I am disappointed by the new version of Apple OS X that was released this
weekend. The UI has gone backwards in several areas. In particular, the
translucent menus are hard to read, and the default “space theme” wall paper
is ugly. So far it feels like a service pack with a bonus backup program.
I suspect that Apple is suffering from the same problem that Microsoft was
with Vista, namely ”How do you improve on a very good existing product?” In
addition, I suspect the company’s attention over the past year was focused on
developing the iPhone, and perhaps not enough attention was paid to Leopard.
Still, I’m not sure what they could have done better – Desktop OSs are pretty
much of a solved problem. But I suspect that as the hype wears off people
will start to question whether Leopard is a significant improvement.
Ubuntu Studio is a nice idea in theory, but the
execution is lacking. The goal is to create a version of Ubuntu optimized for
media creation by:
- Bundling the best available open-source media creation tools.
- Using the real-time Linux kernel, for reduced latency when mixing audio.
- Using a desktop color scheme that doesn’t make artistic people ill.
The problem is that there are a lot of rough edges:
- By using a non-standard kernel, the release has problems supporting wireless hardware, such as the wireless hardware present on my first-gen Intel Macbook.
- By using a cool-but-low-contrast color scheme, the UI is difficult to read on a screen-dimmed laptop.
- Some of the bundled free content creation tools are pretty weak compared to the commercial equivalents. (I’m thinking of GIMP and Blender in particular.)
The wireless hardware support issues make this a non-starter release for me,
but I enjoyed giving it a whirl.
I recently read a positive review of Linux by a man who said he was a doctor,
not a programmer, and that he found Linux very easy to set up and use.
That’s great, but you have to take recommendations like that with a grain of salt.
I’m not a doctor, but three of my siblings-in-law are doctors, and a fourth is
a nurse, and one thing I’ve noticed is that medical professionals are
extremely good at following technical directions. I think it’s a skill that
comes from how medicine is practiced – you diagnose the patient, then apply a
recommended treatment. Just like debugging a computer problem!
Linux, like maintaining a patient’s health, requires researching a scattered
body of knowledge and deciding how to apply a mass of conflicting advice. Both
tasks reward careful study, and exact replication of the recommended
treatment. For doctors this way of working is second nature, but I don’t think
laymen will find it so easy.
I’ve been tearing down and reinstalling Ubuntu 7.10 all weekend, trying to get
wireless video playback to work well. Here’s my list of tweaks, all of which
are unrelated to wireless video playback:
- I personally like the Edubuntu 7.10 distribution more than the stock Ubuntu distribution. Edubuntu has a nicer default visual theme and some nice educational games.
- Apply customizations from the MacBook Ubuntu Forum
- I just set up my keyboard so that the lower Enter button acts as the right mouse button.
- Make text better:
- System:Preferences:Appearence:Fonts:Subpixel Smoothing
- The Google Toolbar for Firefox has a bug where bookmarks won’t load. A work-around is to use the Synaptic Package Manager to install libstdc++5 and its dependencies.
- In order to get the keyboard “Mute” button to work, open System:Preferences:Sound and select all the channels in the “Default Mixer Tracks” list. (Hold down the Control key while clicking on each channel.)
I was up early this morning to get the Ubuntu 7.10 final release. I used the
Ubuntu torrent (1700 downloaders) to download the file, and had the ISO image
within an hour. Pretty neat!
In theory I didn’t actually need to install
Ubuntu 7.10 final. In theory it would be just as good to start with a late
release candidate and apply patches. But I wanted a clean start.
I did run
into an odd glitch during the install: the Macbook LCD display was corrupted
when I first booted up off the LiveCD. I did a cold reboot and all was well.
About six months ago I left Microsoft for Google. One of the big differences
between the two companies is the tool chains that they use. Microsoft mostly
uses its own tools, many of which they also offer to sale to third parties,
while Google uses mostly open-source tools. I thought people might be
interested in seeing the differences.
Note that my experience may not be
representative of most Microsoft or Google employees, because I was not
working in the main-line part of Microsoft (I was in the Xbox team), and I am
not currently working in the main-line part of Google. So in both cases I am
not familiar with the specialized tools that each company has developed for
doing its mainline work.
Here’s a comparison of the tools I used at each company:
Visual Studio vs. Eclipse 3.3
I give Visual Studio the edge on debugging UI and IntelliSense. But Eclipse has some nice features, such as showing errors in the scroll bar
C++, C# vs. C/C++, Java
Microsoft C++ is better than Gnu C++, and C# is better than Java. But it’s a 10% difference, not a 100% difference.
NMAKE vs. GNU make
GNU make’s better – at least it seems to take less code to implement fancy build rules.
Source Code Control System
Internal tool (similar to perforce) vs perforce
It’s a wash - they’re both very similar to each other.
Internal tool “Project Studio” vs. Internal tool “Buganizer”
Google’s system has more integration into email. For example, if a bug is opened against you, you get an email, and if you reply to the email your reply is automatically appended to the bug report. Also, Google’s system is web- based, which makes it more convenient to use.
Outlook 2007 vs. gmail
Overall I like gmail, but Outlook does have one feature I really miss: I set up a special folder for all the “checkin mails”,
that was sorted by name. This made it very easy to scan through people’s checkins. gmail only allows mail to be sorted by
time, which is less convenient for scanning checkin mails. I’m pretty sure that Google gives employees more email storage
space than Microsoft does, but I don’t remember the exact numbers at Microsoft. I do know that after 6 months at Google I’m
at 1% of my quota, whereas at Microsoft, after 10 years, I was always bumping up against my quota limit.
Internet Explorer vs. Firefox
Firefox has some great plug-ins, such as Ad Blocker Plus. but IE had the edge on printing and stability.
Office 2007 vs. Google Docs
Office 2007 has a superior UI and far more features. Google Docs is “good enough” for programming docs, and I like the web integration very much.
Vista Ultimate vs. Mac OS / Ubuntu Linux
I like Ubuntu a lot more than I thought I would. I like Mac OS a lot less than I thought I would. And Vista is fine, too.
Dual-Proc Xeon x 2, no laptop vs. Quad-Proc Xeon, Dual Proc Xeon, Macbook Pro laptop
Google is more generous with hardware, especially in giving most employees their own laptops. And of course Microsoft only
gives Mac hardware to people who write Mac apps.
Dual 1280x1024 21” CRTs vs. Single 30 inch 2560 x 1600 LCD or two 24-inch 1920 x 1200 LCDs
I love the large LCD screen. Actually I disliked the Microsoft CRTs so much that I went out and bought a 20 inch 1600x1200
LCD with my own money. For $800 (that was a few years ago, when they first came out.)
Large private office with a window vs. Small desk in shared 8-person interior office. No window.
Having a private office is nice, but there are advantages to sharing an office with people who work on the same project.
Google issues noise-canceling headphones to help reduce distractions. I’d have to say that Microsoft has the edge here, but
Google is not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.
Overall I’d say the two tool chains are roughly equivalent. I found it pretty
easy to transition. I was productive at Google after just a few days of
training. By far the biggest qualitative difference is due to the giant HP
2560 x 1600 LCD monitor I’m using now. It’s wonderful to have so much
contiguous desk space. To be fair to Microsoft, I believe that new employees
at Microsoft are now being issued 20” 1600 x 1200 LCDs, and many programmers
manage to scrounge a second LCD. But Google’s much more generous at outfitting
programmers with hardware than Microsoft.
A friend recently asked me for advice on buying a laptop for a college
student. Here’s the advice I gave them: These days laptops from different
companies are all pretty similar. They use roughly the same parts, and are
built in exactly the same Chinese factories. So I would try to figure out
roughly what configuration you wanted, and then shop for the best deal, pretty
much ignoring the manufacturer.
Macintosh vs. Others
The first decision, and the only one where the manufacturer matters, is whether
you want a Macintosh or a non-Macintosh. The benefits of a Mac are:
- Great support if you happen to live near an Apple Store.
- Check if you do by looking here: http://www.apple.com/retail/
- Macs are fashionable.
- Macs can run Apple software in addition to regular Windows software.
- Macs have good resale value. (Although laptops in general are very fragile, so it’s likely that your
laptop will break before you resell it.)
The disadvantages of a Macintosh are:
- About 30% more expensive than other brands, especially if you get the other brands on sale. Macs never go on sale.
- It is more awkward to use a Mac for Windows software than other laptops. This is due to
- The Mac not having a built-in right mouse button.
- You have to go through extra steps to buy and install the Windows operating system.
I currently own a MacBook and I also use a MacBook Pro laptop at work. I
bought the MacBook because I thought it was pretty, and I wanted to experiment
with using Apple software. I like it – it is a good compromise on size,
performance, cost, and so on. I especially like the service I get from the
Apple Store. I live about 2 miles away from the Bellevue Apple Store. I have
had two problems with my Macbook since I bought it:
My kids pulled off several of the keys, and even lost three. The Apple Store gave me replacement keys for free, and even put them on the keyboard for me, also for free.
The laptop battery stopped working. In this case the Apple Store gave me a new battery ($100 value) free, no questions asked.
I also use a Macbook Pro loaned to me by my work. They give people a choice
between a Macbook Pro and a Leonovo Thinkpad T60. I’d say the split is about
50/50 on which notebook people choose. The Leonovo Thinkpad line, formerly
made by IBM is one of the best “no nonsense business computer” laptop lines.
They have especially good keyboards. The Macbook Pro is much larger than the
Macbook. It is also much heavier. I find both notebooks are good, and I don’t
think the Macbook Pro, at around $2500, is 2.5 times better than the Macbook,
at around $1000. If it were my own money, I would buy the Macbook rather than
the Macbook Pro. As for non-Macintosh laptops, I would look for a laptop with
A good keyboard
Built in wireless networking
1 GB of RAM
A good screen (bright and easy to read.)
40 GB hard disk
Weight around 4 to 5 pounds.
Doesn’t get too hot in use, has a quiet fan.
Price around $800 to $1200
If given a choice between several models with different speeds of CPU, I would
choose the cheapest/slowest, because all of the CPUs are really fast these
days. And I would be happy to buy a slightly older laptop model on sale.
Laptops typically are only sold for 6 months, they are then replaced by a
slightly better model. When a model is replaced, it often goes on sale at a
good price. I would consider laptops by pretty much any brand. And I think I
would try to see the laptops in person before buying, as that’s the best way
to judge whether the screen looks good, or the keyboard is comfortable to type
on. One frustrating thing about laptops is that the build quality varies
greatly from model to model, even within the same company. So just because one
model is reliable, doesn’t mean another similar model from the same company
will be reliable. A good web site for laptop review information is
Lately I’ve been learning the git source code control system. It’s a
distributed version control system, which means there is no central
repository. It’s especially good for working on multiple branches.
Everyday GIT with 20 Commands
Alas, currently git doesn’t work well on Windows. (Due to many of its utilities being written in a hodge-podge of Unix shell scripts. Pretty lame. If they’d
just used C, Perl, or Python it would have been very easy to port.)
I was a happy Microsoft employee for many years, and as a result, I run
multiple Windows Vista machines at home. My family and I are happy with the
system, especially the Vista Media Center / Xbox 360 combination that we use
as our Digital Video Recorder, so I’m in no hurry to try and replace my
Windows servers with a Linux ones.
This leaves my poor Ubuntu 7.10 Macbook as
something of the odd man out. Over the past few weeks I’ve been learning how
to configure it to work with my mostly Windows network.
This worked out-of-the-box. If I recall correctly, I had more trouble
connecting to my home wireless network when running Apple Macintosh OS X 10.4.
Hah, for what it’s worth, my wireless router is a Linksys router that’s
running Linux, so effectively there’s no Windows involved. But I wanted to
mention that wireless networking and Internet connectivity worked well out-of-
Connecting to a Windows Vista File Share
Here’s where I ran into my
first problem. It turns out that there are multiple ways of connecting to a
Windows server in Linux/Ubuntu, and they don’t all work reliably. I found that
the UI-based way, using the Ubuntu “Places” menu, didn’t work for me. I could
connect to my windows server, and view the server’s directories, but I
couldn’t reliably read the files. Accessing files was very slow, and reading
large files would always time out.
I was able to access my Windows Vista
shares by following these instructions:
Mounting Windows Shares in Ubuntu <–
allowed me to read my Window shares.
Permission issues with smb and cifs <– allowed me
to delete files on my shares.
The downside of the command-line approach is
that you don’t get a nice icon on your desktop, you have to navigate to
/mnt/myshare/… yourself. But it’s reliable. You can partially work around
this by creating a symbolic link from your desktop to your share. The reason
this is a partial work-around is that Nautilus will think that the resulting
directory is a “local” directory, so it will try to do i/o intensive things
like create preview icons. Oh well.
For what it’s worth, the reliability
problem with the default way of accessing Windows shares seems to be due to
Ubuntu using the older, out-of-date smbfs system
instead of the more modern cifs system. You’d think a hip, happening OS like
Ubuntu would fix this problem, but it’s a long-standing one, so I guess it
hasn’t made it to the top of their priority list yet.
This was easy.
- First I shared out my printer on my Windows Vista machine. (I never bothered to do that before.)
- Then on my Ubuntu machine I choose the System:Administration:Printing menu item.
- Clicked on the New Printer icon
- Chose “Windows Printer via SAMBA”.
- Fill in the dialog box. Use the handy “verify” button to verify that you’ve done it right.
- Click on Forward and finish the configuration.
I was pleased to find my printer’s model number mentioned in the driver list.
Everything worked the first time.
I’m still getting used to using Ubuntu 7.10 beta on my Macbook.
- The bottom task-switcher bar sometimes disappears.
- Firefox doesn’t quit cleanly - it always crashes.
- No big deal, this just means that I need to deal with a “do you want to restore” dialog every time Firefox starts up.
- Macbook Audio can’t be muted.
- This appears to be a long-standing Ubuntu / Macbook bug, due to the way Macbook audio muting is implemented. Someone needs to write a driver, and unfortunately audio driver writers don’t seem to care much about Macbook laptops.
- Support for a one-button trackpad
- Choose System:Administration:Synaptic
- Use synaptic to install the mouseemu package to allow F11,F12 buttons to emulate middle and right mouse clicks.
- Phantom button clicks while moving the mouse:
- Choose System:Preferences:Mouse:Touchpad
- Un-check “Tap to Click”.
- Choose Close.
- Problems connecting to Windows Vista Printers and Windows Vista Shares:
- Enable Cleartype-like nice looking anti-aliased fonts:
- Choose System:Preferences:Appearence:Fonts
- Choose “Subpixel Smoothing”.
- Enable Java:
- Choose System:Administration:Synaptic
- Install sun-java6-jdk
- Enable Flash:
- Choose System:Administration:Synaptic,
- install ubuntu-restricted-extras.
- This installs a bunch of useful software that should be in the default Ubuntu install, but isn’t due to political differences between the software authors and the Ubuntu packagers.