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I've long been an advocate of Free Software. I've been a card-carrying associate member of the Free Software Foundation since 2002. I've been writing GPL software since 1993. The Mac is a thread woven through the tapestry of my life. For many years, Apple's combined offering has been impressive enough to keep me paying for both their hardware and their software. But lately their software has been getting weaker (and more restrictive), to the point where I've found myself researching alternatives, even on Mac OS X.

  • Safari? No thanks, I choose Firefox (and later Camino).
  • iChat? No thanks, AdiumX talks to everyone, not just your business partners.
  • QuickTime? No thanks, VLC plays everything, and in full-screen.
  • Terminal? No thanks, iTerm has tabs.

And so forth. In fact, I spend the vast majority of my time using these and other open source applications (Carbon Emacs, Colloquy, Audacity, Seashore, Python, and a variety of command-line tools). Why keep running them on an operating system that costs money and restricts my rights and my usage?

(I would like to point out that it is entirely Apple's choice that their operating system does not run on my new Lenovo ThinkCentre. I'm not saying it was a bad business decision -- they are a hardware company, after all -- but it is particularly galling to realize that if I bought a new Mac, I would be subsidizing the development of an operating system that contains code whose sole purpose is to lock me into a specific hardware platform. I realize that most people don't look at it that way, but there it is.)

And what about those wonderful Apple programs that I haven't replaced with open-source alternatives? I loved iPhoto until my iPhoto database got corrupted one day, and I lost all my ratings, keywords, and albums because that information is stored in an undocumented binary black hole. Yeah yeah, I know about AlbumData.xml. That has its own problems, and in my case it was already corrupted by the time iPhoto noticed. I'll give them some credit for trying.

Similarly, I loved iTunes until my iTunes database got corrupted, too. Once again, I lost all my ratings and about two dozen well-thought-out interlocking "smart" playlists. And once again, all of the irreplaceable metadata was stored in an undocumented binary black hole. Yeah yeah, the XML backup again. iTunes even helpfully offered to restore from it... except that it didn't restore any of my aforementioned metadata, so it's not really a backup, is it? "A" for effort, "D-" for implementation.

Meanwhile, I've already been stung by iMovie's lack of support for Edit Decision Lists. Luckily I never got locked into Keynote. (I've been using S5 ever since I got burned by PowerPoint.) And don't even get me started on the iTunes Music Store and the ever-increasing number of tie-ins in each new version of iTunes.

I'm creating things now that I want to be able to read, hear, watch, search, and filter 50 years from now. Despite all their emphasis on content creators, Apple has made it clear that they do not share this goal. Openness is not a cargo cult. Some get it, some don't. Apple doesn't.

You may think that this is all some sort of after-the-fact rationalization of my non-Apple purchase, but my coworkers (and my wife) will attest that I've been complaining about these issues for a long time. A few months ago in Austin, I monopolized an entire table of friendly coworker bar banter with a rant about Apple's lock-in. And astute readers may recall that I've been wary of iPhoto and iTunes for years.

In many ways, the tale of my switch is more of the same old story. Mac OS X was "free enough" to keep me using something that was not in my long-term best interest. But as I stood in the Apple store last weekend and drooled over the beautiful, beautiful hardware, all I could think was how much work it would take to twiddle with the default settings, install third-party software, and hide all the commercial tie-ins so I could pretend I was in control of my own computer. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to my eye Apple isn't beautiful anymore. I've worked around it or ignored it for a long time, but eventually the bough breaks.


Things I bought this weekend:

  1. Infrant ReadyNAS X6 with four 250GB Seagate Barracuda drives pre-installed, based on the advice of my readers and this review from Tom's Networking. I bought it from, which does not appear to sell the exact model anymore (but they assure me that mine is in the mail as we speak... er, type... and they still sell larger models). The actual NAS is based on Debian GNU/Linux, and Infrant appears to comply with the GNU/GPL.
  2. Canon PowerShot SD450, based on the further advice of my readers and reviews at and Bought from my local Apple store, ironically.
  3. Lenovo ThinkCentre M52 with 3 GHz dual core processors. Despite the recent switchover to Lenovo, I still get an IBM employee discount, which amounted to several hundred dollars. I found ThinkWiki to be an invaluable resource while I was researching the compatibility of various components.
  4. Seagate Barracuda 750 GB hard drive, based on advice from my readers about Seagate hard drives and this review on (This drive also hit Slashdot this morning and Digg this afternoon. I feel so au courant.) I will install this in my new ThinkCentre on day 1, and then I will install a Free Software operating system on it.
  5. A real fucking keyboard, which I found via links from other bloggers. OK, technically it's called the Customizer 104/105 Black. But at lunch today I was trying to describe to Brett exactly what sort of keyboard it was, and I said something to the effect of "Do you remember those IBM Model M keyboards that you had to push real hard and they clicked when you pressed a key, and if you could type 100 words a minute it sounded like the world was coming to an end?" And Brett said, "Oh! You bought a real fucking keyboard!" So in this house, it shall henceforth be known as "the real fucking keyboard." It even comes with a real fucking USB cable.

Astute readers will notice that this marks the end of my 22-year love affair with Apple. I actually went to the local Apple store this weekend -- checkbook in hand -- to decide between the new Mac mini, MacBook, and MacBook Pro. I walked out without buying any of them. Bye, Apple. Thanks for the memories.

So, what Free Software operating systems are people running these days?