As I’ve said before, I previously used Linux both at home and at work, 100% of the time. Gentoo was my distro of choice both at home and at work for several reasons. I’ve tried most of the major distros and the experience typically goes like this: honeymoon, annoyance, frustration, anger, fdisk. Mandrake, Red Hat (nay, Fedora) and Lycoris all went this way. I was initially enamoured by their surface beauty, with the anti-aliased icons and clean GTK themes. And then I’d try to either install something or modify something and run into problems with either dependencies or custom patches. And that’s when I’d get pissed off, swear at the screen, and go download an ISO of whatever distro I decided “had to be better.” Gentoo ended up as the longest lasting distro for the simple reason that it did so little on it’s own. It appealed to the control freak in me. The ability to re-build all your software to squeeze the last possible processor cycle out made me feel like I was being efficient and conservation-minded. Never mind that the shear number of configuration files was a little daunting, and that I never really got around to working through all the updated files presented by etc-update, I was in control.
I put an end to the cycle at home about 6 months ago when I purchased an iMac. As I worked to justify my purchase to myself, I realized that there are two things about computing that make me enjoy it: first, the ability to control things. I’m a control freak, and UNIX/Linux/*nix appeals to that demon (daemon?) inside. Second, I like pretty things. I know that beauty is only skin deep, but I am that shallow. I want my desktop environment to look good and be functional. I don’t need lots of eye candy, but good font support, anti-aliasing and pleasing pallettes go a long way, thank you. So Mac OS X is great for me in these respects. That, and it’s crunchy BSD center lets me do all the development work I need to.
The problem has now been remedied at work, as well, by an altogether unlikely suspect. My desktop machine at work died right before the holiday break. When my new one arrived shortly after my return, I decided I didn’t have 48 hours to kill while X rebuilt under Gentoo (I’m exagerating, yes, but not by much). So I returned to my first distro, Debian. I left Debian in search of a distro that had a faster release cycle, fresher packages, and prettier look and feel (you know, the trophy distro). But I’ve always missed the great package management and dependency resolution facilities it offered.
So I installed Sarge on my new machine, and I’m blown away by how far it’s come. OK, so the installer is still a little cryptic, and the fact that it uses cfdisk for partitioning will probably turn off beginners, but right out of the box, it looks, feels, and performs better than Gentoo ever did. I was able to install Gnome 2.4, Thunderbird, Firebird and OpenOffice in an afternoon, and within 24 hours I was completely up and running. It’s amazing to me that a distro so frequently maligned for it’s backwardness is now my favorite in terms of integration and the ever elusive “fit and finish.” Is it ready for use by my grandparents? Probably not. But for a developer who secretly longs for Mac OS X at work, it’s just what the doctor ordered.