The pull of the fruit

The pull of the fruit

I tried my hardest to help my wife love Unix. When we were still dating, I built a little Debian machine for her so we could chat on ICQ while I was at work (and gave it to her on Valentine’s Day; aren’t I romantic?). That lasted for a while, but I eventually switched it to FreeBSD for reasons I no longer remember. Her computers always worked pretty well, but she was never happy with her inability to install software on her own, or to run games and applications from the local non-geek stores.

After a few years, I eventually gave in and helped her pick out a shiny new LCD iMac. She opened the box, plugged it in, followed the instructions, and it worked. She was happy and I was happy. After a while, I gained a real appreciation for how well the system was designed. What’s more, after a while I began to wonder if RMS would forgive me for abandoning my free software workstation in favor of the forbidden fruit.

Unix desktops environments haven’t been standing still, though, and my KDE setup at work becomes ever better with each new minor release. It does everything I ask of it (and since it’s a development system, that’s quite a lot) without ever complaining. Konqueror is slick and fast, KMail is the best email client I’ve ever used outside of Emacs, and the system as a whole is nearly as integrated (and in some ways more so) than Mac OS X.

However, I was reminded of the main reason that I could never really give in to the temptation last week. I’d been using Gentoo on my office workstation, but my coworker brought in a freshly-burned Kubuntu CD. I popped it in, wiped everything but my home directory, and was back up and running before my lunch break was over. I know then what I had forgotten: the one thing I simply can’t give up is choice.

Book Competition!

This week we are giving away a copy of PHP 5 Power Programming by Stig Bakken, Andi Gutmans, Derick Rethans.

All you need to do to enter is check out the latest book competition announcement on our blogs page.


Thanks go to _Prentice Hall for providing this fantastic prize._

That same work computer has run Debian, FreeBSD, Gentoo, and Kubuntu over the last couple of years. Each of those systems had its own features and quirks, and it’s always been my decision about which I wanted to run at any given time. Nothing but a few minutes of downtime kept me from switching between the “flavor of the month”. No vendor gave me a hassle. All of my personal data was available without interruption or messy imports and exports. Furthermore, I’ve periodically used Gnome and XFCE4—wholly different desktop environments—knowing that I could switch back to KDE on a whim without a bit of data loss or other aggravation.

OS X is certainly a beautiful operating system, and I universally recommend it to people who don’t want to learn about their computer or don’t have an experienced Unix-using friend close at hand. For me, though, it’s more of an inspiration than an aspiration. I see it as a working prototype of what free software systems can be (and are moving toward) rather than something that could replace them. You still have my attention Apple, but the fruit over in this orchard is also pretty sweet.

(This newsletter was originally a blog entry posted on the the 24th of June 2006.)



dln's picture
Submitted by dln on


It is always a major challenge to satisfy the demands of our most important 'customers' isn't it?

My problem is worse than yours: we don't have any issue with MacEnvy - we don't even have the MacHinery to play it on - but the defenestration of our happy home is stubbornly resisted by one application that she-who-must-be-obeyed absolutely cannot give up (and I have not been able to replace). At which point even the smoothest approach, eschewing technical jargon but instead laden with many (un)subtle references to beauteous life affirmation, comes to a grinding halt reminiscent only of a dying disk drive.

In my spare time (in between peeling grapes) I have been building my first 64-bit machine. I had thought to run OpenSuSE 10 on it, but now with 10.1 and indeed Novell giving away "final beta" versions of SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 (exp release: July), my eye has been caught by Xen 3.0.2

The big draw WAS the flexibility you described but without the either/or choice. It enables the installation of multiple distros, each in separate Virtual Machines - so you can have your Gentoo and Kubuntu tu, er, too!

I must admit that my first thought was of the ability to separate 'production' work, eg web server, from 'development' (hey it's only a home machine, but let's use the big words!); and relying upon the virtualisation system to keep things separate and relatively independent (you can divide apples by oranges!)

The latest claims by Novell, which I'm sure will only apply to the latest AMD VT (and Intel equiv) chips rather than the Athlon I bought off the shelf today (grrr!!!) is that Xen can even run an unmodified OpSys within a VM, which one is left to assume will include MS-Windows (at last a use for the licence that came with the hardware I have since improved to Linux!)

That way I can run my heart's desire in any number of VMs while, er, my heart's desire can still look at the machine through her own window/Windows when she needs...

Wonder if it is really possible? Is love merely a flight of fancy?
Gotta go, the pre-Wimbledon strawberries are being served...

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Kirk Strauser's picture


Kirk Strauser has a BSc in Computer Science from Missouri State University. He works as a network application developer for The Day Companies, and runs a small consulting firm that specializes in network monitoring and email filtering for a wide array of clients. He has released several programs under free software licenses, and is active on several free software support mailing lists and community websites.