Why I returned my Mac

I realize the title of this post is a bit provocative, but I could not think of any other way to put it.

Some weeks back, I got a new Mac Book Pro at work. This was my first exposure to Apple’s computer products, and after the initial few moments of aah-ooh’s wore off, I started using it for what I was supposed to do - work. It so happens that after about a week of use, I returned the MBP and went back to the other standard (and much less expensive) HP notebook used in the company. There was a brief interval during this time, when I installed Ubuntu Linux on the MBP and got some amount of relief.

My decision to install Ubuntu on the Mac and even returning the Mac for an regular HP laptop was much criticized in various lists. Most people sort of jumped to the conclusion that it was just because I did not want to adapt my usage to the mac-way of doing it. There might be an element of truth in that, but it was not the major reason. The major reason was that I felt it was just as much a proprietary den as Windows was.

If you look past the shiny(and somewhat minimal) hardware of an MBP and ignore the frustating touchpad and the missing keys (as compared to a PC keyboard), it is not much different from a standard Windows machine. Ok, the quality of bundled software is probably better and the OS is rock stable, but at the end of the day it is still a closed source box!

When I mentioned to mailing lists about how Mac lacked too many native Open source applications, I was derided about trying to look out for free and not willing to pay for software.

Now how is this different from the Windows subsystem? Windows also has the same closed source OS. It has by far much more third party software which can be bought. It can be stable if one uses it the right way (I had an XP box at home for years which had never crashed).

And there is this concept of “native” applications in Mac. Even after being a BSD based box, X applications are isolated from the main display. A native application(made using Apple’s libraries) can only interact with the applications in the main display. So, for instance, you cannot use Gimp to take screenshots, because Gimp can’t “see” any of the application windows in the main Mac display. It is a very weird concept that you need to get used to while using the MBP.

Finally, it is about the concept of freedom which is what Opensource is about. A large part of the Mac hardware(even though it is Intel based nowadays) is proprietary. So if you use Linux on it for example, you need to jump through hoops to get basic hardware to run - the touchpad, the webcam, the wireless card, even power management is all dark science because Apple deliberately kept it like that to sell it’s OS. So while you would get about 5 hours of battery life using OS X, using Ubuntu would give you just over 2.5 hours.

And I have got tired of explaining this to the Mac fanboys (including some who claimed to be Opensource folks) - Opensource is not about the cost. I also use Free software because it gives me something which closed software can never give me - control over my data. I know that even if I lose the software or move machines, I can always find out how my data is stored/encoded by looking at the source. Or I can probably always find somebody who can.

I remember buying this photo management software Imatch for a Windows laptop that we have. This particular piece of software is very popular(and rightfully so, because it is wonderful) and is made by a single person - Mario Westphal. Perhaps uniquely(and laudably), this person has given an option to export all your metadata of photos to an XML file in case you ever want to move from Imatch(to prevent data lock in). Unfortunately, this misses a particular usage scenario. Suppose I have a backup of my photo data on a disk, and Windows on my laptop crashed. Suppose, in disgust, I decided to install Linux on the machine and import my photos into my favorite photo organizer - Digikam. Can I do it? I can’t. Because to even generate the export of data, I would need Imatch. And to even use Imatch, I would need to install Windows. And even if I take advantage of Imatch’s liberal usage policy(you can install it on as many machines as long as you are using only one at a time) it is too much of a bother to go find a Windows machine elsewhere and install Imatch on it and then export my data.

It would have been far simple if Imatch had published the format of its photo database, so that I (or somebody with more technical acumen) can write a import script for Digikam. It is this aspect of freedom which most users are unware of (and now I see many so called FOSS folks too).

In summary, apart from the hardware frustrations or my reluctance to get used to a completely different way of doing things, what convinced me to move back was my belief that, like Windows, the Mac ecosystem is just as much against what I believe a notebook(or computer) should be to its user - a Free resource which does what the user wants and not the other way around.

BTW, Mark Pligrim, a long time Mac user, has a much more fleshed out argument for his decision to move away from Macs.

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