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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Choosing a laptop to connect to my home Solaris network

I need to change my (very) old laptop to something more powerful. It's been running for more or less four years and nowadays, even if it installs without problem, using Solaris Express or a modern GNU/Linux distribution is quite unthinkable. Or, I just got accustomed to more powerful machines and switching back to my laptop is always a pain.

It's a very long time I'm not buying a laptop so I started looking around. I mostly use PCs as a Java developer (listening MP3s) and the only requirement, for me, is an easy integration with my home network, which is a 100% Solaris network. I'd always been running Slackware Linux on the few PCs I owned and since two years ago, I was also running a Debian Linux virtual machine, and never experienced any integration problems with the other Solaris machines I have. Setting up DHCP on my network interfaces and configuring NFS shares it's a no brainer, even with the CLI. So, I was just looking for a sufficiently powerful machine to run Slackware without major problems: my (good) experience with Slackware started back in the 90's and I'm "inoculated" against the anxiety syndrome generated by non-working hardware.

But an interference unexpectedly appeared: a friend of mine, an Apple zealot, started to trying to convince me to buy an Apple machine. To say the truth, I must be one of the few guys in the world which isn't desiring buying a machine from Cupertino (at least for my statistically insignificant experience). GUI bells and whistles don't usually hypnotize me, neither does the beautiful and polished appearance of Apple machines. I wasn't seeing any major advantage to buying an Apple rather than an HP or a Lenovo and running GNU/Linux. Until my friend came to my house and showed me the OS X.

Connecting to the network and mounting an NFS share took approximately 5 seconds, without having used (ever) that system before. You may say that's nothing special, but: did you try that on Slackware or Debian? Even a potential problem, such as the fact that the user created by my friend for me had a different UID and GID that those I needed (and there was no way to change that with the GUI), was easily solved consulting the very good documentation of the system. I don't like opening a terminal and discovering that usermod does not exist but at least the quality of the documentation filled the gap. The price of a MacBook or a MacBook Pro isn't exagerated, compared to the price of a quality-equivalent machine from Lenovo, for example.

Some may say I could install Ubuntu and give it a try. Well, I did it. But there's no comparison with Mac OS X GUI. I'm a Solaris user and a long-time slacker, so CLIs don't scare me: I indeed prefer very often opening a terminal rather than clicking with the mouse. But I want to recognize the high quality of the GUI of OS X, which is, in my humble opinion, much more user-centric, intuitive and good-looking than any other GUI I saw on a GNU/Linux system.

Summarizing, I played an entire day with that laptop, ssh-ing to my server, opening remote X11 connections and so on. And it felt very comfortable and productive.

I really think I'll give Apple (and Mac OS X) a try.

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