, Google, and others have made
> compelling platforms for users, it's equally clear that they have also
> ignored, or actively thwarted, user freedom.

Wait, what exactly has Google done to deserve grouping with those two??
Actively thwarting user freedom? How??

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 21:00 UTC (Thu) by arget (guest, #5929) [Link]

agreed. Google, while they are profit motivated and have trade secrets they aggressively protect, don't seem to be as threatened by FOSS as MS and Apple, and well they seem to have picked and chosen the concepts of community that work for them, they still put a lot of work out there. Could they give back more for what they take, sure, but they seem to be benevolently paternalistic about it. I don't feel like they're attacking my beliefs and values even if theirs are different. I do feel like MS and Apple do attack, deliberately and with malice, where Google just blunders along.

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 16:50 UTC (Thu) by vblum (guest, #1151) [Link]

Hm. The reality is that Macbooks are not iPhones. They do not wall you in. On the other hand, things like the sound card, the WLAN, connecting to external displays (LCD projectors) works almost guaranteed in a second.

Seeing colleagues struggle with presentations (LCD projectors), I would not dare switch to a Linux notebook for presentation purposes. This is an area where things need to work 100% the second they are needed.

This is not about bashing Linux. On the contrary, it's quite sad that this would make me forgo a Linux laptop except as a virtual machine. I have come to regard the Macbook as an appliance that allows me to run Linux yet at the same time makes sure that critical functionality does not fail when needed.

Contrast that with things like compute clusters, though. Look how far we've come. Who in the right of their mind would buy a Windows compute cluster, or one by Apple?

Perhaps all of the above has also changed since I last owned a Linux-based notebook. But the trouble is, once you _have_ a Macbook, there is also no great incentive to switch back. Things work.

Again - so far, Apple has also not walled in their notebook users. The minute they try this, they would lose a large fraction of their user base. But the fact is that they are not yet guilty of any such thing ...

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 18:15 UTC (Thu) by bronson (subscriber, #4806) [Link]

Haha, I've seen Mac owners trying to connect their laptops to projectors. It's pure comedy.

The presentor curses and announces, "Does anyone have a projector adapter?"

20 people in the auditorium root around their laptop bags and haul out handfuls of dongles, all different. "I have displayport!" "I have mini VGA!" "I have DVI!" "I have mini displayport!" "I have miniDVI!" "I have microDVI!"

After 5 minutes of turmoil, someone finally has the right adapter. Another 5 minutes of futzing, the projector syncs, and the presentation starts.

2 hours later you hear, "goddamit, I need to find that guy. He stole my $40 dongle and I'm giving a presentation in 5 minutes!"

Personally, since 2008 I've had no trouble driving projectors on any of my laptops, no dongles needed. If hotplug doesn't immediately get it right, just open Display Preferences. Same goes for hot-plugging a bigscreen monitor. I don't think it's a problem anymore (for Intel and ATI chipsets anyway, I avoid nVidia).

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 19:22 UTC (Thu) by vblum (guest, #1151) [Link]

I was talking about the laptop, not about unorganized users. Obviously, if you fail to bring your power adapter, your battery may run out during the presentation - etc.

However, good to know that the rest works for you. I still see Linux laptops fail to identify the projector routinely here, without an effective reboot (most people here use Ubuntu, however not clear if this is an OS or a user problem).

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 24, 2010 21:46 UTC (Thu) by boudewijn (subscriber, #14185) [Link]

This is not about power adaptor. It's about the weird hardware stuff apple laptops need to connect to projectors.

And while on this topic... I've had to use three apple computers, one 17" laptop, two minis for a year or so. The laptop had a hair between backlight and lcd panel. No doubt from a cute Chinese factory girl, but it was irritating. It was also dead on arrival. One mini didn't boot anymore after a system update pushed by Apple. We didn't have the problem with the other mini, since we didn't dare update it. It was our build server -- you cannot legally virtualize OSX. The laptop itself, after repairs, developed vertical blue and red lines on the screen. And the battery life dropped from 4 to 1 hour in half a year. There were other issues -- it was just like Windows, Linux or any other system. It just did not work out of the box, without problems.

But then, I'm a software developer. According to "Elanthis", I'm not a real human being. It must be my fault. But I prefer Linux, thank you very much, and I value my freedom pretty high, as well as my convenience.

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 25, 2010 7:06 UTC (Fri) by vblum (guest, #1151) [Link]

Yes, I know about adapters.

My point was that a person heading to a presentation should check that they have the three pieces of hardware required with them before they leave their house. Forgetting the display adapter is just about as silly as leaving the power adapter behind.

Battery life is also hardly an OS issue in the present context, as is a hair behind the LCD panel.

I happily use Linux for development. The sad part is that for me, it is critical to do other things as well, and in front of people who have little patience for an argument like "I couldn't give the complete presentation because it took me five minutes to figure out the laptop, but it was a great way to show off a free OS!"

Now, I fully realize that poster #2 states that they do not have the presentation /connection problem any more, which is great. If that is so, one big problem solved that I still see here,occasionally. Not one of a forgotten adapter, one of having to reboot the laptop because 3 minutes before a presentation is not enough time to figure out what went wrong in some configuration file. But, perhaps that's an issue of the past, then.

The sound card is still an issue that I will not forget, on my earlier machines. (Compiling a kernel of my own normally solved the problem, until my preferred distribution effectively precluded me from that, I forget why.)

WLAN ... perhaps Linux is super-easy now, too, in that area. It didn't use to be. "Look, I couldn't connect to any WLAN but the driver was FREE!" also used to be a very bad argument indeed ... unless you have time to fix the driver yourself (which would have been the right thing to do, in an ideal world, no irony there).

Finally, presentation software is the nail in the coffin. Apple did an outstanding job with Keynote. I would contend that this one is very hard to beat. Last time I tried OpenOffice, it crashed on the third jpeg I was trying to insert and move around. Yes, I used LaTeX for many years for presentations, as I did with Postscript written by myself. Do not start with Powerpoint, it never had the potential to entice me away from TeX+PostScript.

Alas, Keynote cut the time required to make complex presentations out of just about everything by a factor of five, perhaps, for myself. That's one day instead of five, for example. Complex presentations means scientific graphs, arrows and labels in exactly the right location, some kind of animation appearing when needed (yes, for the sake of animation content, not as useless entertainment, think visualization). I remember the last time I asked someone to place an arrow in the right place in their presentation and they said, "yes, I can try, but it really is not possible there using TeX" .... and that matches my experience from back when.

So ... there certainly is a global advantage to the freedom argument. It just become so much harder to make when the product has no tangible advantages for a given purpose. The problem is that on a Macbook, you can run anything you like, including Linux as is. But you run some things better.

Stallman's relentless push for freedom has often been cited. In practice, what kept him going? Emacs. A product that was better than the rest, for many. Yes, he made his actual case in an excellent way, but it was supported by the evidence.

My point is not to bash Linux. I would love to have a Linux system that is as polished as my Macbook. And, so far Apple is not guilty of locking me in. That is an invented argument, for that particular present purpose. Patent attack? Yes, I am watching that carefully. We'll see how it plays out, then we judge.

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 25, 2010 7:12 UTC (Fri) by boudewijn (subscriber, #14185) [Link]

The point is, people keep claiming that Apple laptops just work, have an excellent build quality and all that. My experience is that that isn't true. An Apple update can make your system unbootable, you need a weird dongle that other laptops don't need to connect to a projector, build quality even for very expensive 17" laptops is mediocre, suspend and resume does leave the system sometimes in a situation where it cannot connect to the wlan anymore, kernel panics do happen -- my 17" macbook pro with OSX wasn't any better than my X61t with OpenSUSE, and sometimes even worse.

You don't magically get a computing life without problems if you give up your freedom and give in to Apple.

Dell Latitude 2100

Posted Jun 25, 2010 9:21 UTC (Fri) by elakim (guest, #55664) [Link]

Just my 5 cents... I'm typing this on a Dell Latitude 2100, came preinstalled with Ubuntu (directly from dell.com), works as a charm and is cute as a pie. (OK, I did swap the Ubuntu for a real Debian as soon as I could, but I did give the Ubuntu a try, and everything, well, just worked. And the same with the Debian installation and updates I've given it, too.) Just one drawback: the stupid big and bright wlan indicator light on the monitor lid which you apparently cannot turn off (short of cutting the wire to it). Battery life is something north of 5 hours, all the connections are on the sides (not back), the fan opens to the left, it never gets uncomfortably hot, and the case surface material is almost like rubber, which lets it sit much more securely on my lap (or even on just one thigh) than a slippery smooth plastic surface would.

I did have an issue with the display chip, apparently, a faulty chip fried my monitor, and also the replacement monitor, and in the end everything got changed, the monitor module twice. But this was all covered by Dell warranty, the maintenance man visited my home four times for no fees. And since, everything has worked fine. This all for a little less than 500 euros. And swapping the pre-installed Ubuntu with Debian didn't affect the warranty at all.

OK, this is a small laptop with a small display, not really suitable for all those graphics field labourers out there. But for my needs, just perfect.

Freedom and convenience

Posted Jun 30, 2010 1:09 UTC (Wed) by liw (subscriber, #6379) [Link]

Revolutions take at least a decade. The obvious, visible part of invading the castle and beheading the king only takes a day, but first you have to prepare everyone and everything, and that takes a decade, or more.

Any revolution that takes less time is not really a revolution. It might be an evolutionary step, it might improve status quo, but most likely it is just marketing.

Getting most of the world to favor free software, even when it's less convenient than proprietary stuff? That's a revolution.

Using a new cool toy on the Internet? That's marketing.

Revolution. Marketing. Know the difference.

Revolutions also take much effort, pain, and blood. Those tend to be pretty concentrated: the people who do, the people who lead, they get to put in the effort, suffer the pain, leak the blood. Everyone else gets to just enjoy the benefits, while complaining that things are inconvenient, or things weren't done the right way, or not fast enough, or aren't shiny enough. It's annoying, but not worth a counter-complaint. Some things you just have to live with, in order to not be distracted from the real goal.


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