As anyone who has known me knows, I'm definitely a Mac user. I've used Apple hardware on and off since the Apple II days. The first Mac I actually bought, however, was a G4 tower. Most of the time before that was spent hating Apple and suffering in a Windows world.
This went on until a good friend took the time to show me what his G3 could actually do. Of course, back then, Mac OS 8 was the de facto OS and Mac OS X was still a research project. I initially resisted but started liking what I saw enough to say "I want one!". It was then that I bought my first Macintosh, a 400 Mhz PowerPC G4 PowerMac. It came with 64 MB of RAM, an 2x AGP ATI video card with 16 MB of RAM and a whopping 20 GB hard drive. It also came with the venerable 400 MHz PowerPC 7400 (G4) processor with the AltiVec "Velocity Engine" vector processing unit and 1 MB of backside cache. This CPU smoked any Intel Pentium 3 at the time and was classified by the U.S. Government as a supercomputer since it was capable of at least a Gigaflop of performance. Another nifty component this machine has is a gigabit Ethernet interface. No other PC I can remember at that time (we're talking late 1999, early 2000) had that and most didn't have an Ethernet interface (56k was still the bomb-diggity). Needless to say, for $1599, this was a very nice Macintosh.
I endured many months of ridicule but really enjoyed my G4. One very interesting point was that the Playstation emulator, Connectix Virtual Game Station, actually ran Playstation games on my G4 faster than a Playstation! I continued to love my G4 until I decided it was time to go back to school.
At that point, I got my first Apple notebook, the Powerbook G4 Titanium 867. It basically had double the specs of the PowerMac. I wound up selling my PowerMac to a friend that needed a new machine which I thoroughly regret to this day. I had been running Mac OS X 10.0, then 10.1 on the PowerMac with Mac OS 9 "Classic" alongside it. The PowerBook came with Mac OS X 10.2 "Jaguar" and it was a rather large bump in speed from earlier releases as well as actually having software to use.
Shortly before graduation in 2004 I bought a shiny new PowerMac G5 (Dual 2.0) as well as a 23" Apple flat panel (graduation present to myself of course!). It had easily six to ten times the speed of my notebook and is what I currently still have. Not planning on selling it and making the same mistake twice!
Since that time, a subtle but continuous shift has been going on with the direction Apple has taken its business. Back when Mac OS X debuted, Apple was very gung-ho about it's core business: selling Macs. It also had a miniscule share of the overall PC market, so it was still playing catch up after the success of the iMac line. Development of new hardware and Mac OS X happened at a frenzied pace, as evidenced by all the announcements of cool new technology. This continued to happen until around 2006, when the iPod really started becoming a large part of Apple's revenue. Then the iPhone debuted in 2007. And there was the Apple TV. Suddenly, Apple is no longer a PC maker and is instead a consumer electronics maker. They even dropped "Computer" from their name.
I started noticing many changes to what were Apple's core business: Macs and Mac OS X. Now there's nothing but tie-ins to the iTunes store or some other non-PC product or service. New notebooks now have HDCP built in to appease Hollywood in its neverending quest to make water not wet. Everything Apple does surrounds the iPod line or the iPhone now. People say it's supposed to be a halo effect to get you to buy a Mac but I call bullshit on this one. If Apple can sell an iPhone to someone who just wants to make phone calls, they will. There's no indication at the AT&T store that you should also own a Macintosh to get the best experience. Apple is now the new Sony: a consumer electronics behemoth that does much, but nothing very well in particular. Their OS is now comparable to Windows: a tiny portion of it is engineered to get stuff done and the rest is engineered to get in your way and wrest control of your computer from you. And resist as I could, I just couldn't stay away. Until now.
For the past several months, I've been evaluating more than one Free/Open source operating system for use as a replacement. After lots of time spent on all three, I wound up settling on Debian GNU/Linux. Why? Because Debian is a very mature and actively developed distribution of Linux. I tried Ubuntu for a month and a half and it just feels like it's got more "stuff" than I need. I presume this is for handholding new Linux users. It would appear that I'm not the only one getting a little more than sick of the way Apple treats its power users. Two "A-list" bloggers (gawd I hate that word), Mark Pilgrim and Cory Doctorow, are also former Mac users and for very much the same reasons I am (only they did it 3 years ago).
I've used Linux plenty in the past, first installing Red Hat 5.1 on an old 486 back in the day and even managing to get X windows to bend to my will. Today's Linux distros are nothing like that. Everything just kind of works and the stuff that doesn't isn't so hard to fix. I would place the hardware support in Linux about where Windows 98 was: if it works, it works, but if not, prepare to get dirty. To that end, I built a pretty nice box:
* Intel Quad Core Q6600 CPU
* 2 GB PC-8500 DDR 2 RAM
* 1 TB Seagate SATA hard disk
* Nvidia GeForce 9500 GT video card with 1GB RAM
* Gigabyte EP45-DS3l motherboard
* Logitech wireless mouse, wired keyboard
* Repurposed LaCie Big Disk Extreme 500GB Firewire 800 drive
* PCI express Firewire 800 card
* Dual layer DVD burner
By today's standards, these specs are probably a mid-range Windows Vista machine. Yet, by running Debian, I get spectacular performance, no annoying product tie-ins, and best of all, my operating system does what I want and nothing more (yes, that's you, DRM). In layman's terms, this means I control my computer at all times instead of being forced to prop up an entire industry dedicated to preventing me from doing what I want with the stuff I've got. For those of you with entirely too much time (hey, you've made it this far), read here about what goes into ensuring you can't "pirate" content on Windows Vista.
As a parting note, it was nice to build a PC again after a 4 year hiatus. I got all that hardware for less than the cost of a Mac mini and it's certainly more capable. I was rather shocked at just how cheap and powerful PC hardware has become as of late. Since I didn't have to buy a PC and pay the Windows tax, I also saved more cash. And in these times, that's certaintly a good thing. Next time I'll post a list of what apps I'm using so any Linux enthusiasts out there can compare and contrast.
So long Apple, it was fun while you were a PC company.