I wanted to play around with some Unix again, and I have been wanting to get into OS X. However, economics tells me to wait a little bit. Macs are priced a little too high for me to just play around with right now and I’m not going to put together an OS X x86 box.
So, I tried out one of the recent desktop unix distros, just to see what it would be like before I get a Mac Mini.
I downloaded Red Hat Enterprise Linux and installed it on a spare PC I had for Windows 2000. It is a decent Athlon 900mhz box with 1 gig of RAM and a 25 gig drive. The video card is an older Geforce MX AGP card.
The install took quite a long time, but when it was over, it all just worked. The only problem I had was getting the correct video mode for my display (a 24″ LCD). That took a while, but I eventually got it working. Here is what I’ve found:
They have made significant progress. Overall, I’m impressed. This is a usable developer system. Even the sound came up on the first try!
What did they get right: RPM is still a great package distribution system. It was easy to get ‘yum’ to install all the software I needed. They have also, finally significantly improved the configurability of the system with a GUI. It’s not equivalent to Windows yet, but it is gettting there. I even got rid of my CAPS_LOCK all through the GUI ! This is a first for me on Unix. The GNOME evnironment has improved and even uses the Windows keyboard shortcuts, which is smart. It is also looking much better than previous releases.
Where they are being held up: Graphics. The system known as X Windows is still hanging like an anchor on their neck. It is too hard to configure, and has visible screen-tearing on animation. The font system and graphics just have a rougher edge to them. Who knows if my graphics card is using acceleration, I have no easy way to find out. Put GNome on top of that, and you are just doing OK. You get the feeling that it isn’t worth learning too much about the system since it will all get re-written again in a year.
The bundled apps/open source is also below par. If they didn’t have FireFox and a few other polished apps, it would be back to 1990 style development. Don’t expect a painless media experience. For example, I tried to start the display manager and nothing would happen. I had to try and run it in a terminal to find out that the python script that was that program was throwing an exception.
Overall: I still think OS X (NextSTEP 🙂 ) is the best desktop Unix around and probably the most developer friendly. This is a decent second place. I will keep using it until I get a Mac Mini or Mac Laptop.
(Also, note, if I didn’t have the previous Linux experience, I would have been screwed trying to get the display working, and given up.)