As you're no doubt sick of hearing by now, this week heralds two major events in the personal computing world: the release of Apple's OS X Leopard, and Ubuntu Linux 7.10. Guess which one I want? Both.
I'm halfway there, anyway. When the final version of Ubuntu 7.10 was released, I snagged an .ISO from whatever download mirror I could find that wasn't already being hammered to death. It's now running on two machines in my home lab -- a VirtualBox instance on my own desktop, and an entirely separate test machine next to me. I've switched on the 3-D desktop effects for the full test machine (the emulated graphics card in VirtualBox doesn't support this), and while that worked great, things like S3 sleep -- which I need a lot more than desktop effects -- don't quite work yet.
That's part of why I'm also tempted to get my hands on OS X and give that a whirl. After all the "it just works" talk about why people desert Windows (and even Linux) to become Mac users, I'd like to finally get some time under my belt with it and see that for myself. There's only one problem: In order to do that, I have to, you know, buy a Mac. And unfortunately, I just don't have the $599 to spare right now for even the lowest-end of the Macs, the 1.8 GHz Mac Mini with 1 Gbyte RAM.
Thus remains the single biggest problem I have with the Mac as an alternative to Linux, or Windows. To use a term I myself can't stand, it's a "ecosystem" -- it's the hardware and the OS, not just the OS itself plus whatever apps you happen to be using. The whole environment has been custom-tailored from the ground up for stability and consistency. But it all comes at a cost, and that cost is the hardware that goes with it.
The closest the rest of us can get to something like that is when we by a PC from a major vendor (whether it's outfitted with Linux or Windows). And even there it can still be bumpy: each Windows PC vendor typically has its own weird customized way of delivering OEM-specific updates for that machine.
I'd love for Apple to take its Darwin project and do with it what, say, Red Hat did with its Fedora spinoff: create a distribution of OS X that can be installed on generic hardware without needing to compile anything, but doesn't come with any native technical support and doesn't include the more bleeding-edge advances. They could even lag as much as a year or more behind the existing implementation of OS X and I'd still want to try it out. As far as I can see, that might drive more people to pick up a Mac: Once they've had a single slice of that particular pie, they'll want the whole thing.
(Side note. Yes, I know it's possible to install OS X on generic Intel hardware, but not without jumping through a bunch of hoops and probably also violating Apple's own licensing agreements for good measure. Sorry, I'm not playing that game.)
But I suspect Apple won't do anything of the kind, because in their eyes it serves them far better to keep the Apple market sewn up as tightly as possible. In fact, there was something vaguely akin to Fedora for Mac people -- OpenDarwin -- but it closed up shop in 2006 and as far as I can tell nobody's seen fit to pick up where they left off.
So, in the meantime, I've got to settle for Ubuntu 7.10 to feed my alternative-to-Windows tinkering habits. That or break out the credit card ...