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Posted by gustav at 04:00PM, Sunday, December 01st, 2002

I've Had It With Computers

OS X sucks. Everything else is worse. I don't want to spend my whole life squabbling with dumb machines just to make them work right. Time saving inventions my foot. Let's go back to slide rules.

This morning when I got in to work, I unpacked my PowerBook -- my almost exactly two-month-old titanium PowerBook G4 -- and set it on my desk, then plugged my USB mouse into it. The mouse didn't work; nor did any of the other USB devices I had handy. I freaked out, and was convinced I would need a new motherboard, a prospect made more disturbing by my recent experiences trying to move data between hard drives in OS X.

Last weekend, I tried to install an application with some third-party device drivers into my desktop G4. The installation failed the first time through, then appeared to work fine the second time. However, when I restarted, as the installer insisted I do (something that, fortunately, is becoming an antiquated practice these days), the machine had a kernel panic on bootup. The installation seems to have not been entirely kosher for several reasons. The first is that, even starting up with extensions disabled, which should preclude all third-party device drivers loading, I continued to have the kernel panic. The second is that, after looking through the installation log and deleting all the files listed in there, the problem continued -- this seems to imply that the installation log simply omitted a lot of the installation steps. The third is that several of the files mentioned in the installation log didn't exist; nor did the directories the log said they were in. Well. That's helpful. Thanks, Avid.

So here I am a week later, still with a desktop machine that won't boot into OS X. I'm not terribly eager to reinstall the OS, since I had to do that a few months back after I had a very UNIX-style pointer failure on the drive, which could only be fixed by reformatting. I still haven't moved all the files over from that episode. This is not how computer maintenance is supposed to be in Mac-Land, and I'm thinking of going back to OS 9 because of it.

See, in OS 9, if I had to move the contents of a hard drive to a new drive, that wouldn't be a big deal. Even if I had to recreate a system folder, my systems were only ever about 100MB for a *big* one, and it was about 15 minutes of work to move all my preferences from the old folder to the new one. Applications and data in OS 9 didn't care where they lived. Just drag and drop, and you were all set. This digidesign problem wouldn't be a big deal: worst case scenario, I reinstall a system (10 minutes), then move all my preferences and fonts over (15 minutes), and I go. I never got stuck wondering why my machine wouldn't find the boot folder, whether it had a permissions problem (Permissions? What are you talking about? This was a Mac. We didn't have to deal with chmod or hidden files or any of that CLI/Windoze nonsense) or something entirely different. If I had a problem, I could boot up from a CD and navigate around the drive well enough to fix it.

These days, I can only navigate around the drive adequately if I can bring up a command line so that I can see all those pesky hidden files, and make sure the permissions on everything are correct to allow booting. There's no such thing as drag-and-drop in the Finder for system files any more. I can't get to the command line from a CD; in fact, I can't do it from OS 9, which I can still boot into on the afflicted machine. I have to set my desktop to work as a firewire hard drive, and then plug it in to another Mac running OS X so I can poke around. Not that agonizing over that makes any difference, because in this particular case, even after doing that, running the fix permissions tool in Disk Utility, zapping the PRAM, and making sure the firmware was updated, my machine still won't boot.

I'm sick of that. I should not have to do all this. I shouldn't have to pay any attention to the sick ways the innards of my file system and bootloader operate. And while I admit that I like being able to do my professional programming work in OS X -- being able to develop on command-line tools running Java, being able to run FTP and web servers and SSH and all that geeky goodness -- the tradeoff seems a bit high. There are no real advances on the non-command-line side of X, with two exceptions: that nifty hierarchical columns view in the Finder, and PDF as a display layer. And the OS doesn't even take advantage of the new Finder view as it should: I want to be able to use it to navigate my CVS tree, and choose a right-click menu option to check something into source control, then navigate to a java file and see it in the preview and edit it *right there*. This isn't a new paradigm -- just look at emacs. But I can't. So I get all the new UNIX-y stuff, and I get lots of headaches from configuring, and configuring over and over again, all that UNIX stuff. But I don't get the stable, safe, quiet retreat from all things over-complicated and requiring too much intervention and tweaking to make work, which the Mac used to give me. Call it brand dilution, maybe; whatever it is, I think Apple's lost its way. Sure, it's better than most other UNIX-type operating systems (other BSD flavors, Linux, etc.); and of course Windows still gives you the worst of both worlds and then some. But I started using Macs in the 80s because they were different, and didn't make me jump through all the same stupid hoops as other computers did, just to get a little work done. And that's changed.

Oh, and the PowerBook? It was an electrical short of some bizarre kind. I unplugged everything and restarted (thanks to the investigative skills of a pal at work, one of the guys who helped invent email), and my USB devices had power again. Not the most confidence-inspiring morning.

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