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Friday, February 22, 2013

I mortgaged my future with a Mac

Macs were always the computer I bought for other people. Someone who needed to get online and do the essentials of web browsing, e-mail, and (later on) instant messaging was better served with a cute little iMac way back in 2001. Windows was not an option because far too much tended to go wrong. Linux also was off the table, since even though I could make it do anything I needed, the flip side of that was that I had to make it do everything I needed. Say what you want about one-button mice, but there is a time and a place for them. "Right click" isn't obvious to everyone.

Back then, I tended to avoid Macs for my own purposes. I had my Linux boxes, and as relatively unfriendly as they were, I could get things done with them. For the most part, very little changed on them from one year to the next, and the interface was essentially static unless I wanted it to change. I decided when I was ready to move from fvwm to fvwm95, from that to Afterstep, and finally to fluxbox over the course of many years. Nobody made me change. Even the libc5 to glibc2 thing happened at my own pace. I got there when I was good and ready.

Still, things change. I was given a Macbook in 2006 when I started work out here in Silly Valley, and it started growing on me. Initially, it was basically my way to stay online while at work but not actually at my desk, like in a meeting. I was also issued a Verizon CDMA card so I could get online from basically anywhere for on-call purposes. However, I actually had a ssh tunnel into work from my home machine, so I didn't even need the Macbook to work pages from here. It was only useful when not at one of my two desks.

All I ever did with it was run Firefox and ssh around to actually do work on "real" machines, and it was fine for that. The rest of the time, it just basically sat there on my desk, unloved and unused.

In 2007, I bought an iPhone primarily due to the maps interface, and naturally needed a place to sync it. I decided to just use my work laptop for that purpose, and it worked fine. I wound up loading all of my music on there from the original CDs to get it onto my phone, and all was well.

With all of my music on there, suddenly I no longer needed to fight with whatever screwball music player was on my Linux box at the office. I just moved my headphones over to my laptop and kept them there. iTunes took over my music playing needs.

That's pretty much how it went. Soon, I found myself sitting on the couch at home chatting with people from the laptop instead of sitting at my desk where the "real" computer (Linux box) was. It slowly wormed its way into my life, and before long, I was using it to browse my usual haunts like reddit.

I realized that using the company machine for all of this personal stuff was probably a bad idea, so in 2009 I finally decided to start over. I went to Valley Fair and bought my own Macbook and then moved all of my stuff across to it. While I kept a copy of my music on the work machine, I no longer used it for casual web browsing and chatting. All of that now happened on my personal machine. At this point, the work laptop actually started staying at work more than anything, since there was no longer any reason to cart it around.

I had basically given in to Apple. I had decided to hitch my wagon to their horses, and let myself be pulled wherever they wanted to go. At the time, this was fine, since they were going in the same direction I would have taken anyway. The few parts of the box I actually used (web, music, chat, phone sync) worked fine, and things basically behaved. It was actually kind of nice not having to worry about this stuff for once.

At one point, I determined my Linux box was no longer useful, dropped a PCI wireless card into it, and moved it away from my desk. I buried it somewhere else where it only needed power since it no longer needed to be able to reach an Ethernet port. Then I turned it off and left it off unless there was something I needed. It sat in a corner, headless, cold, and dark. This was the case for another year or two.

Back then, this all made sense. I'd come home from work at night and would find myself unable to care about creating anything useful. All of that energy was completely spent dealing with worthless projects and lazy people at the office, and there was nothing left to use at home for personal stuff. Besides that, anything I created would have potentially been owned by The Company if it had anything to do with any business area they were in, or could reasonably enter soon. Considering they had every kind of software you can imagine going on inside, half-baked or not (hello, Lively!), it would be impossible to not have a conflict.

So, I just sat there and lived the passive life of a consumer at home. I clicked around the web and read stuff. I talked to people online. I listened to my music and watched the latest cat videos. I watched a lot of TV. But I didn't write any code. Oh no.

Obviously, this didn't last. On May 18, 2011, I walked out the door for the last time. The next morning, I found myself chock full of energy and ideas. All of this stuff which I had forced myself to not consider or develop started springing up. It wanted to get out of my head, down through my fingers, and into the computer. I needed a development box again. My Mac wasn't cutting it, and so my Linux box was returned to active duty. Aside from some cobwebs and a few queued-up security patches, it was fine.

I wrote more variety in terms of code in that first month after quitting than I had probably done in the year before that. This is not to say that I had been slacking at work, either, because I hadn't been. I'm saying that even compared to that, I still blew that out of the water. I was unchained at last and ready to rock.

Trouble is, as this was happening, Apple was starting its final "post Steve" jitters. Things started going off the rails. The guiding hand was clearly missing from more and more projects. You could tell that some things that never would have flown before were escaping into the outside world and torturing users. I mean, the entire time Lion existed, its VM sucked worse than ancient versions of Linux did back before they really had swap and OOM killing figured out. Think about that!

Now I find myself realizing that my next machine probably won't be a Mac. They're going down a road where I don't want to follow. I've been dismissing the prompts to upgrade to iTunes 11, and I'm still running iOS 5 on my phone. I don't intend to use whatever comes after Mountain Lion -- not that they even talk about OS X any more.

But, I'm stuck. All of my music is in iTunes, having been re-imported from the original CDs over a period of time. I can just re-rip all of it on my Linux box, but that's going to suck. Or, I can try to grovel around in their grungy database and try to make sense of it and "export" things, but I'm sure that will be even worse.

Another problem is going to be iPhoto. I've cropped, rotated, geotagged, sharpened, level-adjusted, and done countless other things to my thousands of pictures. They all also live in some database which is effectively opaque. While there's probably some way to get it out, it will be far from trivial.

Then there's my phone. How do you use one of these things without a computer upon which to sync your data and backups? I don't believe they can realistically behave properly while completely untethered. That means relying on iCloud, and you'd have to be crazy to do that. Besides, that would just give them more of a grip on my data and more ways to change things and screw me.

I can move my music, pictures, and movies. It won't be trivial, but I can do it. The problem is my phone. I'm no longer on the Apple bandwagon for such things. Android is obviously out of the question since it's just a different flavor of the same garbage (and I know how the sausage is made... yuck). Windows Phone? Uh, no? Blackberry? Yeah, right.

Maybe I'll wind up with a relatively dumb phone again, and then I'll start carrying my point-and-shoot camera around once more. If I need a map, I'll look before I leave the house and write a quick note with the pertinent details, just like I did for years pre-iPhone. That will cover phone calls, pictures, and even short videos. It will also free me from being on a relentless treadmill from Cupertino, Mountain View, or Redmond.

In the end, all I can do is treat them as damage and route around them.

As you can see, I mortgaged my future. Instead of staying with my wonky-but-free ways of doing things, I shifted all of my stuff over to the Mac. It gladly embraced all of it and jealously took it in, never to give it back. Now when I want to get back out, I have to do all of the work I thought I had managed to avoid by using a Mac in the first place.

I got a couple of years of not worrying about it (much), but it came at the cost of having a colossal mess which now needs to be maintained in order to carry my basic level of service forward on another platform. All of that carefree couch surfing is coming back to bite me.

I'm not looking forward to the next couple of years in tech.