Digital Fossils

Run Linux on My Mac? No Thanks

- 2008.06.24 -Tip Jar

My serious computer geek days are well behind me. From the early1990s up to about 2003, I was a pretty hard core gamer. I built andhot-rodded my own machines, from a 486DX/66 up through a 2.4 GHzPentium 4. I knew my Socket 7s and Slot 1s and stayed on top of eachnew development from 3dfx and Creative Labs.

When the group of friends with whom I used to have LAN partiesdrifted apart, I pretty much went cold turkey on the computer games.They just weren't as much fun without the social element. The big P4gaming rig on which I'd blown a ton of money was suddenly being usedfor nothing more taxing than surfing the 'net and watching movies,neither of which really made it break much of a sweat.

It was about that time that I began spending more time with olderMacs. I had already been using my G3 iBook as a mobileweb-surfing machine - and as a DVD player when I was on the road, so itwasn't a big stretch to start writing on my Color Classic or using aPowerBook 190 to keep a databasethat I needed for both work and home.

Part of what draws me to the Mac is the gestalt of the whole thing.A Macintosh is more than the sum of all its parts.

The Wintel Mindset

When I was gaming on Wintel machines, I didn't give a flip about theOS. Once you're actually inside the game, the operating system doesn'tmatter much. Rainbow Six or Diablo are largely the same game no matterwhat operating system you're running.

Writing for my blog for publication or for a web forum is different,however. I may have a word processor, a graphics program, and ahalf-dozen websites on the desktop at once. Now the interface mattersto me. How easily can I cut here, paste there, and drag a hyperlink tothe other place without disturbing my train of thought? The Mac OS isjust better for me in that respect.

In my gaming days, frame rate and screen resolution were everything,while the actual physical hardware meant nothing. Eight hours into amarathon frag fest or dungeon crawl, I can barely focus my eyes awayfrom the screen to see where the pretzel bowl and Diet Dew can aresitting. The shape and color of the computer case don't even getnoticed.

The Macintosh Gestalt

Tamara Keel with her iBook (copyright Oleg Volk)When I'm writing now, I find I care a lotmore about the nature of the hardware. How do the keys feel? How easyis it to reach a USB port? Can I adjust the monitor brightness on thelaptop without losing my concentration on the paragraph taking shape inmy head? Is the computer not ugly?

If you'd told me years ago that I'd be worried about the shape andtexture of the box containing the chips, I'd have laughed.

There's something about them - some magiccombination of hardware and software - that makes them Macs....

But there it is. Even these old Macs are more than just a box onwhich to run programs. There's something about them - some magiccombination of hardware and software - that makes them Macs anddistinguishes them from Other Computers. Everything's easy.Everything's all of a piece. Everything works together.

The Problem with Linux

And that's probably why I won't be one of the people installing someversion of Linux on my Macs. I use Macs because they're Macs.They get me out of the computer geekery and just let me create. If Iwanted to go through the joy of finding drivers again, I'd be buildingsome water-cooled overclocked monstrosity that dimmed the neighborhoodlights when I turned it on; the Mac is a Zen garden of a computer thatkeeps me away from all that.

Granted, I haven't had any Macs really fall through the cracks yet.All mine are either old enough that I'm comfortable with the fact thatthey're just for puttering around in good old Classic OS or they'remodern enough that they can at least run Tiger smoothly, which stillprovides a fairly smooth web surfing experience. Maybe if I had abeloved B&W toweror Lombard that I wasusing as a production machine that just . . . couldn't. . . quite . . . hack it anymore, I'd be singing adifferent tune, but I don't know.


Porsche once had a print ad campaign that showed a car cover drapedover the very distinctive silhouette of a 911. Even completely coveredup, there was no mistaking that car for anything else. The caption forthe ad was "We're pretty confident in our identity. How about you?"

If you load Linux on your G3 tower and cover everything but themonitor with a sheet, will you still be able to tell that it's aMac?

And if it's a beige G3tower, would you even need the blanket? LEM

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