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Linux, Apple, and the Lurid Allure of Consumerism

Well, I did it my way.

After years of shaking my fist at the spinning beachballs and $30 service packs, I made a change. I switched to Linux this weekend, and now I know exactly how Frank Sinatra felt when he switched to Linux. He wanted to sing, but I’ll stick to writing.

Rex's Linux Wallpaper

Rex's Linux Wallpaper

I am 48 hours post-install of Ubuntu on my iMac, and I already weep that I did not do this sooner. The experience is like night and day and I was foolish for waiting so long.

It’s not all gravy, of course. When computers are so central in your life, a new OS requires a lot of setup and some big adjustments. It’s like moving to a new country and learning a new language. Fortunately, I lived here before, so I know the customs. All I need to do to slip back into the daily grind is to drop a few bad habits I’ve picked up while travelling.

For those of you contemplating a similar move, allow me to inform you of what you have to look forward to, as well as a few words about your currently chosen domicile.

I will start with the …

Advantages of Linux over OS X:

Speed:

Like DOS and iOS, for single tasks, OS X is extremely fast. Running a single program at a time and doing it well, has been the calling card of Apple in the iPhone era. This is probably why, when it comes to a single thing (such as browsing the web), the iPhone tends to be a bit ‘snappier’ than Android.

With that being said, when a dozen programs are running at once, Ubuntu is so much faster and smoother than OS X that I wouldn’t even put them into the same category. With the spinning beachballs making frequent appearances, OS X has a Windows 95 thing going on. Ubuntu just smokes the Mac operating system like a fat blunt at a rap concert — and I have Linux running on an encrypted file system. Imagine how much faster it would be if I didn’t.

Efficiency:

I’ve yet to type ‘purge’. I’m not even sure if the command exists. After about 30 hours of uptime, I found myself running 8 instances of Chrome, Picasa, Lives HD Video Editor, Rhythmbox, Eclipse IDE, 2 instances of Android Emulator, Evolution, Google Earth, and 3 Nautilus Windows. I am using only 2.2GB of memory with 0 bytes of the swap. I would not have even tried to keep these many programs open on OS X with a measly 4GB.

At this point, my 2009 iMac is like a new computer, and I can honestly see myself putting off buying a new box for a year (if not more) at this point.

The Cost:

How many times have you heard this from a Mac user: “You use Windows/Linux because you can’t afford a Mac.”

I remember being told the same thing when I bought my first Android phone. Nevermind the fact that my EVO and the iPhone cost the same amount (reality is irrelevant to iPeople), most Apple users convince themselves that those who don’t own Apple devices are poor.

Here’s the thing, though, even if I had $100 million sitting in a bank account, I would not go out and buy a Ford Escort for $200,000. I don’t care how cool, niche, and retro the Ford Escort had become. If I had $100 million sitting in a bank account, I would continue to walk and take the bus. I am 100% serious.

If something is not worth the money to me, I am not going to buy it just because I can. Once upon a time (only a year or two ago), I hated Windows so much that Macs were worth the money to me. Linux wasn’t quite there yet with regards to multimedia apps, so I paid large markups for a toy UNIX with decent media apps.

That paradigm no longer exists. Cinderella and Lives are very capable editors, and get this … they are free. Hell, the entire Operating System is free.

Pitivi Video Editor

Pitivi Video Editor

Ubuntu fascinates me on some level, because if they sold the OS for $399/license, I would honestly pay it (This assumes that Linux were somehow not open source). It’s not just the best free operating system out there, it is the best operating system period.

As such, why would I pay for an inferior product just because I could afford it?

The fact that Ubuntu is free is not the only reason I use it, but that being said, it is a huge benefit.

Here’s a true story. In 2009, I bought an HP computer. It came pre-installed with Vista, but the ad promised me a “Free Upgrade to Windows 7″, the launch of which was a month away.

Soon after Windows 7 was released, I tried to claim my “free” upgrade. HP demanded two copies of my sales receipt and a credit card number for “shipping and handling”.

I submitted the required documentation and card number, but after a month I had not heard from HP. They ‘investigated’ my issue, and replied that they had not received my receipts. I would have to send them again.

I did.

Another month later, I called again. Once again, they “investigated”, but this time they said “oh, we did not receive your receipts by the cutoff date, the offer has expired”.

I submitted the receipts during the appropriate window, but HP “lost” them. Large corporations seem to “lose” a ton of mail when that mail requires them to give something to the customer. Do you know how many times my bills have gotten “lost” in the mail in the last 5 years? Never.

It was clear to me that, like rebate scams, HP never had any intention of giving me a free upgrade to Windows 7.

On the Apple side, to this day, I cannot figure out what the purpose of (Yellow) Snow Leopard was. I mean besides $30/machine to Apple shareholders. iPeople claimed that it was “snappier”, but I never saw it.

Corporate America is 50% scam and 40% sham. It’s marketing, hype, false promises, and fine print. Fine print riddled with the phrase “We are not responsible”.

This being the case, if you can free yourself from all of the nonsense, why wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you get the fastest, most stable, most efficient OS available, and get free upgrades for life on-demand?

Just so you can impress random people you don’t know with your financial prowess?

Saving money is good. I will always endeavor to spend the least possible on the highest quality, and I will make no apologies for it.

Look and Feel:

When (Yellow) Snow Leopard was released late last year, the first thing I noticed was that it broke Expose’. Instead of thumbnail size based on window size, every thumbnail now had equal sizing. This was terrible, and it broke my favorite feature of OS X.

Ubuntu brings back Expose’, and they do it correctly. Overall, in my opinion, Ubuntu with Compiz makes OS X look and feel like a 10 year old operating system. Look and feel is highly subjective, but there are far more gee-whiz effects on Linux.

Ubuntu - Expose

Ubuntu - Expose

Flash Support:

Oh hallelujah I can finally watch 1080p Flash video full-screen without a single stop or stutter. I’ve never in my life been able to do this before. Remember, I have been using Macs almost exclusively for the last 3 years. Before 2008, 1080p video on the Internet was very rare. I’m not even sure if YouTube supported it.

Screenshot of 1080p video in YouTube

Screenshot of 1080p video in YouTube

If you have been using Macs for the last three years as well, then you have similarly been deprived and it’s a shame. The amount of decent Flash content out there is vast, and it all runs like dogshit on the Mac.

At this point, after seeing how fast it can run, I have to take Adobe’s side in the Apple vs. Adobe war.

Think about it. We’re supposed to believe that Adobe can make a great client for Windows and Linux, but cannot do it for the Mac because they are inept? Come on, man, it doesn’t even make any sense. Linux has far less desktop market share than does Mac, yet somehow, someway, Flash is butter smooth.

Clearly Apple is complicit in screwing up Flash on its platform. Whether it’s petty vindictiveness or to further their own vision of HTML5, or whatever, I do not know, but I do know one thing … Jobs is using his very own customers as pawns in his personal piss war. Not only is he using them, but he is charging them a premium to do so.

“But Rex, I hate Flash, it’s the bane of the Internet and I am happy not to have it on my Mac!”

Hey, whoever you are, Scientology called and your application to join the church has been rejected because you’re just a bit too delusional for their religion.

Who in the hell would NOT want an industry standard multimedia technology to run well on their computer?

The answer is: nobody.

Flash is ubiquitous. It’s powered Web 2.0 for years. It will continue to do so for years to come. Claiming you don’t want it to run well because your demigod doesn’t like it, is so idiotic as to preclude rebuttal.

Supporting a Lessor Evil:

It is my firmly held belief that Steve Jobs is a psychopath. I do not say this in a joking or sarcastic manner. Psychopathy is “a personality disorder characterized by an abnormal lack of empathy combined with strongly amoral conduct but masked by an ability to appear outwardly normal.”

Steve Jobs is a psychopath. Period.

Say what you will about Bill Gates, but I don’t think he’s a psychopath. I think Gates is an insecure nerd corrupted by the success of big business, but I don’t think he’s an intrinsically evil man. He has pledged to give over half of his wealth to charity.

Steve Jobs, on the other hand, could be Hitler. The reason he is not is simply a function of the randomness of the universe. When they were first getting started, Jobs stole $2,500 from his best friend and business partner. He later fathered a daughter and let her exist on welfare, lying to the mother that the child could not be his because he was sterile. When iPods began overheating and hurting people, Apple tried to prevent people from being warned.

One of the first things Steve did when he resumed control of Apple in 1997 was to get rid of its philanthropic division. Now, in and of itself this is not a bad thing (I generally do not believe in charities), but certainly he could have found some worthwhile causes to help.

Overall, Steve Jobs is just unethical, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was being unethical by buying his products.

Now, I want to be fair here. Nothing is perfect, nor is anything completely imperfect. I was attracted to the Mac in the first place, and there are still valid reasons that this happened. From a software perspective, OS X does have some advantages which are hard to deny, and they are …

Advantages OS X:

It’s not Windows:

Fine this is not an advantage over Linux, but I will include it because it’s why I got a Mac in the first place.

I cannot use Windows. The last time I installed it, I watched in horror as my very own operating system began bombarding me with advertisements. It was scary. I mean, how can you trust an OS whose primary objective is to SPAM you and hi-jack your desktop?

The answer is that you cannot. You can run all of the anti-virus and ad-removal apps in the world, yet still have no idea what is going on in the background. Windows is a security nightmare, and I am not comfortable with the lack of control the OS gives me over my own machine. I don’t care how pretty it is.

Apple is better from this perspective, although they do try to get an awful lot of information from you during OS X setup, and they discourage you from bypassing the information-gathering screen. Now that Apple is moving toward making the Mac more like the iPad, however, I can actually see the Mac becoming even more draconian and scary than Windows ever was.

Unless you want to put your testicles on a plate and hand them over to a large, faceless corporation, Linux will soon be the only alternative.

iMovie:

Some people love it, some people hate it. I fall into the former camp. I really like iMovie ’09 and ’10.

GarageBand:

This app is brilliant. I’ve recorded much of my own crap on this “consumer” app, and it works just great for 4 track music. On a whim, I’ve plugged in my guitar and made loops for my own videos before uploading them to YouTube. The built-in stompboxes and amp effects are outstanding. I will miss this application most of all.

That’s kind of it, but I can hear it now.

“Rex, you must be wrong. After all, Apple gets the highest customer satisfaction rating of any computer on the market!”

I know, I know.

Study after study and survey after survey confirms what we are told by the Apple Marketing Department. Apple users ostensibly love their Macs. Almost every one without exception. Highest customer satisfaction ratings, best this, best that, you name it and Apple customers give their computers consistently high marks.

Now, this brings me to perhaps the crux of this article. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months contemplating the state of computing. Even though I know that I cannot make a difference, and that my efforts are futile, I’ve never been one of those people who can just let things be. I always tried very hard to understand the world around me. Why do things happen … why do people do the things they do … I am a tormented person. A tortured soul. I can’t sleep most nights because I literally can’t shut off my grey matter.

I’ve read a lot of articles, read a few message boards, and scoured the feedback from mainstream articles, and I have come to a conclusion. I have figured out why, despite any and all evidence to the contrary, the Mac remains the most highly regarded computer in the world.

Mac: The Low Self-Esteem Computer

So, why do people so consistently tout the superiority of their Macs? Why are they so defensive? Why do they have such hostility for users of other platforms? Why are they so convinced of the infallibility of Apple?

The answer is simple. It’s as old as humankind itself.

Insecurity.

Whether they admit it or not, most people wonder “Who am I?” on a fairly routine basis.

“Am I the confident playa that I pretend to be on Friday nights?” “Am I the homeboy wigger with the sideways baseball cap that I portray on Saturdays?” “Am I the artsy, intellectual guy that hangs out in coffee shops on Sundays?” “Am I the ruthless business guy that I portray on Mondays?”

Deep-down, I think we all know the answer to all of the above is “none of the above”.

Most of us are just regular people. Average American wage slaves, rife with insecurities, with pimples on our ass and frequent constipation. We’re just trying to eek out one more day before the world realizes that we’re frauds.

One more day before people realize that we aren’t that smart. One more day before people realize that our dicks are small. One more day before people realize that we’ve never sold drugs in Alphabet City. One more day before people realize that we secretly listen to Nickelback instead of Yo La Tengo when we’re alone. One more day before people realize that we can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.

This is where Apple comes in.

You see, Apple taps into the same brain center that Porsche taps into. It’s an identity. An instant, effortless one at that. It promises instant credibility in return for a credit card number. It makes you different without your having to be different. It gives you creativity without your having to be creative. Apple is consumerism at its most extreme.

Consumerism is the practice of purchased self-esteem. It’s the transference of recognition from the high-profile to the low-profile. Nobody knows your name, but they do know what the glowing Apple means, and if they think the glowing Apple is exclusive, they will have no choice but to concede that you are also exclusive.

If you buy a $2,500 Mac Pro that comes with only 3GB of memory and a 1TB Hard Drive, and someone asks you if you are happy with your purchase, you can’t say “no”.

Why?

Because the very premise of an image product dictates that the superiority of the image product be upheld at any and all times, without exception or question.

Somewhere in their gut, Mac users know that their $1,700 laptops should run Flash acceptably, but they will never admit it. They cannot admit it.

Doing so would be like admitting that the $10,000 diamond ring they bought for their fiance’ really has no value. It would be like admitting that the Porsche they bought gets them to work in the same amount of time as their neighbor’s Honda Civic. It would be like admitting that the History class they took at Yale used the exact same textbook that the History class at the local community college uses.

The house of cards that is the pretentious, consumerist life demands that we give the objects of our identity the highest of ratings. We have to tout them in order for them to retain their value. “I went to a great school”. “I drive a great car.” “Oh yes, the Mac was so worth it because as everyone knows, Macs are the best.”

You play up image purchases because they make you feel better about yourself. It’s the same reason you bought the product in the first place. Paying an image markup and then shitting on the image is like flushing your own money down the toilet.

Reality is what you can convince other people that it is, and if you can convince other people that Apple’s Hynix memory is superior to Dell’s Hynix memory, then maybe, just maybe, you can convince someone that the home you bought in 2006 for $500K will once again be worth $500K.

“No Rex, you’re wrong about everything. The Mac really is better. Specs don’t matter and Apple has an ecosystem blah blah blah.”

Save it. I’ve heard it all and I’ve read it all. All the hype, all the cries from iPeople near and wide. I doubt there is anything you can tell me that I haven’t heard 100 times before. For three years I have immersed myself in Macs. I’ve had one sitting on my desk and I have one with me 24/7 when I am away from my nerd cave or office. I’ve put thousands upon thousands of hours of work into the Mac. If it was that much better, I would have noticed it. How could I not have?

Also, I have no real allegiance. Everything I say is based 100% on my own life experience. You’ve got to realize that, since the early 1980′s, I’ve used pretty much everything. DOS, Mac OS, OS/2, OS/2 Warp, Linux, Solaris … I have no dog in the fight. Nobody pays me or even gives me preferential treatment to prefer one thing over another. Whether you believe or disbelieve what I say, it does not effect me in the slightest.

Actually, preferring OS X would be, by far, the most beneficial scenario for me personally. As an owner of three Macs, it would actually be a boost to my own ego for you all to believe that OS X was the superior operating system. It would validate the thousands I have spent in overpriced hardware.

I can’t lie, though.

My computing life has come full circle. I went, I saw, I travelled the computing world, I am back where I was in 1996, and I’ve got to tell you.

It’s nice to be home.

13 comments to Linux, Apple, and the Lurid Allure of Consumerism

  • mike_ch

    I use Ubuntu now, and it works but I’d feel a lot happier with OSX.

    I don’t like taking on faith suggestions that I edit arcane text files.

    Composition is nice, but I had to disable it to produce good framerates in 3D games in WINE. In fact, I’m more impressed with WINE than I am Ubuntu.

    That said, Rex, I suggest you start over already. Ubuntu is planning an update in April that will force a new user interface called Unity on you. With a dock on the left side of the screen you can’t move.

    I suggest Linux Mint. Look it up. Its a fork of Ubuntu, and if you can run one you can run the other, but it will be keeping GNOME. And you might even like Mint Debian, an install-once OS that will be eternally updated via online IS updates,

    • Seattle Rex Seattle Rex

      Well, Unity will be the new default shell, but Ubuntu will still be GNOME-based. Once 11.10 hits (with the current shell included), it will be incidental to swap them out.

      That being said, I kind of like what I have seen of Unity. I’ve yet to use it (I’ve just seen videos), but it has a WindowMaker thing going on somewhat (the WM I used to use until about 2004).

      Unity is just another choice, and choice is good.

      I’ll check out Mint. Release-less Linux sounds interesting.

  • mike_ch

    Whoops hit submit too soon.

    Anyway, Mint’s Debian based fork, as opposed to to it’s Ubuntu fork, will never have a major milestone release Ala Lucid/Maverick/Natty, or Tiger/Leopard/Lion.

    Mint Debian isn’t for the weak of spirit, but Ubuntu is itself a Debian fork, and you’re smart, so you should be able to handle it.

  • chuckreis

    I have been using Ubuntu since the version 8 releases and I have to say that I trust the direction they and their community are taking things. They make intelligent decisions, and like I tell people that say “Android looks like shit, the UI sucks”, change it. If you want something else, change it, everything is there to do it.

    Do yourself a favor and try out Exaile (available in the “app store”)for your music playing needs. It is in my opinion a lot better, but I hate iTunes and RB reminds me of iTunes.

  • blueboar

    Mint is an interesting distribution. But I don’t think it’s necessary for Rex. In my view, it’s mainly an easier Ubuntu for a newbie. It installs the restricted codec packages at installation, so stuff works right from the get go. Having to install a package just to see a movie can throw somebody new. It also makes a few different default program choices. And the default interface is probably a little more familiar to somebody coming from Windows. But an experienced user like Rex can accomplish all of those things on his own.

    I’m forced to support a lot of Windows stuff.

    But I’ve also got some Linux servers scattered around our offices that I haven’t had to fuss with in forever. Simple stuff, just use them as file servers. But their uptime has literally been years.

    I’m seriously considering making my next machine a Linux laptop, and then just install XP and 7 virtually so I’ve got them available to support.

  • Disco Stu

    Ubuntu does work. It works well. Some of the things that come preinstalled work perfectly fine, but aren’t the best. That’s true of all operating systems.

    For most users, they could sit down and never realize they are using Ubuntu. It is a windowed environment and the feel of the browser is identical if you’ve ever used Chrome or Firefox.

    Linux is as straightforward or as geeky as the user. Make it what you want. That’s where OS X and Windows fall short most of the time.

  • Crash

    Can u play pokerstars or fulltilt on ubuntu?

  • par88

    Nothing to do with Linux, but here’s another way Apple screws its customers.
    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSLNE70K02T20110121

  • mike_ch

    Ubuntu will play those video file formats too, if you check a box in the very first screen. Suddenly, Totem-GStreamer will play everything from Divx to h264.

    I’m more of an SMPlayer guy, myself, because I have enjoy the VDAPU support.

  • chuckreis

    VLC takes care of pretty much anything you throw at it, it is my goto player if I cannot get video to play.

  • jason

    I was interested most by your general though that Gates is probably not an evil guy. The man is definitely not. He has pledged to give, not half but 90% of his fortune away. He also heads one of the largest charitable foundations, working very proactively in it to do charity now. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation funds an enormous wealth of extremely helpful, and worthwhile aid initiatives.

    On the tech side, I have the same qualms with windows stuff as anyone, but now that Apple is so friggin big it gives me a different perspective on the, open vs. closed tech issue. Before I only really had a linux/windows comparison, and as a Linux user I am very soundly on that side. However, compared to Apple, Microsoft seems like a haven for fair, open tech.

    I’m not writing this in defense of Windows, but more of a nod of agreement to your characterization of Jobs. For someone to humanize Gates, so impressively, says A LOT about the man…

  • Corey

    I guess I’m the odd man out, because I prefer Mac OS 9. After they jumped to OS X; they lost me.

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