return… of the return

Well, hey howdy hey blog. It’s been what… since May since we last spoke? I was there in May speaking after the death of my late, lamented Macbook and found myself back on Microsoft Windows and promising to come back. So here I am… back.

I was going to give a rundown of my life since then but I just remembered that I was avoiding talking about that on grounds of dullness. Nothing much really has happened, anyway… although I’m now using Linux rather than Windows. Well, sort of – I’m running Ubuntu in VirtualBox on Windows and I actually find it most agreeable. It gives me the best of both worlds: I get to get my programmer on in Linux and then if I want to go play I can slip back into Windows which does the whole play games/watch videos thing so much better than Ubuntu.

After the death of my Macbook and finding myself back on Windows, I remembered what I disliked so intently about the programming environment on Windows – it’s slow, laborious and even creating a basic “Hello world” program in it can be quite involved. Of course, you can get command line compilers on Windows, but Windows doesn’t really like the command line as such because it’s meant to be just you clicking about the place without making stuff. The Microsoft-sanctioned step to making programs on Windows is to download Visual Studio, which requires you to set up a fully-featured IDE project for something as simple as a console app that says “Hello world”… hardly desirable.

Mind you, Mac doesn’t get off my shitlist either. The thing I like about the Mac is that it contains a wonderful command-line based UNIX interface (the core of OS X, Darwin, is based on BSD) and combines that with a wonderfully usable user interface which makes installing apps easy and is well laid out – you can find all of your apps in the “Applications” folder, rather than spread out all over the place. I used it since 2008 and was quite content. I was a happy member of the cult of Apple, and then the Achilles’ heel of the Mac made itself apparent – the hardware broke. And it would cost almost as much as a new computer to repair… so I said goodbye to the Mac.

I discovered the joys of OS virtualization not too long ago, and I’ve pretty much settled upon it as the answer to the problem of my desire to experience as many operating systems as possible. I’ve run quite a few OS’s since then, and I’ve come to the conclusion that well, there is no OS to rule them all. You get your Linux fanboys, your Apple fanboys, even Windows fanboys but after experiencing all three I have to say that they all have their moments when they kinda suck. But, many of the alternatives do too – let me tell you of my journey.

I’ve installed Ubuntu on VirtualBox, and one of the virtual HDDs has sort of become my default virtual computer to go on. It’s stable, it’s got plenty of space (45GB), and I’ve come to realize that the thing I really missed from my Mac was terminal.app, and the rest was just kind of nice eye-candy. I like being able to simply type “make” in, and see the compiler create a program. That was what I liked about the Mac, and that’s what I like about Linux. It can however be kind of slow when dealing with Flash videos and I can’t really listen to Spotify in it… however, that’s most likely due to its nature as a virtual computer. However, much of the ease of use comes from the fact that it’s piggy-backing on an already configured Windows machine and I don’t look forward to the prospect of messing around with nDISwrapper if I set up an Ubuntu laptop.

I’ve also got PC-BSD installed on VirtualBox, more for curiosity’s sake than anything else. PC-BSD is a user-friendly repackaging of FreeBSD, the most widely used of the BSD systems and also the base of quite a lot of Mac OS X. I’ve tried to install several BSD flavours onto VirtualBox, but found them all quite hard to get working properly as BSD is noted for being insanely technical by nature. PC-BSD gives it a nice graphical installer and a packaging systems app… but is still essentially FreeBSD underneath. It’s good because FreeBSD has a nice command line environment like any other UNIX-like OS, but the problem comes in installing things – the package manager is rather slow and the command line pkg_get takes a hell of a long time to get anything done. It does talk to the net, however, and is useful if you’ve just gotten comfy with Linux but want to give something else a poke.

I next tried installing a variant of Solaris. Solaris is the UNIX-based OS that Sun Microsystems used to put out and that saw most of its market eaten up by Linux which was also UNIX-like, and free to boot. In response to this, Sun open-sourced Solaris but then ended up reversing this when taken over by the far less open-source friendly Oracle, who promptly closed down the Solaris open-source effort. This wasn’t before someone could fork it, however, and OpenIndiana, the open source Solaris was born. I tried installing it on VirtualBox but it wouldn’t boot up… and I think unless I tried it on a specific hardware set for real this would still be the case.

I ended up going off the beaten track as well as I really wanted to see if there was any great OS out there that I’d never had any experience with – all of the above I’d either had a chance to try in some form before and I was eager to try out something new. I found Haiku, an open-source continuation of the 90s operating system BeOS which was famed for the haiku error messages of its web browser (sadly Haiku’s web browser just gives out plain old error 404…). Haiku’s user interface is quite interesting – it’s quite minimalist and took me a while to get my head around. It also has a command line interface reminiscent of a UNIX, but the major disadvantage is that if you have any problems you can’t RTFM because the “man” command doesn’t exist. I couldn’t get it onto the net either, which meant that really I couldn’t go and see what kind of software I could get for it. It might be worth keeping an eye on though because I quite liked the user interface.

I also tried QNX, an operating system that’s used in the Blackberry Playbook tablets. Sadly I couldn’t get it to install, and the live CD environment was kind of lacking anyway. I think it’s one to give a miss…

The long and short of it is: after trying many operating systems, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as the perfect OS. They all have their ups and downs, but whatever one you use there’s going to be some area in which it just plain sucks. That said, I’m kind of slowly falling in love again with Linux…

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