Multiple OS Personality Disorder

Posted on Wed 25 July 2018 in misc

or, Win10, WSL, and the Impending Death of OSX

From its very beginnings, Apple advertised OS X as "Unix for people who don't want to deal with Linux on their laptop, that also runs MS Office and Adobe stuff." Given the rather dire state of laptop hardware support on Linux in 1999, this made a hell of a lot of sense, and for well over a decade, laptops with glow-in-the-dark fruits (including in front of the keyboard in Langley, VA) were the standard equipment of everyone from greybeard Unix administrators to college chicks to digital artists of every stripe. Then Steve Jobs died. Tim Cook has been hell bent on wringing every last drop of revenue out of the iOS line and neglected the Mac line for years. It's increasingly not even worth the effort of porting games to OS X since there's no hardware which will run modern high end games properly. This has negative knock-on effects for Linux ports since most porting houses do Mac first and Linux second, but I digress.

This neglect of the hardware makes half of the argument for getting a Mac over a PC running Linux or Windows moot. If the applications won't perform as well, the platform won't take off. Notice how the Raspberry Pi line only gained serious popularity when it was possible to run a modern web browser without bringing the entire device to a screeching halt on every page load. The other half, "hassle free unix", has been thoroughly undercut by the steady improvements in desktop Linux over the past decade and by Microsoft adding the Windows Subsystem for Linux (really, a Subsystem for GNU since there's no actual Linux kernel, but tell that to the marketing folks at Microsoft) to Windows 10. In either case, PCs offer faster, cheaper, and in increasingly many cases -better- hardware than Apple is offering. People who care about video games and Microsoft Office compatibility will go with Windows, while people who care more about filesystem I/O, schedulers, and performance for unix workloads will go with a Linux distro. Adobe's hold on the artistic market is weakening as well, propped up mostly by file format induced vendor lock in.

Moving from OS X to either pure Linux or Windows with WSL is a revelation. Things that used to turn Macbooks into overheating, stuttery messes like compiling large programs with gcc, cloning large git repositories, etc. are handled with ease. All the ugly kludges around Apple's non-standard filesystem layout and shitty, outdated core userland vanish. Docker no longer needs a Linux VM. Obscure filename errors caused by HFS+'s abhorrent mangling of Unicode go away. (Note: this is perhaps the one place I will praise NTFS over a major competitor, even though it in turn is beaten by ext4, XFS, and friends.) Apt/dpkg or yum with full repository access beat Homebrew/Macports in every conceivable metric. All of this comes with access to the full universe of PC hardware. Microsoft's WSL team, and the major corporate distros' desktop teams, have all clearly been targeting the "webdev or sysadmin with a macbook" user segment, and it shows.

Oh, and Android with KDE Connect integrates with a Linux desktop better than an iPhone ever integrated with a Mac. Notification sync, remote control, SMS, the works. Pity Microsoft dropped Windows Phone before they could mimic it like they've aped every other KDE feature for the past decade.