Mac OS has changed. There was a time when Macs were the machines of creative professionals and UNIX nerds first and foremost, as high prices and lack of software compatibility left the mass market appeal of the machines marginal at best. Then, in 2006, the winds of change began to blow. Apple transitioned to Intel’s x86 processors and with the change came increased software compatibility – at first in the form of the ability to run Windows on Macs, and increasingly in the form of more ports of popular software now that the largest barrier to that porting had been torn down. The following year, Apple released the first generation of their iPhone to mixed press reviews but surprising consumer response. Apple was finally a mass-market force in computing, and they could see clearly that the route here was with less expensive but less capable hardware. In 2010, they released the iPad – the new entry point to Apple computers, now with about 99% less actual computer. Now, iOS device sales account for an enormous percentage of Apple’s revenue and as a result get a disproportionate amount of their development resources. This has resulted in OS X releases that alternately change very little (10.6, 10.8) or are predominately imports of changes from iOS (10.7).
This results in an awkward situation for those of use who use and like Macs a great deal, but do not share the same positive emotions for the less capable, more locked-down iOS ecosystem. While to some extent “ease of use” has always been a central priority of Mac OS, OS X owes a lot its popularity in the development community to the fact that it is a powerful and versatile UNIX-based operating system. Sometimes, it seems as if Apple have forgotten just how important that is to some of us, as they shovel out updates filled with useless iOS imports like Launchpad and Game Center.
So it is with some relief that we find Mavericks stripping some of the insanity back out, and focusing on important updates to the core operating system. Things like “full support for OpenGL 4.1” and “timer coalescing” may not mean much to many users, but they’re music to the ears of developers and enthusiasts alike. These under-the-hood improvements are accompanied by the excising of much of the insufferable skeuomorphism that has crept into the OS over the years – but, reassuringly, without the integration of iOS 7’s flat pastels. Yes, once again OS X is taking its own direction, and that’s darn refreshing – even if it is simply for a few visual touches.
There was a time when Microsoft’s web browser commanded about 95% of the global market. Internet Explorer was the way to browse the web, and deep integration into the equally-ubiquitous Windows operating system left Netscape without a leg to stand on. Internet Explorer got so big, in fact, that the federal government got involved, suing Microsoft for anti-competitive business practices. There was even talk of splitting up Microsoft, AT&T-style. Of course, that didn’t come to pass, but Microsoft was required to separate Internet Explorer from the core of Windows somewhat. In Europe, they faced even tougher restrictions: Windows 7 and up have to prompt the user which web browser they want to use on first boot, rather than shipping with IE installed by default.
The real decline in Internet Explorer’s market share, however, came of course from the explosion of two alternative browsers: first, Mozilla’s Firefox in 2004, and later Google’s Chrome in 2008. I have used Firefox off and on since the early betas (still called Phoenix at the time, before trademark issues forced Mozilla to change the name) and have been using Chrome as my primary browser for the last couple of years. I, like millions of others, eventually came to view Internet Explorer as “that thing that downloads Firefox/Chrome on new computers.”
Part Two in an occasional series on terrible puns minimal GNU/Linux distributions
I’ve already gone over the basics of minimal Linux distributions (“distros” henceforth) and what benefits they can impart on older hardware, so let’s just get down to brass tacks. Today we’ll be looking at another lightweight distro running on another old notebook computer. The distro is Xubuntu, a derivative of Canonical, Ltd.’s popular (relatively speaking) Ubuntu Linux and, by extension, another variant of Debian. Xubuntu forgoes Ubuntu’s heavier, “kitchen-sink” Unity desktop environment for the lightweight and highly configurable Xfce. Xubuntu also strips out some of Ubuntu’s meatier packages in favor of lighter-weight alternatives. Despite this, you still get access to the Ubuntu software center and the large selection of semi-curated packages therein, all driven by Debian’s robust APT package management framework.
Part one in an occasional series on minimal GNU/Linux distributions
For years, the typical lifespan of a computer was considered to be about 2-3 years. The rapid development of faster and more efficient processors and graphics cards, the ever-growing amounts of RAM that could be crammed into a single stick (and used up by a single program), and the massive size of mechanical hard drives (and again, the files and programs you would be storing on them) made it a simple matter of practicality: After roughly three years, your old computer simply couldn’t do what you wanted it to anymore. This cadence was also reflected in the release schedule of new operating systems. Microsoft would release a new version of Windows every 2-3 years, and Apple a new version of their Mac OS; in both of these cases it was often most economical to simply buy a whole new computer with up-to-date hardware, rather than pay in excess of $100 to upgrade your operating system to a new version that may not even run very well on your current machine.
Then, in the mid 2000s, something changed. Microsoft released Windows XP in 2001, and in that same year Apple released their completely redesigned Mac OS X. While both of these operating systems had the usual teething problems at launch, each would bring about something unexpected in the following years. Microsoft opted to simply keep the popular XP up to date with free service packs as the development of its successor, then code-named Longhorn, dragged on far past the initially expected release date. Apple, on the other hand, continued to release near-annual $130 updates to Mac OS X, but unlike in the past, these updates had an unexpected effect: Each new version ran better on existing hardware than the one before it, finally making the idea of replacing your hardware for every new OS upgrade obsolete.