Apps That Matter

Volume 7, Issue 157; 03 Sep 2004; last modified 08 Oct 2010

Linux or OS X? Who cares! It’s the apps that matter! I’m not sure that’s going to help much, but it’s worth a shot.

I’m finding this laptop decision making process terribly painful. Geoff Arnold suggested I should quibble less about the OS and worry instead about the apps I run. I’m not sure that’s going to help much, but it’s worth a shot.

I need bash, ssh, gpg, cvs (maybe soon, svn), and the standard suite of Unix utilities plus Perl and Python. I expect all of those to be available on both platforms. My top three applications are emacs, emacs, and Firefox. I say “emacs” twice not simply for emphasis, but because I always have two copies running, a general edit anything copy and a copy running gnus in which I read all my mail. (Sorted and collated with SpamAssassin and procmail.) In any event, no worries there, I expect.

I also rely on a bunch of Java apps (JAXP, Saxon, Xerces, catalog resolvers, etc.) but they should be no problem (WORA, baby!). I need pilot-link to sync my Palm with XML using Perl. I run OpenOffice when some bozo sends me that sort of goop.

I must have virtual desktops. I’m getting that with Fvwm today, but I used a commercial tool (Perfect Screens) when I had to run Windows and there appears to be a commercial tool (VirtualDesktop) for OS X. There may be others, and free ones too, I haven’t looked that hard.

After that, I want a multi-protocol IM client. I’m using gaim now, but I’ve used others in the past. I need a decent IRC client, like XChat. I run GKrellM to monitor the status of a few things (I would miss Sun Clock if I couldn’t continue to use GKrellM, but I can’t really call that a show stopper) and xconsole to watch the console messages. I expect those are all functionally available on both platforms.

As I said, my browser of choice is Firefox and I run the Apache web server and the WWWOffle proxy cache. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty, and I usually build things with gcc of the 2.9x vintage when I do. None of those should be a problem.

I run the ImageMagick tools and Gimp to edit photographs. I use XPlanet to make a background on one of my desktops and for travel maps. I use the Internet Printing Protocol to communicate with the printer on the server in my closet. And wifi, of course (802.11b today, “g” tomorrow).

That’s about it. At least, that covers everything running right now and all the things I can think of off the top of my head. I may have forgotten a few things, I suppose.

I will say there are some interesting sounding things for OS X that I don’t (yet?) use. The Rendezvous stuff with apps like SubEthaEdit looks interesting. And most folks seem to say good things about the iLife apps.

I just don’t know.

Comments

Emacs -- I am sure you know that there's Carbon Emacs (thanks to Alex Choi -- http://members.shaw.ca/akochoi-emacs/).

Multi-protocl chat: you can choose between Adium [http://www.adiumx.com] (with a bit strange take at some idelogical issues, but free, at least for now) or Fire [http://fire.sf.net/].

Multiple dasktops: aside from comercial app you mentioned, you could also use free (both meanings) one -- DesktopManager [http://wsmanager.sourceforge.net/]

Naturally, you can go on and use your beloved X apps within X11, since it happily runs on an Apple :)

On OOo: while you can use MacOS X X11 version of it, I prefer NeoOffice/J's Java version.

—Posted by Andrei Popov on 03 Sep 2004 @ 01:57 UTC #

Just got a PowerBook G4 1.5 GHz. Great OS, great apps, but caveats include: slow processor (compared to Intel and now even iMacs), incredible heat (bottom gets WICKED hot after short period of time), and some Java trade-offs.

Let me expound on the Java stuff. I like the JVM's nice tight integration with OS resulting in fast startups and lower overall memory usage, but I wish I could use some third-party VMs. Apple's done a great job integrating their JRE with the native platform, but there's no server VM! Server VM performs *much* better than client in many situations. Apple is closely tracking Java 5, but you can't get Java 5 pre-releases without paying a bundle. Java apps designed for OS X look beautiful and almost seem native, but many cross-platform Java apps (like IntelliJ IDEA) run noticably slower and with more bugs than on Sun JVMs.

But on the other hand, remote controlling the laptop during prezos with my bluetooth phone using Salling Clicker is almost worth the price of admission alone -- very cool.

—Posted by Ben Galbraith on 03 Sep 2004 @ 02:48 UTC #

Whilst Emacs on Mac OS X works quite well it doesn't work as well as Emacs on linux or Solaris (hey, why is Solaris missing from the list of operating systems?).

If you don't use any network connections from within Emacs then the Mac is probably fine. If you need them then things get a bit messy (can't C-g out of many situations due to the way that the event loop is implemented).

That said, the Powerbook is much nicer hardware than any PC laptop I've owned (including a Tecra 8200).

—Posted by David Edmondson on 03 Sep 2004 @ 04:33 UTC #

Be sure if you choose Linux on a laptop that the wireless hardware is supported as you will require. I know smart technical folks at the office have trouble with this on their ThinkPads. My officemate has given up I believe and runs Windows and uses X11 remote display from a workstation to work. Mac, though "officially unsupported" works great for me. I just added the appropriate wireless hardware to my 3.5 year old Mac PowerBook G4 and it all has "just worked" wonderfully.

Regarding your needs, I've been happy using VirtualDesktop (six screens). (I use CDE at work on AIX, 8 screens on each of two monitors -- so, you can see I love my virtual screens. ;-)

I like Fire.app for multi-protocol IM. I use it for IRC and it's acceptable, but other clients might be better. There's a new app called Be sure if you choose Linux on a laptop that the wireless hardware is supported as you will require. I know smart technical folks at the office have trouble with this on their ThinkPads. My officemate has given up I believe and runs Windows and uses X11 remote display from a workstation to work. Mac, though "officially unsupported" works great for me. I just added the appropriate wireless hardware to my 3.5 year old Mac PowerBook G4 and it all has "just worked" wonderfully.

Regarding your needs, I've been happy using VirtualDesktop (six screens). (I use CDE at work on AIX, 8 screens on each of two monitors -- so, you can see I love my virtual screens. ;-)

I like Fire.app for multi-protocol IM. I use it for IRC occasionally and it's acceptable, but there are probably better clients. I just heard of a new IRC client app called Conversation that looks promising and I intend to check it out.

Fink is good for convenient install of some Unix apps, like ImageMagick, tetex. I used to use it for gimp, but a Gimp.app drag-and-drop install is much simpler.

And OS X gives you the option of using OmniGraffle which I really like (*huge* improvement over what I was able to accomplish with xfig).

With print-to-pdf built-in and well supported in just about everything including tetex via Fink, I really like a PDF work flow when doing document construction. I worked out how we wanted to setup a DocBook documentation system at work first on my Mac laptop -- hey, thanks for your contributions in that area! -- and then we put it on a Linux machine for everyone to use.

I don't think you'll go wrong either way. There'll be some compromise either way. Just wanted to share my experiences in case you choose OS X.

—Posted by Travis on 03 Sep 2004 @ 05:24 UTC #

Crickey, look at that. Sorry about the half in-complete post which precedes the full comment. I hit Submit rather than Preview. Feel free to edit to remove the error and delete this followup if you are so inclined.

—Posted by Travis on 03 Sep 2004 @ 05:29 UTC #

I have been relatively unhappy with Emacs on OS X. The latest packaged Carbon binary has weird issues (interactive search backwards hangs for no reason) and crashes often with no perceptible pattern. You might have more luck compiling it yourself from CVS.

Firefox on OS X is similarly second-class. Many extensions do not work properly (tabbrowser) and overall it feels sluggish compared to Firefox on comparable hardware running Windows or Linux.

Fink is wonderful, and FinkCommander is a good GUI frontend for it. If you like living on the edge, you can try Gentoo OS X (Gentoo's Portage system to install additional apps within OS X), but that is quite new and may not gain much traction.

Overall you'll probably be happier with a Linux laptop. Watch out for the Thinkpads! Or anything else with an unsupported wireless card. Research http://www.linux-laptop.net/ for details.

—Posted by Mark Pilgrim on 03 Sep 2004 @ 05:53 UTC #

Norm - your sorting hat doesn't work - as all of the apps you mention you can get to work quite well on just about any platform! I'm in a similar situation, though currently running on a dual G5 and don't really want to leave OS X world, but will probably have to due to d).

I think you are going to have to add additional criteria. a) Maybe "ease of use" - do you want things to "just work" all the time? b) "Fun Factor", community, productivity, apps, utilities c) Do you always want "bleeding edge" - ie. Java 5.0 beta now? and d) Power (GHz). How much do you want and need?

[On a) and b), I think Powerbook wins hands down. For c), it doesn't. For d) it doesn't ]

And for you Emacs people - I used to have problems with Emacs on OS X. I then downloaded the latest source straight from the CVS, compiled, and now it's much much better.

—Posted by Jon Mountjoy on 03 Sep 2004 @ 06:28 UTC #

I'd have thought 1.5Ghz would be pretty sporty, but a couple of folks have suggested that that's slower than 1.5Ghz on x86. Dunno what to think about that.

On the other hand, I just spent half an hour wrestling with the Firewire stack on this box. I had to reboot twice. Rebooting is for hardware upgrades, damn it. So I'm in a sour mood at the moment. All so I could get my new Pogues CD onto my iPod, for what it's worth.

But they're going to make me pay money for OS upgrades. What's up with that?

I still don't know.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 03 Sep 2004 @ 08:40 UTC #

Do like me. Get a Mac, install both Linux and OS X and switch between them when you feel like it.

—Posted by Thijs van der Vossen on 03 Sep 2004 @ 09:29 UTC #

I think it's fair to say that your *nix-originated apps such as emacs, gimp, etc don't run quite as well on MacOS X as they do on Linux. Either the Aqua port lags behind the main development, or you run it as an X app, where it is not quite as integrated with the rest of the OS. I find the carbonized emacs to be quite acceptable.

The main advantage with OS X is the new types of apps that you may not have encountered before on other OSs. Like the iLife suite and SubEthaEdit you mentioned. But there are more. I don't know how I lived without Quicksilver. And seriously, give Expose a try before you install a virtual desktop manager.

The yearly upgrade fee is generally worth the cost in my experience, but YMMV.

—Posted by Alastair Rankine on 03 Sep 2004 @ 09:53 UTC #

Forgot to mention: my emacs was compiled from CVS.

And seeing as noone else has mentioned it, allow me to include a quick plug for darwinports (darwinports.opendarwin.org) which will get the latest emacs from the CVS repository, compile and install it all with a single

sudo port install emacs +carbon

—Posted by Alastair Rankine on 03 Sep 2004 @ 09:59 UTC #

Another way to think about it is:

"It's not the Apps, it's what you want to accomplish".

—Posted by Anthony Starks on 05 Sep 2004 @ 01:46 UTC #

Mark Pilgrim wrote:

"Watch out for the Thinkpads!"

I've heard that Thinkpads can work well with Suse.

There even are certified/supported combinations, check eg http://www.suse.com/en/business/certifications/certified_hardware/sl91.html

In Germany, nofost.de offers Thinkpads with a Suse installation CD for Thinkpads; I don't know if Suse (respectively Novell) sells those in the US.

—Posted by Tobi on 09 Sep 2004 @ 08:53 UTC #

I've got a 17" PowerBook with 1.5G CPU and mere 512Mb RAM and I can't call it slow, though YMMV. It sure is faster than my T30 with 768Mb and a 1.8G P4M running W2K!

Emacs — I'll second CVS checkout and a compile, nver known that a binary has been out there, actually. I will also concur that it is not as good as X11 one (but the same, if not more, is true for a Win32 one), but it works. My biggest problme with it was to get it to properly handle Unicode — much hassle with fonts, etc.

And if you do go for a ThinkPad with Linux — I'll second the WiFi comment, and add the Winmodem one: you may be better off plugingn PCMCIA card for a modem instead of trying to get Linmodem to work, at least in my experience...

P.S. Just noticed that HTML tags were added to comments! Cools :)

—Posted by Andrei Popov on 13 Sep 2004 @ 09:28 UTC #