Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

So, around a month and a half ago, I posted a nice, long, elaborate post detailing my transition to Linux. It was nice, long, teary-eyed, and idealistic, and I’ve been using Linux on my home built computer ever since.

Well, I’m here today at a bittersweet moment. I’ve determined that Linux alone just won’t cut it for me. So, Apple, allow me to submit a conditional surrender.

Pros and Cons of Linux:

Linux, you’ve come a long way. You’re almost good enough for me to use as my full computer, and the main issues aren’t necessarily your fault. You’ve got some great programs, like Amarok, Akregator and TA-Spring. You’ve got some great features, and your customizability is insane. Some things are blindingly easy, but some things are incredibly tough. Plugging in a Mac hard drive on Kubuntu edgy results in instant recognition, but a USB Compact Flash reader doesn’t do a thing. Installing a new program is easier than OSX has ever made it, but trying to get your scroll wheel working on your mouse requires manual editing of the xorg.conf file, several restarts (with or without a working window system) and hours of frustration. This will all be changed with time, and Linux will improve all of these things, I’m sure. Finally, for a Linguist, Linux just can’t cut it. There’s no decent way (outside of LaTeX) to input IPA, and on my machine, Praat didn’t work well (I think it’s a Graphics issue), and sound recording was pretty bad without paying for a dedicated sound card. Also, programs like Elan, Wavesurfer, and even Ladefoged’s Phonetics Textbook CD don’t work particularly well (or at all). Unfortunately, dear Linux, your biggest problems aren’t even your fault.

ATI, your support for Linux is pretty deplorable. I’ve got a reasonable Graphics card, but your closed-source drivers don’t support recent versions of the X-Windows compositing system. Also, it’s a nice touch that since the last upgrade through Kubuntu, your Closed-Source drivers cause my computer to freeze on shutdown. Just nice. Sadly, open source alternatives can’t get frame-rates for anything more than a terminal past acceptable, so I’m kinda trapped between a rock and a hard place. Do I shell out $300 for a good NVidia card, or do I watch as my perfectly good card is badly supported? I didn’t have a choice (due to the deal I got) as to the graphics card I get, but unless it’s included, it’s doubtless that I’ll ever select an ATI card again.

In my other, non-academic life, I also work for my family’s printing business, and unfortunately, Linux isn’t ready for showtime here, either. We use all Macs (11 of them, at last count), and for me to be the only Linux box there would be a major task, even if the software were up to snuff. Unfortunately, there are a few critical missing components.

There’s not a hint of color-correction software available for Linux, there’s no good graphics software that’s compatible with my family’s Photoshop workflow (No, the Gimp doesn’t work for what we need to do), and Camera RAW support is lacking. Finally, there’s no good way to run and maintain Epson printers with a Linux box (you can print to them, but God help you if you need a nozzle check and cleaning). So, once again, it’s not Linux’s fault, but the lack of third-party software still stops me from using it full time.

So, Linux might work great for somebody who doesn’t need Linguistics tools, who doesn’t need games and graphics, and who doesn’t need any sort of high-end graphics tools. Given a few more years, even I might be able to better use Linux. However, that time has not yet arrived for me, so thus, I must make my surrender.

An Open Letter to Apple:

Apple: Unfortunately, everything I said about you earlier was true. You are in bed with the RIAA/MPAA, and altogether too interested in DRM and protecting the pocketbooks of the Copyright Oligarchs who likely deserve every bit of robbery they’ve been getting. I still don’t care for the Intel Chips, and would still love nothing more than a new line of PPC Macs, produced by Apple Computers, which would ideally be split off from Apple Music Sales™. You’re still likely going to sell out my privacy, and your service is still headed downhill. You will grow more and more locked down, and you’ll slowly become Microsoft. However, you’re not there yet, which is why I’m back here.

As much as I’d like to deny it, you’ve made some good hardware and some great software. Above and beyond that, there’s lots of great, open-source mac software. Finally, even if at the expense of customization, you’ve made it so things just work. After the 6 hour quest for a scroll wheel, I realize that when I buy OS X, part of what I’m paying is a salary for somebody else to go through the 6 hour configuration on my mouse, so I don’t have to. Quite frankly, I think that’s partially worth it, right there. For things to be supported by the manufacturers, processed such that they “just work”, and for the hardware to be certified to work with all the little gadgets and dongles, that’s going to take money or time. With Linux, you pay that in time, and do those things yourself. With OS X, you pay for it with the “Apple Tax”, the markup on every bit of hardware and Apple Software that you buy. Although it can be fun (and educational) to mess around with Linux and break-then-unbreak the various facets of things, when I actually have to get work done, those little failures are a much bigger problem, and not always as entertaining. So, yeah, I’ll pay the Apple tax, and I’ll put up with the lack of customization. However, my surrender is not unconditional.

Terms of Surrender:

I, Will, do hereby surrender control of my data to an Apple Powerbook, administered by OS X, on this, the Twenty-Seventh of November, 2006, on the following terms:

1) I will avoid Apple’s iTunes software whenever possible. No need to encourage Apple’s chief violator of privacy, efficiency, and consumer rights. Also, the iTunes Music Store won’t get a dime out of me until they start letting artists sell straight through, without major record labels stealing their cut.

2) I will attempt to use Open Source projects whenever possible, through MacPorts and Independent developers.

3) I will refuse to purchase MS Office for OS X. It’s a crappy port of crappy software, and should be picked up by any good OS X virus scanner.

4) I will to maintain a 15GB Linux Partition on my Hard Drive. Speaking of which, Apple, you should work on supporting reading from some Linux HD formats.

5) I won’t be purchasing iLife ‘0x any time soon. iMovie and iDVD are nice, but they’re buggy in project-killing sorts of ways, and iPhoto is nothing compared to the might of Photoshop. Same goes for .Mac.

6) I will be allowed to maintain my prior sentiments that iTunes, Spotlight, iChat, and, most importantly, the Intel Switch, suck.

Signed, regretfully,

Will

Final Statement by the defeated:

I originally compared Linux to an escape capsule, and I think the comparison is still valid. Linux will be my escape pod when Apple becomes intolerable. However, for now, I need the amenities of the full ship, and there’s no sense in computational asceticism when I need to get things done.

Knowing then what I know now, would I still have taken the plunge? I think so. The whole experiment wasn’t too costly. I still have a working, $212 computer, which is in good enough shape for any variety of uses (and to test other distros, without much in the way of Data on them), and it might even serve as a print server at home. I’ve still got my Powerbook, in full working order, and most importantly, I’ve learned a lot about both OS X and Linux. I’m more comfortable now when the GUI breaks down, when the computer won’t boot, and when the stuff hits the fan.

I know now that Linux isn’t perfect, but damnit, it’s a lot closer than I used to think. It won’t work for me, but it might work for you. Download a LiveCD, try an install, and see if you need the closed-source world. It’s quite possible that you do the sort of computing it supports, and have the time to support it. For me, it’s not enough, but I hope it’ll work for you.

So, onward I go, defeated, but not broken, away from the illusory world of Open-Source only computing, and back towards the land of corporate domination. I hope that someday, I might return and find pristine fields of open computing where there once were canyons of unsupported programs, and find a true home, but for now, I shall continue my path as I must, pressing on, against the tide of DRM and Trustless computing, and find my way in this world.

(…and that should about do it for the melodrama. Thanks for reading, and I hope you learned something from all this. :))


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