Five years of OS X

Today marks five years since I abandoned Windows on the Desktop in favor of an OS that doesn’t completely suck. At the time, my primary motivation, or excuse, was to familiarize myself with an OS that I was receiving an increasing number of tech support calls for at AirSurfer. Trying to support an OS I had never used was no easy task.

I had actually been eye-balling the Mac since the appearance of the Power Mac G4 Cube and later the iMac G4. The high cost of either of these systems kept me away, but I was definitely drawn to the compact and elegant design of the integrated hardware as well as the rich graphical UI Apple had been showing off since the early releases of OS X.

More important than a flashy GUI, then and still to this day, 90% of my time was easily spent at the shell of some UNIX like operating system or another. Ideally, OS X would give me the best of both worlds: a flashy GUI with availability of high-end commercial apps and a powerful shell on the local machine. This felt like it would be superior to spending all my time SSH’d into a remote system to get real work done.

I probably would have been perfectly happy with just about any low-end OS X capable machine to use as my workstation, but I had also just recently acquired two 17″ flat panel LCD monitors for my current setup. I wasn’t about to give one of them up. Back in 2005, the only system that Apple had that was equipped for driving dual displays was their PowerMac G5. A little bit of smooth talking with the higher ups and several interrogating phone calls to WestWorld to tie up any last minute paranoia driven questions and ensure I wasn’t going to end-up with an expensive system that would be completely useless for my purposes I was on my way.

I ended up with the most entry level late 2004 model of the PowerMac G5. It was not cheap, nor really very well spec’d given the price tag. Nearly $2,200 dollars for a 1.8 GHz G5 with a pitiful 256 MB of RAM and a modest 80 GB hard drive. Anything higher than this spec would have blown the already stretched budget I was allowed for this acquisition so I wasn’t about to complain. Fortunately it was not very long after that I was able to purchase a couple 512 MB modules from a reasonably priced 3rd party vendor to bump it up to an awesome-for-the-time 1.25 GB.

It didn’t take much longer than the initial boot-up for any of my doubts to fade. Everything I used on a daily was built into it’s Darwin base (perl, CVS and vi to name just a few). On the GUI side, there were native ports of both Firefox and Thunderbird so that easily took care of my web and e-mail requirements. Being a geek, I also enjoyed the complete lack of legacy crap that still encumbers modern PCs: no PS/2, no parallel and serial ports, no ancient BIOS. Nothing but modern computing goodness.

Fast forward half a decade later, AirSurfer agreed to let me take the machine home with me when I moved on to Tera-byte. The machine has been through two operating system system upgrades but is still running as flawlessly as the day I picked it up. Though it has since been demoted as “The wife’s workstation.”

I will always enjoy PC hardware. There’s something special about picking up a box of the latest components from the local OEM hardware retailer and assembling a PC to my exact specifications. In fact, the PowerMac was the first computer I had used since 1991 that I didn’t personally assemble. Far too often, PC hardware is also associated with an MS operating system, the two are not mutually inclusive. I use several PCs for various purposes, I just don’t have a need for Windows is all.

I admire the freedom and openness in systems like Linux and the BSDs. I still hope they will some day catch up to the user experience and quality of applications I currently enjoy on the Mac. It’s certainly improved dramatically in the same time period. Indeed, a world dominated by Apple with their cookie cutter one-size fits all stock configurations would be pretty dull. Although I find the design of Apple’s hardware is very appealing, it would lose its luster if one permutation of the five or so hardware offerings was on everyone’s desk.

In the mean time, I’m on my third Apple system at home, a three and a half year old Mac Mini. Though I could probably use a hardware upgrade soon, I don’t have any intent to move to another platform just yet. The momentum Apple has built around their OS and overlying software shows no sign of slowing down.

Admittedly I did write this long winded post on my Sony VAIO laptop (currently running Fedora). It may lack some polish relative to OS X, but being a laptop, it does fit in front of the couch better while I try to multi-task watching a little TV and spewing this out.

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