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It's All^H^H^HOnly About the Apps

Much sound and fury has ensued as a result of Mark Pilgrim's announcement that after some twenty-odd years using Macs, he's now pitching all of that and diving into Linux. There's been lots of grandstanding, the usual insightful commentary from John Gruber, posturing from various industry figures, piling on, predictions of doom for Apple, and so on and so forth.

All I can figure is that it's a slow time of year, what with school being out, people going on vacation, and of course the national holidays celebrating our self-determinant overthrow of the tyrannical government, not to mention the miserably hot and humid weather in many otherwise civilized parts of the country, so maybe some guys just wanted to stir up some buzz to keep the rest of us distracted from all that.

I find many nits to pick in this whole affair (and the coverage thereof), but frankly I feel that I'd be wasting my time picking the obvious ones. There is, however, one thing I'd like to explore, because I think it's been missed in all the drama.

Mark's current complaints seem to revolve around the behaviors and data formats implemented by the Apple-branded application software running on the Apple-branded OS running on his Apple-branded hardware. And since those bundled, replaceable applications are unsuitable for his needs, he's decided that the entire platform is unsuitable. The problem I see with this line of reasoning is that it conflates the hardware and the OS with the applications that run on them. That's an easy mistake to make, since those bundled applications are refined to the point that they integrate closely with each other and the OS, and also because they form the basis of the first-run experience for almost every Mac OS X user, new or old.

However, the applications are not the platform.

If you're switching to Linux, you're probably going to be using Thunderbird, right? So then if Apple Mail isn't doing it for you, why not just use Thunderbird on Mac OS X? If iPhoto or iMovie don't do the job, why not find an alternative that will — or better yet, make the world a better place and write your own? Whatever you end up with will still run on the OS and hardware that you've become accustomed to, with which you seem to have no real complaint, and by virtue of having chosen your own solution, you will ensure that it solves the problems you find important, in the fashion in which you believe they should be solved.

Oh, and one more thing: Mark asserts that...

I specifically chose Mail.app because I knew that it stored everything in mbox format, and that that was the oldest, most stable, safest choice for long-term preservation.

Apple Mail on Mac OS X has never used mbox for its mail storage. The data files in which message data were stored prior to 2.0 did look a lot like mbox at first glance, but fail the "mbox test" (for want of a better term) and cannot be reliably parsed without the external index.

Oh damn, looks like I picked a nit. Email clients are of personal interest to me, so of course I found the remarks about Apple Mail's data formats resonant. However, in looking at Mark's updated list of software essentials, I observe that more than half of them are already available as-is for Mac OS X, and most of the rest have OS X counterparts.

So then what's all the fuss about?

Well, it looks like it's about saving the calories:

...all I could think was how much work it would take to twiddle with the default settings, install third-party software, and hide all the commercial tie-ins so I could pretend I was in control of my own computer.

But wait. How much work did it take to install third-party software, twiddle with the default settings, and hide all the commercial tie-ins so that you could pretend that you were in control of your own computer...?


Mark will not be happy unless every aspect of his software and OS is under his complete control.

His kvetching about open data formats is minor, and hides his real issue: He doesn't like not having total control over everything on his computer.

I'm not sure why he ever bothered with OS X, as it would seem a doomed relationship from the start. But then, people fool themselves quite well that way. "I can make it work".

If you need that level of control to be happy, run a generic x86 box with linux you build from source and be done with it. But don't gripe about something that was never promised you in the first place.

Boredom may also be a factor. Before OS X came along, I got bored with the Mac OS and started twiddling with things like MkLinux and LinuxPPC. It was fun and challenging, especially for a non- (or perhaps proto-) geek like me. However, OS X gives you the option of twiddling, and so many things work so well right out of the box that you're free to twiddle where you want to twiddle, without getting yourself into a spot (I don't really want to disclose how many times I reinstalled MkLinux after sessions of devil-may-care twiddling...)

The way I see it, he managed to get rid of the formats which he could already have avoided on the Mac, and he found no replacement for those which he could not replace on the Mac (iMovie, iDVD, Garage Band and so on).

He basically got rid of proprietary formats by getting rid of his ability to create movies, music and DVDs. I'd rather have proprietary formats than nothing at all.

Not to mention the question of how much effort it takes to get Linux up and running. Given the choice between installing some commercial plugins and reconfiguring a kernel, it's clear which one takes less time and fiddling.

Nothing against Ubuntu, I use it frequently, but Linux isn't ready for the mainstream desktop, and won't be for a long while.

The way I read Mark's posts, it seemed that the closed source / closed format applications were just the tipping point, the last straw if you will.

I personally use OS X and all of the glorious Apple apps, but I can understand that software freedom is important to some people, and I think in Mark's case, the issue of software freedom became more important to him than ease of use or good design or general prettyness.

It is very strange that this story is getting the coverage that it has. I mean one (or two) guys switched to Linux. Big deal.

The only thing unique about the story is that Mark only recently came to view openness as so important. Most people capable of running Linux have already formed opinions about the relative merits of Appleness vs. Openness and long ago decided whether to go with OS X or Linux.

It's like the presidential election all over again. Changing one's mind is suddenly a very big deal when it really shouldn't be.

Honestly, with a fresh install of Ubuntu Dapper, it took me all of 15 minutes to have a fully-functioning, video-playing, audio-playing, web-browsing, email-checking, jabber/aim-chatting machine.

My 70 year old grandpa's been using it since Breezy, and he's never had a problem. And this is a guy whose typing consists of hunt-and-peck with two fingers.

I wonder if any of this can be attributed to the increased length of time beween cat releases? Now that it's more than a 12 month cycle, people are bored that not enough "new stuff" comes along, so they move elsewhere for newness?

Well: Considering the arguments put forth by persons leaving OS X for GNU/Linux, and the gravity with which they are made, I'm rather doubting that it's a sense of boredom.

No, I'll take Mark and Corey and whoever at face value and assume that openness is their concern. But I tend to disagree for many of the same reasons put forth by Rich - if you *want* openness on OS X you can *have* it, you'll just forego the really polished and integrated apps in the process. (Hell, what important linux apps *haven't* been ported to OS X in some form or another?)

GNU/Linux is still at the point where you have to tiptoe on eggshells around the hardware you buy. Worse still is owning a notebook not made by IBM (Averatec! Ugh - but at least it's possible). (No, I can't use a notebook without suspend to ram. No way about it. I can't even consider it.) The allure, I'm afraid, is rather lost on me.

what an awesomely nerdy title! nice post.

So let me understand this... I express a desire to move away from proprietary formats, and the best rebuttal you can muster is that Apple's formats were even more proprietary than I had thought?

Seriously, that's what you're going with?

To summarize:

Baby != bathwater.

I believe his best rebuttal was the one you conveniently ignored.

Mbox isn't good because it's mbox. It's good because you can open it in a text editor and get your data out. If Apple Mail passes that test, it doesn't matter if it's not fully mbox compatible.

Wow, Mark, way to miss the point entirely. In case you didn't read the whole entry, he was talking about how there are many applications that run on Mac OS X, have open file formats, and substitute for the applications with proprietary formats that are bundled by default with Mac OS X. (i.e.: Thunderbird in place of Mail)

The thing about Mail's mbox format being proprietary was basically a tangent.

-- Simone

I suspect that it is indeed boredom and obsessive-compulsive disorder that guides most of these folks in their flight from Mac OS X. They simply do not live in the same mental world as the other 6 billion of us. That's not an insult. Just the likely truth.

I think Mark's point is not that open source apps with open formats work with Mac OS X, but when most of his applications use open formats -- why use a commercial OS?

Oh, I got Rich's point, such as it was. I shouldn't buy Apple's applications because they restrict my rights and hold my data hostage, but I should continue to buy Apple's hardware and operating systems because they don't do that. Except they do do that, and the ways in which they do that are well-documented. I even explicitly mentioned some of them here: http://diveintomark.org/archives/2006/06/16/juggling-oranges

And frankly, Apple's operating system by itself isn't all that great. Its main attraction is that it runs all their "insanely great" applications, all of which have caused me problems in the recent past, and all of those problems were magnified by Apple's decisions to make up their own formats and not document them. Saying that Thunderbird is available for Mac and therefore there's no reason to switch is just laughable. I didn't need a reason to switch; I needed a reason to stay. Apple's iLife applications were the only thing that I used on a regular basis that weren't immediately available on an open source platform... and those were the applications that were giving me the most trouble!

Oh please Mark. You griped about something that was never what you thought it was, (Mail), and then you griped about something that you'd have to be a bit loopy to think is going to exist in a low end, el cheapo DV editor, (Exportable EDL's in iMovie), and then just went off on application after application until you found enough things that five minutes of looking years ago would have found, (When did iMovie EVER promise you exportable EDLs? Do you complain that your sunroof isn't a full convertible?), so that you could justify a decision that has nothing whatsoever to do with open data formats and everything to do with control issues.

Now you're suddenly saying that OS X "isn't that great". Is it a meh OS, or open formats that are the problem? If the Apps are insanely great, then obviously the data formats weren't a problem.

You keep coming up with an ever - growing and ever changing list of reasons that make less and less sense as you compare them.

Just admit you can't use an OS and applications that give you anything less than 100% control over the source and every aspect of the applications, and that will make FAR more sense than your oscillations between OMGOPENDATAFORMATS and OMGOSXISMEDIOCRE.

Because it's not like Linux is that stellar or magically immune to closed data formats.

Even though I own a Powerbook, and plan on buying a Macbook Pro soon, I like what Mark is doing. He's complaining about things that are important to HIM, and they are important enough for him to change to another operating system.

What most of you don't understand is that THIS IS GOOD for us Mac users. Competition is good. For longer then I can remember Mac OS's only real competitor was Windows. Now that is changing, Linux is now a competitor and OS X will have to adapt to compete. This can only be good for us. We should be thanking Mark, not chiding him.

Yes, linux is far from immune from closed data formats. Think GIMP image manipulator.
I can understand Mark's frustration of thinking your mail was in another format. But that didn't mean his data was lost, it was just a little more work to get it out.
I think it was simply that Mark felt like trying linux and feels he has to justify it. You don't have to justify it. Feeling you have to prove why it was OK for you to move from OS X means you are likely to make statements that more fit your cause than fit rationality.

Well, feel free to believe whatever you want, John. You obviously can't be bothered to read what I've already written for longer than it takes you to grunt out another inane retort, so I can't imagine that you'll read anything else I write either.

I did read it mark. If I hadn't, I might have taken your data format kvetching seriously. The iMovie EDL beef is again, dumb. You want EDLs, get a better editor.

But now it's "Well, OS X wasn't THAT great anyway". So that indicates your gripes about data formats were minor anyway.

All of your arguments taken together, (and it is some work to collate them, you keep coming up with new ones. Usually right after someone points out a possible hole in your last one), indicate a much simpler reason:

You like what Linux gives you that Mac OS X never has, and really, never will, namely complete control over your environment.

That's really a valid reason. There's a lot of people who just aren't comfortable without the level of control that they only get from things like Linux and branded *BSD. Why not just say that, and stop coming up with a never ending stream of "it's all the closed formats" and "OS X isn't that good anyway", yadda, yadda.

Just say "I like what Linux offers me better. It suits my way of working better. I'm more comfortable with it than I ever will be with Mac OS X, especially now that the UI design is a little better. I've no particular need for any Mac OS X - only applications, there's nothing I need that Linux doesn't offer me."

Okay, it doesn't attract as much attention, but it's probably easier to repeat than whatever your current justification is.

"I just like Linux better" works too. Why justify it at all?

For that matter, who, besides you, even needs to know or care what OS you're using?

You like what Linux gives you that Mac OS X never has, and really, never will, namely complete control over your environment.

I've been following this saga, and I don't get the impression that Mark wants total control over his environment. I use both Ubuntu and OS X, and Ubuntu doesn't give you all that much more control over your environment than OS X does.

He wants total control over his data. He needs to be able to access his data in ten, twenty, or fifty years using whatever hardware and software we'll be using then.

While I have no plans to abandon OS X, I have to agree with Mark. Over the years, I've lost data too. I have lots of 5.25 inch floppy disks for which I no longer have a drive. I have files written in ClarisWorks, Lotus AmiPro, and WordPerfect 4 that I can no longer read because I don't have those applications any longer. I just want to look at the projects I made on my computer in elementary school. Does that make me an anal-retentive control freak?

If this were a purely hypothetical issue, things would be different. But this sort of data loss has happened to me (and apparently Mark Pilgrim) over and over again for nearly two decades. It's a serious problem, and one that Apple has consistently refused to address.

He wants total control over his data. He needs to be able to access his data in ten, twenty, or fifty years using whatever hardware and software we'll be using then.

Do you back up to any device other than a current hard drive? Do you plan on keeping that hardware around? If you want to get to your backups, you're either migrating, or you're screwed.

But hey, good luck reading a nine-track tape with an LTO drive. Just ask Jimmy Page about hardware issues and archival data with regard to the latest Zeppelin DVDs.

People accept (oddly) completely BS proprietary hardware for backups while worried about the data on them being open.

If you can't get TO the data, the data structures are rather immaterial. Do note that no software will protect you from needing a DLT drive to read a DLT tape.

If you have "critical" data in a format like AmiPro and ClarisWorks, then why would you ditch those applications without verifying that you could still get to that data? that's a lack of planning and foresight.

If you don't have something that can correctly interpret XML, then you lose everything but the text. If you don't have an application that does that, and you are unable to create one, congratulations. You have a semi-readable format. "But it's OPEN", you'll say. That's great. If you can't correctly interpret it, what good is it.

raw postscript is pretty open. You just go read that without a program that can correctly interpret it and display it on screen or on paper. Good luck with that.

There are numerous databases that have completely open formats. Use one. Then delete all the applications that let you correctly read that database file or files. Tell me what good that data is.

That's what I thought.

The idea that "open data formats" will somehow guarantee you can always correctly, and fully interpret the data in those formats is as much of a myth as perfect security.

Yet somehow, everyone is buying into this myth, and then getting all emo when people point out the myth-ness of the "open formats as a magic spell" myth.

Wow is that really Mark here? Maybe he can answer some questions for me since he seems to have pussied out and turned off comments on his blog. How do I install digikam the supposed OMGSameAsIPhoto! program, just like amaroK(LOL) I tried apt-get from his page(cut and pasted even) and "E:Couldn't find package digikam' came up. Went to the digikam site, no package installer for Ubuntu...maybe I could use the tarball, but frankly its not worth my f'ing time to go through all the trouble.

So far Ubuntu is like XP with a slightly better theme, a bigger pain in the ass and not made by Microsoft. Thankfully I didn't do something stupid and buy a PC to run this like some other ignorant soul(s?) who followed in Mark's steps and I can just blow away the parallels install when need be.

If you have "critical" data in a format like AmiPro and ClarisWorks, then why would you ditch those applications without verifying that you could still get to that data? that's a lack of planning and foresight.

Youth is wasted on the young. Even as a child, though, I should have known better than to use Lotus AmiPro. I thought that I would always have a computer capable of running it -- we would one day get a new computer, and it would just come with a newer verison of Lotus AmiPro.

The idea that "open data formats" will somehow guarantee you can always correctly, and fully interpret the data in those formats is as much of a myth as perfect security.

I don't believe in that myth, and there's nothing in my previous comment to suggest otherwise. I just believe that the odds are better with a well-documented, widely used, storage format. While there is no such things as perfect security, some computer systems are plainly more secure than others. It's the same way with storage formats: some are more likely than others to be readable decades from now.

There's always a chance that you won't be able to read your files twenty years from now. But some storage formats are more likely than others to be readable in twenty years on whatever hardware and software we're using then. And if that's the kind of thing that you care about, the current batch of Apple applications isn't the safest bet.

But some storage formats are more likely than others to be readable in twenty years on whatever hardware and software we're using then. And if that's the kind of thing that you care about, the current batch of Apple applications isn't the safest bet.

Okay, go read a 9-track tape chock full of plain ASCII text files on a DVD player.

Tell me how that works out for you.

From the hardware point of view lets forget the era of 5.25inch drives for now, as that is done and dusted. If you haven't got that info off there by now it's your own fault. There is a massive overlap time between the phasing in and out of technology. If it's that important to you, you would have done something by now. But if it was just a school project, then the chance that you can still extract it is just a bonus, cause in the 'old days' you would have done it by hand with crayons and most likely thrown it out after getting it graded, never to be seen again.

Basically what Mark (and many others) wants is a format which you can store your data in, which you can throw in an archive and be guaranteed to extract it perfectly in many years. I think more along the lines of 'bring it with you' through technology. The same overlap that we see in hardware technologies usually applies these days between software as well, meaning you can export to and from the other most common formats around. Even if it's thousands of files you can usually set up a script to batch process them.

Plus, there are some formats that are always going to be around (long enough, anyway). Can you imagine any computers 30 or 40 years away not being able to read JPG or GIF? I think PDF falls into that category too. So many corporations rely on it so much already that we are almost guaranteed it's maintenance over the years.

What you do with your data becomes a function of three variables:
1. how much work it is to back it up
2. how much chance you think you will need it, and
3. what chance there is that it will not be readable by future software.

Think like an insurance company, it's just a numbers game.

There's no guarantee then. You can maybe guarantee raw data. But formatting and metadata? No way. And just getting the raw text out of an XML file is how useful? Not at all. But if you don't have an application that can properly and FULLY read that data, it's useless.

Your PDF example is perfect. If you don't have a PDF application, the openness of the format is absolutely useless.

Cobol source is open text, but if you don't have a way to compile it or no one with the skill to read it, then what good is it?

The iPhoto example. Okay, so your iPhoto database *dies*. Now, what have you lost? Have you lost the photos? No. You've lost the metadata. Is it annoying? Sure. Critical? I don't know. For me, no, not at all. That kind of thing is a convenience.

So you have to define what's important.

The idea that there's some format that will last forever is not one I'm happy with. You can't assume that. i'm real sure that a lot of people thought EBCIDIC would last forever, after all, it was just text, encoded differently. It's not, and reading those files is tricky.

This "everlasting format" myth is just that: a myth.

if you just blindly assume that (format) will be around forever, like Mark is doing, then your going to get burned, no matter WHAT the format or OS is.

And I thought it was about the hardware.

- Any particular reason for the switch? I’m inferring that there was some unpleasantness associated with your trip to the Apple store?
- No, just that all of their current hardware offerings are unimpressive.

I agree, it's a myth to think there is a format that will last forever in it's literal sense.

I do think though, that there will be formats where enough people use or have used them, that there will be software that will read them long enough for us to not have to worry about it.

eg JPG - right now as we speak, millions of ~18 year old people are building up their digital photo collections in JPG format. This means that we are guaranteed a large base of population that has a definite need for JPG reading (or at the very least, converting) software for at least another 50 - 60 years. That need is large enough to undoubtedly be filled by software developers. I believe the same with PDF.

However I take your point, being that any format is useless if there exists no software to read it correctly. I just believe that for some formats, that based on supply and demand, that software has to be around for a long long time.

pleb writes: "eg JPG - right now as we speak, millions of ~18 year old people are building up their digital photo collections in JPG format. This means that we are guaranteed a large base of population that has a definite need for JPG reading (or at the very least, converting) software for at least another 50 - 60 years."

However, it remains an open question whether those pictures will survive for 50-60 years in digital form. CD-Rs probably won't last that long.

Heck, even analog photos deteriorate after 50-60 years without very careful storage measures being taken.

WTF writes: "Any particular reason for the switch?"

I think he just got religion and had to change his lifestyle, like that guitarist who quit the band Korn after finding Jesus.

Mark just wants *everyone* to know he's taking the veil as a mark of his devotion.

Pleb, the other thing about this is that you have data and metadata. If your iTunes database is corrupted or your iPhoto database, what have you lost?

Metadata. Your music and photos are still there. You've suffered real loss, without a doubt, but the core data, the stuff you use those applications *for* is still there.

If the Metadata is *that* critical to you, then while there is some validity in wanting it to be more open, that's still not going to guarantee you'll be able to recover it all. I can easily corrupt an ASCII text file to the point of non-recoverability. The fact that ASCII text is open will do nothing for you in that case.

The ONLY way to deal with data corruption issues is to back up your data. Period. Open formats don't prevent unrecoverable corruption, and the implication that they somehow do is disingenuous at best.

After reading Mark's and Corey's thoughts about switching away from the Mac, it seems to me that they are good candidates for Linux. The things which are important to them are more prevalent in Linux right now, and Apple and Microsoft are not necessarily offering what they want.

I recently upgraded a Dell at my house, and it was refreshing to be able to buy a DVD-R drive for $50 (USD), instead of having to worry about expensive Apple hardware. But then the nightmare returned in trying to find all of the proper drivers and figuring out how to get all of the hardware working again.

But at least, Mark isn't switching over to Windows. :)

So why wouldn't an ATA DVD-R work in a Mac?

As well, with your time, how much did that drive actually cost you?

Reality check...

Who the hell is Mark Pilgrim and who cares what kind of computer and software he uses?

Some dude with a crappy web site wants to switch to Linux... um... OK.

By not simply ignoring him, you've probably given him exactly what he wanted.